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Year Five Begins

written Saturday, 8/29/2009

Katrina Anniversary

Katrina is probably old news to the rest of the country, and I don’t blame them. I don’t claim to be any better than the average person when it comes to sustaining genuine concern and attention for victims of headline-capturing disasters, whether natural or manmade, domestic or international.

I have gained some understanding though of how those who’ve lived through such disasters may never be able to move on as easily as the rest of the world. I suffered hardly a fraction of the personal loss and devastation that so many experienced from Katrina, which clobbered the Gulf Coast four years ago today. Nonetheless, I still frequently use my first year in New Orleans as a frame of reference for whatever I’m currently facing. That indeed was a “defining moment” for me. I look back on my first major move, the school system gone bankrupt, the apartment burglary, the evacuation, the hurricanes, the many trials of first-year schoolteaching, and the abrupt job transfer. Acknowledging that I got through that year with my sanity intact, I then wonder if I really need to be worrying and stressing about day to day life as much as I still do.

Sometimes I rationalize my anxieties as an indication that I’m not satisfied with things as they are, and that I strive for improvement. I’m getting the sense that in my role as teacher, I’ll never be content with how my classes are going. Some experienced teachers claim that this is a good quality to possess, yet one of my major goals this year is to learn to be a little more forgiving of my students and myself for our shortcomings. I still intend to give students whatever grades they earn, good or bad, but I hope to not let it deflate my mood when goals aren’t being met.

Poetry from the Mathside

We’re two weeks into my fifth year as a schoolteacher. So far I’m optimistic that this academic year will be better than the last. Tackling math content in my Precalculus and AP Calculus AB classes in a head-on, straightforward manner is my preferred mode of teaching, and I feel it is appropriate for this level of math class. However, a plan is bouncing around in my head that may stretch me out of my comfort zone a bit and perhaps appeal more to the non-math-lovin’ students. About a month ago I thought of having my students write and perform some spoken word math poetry sometime during the school year. What becomes of this plan remains to be seen, but in the meantime I wrote the poem “Sinusoidal Curve” in late July/early August to demonstrate some of the qualities that I would seek in student work (first and foremost, demonstrating content knowledge and having a definite “voice”). Once the words were polished to my liking, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of working out the performance aspect of the piece. Ultimately I decided to return to The Gold Mine Saloon for open mic poetry. I don’t like frequenting bars anymore, and it had been well over two years since I came to this one, but once a week the Gold Mine gets transformed into quite a quaint and pleasant setting for the Thursday night “17 Poets!” reading series.

So just over a week ago I braved the consequences of staying out late on a school night and ventured into the French Quarter. Advertised as starting at 8pm, the featured poet’s 45 minute reading didn’t actually begin until 9pm. I tried not to come across as too anxious in looking to write my name in one of the 17 slots of the open mic list, yet hesitating for just a few moments put me at number 14 on the list.

It was just as well. Listening to the earlier readers gave me time to acquire a sense of the audience, which numbered less than two dozen and mostly consisted of fellow reciters.

Several friends and colleagues had expressed interest in coming to see my participation in this event, but for various reasons, none were able to attend. I asked one of two women seated just in front of the podium if she would record my reading with the video camera that I had borrowed from school, and she graciously accepted the duty. When my turn came, I received a warm welcome from the crowd considering that I immediately identified myself as a math teacher who would be reading a math poem. In addition to “Sinusoidal Curve,” I also read one of the poems I wrote for my “S.L.O.T.H.S.” animation of 20 months ago (slightly modified to not include my school’s name). While I’m a bit disappointed that my performance wasn’t quite as smooth as I thought it had been while practicing and the recorded sound quality is fair at best, I believe the recording reasonably captured the mood of the evening and the good time I had sharing the poem.

After my reading I retrieved the video camera. I had noticed that the woman who was not holding my borrowed camera had pulled out a flip video recorder of her own during my performance. I had intended to offer them a more-proper thanks after the last several readers, but they left before I could do so.

Several in attendance enthusiastically praised my pieces and even offered a few leads of other poetry resources that I may pursue in developing an assignment for my students.

A few days later I edited my video footage and posted it to youtube. To my surprise, as soon as I uploaded the video, an alternate posting entitled “Mr. White’s Love Poem to a Sin [sic] Curve” appeared in the “related videos” section of the page. After a few moments of befuddlement, I realized that the woman with the flip video camera had posted it and youtube had used the tag words to relate the two videos. The information contained in her posting led me find that she also wrote a flattering article entitled “For the geek in you, love poem to a sin curve by Jerome White” on a New Orleans news and entertainment web site. Even though I hadn’t exchanged a word with the woman who wrote the article (turns out the one to whom I handed the camera is her daughter), it seems she perused this very web site as well as an old edition of our school newspaper that had been posted on the web to get her information.

The videos aren’t exactly causing a viral sensation, but the positive response I’ve gotten so far from friends and colleagues leads me to believe that this math poetry idea could lead to something pretty fun in my classes this year.

“Poems From The Mathside” in alternate Quicktime format.

Words to “Sinusoidal Curve”