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Seeking Jackie

written Friday, 6/5/2009

On the Sunday before the AP Calculus Exam, I met two of my students at a local PJ’s coffee shop. They had missed one of the previous optional weekend study sessions. One boy and one girl, they were two of my hopefuls to do well on the AP Exam. A little derivation and integration quickly put me in a cheery mood until I brought my cup back to the coffee bar. The @$$hole beverage-pourer-dude had just refilled my female student’s frappumacchiawhatever for free and then refused me the same courtesy for a mere iced decaf. I commented on the blatant sexist treatment to my students, to which the girl said, “Man, you’re so negative Mr. White!”

She’s right. The 2008-2009 academic year started off alright, but about halfway through I found myself increasingly tired, cranky, and agitated. Personal frustrations outside of school contributed to my discontent and I often did a poor job of hiding it. It’s still an awesome pleasure to teach math to students like the two I tutored at PJ’s. However, in so many other cases the futility of force-feeding education to a disinterested flock wears me down every year.

Mathematical foie gras. Yech.

Summertime. Once again I reach the point in my love-hate relationship with teaching where we take a break and remember what it’s like to be without each other. If the previous four summers serve as any indication, the hurt and bitterness will slowly subside, I’ll grow lonesome again, and in a couple months I’ll scurry pathetically back into the arms of this harsh profession so that the cycle of deterioration may begin all over again. Relationships are so complicated.


Aside from teaching duties, I moonlight as a babysitter for only the most exclusive clientele: English teacher and arch-nemesis Mr. Depp. It also offers me the opportunity to influence younger, more pliable minds than the usual scamps I deal with. Jude is a lad wise beyond his three years. We interact comfortably on a common social maturity plane and we share common interests. With minimal coaching from me, Jude has been able to avoid the trappings of his father’s academic persuasions. He has firmly embraced the beauty and brilliance of mathematics as evidenced in the first video below. We also set similar goals in life, as shown in the second video.

“The Best Subject, with Jude & Jerome” in alternate Quicktime format.


“Girls, with Jude & Jerome” in alternate Quicktime format.

My Girlfriend

‘Rome has a girlfriend. Sorry I hadn’t brought it up earlier, but so secretive is she that I wasn’t even aware of our relationship or her existence until a few weeks ago.

During the same babysitting session in which the videos were recorded, Jude dropped the news on his chronically single pal ‘Rome. I captured the moment with an audio recording (click image).

Jude audio clip

Intrigued, I pressed for more details, but my inquiry was derailed by Jude’s abrupt insistence on being a tiger… an adult tiger, not a baby tiger… and baby tigers can wear clothes but adult tigers must be completely naked… and no, ‘Rome you idiot, adult tigers do not have the authority to demand the right to wear clothes because the law of the jungle does not work that way… and waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

In the weeks since then, Jude has gradually leaked more info regarding my smart and pretty ladyfriend. She is a painter with long, short, striped hair. Seemingly contradictory at first, an image develops of a woman with a striped pattern trimmed into otherwise long hair. Jude compares her hair to that of a tiger (Adult tiger I presume). Hmmm, perhaps she dyes it some funky colors? Jackie lives by herself in the woods. Very self-sufficient, I gather in somewhat of a Unabomber fashion.

This is not who I imagined my dream gal to be, yet this summer my mission is clear: Find Jackie.

Goodbye Seniors

We said goodbye to the second graduating class of Lusher Charter High School on May 22. In an auditorium at nearby Tulane University, about 74 students officially completed their high school experience. This milestone for them was also a definite highlight for me after another draining year. I’d taught most of the graduating seniors for at least one year, if not two. What a proud moment to see them cross the stage and envision them moving on to bigger and better things than high school. Upon exiting the auditorium I gave and received hugs with many of the students who had excelled in my class and been a joy to teach. Perhaps even more rewarding though were the warm farewells to those pains-in-the-butt whose departure I thought I had eagerly awaited during our time together. This was best exemplified by the young man who filed out of the auditorium and yelled to me, “Mr. Whiiiiiite!” This knucklehead had caused endless headaches as I attempted to teach him and he pretended to learn during the 2006-2007 school year, and again this past year.

“Xxxxxx, aren’t we sick of each other already?” I said as we embraced.

“I won’t miss your class Mr. White, but I’ll miss you.”

Well put.

“Mr. White’s Honor Roll, 2008 & 2009 edition” in alternate Quicktime format.

For several years I’ve been threatening to make such a slideshow from the photos I compile of less-than-attentive students.

Next year

The biggest complaint at our school amongst teachers lately has been that major decisions are made in a hurried, last-minute fashion without faculty input. This gripe was punctuated in the last half-hour of the last day that teachers were required to show up, when we received our assignments for next year. This past year I had spent countless hours refining the materials for my lessons based on assumptions and assurances that I would be able to hold on to the same subjects. I worked in my classroom on numerous occasions until the custodians kicked me out at 9:30pm with the expectation that next year would require minimal time for lesson preparation. Thereby I could really focus more on the craft of teaching and maybe arrive at some answers concerning whether I’m meant to remain in this profession. However, the piece of paper handed to me last Friday afternoon has me keeping AP Calculus AB, but dropping Algebra 2 in order to pick up PreCalculus.

I pitched the biggest tantrum of my teaching career to the Principal and Curriculum Coordinator, more due to the way the surprise was delivered than the change itself. Despite teaching PreCalc once before during my first year at Lusher, the experience and insight I’ve gained since then leads me to feel that I need to start over from scratch in developing this course the second time around.

The rationale for the changes was presented to myself and the other affected members of the math department. We then proposed an alternate plan that would alter our current assignments as little as possible. In the end though, the boss gets the final word and it looks like change is coming.

I guess it’s risky to pin one’s hopes on stability in teaching, and that’s something I need to consider as I ponder my longevity in the field.

Plans fall apart

Hanging out with Depp and his wife Darleen this past weekend, we tried to learn more about Jackie. Familiar details were repeated: Long short tiger hair, lives in the woods, blah blah blah.

Then new details emerged. Previously Depp had relayed that Jackie is a youthful two years of age. Now Jude suddenly claims that she’s three. Crap, chicks hate it when you miss their birthdays.

“What does Jackie do?” Darleen asked. No reply.

“Jude, what does Jackie do for a living?” she persisted, presumably expecting him to expound on Jackie’s painting career. Her son kept dodging the question.

Finally Jude blurted, “She makes a mess in the house.”

I was caught off guard but not too surprised. With her unconventional lifestyle in the woods, I didn’t necessarily assume that neatness was Jackie’s top priority.

“Jude, what else does Jackie do?” Darleen pressed on.

“She poops her pants.”

Spread the word: ‘Rome’s looking for a new girlfriend.

Still more nerdy stuff

These images were created in Geogebra software by defining a line segment with one endpoint at angle 'a' on a circle, and the other endpoint at angle 'ka' on the same circle, where k is a constant. Proceeding to generate such segments for many different values of 'a' results in the cardioid shown in the first image (k=2) and the three other variations of cycloids (k=4, k=7/2, k=4/3).

Geogebra file within web browser here.