Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday's here.

First off, all you who send me email with the smug little tag lines:
sent from my wireless Blackberry or, sent from my iPhone

You do that on purpose, don't you?

Hey, have I written about who/what I'm teaching this semester? I'm re-teaching Algebra 1A. This means that I'm teaching the kids that failed it last semester.
This means that I'm teaching kids who FAILED IT. They FAILED it, got an F, did not get any high school credit. And, most of them also failed 8th-grade math, too, and maybe more, although I don't have access to their records before that. And so I have a brand new class of shiny-faced youngsters with more than the usual desperation, apathy, and feeling of failure on their plate. They showed up in my class on January 7th with various levels of being grounded or perhaps worse, parents who said things like, "just hand in there another year, and then you can drop out and work with your uncle Milo in the garage."

I don't know how to tell them, "hang on, just keep working, many, many bright and talented people struggle with Algebra, when you're older, you can hire a tutor." So, I just try to find ways to make Algebra entertaining. And you know what? Turns out there aren't that many ways to do that. I stand up there and do my song and dance, wanting this to be my swan song, since I may, more likely than not, never teach again after May. I fantasize about them talking about me after I'm gone, saying, "oh, if only we'd known how talented she was. Why didn't she tell us she felt so burned out? I mean, other than saying to us every single day in the hallway, 'I feel so burned out,' that is."

See, when I took Algebra 1 in high school it just made sense to me. I sat in the back seat of class and read novels, and every once in a while I'd look up and squint at the board (I was too cool to wear my glasses) and see what the teacher had written, and it just made sense. So, I'd go back to my book, ignore my homework, make all As on the tests, and barely pass the class with a C-. It has to do with pattern recognition. Some people can look at how a couple of problems are solved and detect a pattern in how they are solved, and BINGO, they know the rules and what to do next time.

Others do not.

And those are the ones I'm teaching.

I've never had a class in how to teach math, unlike the other math teachers. I've been doing it, mostly, for 8 years. I ignore words like, "evaluate" and tell the kids that those are fancy math words, "Just work it out." I say. I also say things like, "Stuff" instead of "quantity" and "Smooshed together" to describe how we write products like the variable term 3xy.
I go to math meetings and hear about how the other teachers are having their kids keep write and keep, "math journals" and I try to keep my face as neutral as possible. (Is every other math teacher on earth just a big huge NERD?) I don't even really fit in with the other math teachers. They majored in math. I majored in geology and education. They'll fondly say things like, "Remember college calculus?" and I'll mumble something. I think I took "MATH 123f, Calculus for Single Mothers With Small Children." I think I got a C.

So, the kids and I will struggle together until May, when I walk away from administration's plans to nearly double my workload next year and possibly increase my class size.

But, hell, it's Friday. it's Friday and it's a three day weekend. it's been a long week, what with a broken furnace (of COURSE the furnace broke on the coldest day of the year at our house) and bitter, cold, un-runnable weather. I have "spinach and artichoke" flavored potato chips, which are better than they sound, and a margarita. Hello, garden tub. Hello, medium-level sudoku. Hello, Saturday spin class and Sunday run.




  1. I thought ya'll weren't allowed to give F's anymore. If you did, a child might be left behind. ;)

    I love math. It's beautiful. But I certainly struggle through my classes.

    Have a relaxing weekend.

    And enjoy the margarita's.

  2. You sound like an awesome math teacher. I wish I'd had you in school...I'd be in your class right now. I know they'll miss you.

    She who kept failing algebra in college and finally ended up in some class with a cool teacher who actually made sense.

    Margaritas and salty chips sound perfect...

  3. I'm right there with you. Check out my latest issue of 'fear', things I'm afraid of today. My list includes 6th graders who don't know the difference between adding and subtracting (or how to read) and 8th graders who don't know a practical application for multiplication. I'm in my second year of teaching and already having thoughts you describe. Best to all of us! I hope your long run this weekend will be more pleasant than's 20 degrees in DC.

  4. Math and I have a strange relationship. And I went to school for civil engineering. I know what you mean about pattern recognition, but that doesn't help with Differential Equations. Or most of calculus. Or much of statistics.

  5. Hope your furnace is fixed soon and you're feeling warmer and toastier. Kudos to you for being the kind of math teacher - the unlofty, un-nerdy kind - that most kids would love to have.

    I unschool with my kids, so math is always part of everyday life, but I can imagine how hard it would be to teach in that kind of setting.

  6. I understand those kids. Math stopped making sense to me after elementary school. But it seems I have an ear for all sorts of languages and I am a teacher - and a good one, too. But although I liked my math teachers, not one of them could make me recognize those patterns. For me Math was never logical and sitting through it till 12th grade was hell. Our brains are wired differently I guess.
    But I digress.

    Enjoy your long run, Misty

  7. Okay, I admit, I am one of those people who just isn't good at math. I just don't get numbers. I really try. But you'll love this...
    The other week at work (I am in marketing) I received a directive that my sales people had to sell so much in order to get added when I compared it to what they sell in other just didn't add up. No one could explain to me the rationale that they used. I showed them my 'real' explainaton of why this didn't make they are revamping the, the math that I was NEVER going to use in algebra...yeah, it took a little while but I can figure out X

  8. I have a minor in math & I can't remember a darn thing, can't even help my daughter in Algebra. Ahh, I remember one of my teachers in College would allways say "Take the square loot"

    Yes we can change the message on our Blackberries, but then when you get a terse message from us you'll know it's from our blackberry. Plus it makes us sound important, even if we aren't :)


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