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.


edibooks said...

Wow. And I thought my days were busy. Never again. Also, your post made me wish I had had you as a math teacher! The college is very fortunate to have you.

Heidi said...

Well, I'm hoping it's just a season of life. Teaching is kind of an odd profession - busy day and night and weekend for 9 months (at least the way I teach) and then 3 months totally off! Feast or famine.

The busyness right now is excessive, but I keep telling myself it's because it's my first year tenure-track, that I have new preps, and first week is always impacted too.

Thanks for your kind comments!