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Seeing It

Tuesday, 23 Apr 2019, 19:36 UTC

He stood at the whiteboard staring at the solutions I had taped there for all of them to consult as they wrestled with adding and subtracting rational expressions. He was leaning in a bit, focusing intently. Then he pulled up his head and turned.

“Ohhhh,” he said. “That’s how it works!”

He headed back to his seat, preparing to explain his discovery to his table partner. 

“What did you find?” I asked as he walked by.

“You know how you don’t see it,” he asked, “and then you see it?”

“So you see it?” I asked.

“I see it,” he said.

Yellow Composites

Tuesday, 23 Apr 2019, 19:25 UTC

First there are the Bluebonnets. Then come the Indian Paintbrush. Then, if it’s a good year, the Winecups start rising out of the greenery as yellow begins to spread across Central Texas.

Yellow. It starts with Texas Star. And then comes Indian Blanket. And then quickly in a cascading profusion of shapes and sizes, come the hoards of yellow composites.

This was the way of things on a morning last week: Englemann’s Daisy growing in front with the morning sun rising above the house just before we left for work.

Not a bad way to start the day.

They Outed Me

Sunday, 07 Apr 2019, 19:30 UTC

1. They Figured It Out

“Mister,” she said from the back of the room, trying to get my attention above the hubbub of the five minutes between periods. “Mister!” 

“Yes?” I said from where I was standing with my seating roster.

“I know how old you are, Mister.”

I stopped taking attendance.

“How old am I?”

“I found you on a white pages site,” she said. “You are sixty.” 

I smiled and nodded. “I am sixty.”

They had finally outed me.

2. A Better Theory

“Mister,” she said the next day as I was passing out papers. 

“Yes?” I said.

“Did you work out when you were young?”

“What?” I walked toward her desk. “Did I work out!?”

“You don’t look sixty, Mister” she said. “You must have worked out when you were young.”

I started to say something about running. But the girl sitting next to her smiled a slight smile. She had a better theory. 

“He must use some kind of creme!” she said. She could barely say it without laughing, which they all immediately did.

Birthday Report #2

Sunday, 31 Mar 2019, 18:11 UTC

“Wear your black jeans, baby,” Trudy said from across the house, gently reminding me that we had to leave soon. 

I clicked SEND to submit the final assignment of my alternative certification class and got up to change, uncharacteristically making no fuss about the fact that Trudy was wearing blue jeans yet had instructed me to dress otherwise. 

“You look good in your black jeans,” she had said. How could I object?

We left late. Gregg and Kelley texted to let us know that they were there. Trudy texted back to confess that we were 14 minutes out. I hung my head in shame. You see, Gregg and Kelley are on time like clockwork, and we … well, we are not. 

When we walked into the restaurant, Trudy told the greeter that we were meeting friends. They nodded and smiled, and we made our way to the back. I could see Gregg sitting at a table. We got closer, and I could see Kelley, too. I waved to catch their attention, but…

“There’s someone else there,” I said to Trudy.

She didn’t say anything. When walked onto the patio, I discovered why. The fair and industrious Trudy had pulled off a surprise party. I had been working on my assignment as she ran party errands all morning (after running a 5K race), and I had been oblivious to her machinations.

Laura and Carl were there. And Lou and Peg were there. They turned as we walked in with wide smiles on their faces. And soon, Range and Deepa arrived. And then Ronnie walked in, having just arrived from Houston. And then Zelda and Steve. And then Lisa. And then Della and Daniel. And later, as we were snacking on snacks and gorging on birthday cake (two of them!), Harish and Elizabeth called from out east.

A good time was had by all, but I must say, I got to enjoy it the most.

Thank you, baby!

Birthday Report #1

Sunday, 31 Mar 2019, 17:38 UTC

Friday was a good day at school. How could it not be? It was my birthday, and although I’ve been coy with my students about my age, I let every period know that it was my birthday. And of course, because the teacher was in a good mood, the students were, too. 

In fourth period, I asked a group of students how to say Happy Birthday in Spanish. Their eyes lit up, as they got their chance to teach the teacher.

“Feliz cumpleaños!” they told me.

I dutifully repeated back the phrase. And then I quietly added, “Today’s my birthday.”

Their eyes lit up. “Your birthday!?” they shouted so everyone in the room looked over. And one of them held up her finger and waved it in the air.

“One, two, three…” she said. 

And all the students proceeded to sing me Happy Birthday

It was the highlight of a good day.

The Old Sailor

Saturday, 30 Mar 2019, 12:04 UTC

There once was an old sailor my grandfather knew
Who had so many things which he wanted to do
That, whenever he thought it was time to begin,
He couldn’t because of the state he was in.

— A.A. Milne, The Old Sailor

Time to finish that final assignment on the day after an auspicious birthday, which was one excuse not to finish. Time to finish that last assignment, having returned from lunch with Bill, which was another excuse not to finish. Time to… Ok, let us not emulate the old sailor again…

—To Lorna, who (like many others) will know the book cover and the two hidden behind it.

Musing in the Sun

Monday, 18 Mar 2019, 19:26 UTC

Sitting in the sun on a bench with Mockingbirds singing up and down the street and all around the neighborhood and Izzy semi-slumbering in the dappled shade, her eyes contagiously sleepy, I keep turning around.

I turn to look down the street at the Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) that I planted in Mary’s yard last spring. It’s a conservative tree, like the Pecan in Alex’s backyard, neither of them quite convinced that winter is finally done, both holding out for more time, unlike the Monterey Oak (Quercus polymorphs  in Carol’s yard that I started from an acorn several years ago and planted just last weekend. That young oak has decided spring has sprung.

And then there are the new Burr Oaks (Quercus macrocarpa) that I collected last fall, the macrocarpal acorns bulging in both my sweater pockets as I came home from a walk. Two weeks ago, those Burr Oaks started pushing up sprouts from the mulch at the top of the milk cartons in which I planted them, and most of them now divided and transplanted into slightly bigger containers of various shapes and sizes. They have a lot of growing to do, those Burr Oaks do, and they are tough trees, so I suppose they figure there is no time to waste, no need to wait.

I turn around to look to Mary’s house, and I think these things.

The Mockingbirds and now singing Wrens and crying Bluejays and Cedar Waxwings squealing in the breeze, the dog, an intrepid butterfly, and the first yellow Texas Star are all convinced that winter is gone. The sun on my cheek makes it feel so. Perhaps the Pecan tree will relent tomorrow.

Tomorrow! I must stop this. Tomorrow I have a test. So I must leave the bench and the birds and the sun and the trees and go back inside to study. 

Who Knows

Saturday, 16 Mar 2019, 11:30 UTC

Could it be?
Yes it could!
Something’s comin’ — something good.
Oh I can’t wait.

And it just so happens that I don’t have to wait, because Spring Break is here!


Sunday, 10 Mar 2019, 10:39 UTC

I stood at the front of the class and rolled my eyes. It was second period, and it was time to show the video announcements, but another teacher had occupied my room for testing the day before, and I was now unable to connect my laptop to the projector. So I announced that we’d be skipping the announcements.

“Mister,” one of the girls across the room said. “But Mister, it’s disconnected.”

I looked at at the two VGA connectors, and sure enough one of them was hanging loose. I hooked it up, and my laptop screen instantly appeared on the screen at the front of the class.

“Ok now, we’ll watch the announcements,” I said. “Thank you, Juli.”

I stood there for a second and then turned to the class. 

“You know, I used to write software for a living,” I told them. They know this, but I had said it by way of transition to a digression, which they recognize. The class was silent. “I used to write computer software. … I was good at it.”

Someone in the back of the room said, “Well, I hope so!”

“But…” I said, “the last thing you’d ever want me to do is touch computer hardware. I’m not good at it.”

“How’s that possible?” a boy asked.

“I know. It’s sad. But it’s true. You’ve just seen proof,” I said.

And then we watched the announcements.

Draw Tell Keep Trip Confess Teach

Sunday, 10 Mar 2019, 10:19 UTC

Sometimes I draw cartoonish stick figures on the notes we write in class. Stick figures pointing up at a table and saying, “Hey, we did that last week.” Stick figures holding a figure in the air and saying, “Yes! That’s right.” Stick figures pointing at a logarithm and thinking “Yuck!” in a big red thought bubble off to the side as an explicit acknowledgement that logarithms look weird. 

Sometimes I tell stories from when I used to develop software. Stories of working in Houston on space projects. Stories about Mission Control and about programming languages. Stories about raising a son when I only got to see him every other weekend, as an explicit acknowledgement that teachers aren’t perfect and that life is hard.

I keep a notebook for each period. A notebook with a table of contents that has page numbers and dates. A notebook that has a banner at the top of each day’s work, summarizing what we’re doing that day. A notebook that students can take pictures of or get from classmates if they miss class. A notebook that shows indirectly what it means to be organized, what it means to think clearly, what it means to communicate.

Sometimes I trip over myself in class. The students giggle, and they see that I couldn’t care less. When students get up to sharpen pencils while I’m making a few announcements at the beginning of class, I smile and roll my eyes slightly and tell them to go ahead and sharpen their pencils, because heck, “They’re sharpening a tool that they’re about to use to follow my lead,” and why would that upset any teacher? To teach humility.

Once, I confessed that I like to spell the word, through, as “thru” but that I’d never do that in the classroom. And I step back and look at the word on the board and ask “What’s up with that -gh!?” and explain my pseudo-history of English when Anglo-Saxon germanic merged with Norman french and how the German word for “through” is “durch” and I walk them through a pseudo-linguistic derivation: durch → thurch → thruch → thru at which point I widen my eyes in mock shock and put my hand over my mouth. And some of them chuckle. To demonstrate the value of understanding even little things.

And every day of course, I teach them some algebra. Because that’s what I was hired to do.