A week ago, one year later

A year ago, exactly one week after my school shut down because of COVID-19, I wrote a blogpost. It attempted to capture “regular” moments from the week leading up to what resulted in schools closing down for the year. The moments were small, innocent, and utterly unspectacular; they were clueless as to what was about to happen only days later. After a year of remote learning, so much has changed. Similar to what I did last March, I wanted to reflect on the past week to see how.

A week ago, my student AP organized and led a peer tutoring session from 4-5p. It was really something when she shared the screenshot of who attended with me. My students don’t attend my office hours, so supporting students so that they can support themselves has been a goal for a little while.

A week ago, I developed two new virtual handshakes with students. One was with RV and based on the Anime character Bokuto (part 1: Hey Hey Hey, Part 2: Hey Hey Hey). The other was with MB and based on Harry Potter (Part 1: Expecto, Part 2: Patronum).

A week ago, I moved my hodgepodge stack of books and puzzle boxes — which I place my laptop on when I teach (standing) — to a new area of my small bedroom so that I wouldn’t need to dismantle it every time I want to get into bed.

A week ago, NA made my day when she showed our class a unique cutting utensil used by her family. It was like a knife, but in the shape of a crescent moon.

A week ago, I met with colleagues on Zoom after school to discussion how compassion is showing up in our teaching. It’s an ongoing project. At this meeting, we each shared something compassionate we saw in one another that may help us better reach our students.

A week ago, I met my co-generative dialogue met for the 16th time this year. We discussed the possibility of allowing some students to leave (or not attend) class once a week for independent study. Meeting with them this year has been a transformative experience for me and my practice.

A week ago, I asked my students to complete a form soliciting ideas for playful, 5-minute debates that we could have in class (e.g. which flavor of gatorade is best?). I’m also interested in collecting some data for some potential statistics lessons.

A week ago, a bunch of teachers from my school gathered after school to discuss chapters 10-14 of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. We’ve been meeting every other Wednesday to discuss a book or podcast since last summer. I look forward to these professional dialogues, their mood-lifters and thought-provokers.

A week ago, I still hadn’t given an exam in remote learning. Exams on Zoom have always seemed unrealistic and unnecessary. Leaning into the uncertainty that circles assessment these days is more my style.

A week ago, in a private chat my colleague BD and I acknowledged just how much we can’t wait to shoot around in the gym when we get to school. I asked him maybe we could do it on Saturday mornings this spring.

A week ago, MM, who for weeks had been mourning the deaths of two close family members, caught me in a breakout room and said that he was finally starting to feel better. He had found closure. I had excused most of his work up to this point. He was thankful…and ready.

A week ago, I met with the Future Educator’s Club after school. It was only three students, and has been the same three students for months, but they still wanted to meet. I applauded them and we made plans to have guest speakers at the next few sessions. If I’m honest, I’ve been disappointed in my ability to find direction and recruit members for the club.

A week ago, I recorded the 15th episode of the “staff podcast” that I started with a colleague on a limb in September. It consists of informal conversations with staff members at our school. We just get together, hit record, and talk. In a lonely school year, the podcast has been therapeutic. I’ve really enjoyed our conversations.

A week ago, I learned that schools were opening back up on March 22. After reopening in September for a couple of months, we have been closed since November.

A week ago, I signed up to get my vaccine. It was a symbol of hope that I will soon be waking up from this nightmare of a year.


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My two cents (Week of Mar 8, 2021)

For each school day of the 2020-21 school year, I will be writing two sentences to capture some of the impressions, feelings, experiences, or thoughts I had that day. This is the 22nd post in the series.

Monday (Mar 8)
A student in the eighth period volunteered to replace me this week in our daily ritual “Mr. P and the Random Thing,” where a student from our class names a random object that I have find in my apartment (or something close to it). Today a classmate asked her to get an orange; she ended up showing us three different types!

Tuesday (Mar 9)
For a few weeks I was feeling uninspired and unsure about the impact of the Future Educator Club. But after a couple of the students encouraged me to not drop the ball, the Future Educator Club met again after school and made plans for the next few sessions.

Wednesday (Mar 10)
Found myself slowing down several times in my classes to express deliberate amounts of patience; my students weren’t readily offering up responses, but I tried to remain empathetic. In the past, I would have done this in a way that was passive aggressive, but today I was more understanding — I genuinely waited for them to be ready to engage.

Thursday (Mar 11)
Excitedly, I attended the first of four workshops centered on the work of Dr. Gholdy Muhammad and her book Cultivating Genius, which I read last year. An uplifting thought: after teaching from home since November, one week from today I’ll be back in the building.

Friday (Mar 12)
My co-generative dialogue focused on how we could structure the class to have one “work day” every week or every other week (e.g. a day where students who need 1-on-1 help could get it, but those who would like independent work time could be excused from class altogether). The anti-asian hate workshop went really well with the staff this afternoon; I think the racial and social justice collective (of which I am a member and who plans these bi-weekly workshops) seems to be finding our stride.


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My two cents (Week of Mar 1, 2021)

For each school day of the 2020-21 school year, I will be writing two sentences to capture some of the impressions, feelings, experiences, or thoughts I had that day. This is the 21st post in the series.

Monday (Mar 1)
Decent energy all around today as we explored factoring trinomials through my Dunkin’ Donuts spilled coffee problem. In 5th period, we debated whether soup was a snack and even did a poll to decide the matter (the numbers don’t lie: 60% of students responded NO); somehow we concluded the debate with the question of whether we humans should be considered soup whenever we take a bath.

Tuesday (Mar 2)
I’ve been having some thought-provoking conversations with colleagues about the role compassion has in our teaching. Ended the day with back-to-back affinity group experiences, which concluded at 9pm, that left me hanging by thread.

Wednesday (Mar 3)
I was so tired today that I forgot about a scheduled meeting with a colleague during sixth period. She was graceful in reminding me about our meeting, which I luckily was still able to attend; she’s doing a “case study” of my instruction and curriculum for her grad class.

Thursday (Mar 4)
I had a strong urge to play tic-tac-tie with my students today, which I took full advantage of. I publicly played at least 5 students in each class; after suffering an early loss in each, I bounced back to tie, except in period 9 (I lost to the last student, which caused me to have a losing record).

Friday (Mar 5)
My cogen had 4 new members today and orienting them to the space took more time and energy that I imagined; we had a small takeaway for next week, but I was hoping for more. Spent an hour this afternoon debriefing with a MfA colleague about the first white antiracist affinity group we facilitated earlier this week; she’s GREAT.

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A Mathematician and Me

Mathematician, Scientist, and Inventor Dr. Valerie L. Thomas (1979)

I made a choice and had to face the consequences. If I didn’t study and my grades weren’t what I thought they should be, I couldn’t blame anybody but myself. Also, what I needed to do was be in class on time, sit up front, be well rested, and, if I didn’t understand, ask a question.

That was part of the remarks of Dr. Valerie L. Thomas, a mathematician, scientist, and inventor who visited my class last week to speak to students in my 5th period class. Dr. Thomas has held high-level positions at NASA, including helping oversee the early development of the Landsat program, and is the inventor of the illusion transmitter, which NASA sill uses today.

Her visit was the culmination of an assignment I gave my students that was a tribute to Black History Month. It was called A Mathematician and Me. I stole the idea for the assignment from two school colleagues, one of whom is my antiracist penpal Stephanie Murdock. (Murdock and her co-teacher actually joined my class for Dr. Thomas’ visit.) The assignment asked students to research a Black mathematician of their choosing and write a short profile of them. In the profile, they also had to share why they chose the mathematician and how they can relate to them. To help them find a mathematician, I gave them resources like the Not Just White Dude Mathematician spreadsheet curated Annie Perkins, Mathematically Gifted and Black, and Mathematicians of the African Diaspora.

One of the silver linings of remote learning is that we’re all just a Zoom link away from each other. So, as an extension to the assignment, if my students chose a living mathematician, I offered them extra credit if they invited their mathematician to be a guest speaker at our class. (The mathematician didn’t need to respond for them to receive the extra credit.) A handful of students took me up on this opportunity and emailed their mathematicians to invite them to our class for a day. Dr. Thomas graciously responded to one of my students and volunteered to speak to us.

She talked to us about a lot. With a warm, calm, inviting demeanor, she told us about her formative years with mathematics and, as she got older, how mathematics became a bigger and more important part of her life. She worked hard and, although she took no advanced mathematics before college, she was insistently observant, curious, and precocious. For example, she shared how she would always sit in the front of the class and ask a question the instant the teacher said something that she didn’t understand. (This is precisely how she learned about proof by induction.) She shared several other interesting stories that were peppered with both insight and humor. She thoughtfully responded to all of my students questions.

If I’m honest, I’m still a little shocked that it all happened. I’ve never had a guest speaker in my class, let alone someone with such expertise and prestige. In addition, because her visit aligned with Black History Month, it provided an incredibly unique experience for my students and I that I could not have anticipated. With her visit, she not only shared her fascinating mathematical journey with us and offered up advice, but she helped all of the outstanding Black mathematicians my students researched this month come alive. She helped their stories and achievements travel through time and arrive at the present moment in the form of a Zoom call. She gave all of them a face and a voice.

I’m immensely thankful.


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