I’ve always been told that everybody, eventually, will encounter math almost too hard to overcome. For some this happens in high school. Others in college. Others in their doctoral studies. But it happens for everybody.
Hell. It even happened to me. First year of grad school.
But through all this time, even when I got there myself, no one ever told me what to do about it. And sure as hell no one told me how to help my students who hit that well themselves.
Or how to help them when they hit that wall as early as third grade.
I’m sitting at my computer, staring at a blank screen. There are lessons to plan. And yet I can’t move a muscle. I can’t bring my eyes to look at the textbook I need to reference. I can’t open the templates I’ve made to give myself a starting point. I’m paralyzed.
So I close my computer and go home.
Then, on a whim, I decide to take a bath and read. I’ve been promising myself I’d do this for weeks, looking longingly at the tub and thinking, “I would enjoy that so much,” and yet never doing it. So finally I just did it. And the book I brought was Daring Greatly.
This last week in class we covered sequences and series. This is a strange unit: It looks little like anything else students have seen, yet mathematically it resonates not only with many things we’ve learned, but with many things we could only dream of ever teaching in a high school class bounded by deadlines and curricular standards.
If you’ve ever counted or made a to-do list or put things in order, you know innately what a sequence is: it is merely a list of numbers, with a specific order: 1 2 3 is a different sequence than 1 3 2. Some sequences seem patternless (sunshine Monday, snowstorm Wednesday, downpours Thursday, a blizzard today) while others are so set in stone we hardly take notice: Sunday always precedes Monday, and April follows March.
Now suppose you look at that to-do list you made and count all the things you’ve got to do (that infinite list that seems to always grow two more items when you knock off the first–how hydraen life tends to be!) then you know, too, how a series differs from a sequence: simply take all the things and add them together. No more complex than that.
But what does any of this have to do with identity or politics?
The sirens wail. The wind whips into the windows and they shudder, shaking with the force of falling trees. Desks scrape against the floor as students shove themselves from their seats in unison; feet pound like pelting raindrops on the floor.
On the stairs.
As we make our way to the basement. They scurry to find a place beside the walls; they crouch and duck and cover. The lights flicker off. We’re buried in darkness.
Sometimes it’s like building a bonfire and throwing in all the things you own to fuel the flames. You’re waiting for the fire to burn bright. To burn bright enough to illuminate something just out of sight. You know what you hope to see, but you can’t know for sure.
Being the official unofficial librarian has its perks. Last semester, I got to help decide which books to purchase with the $8000 or so allocated to new book purchases each year. And it was exhilarating. I also got to propose a new literary initiative to promote students’ love of reading–complete with school-provided incentives!
But being the official unofficial librarian also has its downsides. Like extra hours after school that are essentially unpaid. And also organizing our bookshelves.
Grading papers. Sitting in a cafe between two tables with chatty white girls on either side of me. I’m not trying to generalize or say they were basic, but could a conversation get more bland? Even unintentionally overhearing them, I craved a little salt on my tongue.
So the girl on my left, she starts saying that maybe she’ll become a teacher, and she, like, read this article about things you don’t know about teaching until you teach, and like, “I know you get the summers off, but I don’t know if I could go three months without a paycheck.” And I was like, girl, forgive my intrusion, but let me tell you how it really is.
Back in the earliest days of my college career, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I also knew I never wanted to be a creative writing teacher: Don’t get me wrong, creative writing is one of my passions, but by that time I’d spent years participating in online writers communities, reading others’ stories and providing very detailed feedback.
And, if I may, I was damn good at it. People I’d never met before knew my name because of the quality constructive criticism I gave, and sometimes writers would ask me out of the blue to read their rough drafts or proofread their final copies. I was even invited to judge not one but two different short story competitions!
So why didn’t I want to become a creative writing teacher? And now that I’ve finished teaching a four-week creative writing elective, why will I never teach it again?
I slept anxiously last night. The snow began falling before I’d left work, and by the time I stepped out to get my haircut, the roads were disastrous (thankfully, I only have to walk across the street). By nightfall, already a few dozen schools had closed.
So I tossed and I turned and every thirty minutes I opened my phone, checking the time in case I’d overslept, and then checking the school closings: the number steadily grew and grew and grew until, at 7 o’clock, I could wait for it to be called no longer: I was going to work today. So I got dressed (my poor little puppy crying as I did so, because she always knows when I’m going to leave), and then met the bus.
Surprisingly, the buses were on time. That, however, was the only surprise.