Sunday, January 31, 2010


The evening passes fast away.
'Tis almost time to rest;
What thoughts has left the vanished day,
What feelings in thy breast?

"The vanished day? It leaves a sense
Of labour hardly done;
Of little gained with vast expense—
A sense of grief alone!

"Time stands before the door of Death,
Upbraiding bitterly;
And Conscience, with exhaustless breath,
Pours black reproach on me:

"And though I think that Conscience lies
And Time should Fate condemn;
Still, sad Repentance clouds my eyes,
And makes me yield to them!"

Then art thou glad to seek repose?
Art glad to leave the sea,
And anchor all thy weary woes
In calm Eternity?

"Nothing regrets to see thee go—
Not one voice sobs, "Farewell;"
And where thy heart has suffered so,
Canst thou desire to dwell?

"Alas! the countless links are strong
That bind us to our clay;
The loving spirit lingers long,
And would not pass away --

"And rest is sweet, when laurelled fame
Will crown the soldier's crest;
But a brave heart, with a tarnished name,
Would rather fight than rest."

Well, thou hast fought for many a year,
Hast fought thy whole life through,
Hast humbled Falsehood, trampled Fear;
What is there left to do?

"'Tis true, this arm has hotly striven,
Has dared what few would dare;
Much have I done, and freely given,
But little learnt to bear!"

Look on the grave where thou must sleep
Thy last, and strongest foe;
'Twill be endurance not to weep,
If that repose be woe.

The long fight closing in defeat—
Defeat serenely borne—
Thine eventide may still be sweet,
Thy night a glorious morn!
Emily Jane Bronte (1818-1848)

Commenced in Brussels a fortnight before the author left for home on account of the death of her aunt and foster mother, Miss Elizabeth Branwell.
Taken from The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Bronte,
Columbia University Press, NY

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sunshine and Clouds

After nearly a week of gray skies and nearly incessant wind and rain the sun made a welcome appearance. I took a break from my work to walk and enjoyed the sunshine and clouds!The clouds are so varied in shape and color! I can see why David misses his Michigan clouds out here in California of the typically blue and entirely cloudless skies.It's been pretty damp, which has made the fungus happy!Over our house it seems the sky is undecided today, split between sun and shower.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Window on Society

I'm not sure whether or not I can attribute this to the prevalence of cell phones, texting, chat, and tweeting, but I was absolutely blown away by something that happened in one of my classes today.

In this particular class the noise level is a problem. I have a small group of students in the back who are chatty, and (until today) I had been trying to deal with the problem by patiently working with these students to bring them to a point of understanding appropriate classroom behavior. It may sound strange for a teacher to say that - I mean, just kick 'em out, right?

Well, it's an entry-level class (basic arithmetic for adults), and I'm more patient there than I would be in another class because part of the class for some students is learning how to learn and how to be in a classroom as well as learning how to do math. Today, however, I finally had to come down hard because the noise level is such a problem, and we're now beginning week 2. Yet even after coming down hard I STILL had to give reminders to quiet down. Tomorrow I have no choice but to start kicking people out. I've only ever had to do that once before in 15 years of teaching at the college level, and I'm not looking forward to doing it.

But, I digress . . .

Back to today. At the beginning of class I explained the structure of class for the day and gave the students a project to work on while I was handing out papers. I also assigned some reading in case they got done with the project before I got the papers handed out. Just prior to giving directions was when I had come down heavily about the noise and let them know that while doing this work (even though I wasn't lecturing) it needed to be quiet so people could focus. After handing out the papers I asked if there were any questions on the prior homework assignments. One student said "yes" and was looking through his work to find his question. I waited as he found his place.

At this point a student from the group in the back raised her hand and asked what we were doing. I restated that it was time for students to ask questions if they had them. She said:
"This is so confusing! It's so quiet. I don't know what we're doing!"
She was clearly very uncomfortable with the quiet, and I think that's what's going on with that group of students in the back. They're not being belligerent. They're not wishing to be disrespectful of the students around them. They're just so panicked by silence - and, I think, so used to "chatting" (text, tweet, etc.) all the time even when with others or when doing something else, that we now have a society where some people are growing up not knowing how to be quiet or how to be comfortable with silence, even for a moment!

I jumped right in and said something I don't think has ever occured to her before:
"It's OK for it to be quiet!"

Saturday, January 16, 2010



Losing one glove
is certainly painful,
but nothing
compared to the pain,
of losing one,
throwing away the other,
and finding
the first one again.
- by my favorite poet/mathematician/game inventor Piet Hein :-)

OH! And here's another I hadn't seen before - just now found it on a Norwegian blog. I'm not sure what the standard English translation is, but this sounds good to me!

Husk at glemme bagateller.
Husk at nemme hvad det gælder.
Husk at elske, mens du tør det.
Husk at leve, mens du gør det.

A very free translation:

Remember to forget the unimportant details.
Remember to understand what is important.
Remember to love, while you still dare to.
Remember to live, while you are still alive.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

One Week In

Well, I'm glad I posted my previous post when I did. It's fun for me to look back at and remember what life was like merely a week ago - to remember that relaxation did, in fact, happen!

It now seems like an eternity since then, and I've only been back at work 4 days! I'm kind of numb at this point and have nothing "nifty" to say, but this is life right now, so I'll share a bit about my real life. I love teaching, and I love math, but I have 2 new preps this semester - and they are cool preps (one is a class I've been waiting 15 years to teach!), but they require a LOT of creativity to plan.

One of the biggest struggles for me is not so much the teaching as dealing with the schedule - having an 8am class and having a sleep disorder. I always avoided 8am classes as a student, not just because I'm not a "morning person" but because of this sleep disorder and because getting up early literally makes me feel ILL. I avoided it as a student, but in my first year tenure-track I don't have a lot of say in my schedule. In fall 2010 my earliest class will start at 9:30, and I'll teach a night class as well as my day classes. That will work a lot better for me! I won't feel sick all the time.

The first week of a new semester always proves to be crazier than I had remembered -- and then I remember:

- dealing with attendance and wait lists and adds - getting acclimated to the personalities of the classes (all unique) - getting the paperwork set (attendance sheets, grade sheets, etc.) - getting the students on track (going over syllabi, setting routines in motion, etc.) - trying to begin to learn the names of 200 people - having multitudes of people I don't yet know coming up to me letting me know about specific needs or requests or asking to be added on to the end of my waitlist in an already overflowing class (budget cuts - don't ya love it?!) - and having to turn people away, which I don't like to do and doesn't feel good - starting out with review material and students at a variety of levels (some bored, some terrified, some in-between) before we hit our pace as a class and it's all new stuff for everyone (cohesive) -

That whole starting over thing is both a cool and a difficult aspect of teaching. On the one hand you do get a fresh start rather frequently, and that's really neat if you have a semester that's not going so well; it only ever lasts so long. On the other hand, after spending 4+ months getting to know students and building relationships it's kinda weird to start all over again with a whole new group (and a large new group at that!).

This semester has me feeling rather schizophrenic. I begin the day teaching calculus, and my second class is "Math 10," which is a basic skills class below pre-algebra. So far we have covered place value and addition of whole numbers. The tricky part with that class is how to get to an "aha" moment with students who have heard these things over and over before but haven't had that "aha" moment yet - much harder than teaching calculus! MUCH! I wind up the day with my 101 classes - "Math for Liberal Arts Majors" aka "Math Appreciation" aka "Math for Poets." (I object to the derogatory way in which that is usually said because I hold poets in the highest regard!)

For most of those students (101) this is the last math class they need to take. Ever. I have about 50 students in each of those classes - and such a variety it is! Some really like math - some are there because they need a transfer-level math class and this is one that ISN'T calculus or statistics (i.e. default option). So it's an interesting mix. My goal is to give them a view of Math (capital M) so that they know it is more than algebra and arithmetic.

We have begun with a geometry unit - today we looked at the mathematics of M. C. Escher's artwork. Next week we move to fractal geometry and the next to non-Euclidean geometry - then networks and graphs and on and on. I'll also teach math history, logic, set theory (including Cantor's work with infinity) and so on. I'm so excited to be teaching this class, but it takes a lot of time and mental energy (for creativity) and requires bringing in a lot of extra resources and materials - and a bit of outside research for me - not at all like teaching calculus or algebra in which the curriculum is driven by the book.

I am realizing I need to internalize that no matter how wildly creative I am and no matter how much I try to make the class engaging there will still be some number of people in there who are just there because they have to be and don't want to engage - not all, but some. I understand that, I really do understand that, but it's hard for me sometimes, especially when I put so much into it, am trying so hard to make it engaging (to my "poets") and am so jazzed about it - and am really trying to make a difference.

Well, that's my life right now - textbooks open in front of me all the time, even during dinner and breakfast - working pretty much from the time I get up until the time I go to bed - papers scattered everywhere - sleep deprivation and all - but hoping somehow in the midst of it I am making a difference. I'm thankful for the long weekend (Monday holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day) and am hoping, hoping, HOPING to get on top of my grading and initial paperwork and get planned ahead a bit because I really need to be able to engage in a bit more of life than just teaching - wonderful as teaching is!

So that's how it is one week in.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Reaching Back

Well, as of Monday vacation will be officially over over - although I've already been attending meetings and planning and preparing all week and throughout the break. Before getting back in the classroom I just want to look back at break - times of fellowship and gaming and celebrating - what a good break we had!!

For the first time since August I got to truly relax . . . ahh . . . so many books, so little time!!We had friends and family over and played lots and lots of games! I even played a game of solitaire Mah-jongh and won. Here's the proof (might not happen again for a while!).We had fun celebrating the season - decorating our new house for the first time - having everyone at our place for the Christmas day meal - getting cards, letters and pictures from friends and family near and far - good stuff!
I love this picture Sierra took of me at our family party!We celebrated at Mom and Dad's too! . . . and the guys opened gifts grom Grandma in Michigan!David and the boys were back at it a week ago - note the somber expressions - actually they've made a good transition back, and I trust I will too, but it's good to look back and remember the awesome (and much needed) break that we had!
Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


It is no night to drown in:
A full moon, river lapsing
Black beneath bland mirror-sheen,

The blue water-mists dropping
Scrim after scrim like fishnets
Though fishermen are sleeping,

The massive castle turrets
Doubling themselves in a glass
All stillness. Yet these shapes float

Up toward me, troubling the face
Of quiet. From the nadir
They rise, their limbs ponderous

With richness, hair heavier
Than sculptured marble. They sing
Of a world more full and clear

Than can be. Sisters, your song
Bears a burden too weighty
For the whorled ear's listening

Here, in a well-steered country,
Under a balanced ruler.
Deranging by harmony

Beyond the mundane order,
Your voices lay siege. You lodge
On the pitched reefs of nightmare,

Promising sure harborage;
By day, descant from borders
Of hebetude, from the ledge

Also of high windows. Worse
Even than your maddening
Song, your silence. At the source

Of your ice-hearted calling-
Drunkenness of the great depths.
O river, I see drifting

Deep in your flux of silver
Those great goddesses of peace.
Stone, stone, ferry me down there.
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year Reminder

If we continue to do today
what we did yesterday,
we will not be ready for tomorrow.

- author unknown