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written Thanksgiving, 11/24/2011

Thankful for the usual things that get taken for granted: Health, friends, great colleagues, freedom (politicized though the word may have become), employment, enough money to support a good life, my cats and enough security in my manhood to frequently profess how much I adore them, another hurricane-free season in New Orleans.

“Teacher” continues to comprise my main identity, and I’m okay with that. My current crop of students includes some of the funniest kids I’ve ever met. Academically, the frustrating struggles that I’ve spent 6+ years wishing away still remain. If I really stop to imagine the absence of such challenges, the vision is admittedly more boring and the importance of my job is diminished. The burdens of “what’s wrong with American education” still weigh heavily, but my kiddies somehow keep me laughing every day.

Solid work ethic has always been the single quality I value most in a student, but I gotta love the natural-born math nerds too. Lately I’ve taken to putting “cash for math” puzzles on the side wall of my classroom. A couple times I offered prizes of $10 for the first person to solve what I thought were problems that might stump even my brightest students. In both cases though the money was claimed in less than a day. I’ve reduced the award to $5 now and will ratchet up the level of difficulty. I know the true nerds will embrace the challenge regardless of monetary reward, but it’s still money well-spent.

And speaking of math nerdiness, it is that time of year for another American Mathematics Competition song and animation. That’ll be posted shortly, although I have to give an admiring thumbs-up to my friend Tinashe Blanchet for her debut math song/rap “That's My Log(arithm)” that she created with her students at John Ehret high school across the river.

So far this year I’ve enjoyed wonderful encounters with former students who’ve graduated to college and other pursuits. I’ve run into them at school sporting events, around New Orleans, and via internet. Several even dropped by my classroom. They’ve represented graduating classes spanning the last four years, and interestingly most of them were students who fell short of academic awesomeness while studying with me. The general theme I heard repeatedly though was one of growth. They were all able to reflect and find value in the oft-tumultuous high school years. Of course I particularly enjoyed hearing of present successes in college math classes, especially when they came with a proud sense of redemption for less-than-stellar performances with me. I’ll choose to believe the struggles they endured at my hands contributed to their current successes, and I’m especially grateful when they return to share their journeys with me.

A year ago my dear friend Nat West was in the hospital for the last time. I’ll always look back and smile on the years our lives overlapped here in Louisiana.

I’ve habitually neglected to see the bright side of life, but more often in recent years I’m gaining contentment with where I am and who I’ve become. I appreciate the interactions I’ve had with others while also treasuring the time I have alone. Thanks to friends and family who love me even when I revert to hermit mode, and know that I love you back.

In New Orleans we get a generous week off from school for Thanksgiving. During the first five days I’ve enjoyed plenty of solitude (mostly toiling away on the aforementioned math animation). Today it’s time to go take advantage of some of those offers to enjoy Thanksgiving in the company of others who’ve enriched my life.