Sunday, August 26, 2012

Reflections and Transformations

In my town, school starts this week. My children have new backpacks and lunchboxes and shiny pencil cases with 5 newly sharpened pencils in each. The New Blogger Initiative is filled with stories of first day jitters and school year goals. This is a hard time for me.

Ask me what I do, and I'll tell you that I am a math teacher. I have taught in urban, rural, and suburban schools. Unfortunately, life handed me a pink slip last year. It happens. Budgets get cut and new jobs are not stable jobs. But even without a classroom, I am still a math teacher. You are what you are. At the risk of sounding vainglorious, I know I am a good teacher. Not REALLY good, but working towards it.

So this past year I took the pink slip as an opportunity to reflect, learn, write, grow, and move into a new era. I started this blog (and thank the Initiative for kicking my butt into keeping it up). I took a very close and critical look at lots of stuff in my filing cabinet. I have made a little money by offering some of these things for sale. I know the mathtwitterblogosphere is a sharing culture. I have lots to share, but I have mixed emotions about sharing everything. So I may not be as avuncular as Sam Shah, but I hope to create a helpful space here on my blog.

Here's my first day syllabus. I've used it for a lot of years and it probably needs an update, but I still like it.

I use this same format for all my classes, with tweaks to supply lists and calculator guidelines etc. The editable Word file is here, although it doesn't translate very well in Word (I use Publisher mostly, but no one else seems to). You'll have fun making it your own. I do.

Now, before you start feeling sorry for me and sending me job listings, I'm being picky. I know what it's like to be me as a teacher. It's a 50+ hour/week commitment, with lots of worry and stress. I'm at a stage in my life where I don't wish to handle too many other external stressors. 10 minutes is about my limit on commuting time. Besides the extra time, I just like teaching close to home, in my own community, where I run into kids on the street and their parents at the grocery store. Some people don't want this, but I do.

So in the meantime, I have a job. I edit math curricula at a huge publishing operation. I spend lots of time thinking intensely about tiny details, which is a wonderful contrast to teaching - where you have teeny amounts of time to maneuver a plethora of calamities. In the past several months I have been able to deepen my appreciation for:

  • The pervasive misunderstanding of the difference between the terms inverse and opposite.
  • The devastating impact of intermediate rounding.
  • The art of posing just the right question to provoke intrigue and deepen student understanding.
  • The subtle mathematical properties of okra.

Okay, maybe not that last one, but the point is that even without actually being in the classroom, I still find myself improving as a teacher. I see that there is a long and fascinating road both before and behind me. There are things to share and things to learn. Luckily, the company continues to be great, and just keeps getting better. Thanks for YOUR contributions to this fabulous community.

And there it is, my reflections on the transformations of my past year. Hardly Hemingway-esque, but veracious nonetheless.


  1. Hi Emily,
    This is the first fall in 31 years that I will not be returning to the classroom. School starts Tuesday and I find myself thinking about the school opening. I was a middle school math teacher and your article resonated with me. I am hoping to do some blogging and to create some units or lessons for TeachersPayTeachers. I enjoyed reading your post.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. Let me know if you start a blog. I'd love to read about your experiences.

  2. I was DYING for someone to use okra in their post. A+. You made me super happy!

    1. You know what I've been enjoying? Doing a google search for our favored words and reading everything that comes up. Thank you (or whoever it was with the twisted wordsmithing idea) for your creative genius!

  3. Hi Emily,
    I just relocated so I am also not teaching so far this year. I probably will be subbing soon. It is very strange not to be in the "season." I have been looking to teach at local colleges. Thanks for sharing your reflections!

  4. Hi Emily,

    I found out about your blog from Colleen C., your former colleague - I met her at an AP Calc institute a couple of summers ago. I'm so glad she told me about you - your blog is great! I moved back to the US this summer after several years teaching at an international school in Africa, so I'm not teaching this year either. My kids start school this week, and I'm sad that I'm not heading for the classroom too. But like you, I am choosy, I want to teach within 10 or 15 minutes from home, and like you, I have work with an educational publishing company for now. So, thanks for your blog, and for inspiring me to start my own. Best of luck to you this year,

    (Brunswick, Maine)