Thursday, April 19, 2018

The "What am I doing here?" Manifesto.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am a math teacher. I have the patience of a 90 year-old grandmother. I have the wit of a stand-up comedian. On occasion, the humor of a 13 year-old boy. And I have been blogging for years without any direction.

I am Crystal Math of the Complex Radicals, though don't ask me who they are (some of 'em are imaginary!). I started teaching in 2008 -- a year of growth for me, filled with political protests and unknowingly meeting my future husband at a farmer's market. Within that year, I learned the hard way of how to plan a lesson, discipline students, and balance home life with a career. I also decided to pursue a teaching credential -- I felt valued at the little charter high school where students wrote their feelings on their homework and we held monthly community meetings with families. About a decade later, Crystal Math is no less radical but a little more complex.

But none of that has to do with what I am DOING. HERE. TODAY.

I want to do more with my career than go back and forth from home and work, work and home. I want to give students more than formulas and numbers that some of them might never use. I want to help be a part of the bigger picture in showing students how to find meaning through mathematics. But I don't know how to do that. I don't know how to do that, because no one in my family ever pivoted their career to the "bigger picture" perspective. Maybe I am just getting overzealous.

Within the past year, I have seen our society change the way they think about teachers. I want to push back and be sassy, but I find more meaning in leaning in to find positivity. Cultivate change.

It's a work in progress. I will be blogging about curriculum maps next.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Purple flowers

Today I am grateful for the relationships we build with our community. Our neighbors, teachers, friends, and colleagues. Without them, I would feel like a lost puzzle piece. With them, I feel like a cog in a well-oiled machine, I feel warmth and security and camaraderie. With them, I also celebrate their gains and sympathize their losses.

This morning, I learned that one the daycare workers where my baby attends had lost her own daughter to cancer. At only 26, she was taken from her mother Maria, her neighbors, her teachers, her friends and colleagues. I had wondered why Maria had been out all week. I didn't know the young woman that died, but I know that her mother greets me everyday when I drop off my own baby at daycare. Her mother will talk to me in Spanish so I can practice, and she doesn't know it, but when I take my baby home and I speak Spanish to her, she is calm and cool and understands.

I often speak to my students about the effects they have on one another as ripples in a pond. The interactions others see and hear from you will, in turn, affect how they act and react to others. Maria has been nothing but gracious in the way she looks after my baby and the others; it has given me a peace of mind while I go to work so I can further support my family. I just hope that she can get the time she needs to mourn and heal.
Image result for image purple flowers morning glory
A mother and daughter are separate, beautiful flowers that share the same roots.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Camp Therapy

I just returned from a four-night getaway to the Eastern Sierras of this great Golden State. There was nearly no wifi to be had unless we were traipsing around the bustling town of Lee Vining (pop. 222), and consequently there was no Facebook feed-scrolling, Instagramming, no Pokemon Go-ing outside of town. And I want to be the first to say thank goodness!

Within those five days and four nights, we must have hiked about ten miles, and I read over 300 pages -- both for academic and leisure purposes. We talked under the stars about memories, hopes and dreams, laughed together and sat together in silence. Camping is a time for that which one cannot accomplish in the 'burbs or the big city, a figurative rekindling of humanity and pure thought whilst literally rekindling what is considered man's greatest invention of fire.

As I sit here in my air-conditioned apartment madly conjuring up the sun-kissed memories of wilderness bliss -- wilderbliss -- I can't help but want to navigate the many social media outlets allowed by technology, but I must fight it. What are the new stories being published? When am I going to write that review of the book I've just read? Should I try to beat the next level of that Candy Crush-like game, before I miss the opportunity to earn infinite lives for two hours? All is irrelevant when one is in the company of sequoias, sagebrush, and tufas.
South Shore Tufa Reserve, Mono Lake

At the campsite, the only option is to enjoy the outdoors. You sure as hell don't want to stay inside the tent, because it's made of vinyl and heats up an insane amount during the day. You don't want to sit in the car, because you think of the five hour drive you'll have to take back home. A claustrophobic sensation overwhelms you and suddenly you want to gain as much distance between yourself and the car as possible.
Lundy Falls, 12 miles northwest of Lee Vining.
Instead there's the nearby lake and stream, offering its sonorous trickle of life. There are the wildflowers to remind you that colors are not made up in a lab. There are the mountains to remind you that there is something bigger than your feed, your augmented reality games. There are millennia of work to show off here, and it's all tangible, textured, raw, pure. I love camping.
Tenaya Lake, Yosemite

Sunday, September 27, 2015

All I've got is my journal, my blog, and Horrorthon.

This blog hasn't gotten any love for some time, and I've been doing some soul-searching to revive this page to explore its potential.

With October just around the corner, Horrorthon looms its pumpkin-head once again and beckons I write reviews. I write them voluntarily, whether out of a childhood obsession with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's job or out of my feeling of obligatory show of love for my informal fiancee/live-in boyfriend. I write them, publish them, and sometimes I like my work. If I ever don't like my work it's only due to my lack of writing a combined subjective-objective piece for others to understand and perhaps garner a few laughs. I put more pressure on myself than you might think: my family's well-read, my sister has written stories for almost two decades, dear friends have either been published or had to write numerous research papers themselves before college graduation.

Four weeks ago, I began the next chapter in my educational journey as I submitted my first graduate school online discussion post and journal entry. Now I've got to create a research project and formulate a problem statement, and in processing this all I thought, what if my writing sucks? I'm a math teacher, and all I've got is my personal journal, my public blog, and Horrorthon.

Research topic: Number sense
Focus: how foundational number sense can establish critical thinking skills for Algebra
Subjects: middle school suburban California kids
Subgroups: grade, sex, 2014 SBAC scores

I want to measure the number sense strategies middle school students use in various types of problems and compare their results to previously conducted research; more ambitiously, I want to measure how it shapes their thinking towards more abstract concepts in Algebra that involves unknown quantities and generalization of numerical sequences as bivariate equations (y = mx + b). Most of me is nervous but all of me knows that I've just got to quit overthinking and just start doing (but not overdoing) it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The job has now become keeping a job.

New year, new school.

Such has been the routine for the past three years now. I'm getting sick of it but am holding my tongue and my cynicism for the sake of being professional around colleagues and pupils. Being in a state of gratitude and positivity on a daily basis only allows my anxiety around the uncertainty of the future to multiply.

Each day I am greeted by passing students who frantically wave at me the skip along to meet friends at the library. I see fantastic artwork displayed outside of the teacher's lounge showcasing the diverse talents of students I only see for one subject four days a week. I get to talk to parents and see their children as growing people, and I get to see those people grow in 186 school days. I talk and laugh and hang out with teachers outside of school, sharing funny student quotes or anecdotes over a beer and thank them for all the little things that contribute to my feeling balanced during the week. On Wednesday I was observed by the principal and despite the fact that I committed the teacher faux pas of "trying/doing something new," I wasn't afraid or nervous because I know my classes, I know myself as a teacher, and I know what I'm doing. Although I am behind in grading of homework, tests, and projects, I will still review the homework my TA graded so I can read my student's feelings.
excited for Halloween!!
stressed about so much homework
depressed (will tell you after school)
tierd <-- is now an inside joke after I made the distinction between tired and tiered. Student now writes tierd cake on every homework.

I think about the personal funds, time and energy put into making bulletin boards, posting decorations, curriculum mapping and typing electronic documents for students and stop myself from wondering if I'll be here five years from now to gain a reputation as the teacher who makes kids write feelings, the teacher who shows The Dot and The Line...
The teacher who's "married" to Fabio!
But then I start to wonder why I have to be so visceral in describing my personal struggle. Life is made up of plot twists and turns, upsets and celebrations. Right now my life is like an indie drama: you don't really know what the message is but you can look for meaning anywhere. I'm working through the depression that comes with the feeling of defeat and working on being present where there is beauty --

He's much hipper than Fabio. And yes, we are both wearing KISS shirts :-)
and heart.
Professor Boogums in his study.
I might have to pick up my bags and move on come June, or I might tidy things up in preparation for a second year/"second chance," but fearlessly starting the day comes first and foremost. If someone asked me if I was afraid that they don't keep me for next year, I would say no, I'm not afraid. I'm anxious as hell, but I know what I'm doing and that's what makes me fearless.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sentiments about job-interviewing and job-moving on (again)

The 2013-14 year teaching middle school has been an eye-opening one for me. One component resides in the block schedule, favored by electives teachers and those core-subject instructors specializing in project-based learning.
  • My teaching assignment this past year: Algebra 1 every other day, and Math 8 every day.
  • Never have I had to work with a 2-day block before and the structure of seeing the Algebra 1 crowd no more than three times a week. The benefits of a block schedule are that you can cover twice the amount of material, but in this group, all I found myself doing was lecturing and not giving enough time for exploration, marination, and the inevitable success I've experienced in the past. Who wants to sit and write notes for 85 minutes? This situation was remedied with exploratory, parter- and group-central activities, taking "breaks" either to get up and move around or to share student successes and discuss problem-solving strategies. Perhaps what most frustrates me about this group is the one kid who, on the first anonymous survey I ever gave, responded to a question thusly:
Q: Is there anything you wish you could have told me this year?
A: That you are a bad teacher.
Amidst all those budget cut-backs, impossibly copious amounts of grading and pulling worksheets out of . . . maybe we all need a little break.
  • I'm reminded of an occasion about four years ago when I began my first year teaching and I came across one student's homework. This was the first year I implemented the same heading as my 11th grade Honors Trigonometry teacher: up at the top of the page, following name, date, and assignment, were the feelings. This particular Algebra 1 student, four years ago, wrote: "My feelings are none of your business." I might have written some sort of acknowledgement, or not written anything at all. I might have started checking in more with that student, or not said anything at all. I don't recall. What I do know is that the following year I had the same student for Algebra 2, and, implementing the same homework heading, read over some of the most eloquent and sometimes raw emotions this student had. I would like to think that I was somebody this young adult could talk to and know their feelings were safe. Or maybe they just emoted to everybody. I have no idea. My point is that I am quick to react like everyone else with comments directed towards their character -- with hurt emotions or dented self-esteem -- but I know that that student who called me a bad teacher will be just fine in their academic career, in the long run. It'll all come out in the woodwork, as they say.

The other, more significant part, resides in this revolving door I have begun to get used to in my employment status. I interview well, and multiple times throughout the year I am told that I am a great teacher (by adults and children alike, even by my boyfriend and parents who have never seen me teach). The year comes to a close, and then I find myself jobless with my previous administration team acting as cheerleaders on the sidelines rather than members of the same team on the field working together. I feel "good enough" to hire and keep on for the year, to learn those kids some 'rithmetic real good, but not "good enough" to keep for reasons of budget, or for no reason given whatsoever.
    If you don't know where you're going, any road can take you there.
I am not sure if my colleagues from this past year will be passing faces or lifelong neighbors of my classroom. I'm unsure of what will become of my classroom if six full-time teachers are not required. Even though it was cockroach-ridden and always a mess in my eyes, it was like a second home and a safe haven for me to uphold for a unique group of students. Since mid-March I've passed through the various stages of figuratively mourning this job position.

Denial -- this one was probably the shortest.
Anger -- actually a lot of fun because humor is my defense mechanism for getting angry.
Bargaining -- I must have spoken with every teacher on campus about past practices, gotten my hopes up, and networked. This was probably the second most productive stage for me.
Depression -- no fun. No fun for anyone. This was probably the first time in a hear and a half that I dreaded going to work. The last time was when I worked in downtown Oakland to a screeching, uncontrollable group of high schoolers who needed help beyond my control.
Acceptance -- the most productive stage for me. I'm done feeling sorry for myself and instead I only feel sorry for others. 

This morning I had a couple of interviews within the huge district of which I am now a part. I had a decent first impression of the 9AM interview, which only scored a 3 on and reminded me a lot of the first school I ever worked at: what lacks in grounds appearance is made up in heart and dedication to the children attending. From the moment I stepped into the office I was greeted warmly by so many staff members that my quadriceps began to burn from standing up and sitting down again. Job Interview yoga reigns today!
We'll end the unit on applied proportional relationships in electricity with an Ohm.
As a teacher, I really value authenticity. It was one of the philosophical foundation blocks of West County Community HS and in every staff lineup I find myself with each year I can gauge whether the job will be gratifying or stressful simply based on how authentic everyone is with one another. If I made a list of important things to look for in a long-term teaching job (or ANY kind of job, for that matter), I'd list Interpersonal Relationships rather high.

My second interview threw me for a loop as it was in an area I'm not familiar with and will usually talk trash about; however, the school grounds were impeccable, the staff were pretty nice, and there are district funds to cap class sizes at a reasonable 28 bodies. On paper and to an outsider, it seems like they have really accommodated the low socioeconomic student population with enriching activities and an exemplary after-school program that serves food for the body and mind.
It would seem like the latter choice would be the best bet, but . . . 

My classroom is my second home; at times I've spent more hours there than at my actual home. No matter how many pros and cons I list of each school, taking into consideration the API, demographics, given budget, and math department dynamic, the biggest variable still remains: is this a stepping stone school or a place where I can set my bags down and get comfortable? If I can't find a permanent position and establish myself, then I won't feel as if I've learned anything about being a better teacher. Like the students I teach and have taught, if I don't get a chance to show what I know before the rules of the game change again how can I feel like a winner?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


It's no secret that teaching is very draining. There are minimal rewards to the hours outside of school that need to be put in to planning, creating assessments, grading, and revising those plans to address the needs of as many differing personalities and learning styles as you can.

And that's just what I need to do for my classroom. There's more to do for colleagues, students, and parents. I feel humbled towards those who recognize how much needs to be done and yet I am guilt-ridden when I don't accomplish it all, and with gusto, and with time leftover to craft, cook, clean, or relax at home.

Just the other day I had a great moment while talking to my mom on the phone. The conversation didn't just encompass my attitude towards work, but also towards how I communicate to others and carry myself, especially while processing a lot of stress (self-enflicted or otherwise). When I feel the push to do too much in too short a time frame, I tend to push back by getting cranky (like many) and micro-managing the actions of others. When I get anxious my eyes begin to ache, as if they have been overworked in focusing long-distance to examine if students in the back are passing notes or food or money, and zeroing in on my paper 18 inches away from my face, that is being projected for all students to see and copy down. After 8 hours of this (only 6 hours when I have my "prep" period), you can only imagine how your eyes must feel; and, on days that require school-related and home-related tasks get done, all I see when I look around are little pop-up bubbles critiquing and reminding me of everything I'm missing or not accomplishing in that moment:

sit up straight
don't bike so fast
get a haircut
grade papers
do more situps this afternoon
need to run more miles
drink less coffee 
email student's parents
create class website with multiple pages
plan out your unit of instruction
quit playing with your hair
do dishes
work on your evaluation
bike faster
don't stand pigeon-toed, you look like a little girl
say something constructive
organize craftspace
get more coffee
plan out your summer
pay off your debt
don't text so much
 you should read more
pick up after yourself
watch less tv
play more board games
take deep breaths
do more advanced math
plan for next year
do laundry
you wore that yesterday
tidy up the patio
take a nap you need it
finish that lesson plan
what's for dinner?

This all sweeps over my head like a tidal wave and I feel like I am going to lose it. I don't know what form it will come in, a teary meltdown or a vengeful screaming tantrum. When I take deep breaths and I allow myself time alone, riding home or lost in a book, I seem to always get lucky in finding the words to describe my current mental state. I am frustrated, anywhere I look I see obligations forming that I cannot control nor fulfill to the ability that I would if I had the time to focus solely on that task.

 I'd like to offer an orderly, streamlined solution to dealing with stress and anxiety in the form of a cute meme or bullet-pointed list but there are so many out there I would just be adding eyedrops to the ocean. I deal with my anxiety using the same tactics I'd use as a teacher on a student with anxiety. I break down tasks into smaller chunks, allow myself a time limit to complete a task so I don't obsess over it, and I try to keep my "to do" lists under five items. Any more than five items and my mind begins to race thinking of more (and hoping that the total will make a nice multiple of five). When I start to see similar traces of anxiety in my students, I first hear them out. Validate their feelings and worries, then offer solutions in the form of some of my own solutions (smaller tasks, not spending a lot of time on one thing, etc.)

There was a splendid moment in my high school life where I was up at 10:30pm reading for my AP US History class. My mom opened my bedroom door and saw me, still at my desk, and said, "Sweetie, put the book down and watch some tv or something. You need to unwind." Mothers can work wonders.