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written Lundi Gras, Monday, 2/15/2010
Fat Tuesday is almost here!
I don’t think I could ever again recapture the excitement I had for Mardi Gras season back in 2007, the first year I lived in Uptown New Orleans not far from most of the parade routes. However, last year I sat out almost all of the festivities, so I’ve had fun getting back into it a bit. By tomorrow evening I will have enjoyed about 10 of the 50+ total parades in the Greater New Orleans area.
Certainly adding to the excitement this year is the incredible season by the NFL Super Bowl champion Saints. While I’m not fanatical about any sports team, it was hard not to get caught up in the Saints hoopla this year. Watching them overcome their underdog status in several regular season games as well as the NFC and Super Bowl championship games provided many thrilling moments. I won’t go as far as those who manically insinuate that this victory will solve our city’s social and political woes, but I was proud of New Orleans’ unbridled yet mostly-well-behaved revelry following the wins. No riots. No looting. No overturned cars. No more shootings than any typical Big Easy evening. Only a massive parade and tremendous pride in our football team.
The recent celebrations do underscore why I will likely never feel like a full-fledged New Orleanian. I’m a bit jealous of those who are able to fully indulge in the good-time feelings while I sit back and ponder why pre-Super Bowl coverage pushed the results of the huge Mayor’s race (Goodbye Ray Nagin) deep into the inner pages of the newspaper on Super Saturday. I wish I could soak in the party atmosphere instead of being so irritated that half our students were absent from school the day after the big game – many with the blessings of their parents. Education always seem to take a back seat to the latest celebration, of which there are many.
Since my unsettling first year in 2005-2006 I have grown quite fond of New Orleans in many ways. I can’t stop feeling though that New Orleans is like a happy drunk guy at a party who is good for laughs and entertainment, but can never quite get his stuff together when the party’s over.
School year marches along
A week ago Lusher High participated in the annual American Mathematics Competition, which has become the nation’s largest math competition over the past 61 years. Every year over 400,000 students from over 5,000 schools participate in the AMC just as I did back in my high school days when it was called the American High School Math Exam. This contest is extremely challenging, and this year’s questions seemed to me even harder than usual. Each year I worry that the level of difficulty will be discouraging to students, yet each year the sign-up list grows (from sixty-something to one hundred sixty-something to over two hundred this year). About 10-15% didn’t follow through on contest day for whatever reasons, but the high participation level is still exciting to me.
One of the greatest aspects of this contest is seeing who, aside from the predictably strong math students, ends up doing well. Results should be emailed to me within a few weeks. We always have a few dark horses in the list of top finishers at our school and I look forward to seeing who pulls off the surprises this year.
Overall this school year has been reasonably good for me. After 4+ years teaching is finally starting to feel like a job that I might be able to make a career of, and I’m finally starting to feel that I’m making enough impact to make it worth the time and struggle. There are still many uncertainties about where I’ll end up long term and I’m still spending too many hours at school (largely due to teaching a new subject this year, PreCalculus, instead of the Algebra 2 course I had developed over several years). I’m enjoying it more though, perhaps because the slightly older students in PreCalc are adapting to my expectations better than the Algebra 2 students. Also, I taught most of my current students last year, so the familiarity makes a difference I’m sure. Even some students with whom I butted heads frequently last year are generally getting along with me better now. The biggest shortcoming continues to be students who I feel are grossly misplaced in a PreCalculus class. Following Algebra 2, students generally start having choices for which math class to take: Algebra 3, Probability & Statistics, or PreCalculus. As the most demanding of the three choices, I’m still baffled how some students ended up in my class. Fortunately our school is taking steps to do a better job with scheduling this year and allow time for teacher input in advising students’ course selections.
I’m trying to take more joy in the bright moments this year too. Recently I was quite pleased and amused by a pact made amongst three students who have typically performed poorly in my class. According to their agreement, whoever scores lowest on one of my tests/quizzes is subjected to some kind of penalty. Most recently, the boy in the group ran down a street in his boxers during a Mardi Gras parade in 50-degree weather due to a low grade. Even better, all have finally started showing up semi-regularly for my office hours to get the extra help they need. While I would’ve suggested a positive reinforcement for the high scorer instead, I’ll take what I can get.
I’m really enjoying the AP Calculus classes this year. Some students have had their rough moments, but all are doing reasonably well by now. I still don’t expect too many stellar scores on the AP exam. As our high school matures, I believe/hope we’re finding ways to better prepare students for the demands of Calculus in their earlier high school math classes. In my PreCalc class, I constantly focus on the skills that future Calculus students will need to succeed. However, last year my students averaged just 2.0 out of 5 on the AP Exam. This year I expect a reasonable improvement: My prediction is a 2.6 average. I’ve only had one student earn a 5 in the past two years, but this year I anticipate a couple more. As an incentive, if the combined average reaches 3.0 or better this year, or if at least four students earn 5’s, I’ve agreed to get a math-related tattoo (specifically, the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus) somewhere on my body over the summer. I would also record the procedure and post it to YouTube with their names in the credits. I tried to set this mark just beyond what I think they’ll be able to accomplish so that I may keep myself ink-free, but if they do pull it off I will be so proud of them that I’ll gladly keep my word.