return to “Big J in Greater New Orleans” index
previous entry .......... next entry
written New Year's Day 1/1/2014
Has it been that long?
Okay, it's official. I blew off updating this site for an entire calendar year. Actually with the exception of posting Lady Logarithm, it's been about one and a half academic years.
When I started a new life here, I naturally wanted to capture and share the adventure. Especially landing in New Orleans summer of 2005, my own personal history became set in a context that forged historical significance extending infinitely far beyond myself. Throughout a number of years that followed, I think I developed a subconscious belief that my life would never get any more interesting than the present. I had to document it before I settled into a routine of mundaneness that wouldn’t even be worth discussing anymore.
Certainly the sense of novelty has worn off by now, but New Orleans and teaching in particular still provides plenty of newness. Life has indeed settled into somewhat of a routine that’s far from mundane. In fact, to me personally the adventure of being a teacher is every bit as intriguing as it ever was. It’s far from perfect of course, yet it is definitely what I’m meant to be doing at this time. In the absence of weather distractions or anxieties that some life-calling remains undiscovered, I find endless fascination in how to become more effective in this identity. Whether crafting new lessons or refining/revamping lessons I’ve taught for years, I still frequently expend hours well into the evenings trying to figure out how to convey math content. What a task: Trying to make the lessons some combination of challenging yet achievable, uplifting yet humbling, applicable yet not limited to real-world, interesting yet not merely “fluffy,” and altogether meaningful in some way. Or the greater challenge for me: Trying to reinforce a solid teacher-student structure while striving to relate to each of my kiddies on a personal level. Such puzzles alone could keep one occupied for several careers.
Email to Mr. Halliday
Hello and Merry Christmas Mr. & Mrs. Halliday!
I flagged your email upon receiving it a couple weeks ago, wanting to wait for a time to give a thoughtful reply. You sent it on the 9th and today is 16 days later, the 25th... Hooray for the squares of Pythagorean triples! Okay, typically comments like that just elicit an eye-roll at best, but I figure my favorite math teacher would be one of few who "gets it."
How wonderful to hear from you and read your update. I'm glad to find (but not at all surprised) that you both are still traveling and engaging in various activities. Pretty cool to say I know an Olympic silver medalist [Racquetball, National Senior Olympic Games 2013]. I'm assuming there is also still plenty of bridge (right game?) to help keep the days entertaining.
I'm still doin' the teaching thang and I'm happy to report it's going well. By the end of this academic year my teaching career will be as long as my engineering career at nine years each. Despite a rocky beginning in Katrina-year New Orleans and too many ups and downs to count, I'd say that within the last two years or so I've finally hit my stride. I've pretty much learned to accept the enduring headaches much better than I did in the earlier years and take great pleasure in the good times. Just about every day provides a lesson that I'm excited to teach and/or an unanticipated occurrence that makes me smile. I'm still at Lusher Charter School. While it is considered to be one of the best schools in New Orleans, I still see much room for improvement. I do think we're getting a little better year by year, yet on numerous occasions I've thought of looking elsewhere. I ought to pursue a change someday lest I get too comfy in any one spot, but I also want to beware of believing that I'll find greener grass elsewhere. Ultimately I've got a lot to be thankful for right now. So for the time being, I'm not quite ready to exchange one set of rewards and frustrations for another.
This is my fifth year of teaching PreCalculus Honors and AP Calculus AB, with a little BC thrown in when we have the demand. Rather than getting tired of teaching the same subjects year after year, I'm enjoying them more and more. It's been humbling yet fun to realize that I'll never know everything there is to know about even the more mundane math topics I'm tasked with teaching. Every year I find new ways to look at things I've taught many times over. Of course, then trying to transmit the skills and knowledge and interest to students who've never seen it before will always be an oft-elusive goal. One of my biggest laments is that I'm not able to give them much time to explore with little/no guidance from me. I've settled for sometimes saying, "Hey, here's something I was playing with last night..." or "Here's a fascinating article I just found..." and then leading them through a few exercises. I then reveal a cool discovery or insight and hope that a few will be inspired to wander a bit on their own time. But then it's back to the curriculum so that we can achieve pretty scores on the standardized tests.
Technology has opened many interesting avenues for my teaching. Like most things worth discussing and arguing about, I see technology as a double-edged sword. The interactive white boards (which I've used since my year #3) allow me to make my lesson content much more visually compelling than it would otherwise be, but it also makes it tempting to speed through lessons at breakneck pace. Free graphing software like Geogebra and Desmos have been my favorite tools. Being able to display dynamic constructions on the interactive whiteboard to demonstrate abstract concepts is tremendously valuable. I wish we had the resources to put it in the hands of all the students during class time. Probably someday soon we will, but putting techno-gadgets in students' hands then presents its own challenges. Even handheld calculators continue to be a divisive issue amongst math teachers. You've surely had many a discussion on them throughout your career as well. I've also been developing class websites for both PreCalc and AP Calc, featuring video lessons and other materials that students can access from anywhere with an internet connection. It's not a perfect solution, but I've found it to be quite helpful to students who get home and discover they've forgotten everything they learned in class that day.
My students are pretty remarkable. As much as I continue to find myself griping about their math deficiencies or boneheaded adolescent ways from time to time, they are so much more than just a "job" to me. They're at an age where I can make fun of them all day long and they've learned to tastefully dish it back. They know I mess with them out of affection. There are those with fantastic work ethic who stop at nothing to climb higher on that mathematical mountain. If I had to specify a favorite time of day, it would probably be the after-school office hours. I bust out a big bag of peanuts, turn on my old-man tunes, and we power through the toughest math topics of the day. Sometimes we go well into the evening if that's what it takes. On the other hand there are the knuckleheads who dare sign up for my class but then claim they don't have time to do the work. Wrestling with them just to get math to register somewhere on their radar even brings a begrudging sense of satisfaction. While a decent number of my students lead "normal" middle class lives, I know that many of them face huge challenges outside of school. Whether it be poverty, family crises, substance abuse, depression, or whatever, at that age I guess just about everyone has struggles that seem all-absorbing at times. With the opportunity to teach many students two years in a row, I get such great enjoyment in seeing them grow and overcome obstacles during that time. I find myself admiring them as much as they may look up to me. It's not fashionable to say amongst teaching circles, but on weekends I frequently look forward to seeing my students on Monday.
Some of my recent grads have stayed in contact with me as they venture through college and beyond. I can't sufficiently explain to them how much I value their staying in touch. Accordingly, I'm a bit sheepish that I mention you to all my classes every year yet haven't been in more frequent contact. Maybe today's rambling will ease my guilt a bit. Holy frijoles, I'm just noticing that it's going on six years since I've last seen you both. I believe I visited in summers of 2006 and 2008. What do you think of me stopping by ol' Georgetown in summer 2014? I've got a few things already filling the time slots but I'm determined to make that happen if it fits into your calendar.
Class of 2013 Graduation pics
Kiddies I was able to catch after graduation 7+ months ago.
Class of 2013 AP Calculus classes
Behold the 'Fro
Since there's no guarantee that I will ever possess such a rockin' afro again (17 months growth), here's the evidence. First photo from Mardi Gras, marching alongside the New Orleans Cherry Bombs.
Transformation -- A Mathematical Love Poem
Poem completed 8 August 2013, Animation completed 25 August 2013
Intentionally more modest in complexity and tone than its predecessors, this poem is relevant to the math content that we study in Quarter 1 of my PreCalculus class. The topic of tranformations addresses how to modify the equation of a function in order to make its graph slide left/right/up/down, stretch or shrink vertically or horizontally, and reflect across vertical and/or horizontal axes. Nerd note: There are 2048 (2^11) frames in the animation.