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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

English Teachers Think I'm Weird

Today in the Learning Support Center (the Holding Pen of Academic Purgatory - Keep Your Grades Up, Kid, or You Will Be Spending Your Lunch Period in Here) I got a leeeettle excited about a factoring problem. Precalc factoring always kind of scares and thrills me because sometimes I look at it and don't immediately see what to do. So this one was something like


and I won't spoil your fun, but when I got it, I let out a yelp and probably clapped my hands a little. The kid I was helping was mildly amused by my behavior, but this English teacher sitting at our table gave me this You Are So Weird look that really threw me. Whatever, dude. You wouldn't understand. I can read and write, but you probably walk around bragging about how you can't do math. Go back to your analyzing Camus for universal themes or whatever you were doing before I annoyed you with all the joy. (Edit: In hindsight, those last two sentences seem unnecessarily mean-spirited. Sorry, I didn't mean it that way.)

I probably should make this a separate post because it's going to get lost down here, but what are you all doing with your summer? Since applications are due for various summer things this week, and I haven't started them, I'm thinking that maybe I need a summer of not overscheduling myself such that in September it feels like I didn't have a break from work like I always do. I'd say "a summer of not thinking about math or teaching it" but I'm not kidding myself, that would be impossible at this point. I've been thinking about potential non-career related projects, such as

1. Learning How to Cook Meat and Fish. (Not learning how to cook - I can make lots of perfectly wonderful meals, and know enough to improvise - but was a sporadic mostly-vegetarian for ages so my milieu is veggies, grains, eggs, and sauces.) I might have to move temporarily to my parents' house for this, as they have better air conditioning and better equipment, and roasting and braising for one sounds both difficult and depressing.

2. Learning How to Bake Impressive Things like cheesecake and pie crusts.

Either of these could take on an edited Julie&Julia format where I just make something every day I don't already know how to make. Is there a canonical baking cookbook? Or maybe I will endeavor to become Alton Brown-like in my obsession over something bizarre like homemade pickles.

3. Going to Yoga/Meditation Camp for Grownups. There is a place I've been for a few days at a time, it's legit, not too woo-woo-make-a-donation, and they have a 30-day residential deal. Or alternatively maybe just stay home and Get Serious and Do It Every Day.

4. Take up some kind of other creative endeavor in a focused way, such as drawing or photography or picking up my violin for the first time in several years. At one time I was not-terrible at all of those things. I miss them.

I'm open to suggestions and interested in what other people do with their summers. I need a plan, or it's going to turn into the lost summer of ditzing around on the Internet.


  1. Yay on the factoring! I didn't get it at first, but was able to by knowing that it was possible [if that makes sense].

    I want to do some nothing this summer. The past two summers have been way too busy, and while I've been ready to start work in the fall I feel behind on anything related to the house. I also want to knit, which I love but haven't done in months. [I want to make an illusion Mona Lisa, but think it might be a LOT of work.]

  2. I feel like I've made a real breakthrough lately in cooking meat and fish. What you want to do is learn pan roasting.

    Also make stock.

    As a math teacher, you might particularly like Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman.

  3. This summer I'm getting married and then honeymooning in Italy. You could try doing that? =P

    As for cooking, I like this site:

    I wonder if English teachers get those "AHA! I got it!" moments ever with their own content. I know you can always discover something new in there, but I'd guess it's more of an "Oh, that's a little interesting" rather than "YAY! I got it!"

  4. Heather I know what you mean - knowing whether something is possible makes all the difference. A do-nothing summer or at least do-something-else summer is what I need. Instead of a go-to-math-teacher-conferences-and-take-math-teacher-classes summer.

    Tom thanks for the recommendations. I added the book to a list, but I have to be careful of the "spend so much time reading about something that I never actually get around to doing the thing very much" effect. :) Although cookbooks don't so much suffer from that. Gotta eat.

    CD - Only if I can skip the getting married part. :) I don't know if English teachers experience exhilarating "a-ha"s. I should ask. I think they spend most of their time grading essays.

  5. I grade essays too, but that's what I get for giving reflection papers in a math class.

    You can do quite a lot with meat and fish rather simply. I braised a pork belly for the first time about a month ago and it turned out quite well. (Well, aside from the part where I put a ceramic pot over an open flame, resulting in a large crack that essentially rendered the pot useless for future endeavors.) Pan roasting is another great idea. I do that with fish on a regular basis, and it is a very simple way to make an incredibly tasty meal.

    Last summer I started running seriously. The physical benefits were no surprised, but I found it very helpful mentally in the same way I imagine meditation to be useful.

    I would like to start doing more creative things again in the summer, like writing or playing music. Those things were much more a part of my life in the pre-NYC/teaching days.

  6. I recommend summer camp. Your post moved me to write my own, about what I've been doing with my summers for the last ten years:

  7. Dorie Greenspan is one of the go-to baking mavens. To keep your blogging accountability you could create f(Tuesdays with Dorie) and join the community.

  8. I always thought the name of this blog was nicely poetic, kind of like an essay Martin Amis once praised where the author used phrases like "A cup of t."

    Anyway, it might be possible to combine productivity and internet ditzing, namely Project Euler ( I have been obsessed with these problems lately, it is a tremendous way to learn or get better at both programming and math. It is especially great because there is usually an obvious but slow way to do problems and several "a ha!" type fast, ingenious ways to do them. I also get that "pardon me for my joy" feeling about the Python programming language, which you can use really effectively on them, and for the community of people who use the language.

    Love the blog, was recommended to it by google reader and now find myself thinking about how much I might enjoy teaching math!

  9. I'm here to tell you... Alton Brown's homemade pickes are awesome. Sounds like a good summer plan. ;)

  10. One of my major life goals is to learn to make a perfect, flaky pie/pastry crust. I haven't even attempted it yet, because it so intimidates me. I could see spending a whole summer on it, and my family would love me for it, I'm sure!

    And, as an aside, it's really starting to bug me each time I hear someone proudly proclaim "Oh, I can't do Math." Like its some sort of badge of honor. Makes me want to knock them on the head.

  11. I applied to go to PCMI ( but if I don't get in, I'm going to be supremely lazy. I'll have a lark, though, like learning something or starting some sort of big project like you.

  12. I love it! I get excited too when I finally figure something out. I was glad you didn't post the answer, I did have fun doing it. Then I gave it to some of my more eager Alg2 students, just for fun. We just started factoring last week.

  13. Yes, making your own stock is a great idea. Having a fair amount in your freezer is an easy improvement to many other dishes.

    I've got a recipe for "trotter gear" I can tell you more about off-blog.

  14. The printer for my building is in my class so one time an English teacher was getting her stuff from the printer. One of my students was daydreaming and noticed a big stain on my ceiling and asked what happened. I started going into crazy talking hands mode explaining how one of my demos exploded once and how I think we still have the chemicals for it and everyone-wait-right-here while I get the stuff. I turned around and froze when I noticed her. She did a two point look from the stain then to me and then started rapidly stacking up her papers and headed out the door. She had a mixture of disgust,shock, and fear on her face.

    It was great.

  15. We often underestimate the power of enthusiasm. It is easy to tell the students to "pay attention" to "stop daydreaming" to "take notes", but it is up to us to make the information meaningful and seem in important.

    Watch TV. People in commercials are overtly enthusiastic for a reason. It sells.

  16. Some English teachers have "aha" moments. Some math teachers have "aha" moments. I'm an English teacher and I love my colleagues who teach Algebra, Geometry, etc. Reading and writing came easy to me in high school, but I was very proud of working through my math classes to "get" what was not an easy fit with how my brain worked.
    I'm responding to the kind of "put-downs" of English teachers in some of the posts--we're not all like your examples! I am fighting the same fights about technology as you are. Our high school didn't even have a working computer lab until two years ago! Heck, I put a lot of work into an application for a grant from BestBuy last year, won a $5000 grant, and was able to get computers, etc. for my classroom that are the best in the school. I am the oldest teacher in the school at 60, but I still have to argue with the principal about why my kids should be allowed to use their cell phones in my class. He doesn't even want them to use them to take notes from the SmartBoard. We have to follow the letter of the "law"- no cell phones in school. I let them use them anyway, and I don't have the problems with them using them in class as other teachers do. It's about respect and expectations. Some of my seniors will leave for military service in May, but I am supposed to confiscate their phones? No way!

  17. I love that feeling! Even more, I love watching my students get that feeling.

    So I "got" the factoring, then went over to Wolfram Alpha to check myself & was totally wowed by the contour plot & 3D plot^2-b^2-16a%2B64 Check it out!

    The past couple summers I taught PD classes (best practices in math) and found it quite rewarding, and as a bonus it built professional relationships with colleagues who are not at my school. It didn't take up the whole summer, thank goodness, but it kept me busy, plus earned a little cash which was nice :)

  18. Rho I think anyone who knows me or has read more than a few posts knows that I don't intend to hurt anyone's feelings. My favorite colleagues in the building are from the English Department and it's probably from the good rapport I have with them that it feels ok to poke fun at their hug giving. It's all good-natured and winky. With maybe a little component of cultural backlash. I mean, come on, you guys get Dangerous Minds, Dead Poets Society, and Freedom Writers. We have Stand and Deliver but also any time a movie or TV show wants to portray a teacher in a negative light it's always a math teacher. ALWAYS. "Math teacher" is like Hollywood shorthand for "mean humorless sourpuss." But kidding aside, real life non-movie teachers know we are all on the same team.

    So, I'm not going to stop writing about how English teachers love hugging. But if you don't enjoy my sense of humor, there are zillions of teacher blogs out there now that have a different one or none at all. I'm sure you can find many blogs that appeal to your sensibilities.

  19. Kate I have an awesome cheesecake recipe. If you are interested, email me.

    Like Sam Shah, Jesse Johnson is planning on going to PCMI this summer. I am thinking about it too but I don't even know the application deadline... er... Also, one of my best friends is getting married July 4 and I think that conflicts. (But I'm not sure... um...) Anyway I know PCMI doesn't fulfill the non-math, non-math-teacher requirement, even a little bit, but don't you think it sounds fun?

  20. Well PCMI sounds super fun if any or all of you, Jesse, and Sam are going. But it also sounds like a ton of work. Bleagh. The deadline is January 31.

  21. I pulled the trigger on a PCMI application. Fingers crossed. But that's only (gulp) 3 weeks. If I even get in. I will dedicate the remainder of the summer to something superfluous. Like butter cream frosting.

  22. Good luck. I'm sure they'll want you.

  23. Is PCMI this? Park City Mathematics Institute Summer Session. Park City, Utah, USA; 11--31 July 2004.

    3 weeks is way too long for me until my son is older. But I'm curious. What is it?

  24. Sue their website explains it pretty well if you just google pcmi. I applied to the secondary school teachers program.

  25. Kate, being new to blogging, I want you to know I am really enjoying reading yours and enjoying your sense of humor. Keep up the great work!

  26. Thanks for dropping a comment, Charlene. Welcome.


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