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The Last Lesson

Monday, 13 May 2019, 20:12 UTC

At some point on Friday, my Algebra 2 colleague said to me, “Well, today’s the last day of notes for the students.”

We both have them keep notes in composition notebooks. Sometimes they glue things in. Much of the time, they write notes and examples based on what I’m writing in my notebook. So the notebooks are … or at least can be … good references for quizzes and in-class assignments. And last Friday was the end. The last lesson. Nothing more. From here on out, we’re reviewing for a test and then for finals. 

The last lesson.

It didn’t really sink in until the afternoon. I was printing some review sheets. School was over, and as usual, all the seasoned teachers had long since left, because it had been, what, 10 minutes since the last bell. Zoom! They’re out the door, and there I am alone in the workroom, printing review sheets.

Well I wasn’t completely alone. Across the room, one of the senior teachers (she has 30 years behind her) was printing something, too. I walked over and got her attention. She turned and smiled.

“Last lesson today,” I said.

Her smile broadened, and she nodded. She knew exactly what I was talking about.

“And get this,” I said. “All my grading is finished. Quizzes and homework. Everything. I got it all done during the day. I have nothing to take home this weekend!”

She laughed loudly. She held up her hand. We high fived.

“So now you are teacher. For real!” she said.

It’s taken all year to get to this point. And on the last day of the last lesson, with no teacher stuff to throw into my messenger bag, I had a giddy feeling welling up inside me. It was like the feeling you used to get on the last week of school when you were a kid. I haven’t felt that runaway euphoria since then — that feeling of school winding down with the whole summer ahead, spring blowing warm air under a blue sunny sky, your heart wanting to explode with sheer joy.

Wait. School is winding down. Summer lies ahead. The sky has (sometimes) been blue. The sun has (sometimes) been shining. And, oh, the wildflowers… And the clouds drifting across the sky… And that bluebird sitting on that barbwire fence…

You see? Sheer joy.

Just Fine

Sunday, 12 May 2019, 20:40 UTC

Sometimes I get distracted. I will be talking about something like, I don’t know, something like direct variation. And then I will stop mid-sentence and look at the class. I will look at them and change gears — tell a story.

When this happens, they set their pencils down. They have learned to see it coming.

So last week I was talking about something like, I don’t know, I think it was solving rational equations. And I stopped mid sentence and looked at them. And changed gears — really changed gears. Somehow I was talking about the design flaws of the pens that I use, specifically, the failings of the visual design of the pens which led me to buy a pack of medium point pens when I really wanted fine point pens.

This is more significant than it might appear at first glans. With medium point pens, there is a limit to how cleanly I can annotate my diagrams and equations. With fine point pens, I feel like a draftsman. With medium point pens I feel like I’m writing with jumbo crayons. And the design flaw in all this is that there is no clear annotation on the pens to differentiate them. No annotation, that is, except for a dim gray “Fine” vs. “Medium” written on a dark gray band at the bottom of the otherwise identical black pens (identical, mind you, to the extend that the packaging for these pens does not say “Fine” or “Medium”).

To demonstrate my point, I walked out to Jasmine’s desk with one of each of the pens.

“You tell me,” I said. “Which one is fine and which one is medium?”

She looked at the pens and with no hesitation said, “This is the fine pen.” She handed it to me.

In shock, I squinted at the dim gray text at the bottom of that pen. I could not see what it said. I squinted harder. I saw an ‘F’.

“You are right!” I said. The class laughed.

That’s sixty year-old eyes for you.

Mother’s Day

Sunday, 12 May 2019, 15:14 UTC

Happy Mother’s Day, mom.

Onslaught of Yellow

Sunday, 12 May 2019, 15:02 UTC

The Bluebonnets have come and gone. Their seed pods are beginning to dry, preparing to spew seeds for another generation down the line. And the Indian Paintbrush have come and gone, too. At their peak, a dusty orange-pink lined my 30 mile drive to school, taking my breath away at the beginning of every day.

And now we have the annual onslaught of yellow.

Working on an Exit Ticket

Wednesday, 24 Apr 2019, 18:52 UTC

Keeping kids engaged in learning is hard, harder when the subject is math, and worse when so many of them lack fundamental skills. So you do what you can, and you smile when you stumble on something that works.

On this day, we had a block of time at the end of class for the kids to work on some independent practice problems. There would be an exit ticket that they would have to turn in (as evidence that they were doing something with the time they were given). And the block of time was generously long, because most of the students were in a different part of the building taking a standardized English test. 

It was quiet in the classroom — blissfully quiet for this normally raucous period. We had just finished talking about greatest common factors, and now the kids were working the exit tickets.

Overheard from two students sitting at a table not too far away:…

“…what you do is pull out the GCF like this…”

He pointed to his paper. The two of them were bent over the table. Then the other one started to ask a question.

“But what’s this here?”

He paused momentarily and then said, “Ohhh.”

He picked up his pencil and began writing on his own paper. The first student continues with his. The two of them fell silent. Not long after that, I looked up, and I saw them comparing answers.

These exit tickets have been effective. Actually, they aren’t really exit tickets but rather smallish sets of problems — short enough not to feel like an assignment, long enough to keep them working, varied enough that they don’t have to slog thru one problem on end before they get to claim victory. And they get to work together in groups of their own choosing. 

On a bad day, these groups can turn into loud, unfocused chit-chat sessions in which no one gets credit for the exit ticket, because no work got done. But on a good day, like this one, they actually do math and talk about it to each other. You got that? They talk about math to each other… well, on a good day they do.

This was one of those.

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.