Realizing Radians: Teaching as Stagecraft

Teaching Objective: Introduce radian as a unit of angle measure that corresponds to the number of radians in the length of the arc that the angle “subtends” (cuts off? intersects?).  Put another way: One radian is the measure of an angle that subtends an arc the length of the circle’s radius.  Put still another way, with pictures:

How do you  engage understanding and interest, given this rather dry fact?  There’s no one answer. But in this particular case, I use stagecraft and misdirection.

I start by walking around a small circle.

“How far did I walk?”

“360 degrees.”

“Yeah, that won’t work.” I walk around a group of desks. “How far did I walk?”

“360 degrees.”

“Really? I walked the same distance both times?”

“No!” from the class.

“So what’s the difference?”

It takes a minute or so for someone to mention radius.

“Hey, there you go. Why does the radius matter?”

That’s always an interesting pause as the kids take into account something they’ve known forever, but never genuinely thought about before–the distance around a circle is determined by the radius.

“Yeah. Of course, we knew that, right? What’s that word for the distance around a circle?”

“Circumference!”

“Yes. And how do you find the circumference of a circle?” There’s always a pause, here. “OK, let me tell you for the fiftieth time: know the difference between area and circumference formulas!”

“2Πr” someone offers tentatively.  I put it up:

6bitcircform1

“So the circumference is the difference between this small circle” and I walk it again “and this biiiiigg circle around these desks here.” Nods. “And the difference in circumference comes down to radius.”

Pause.

“Look at the equation. 2 Π is 2 Π. So the only difference is radius. The difference in these two circles I walked is that one has a bigger radius.”

“So the real question is, how does the radius play into the circumference?”

“Well,” it’s always one of the better math students, here: “The bigger the radius is, the farther away from the center, right?”

“So then…you have to walk more around…more to walk around,” some other student will finish, or I’ll ask someone to explain what that means.

“Right. But how does that actually work? Can we know exactly how much bigger a circle is if it has a bigger radius?”

“A circle with a radius of 2 has a circumference of  4Π. A circle with a radius of 4 has a radius of 8 Π. So it’s bigger.” again, I can prompt if needed, but my class is such that the stronger students will speak their thoughts aloud. I allow it here, because they can never see where I’m going. See below for what happens if they start with spoiler alerts.

“Sure. But what’s that mean?”

Pause.

I pass out pairs of circles, cut from simple construction paper, of varying sizes, although each pair has the same radius.

“You’re going to find out exactly how many radius lengths are in a circle’s circumference using the two circles. Don’t mix and match. Don’t write annoyingly obscene things on the circles.”

“How about obscene things that aren’t annoying?”

“If you can think of charmingly obscene comments, imagine yourself repeating them to the principal or your parents, and refrain from writing them, too. Now. You will use one of these circles as a ruler. All you have to do is create a radius ruler. Then you’ll use that ruler to tell me how many times the radius goes around the circumference.”

“Use one of the circles as a ruler?”

“You figure it out.”

And they do. Most of them figure it out independently; a few covertly imitate a nearby group that got it. Folding up one of the circles into fourths (or 8ths) exposes the radius.

radian1

Folding up one circle exposes the radius.

It takes most of them a bit more time to figure out how to use the radius as a ruler, and sometimes I noodge them. It’s so low-tech!

radian2

Curl the folded circle around the edge of the measured circle. 

But within ten to fifteen minutes everyone has painstakingly used the “radius ruler” to mark off the number of radius lengths around the circumference, and then I go back up front.

 

“Okay. So how many times did the radius fit into the circumference?”

Various choruses of “Over six” come back, but invariably, someone says something like “Six with and a little bit left over.”

“Hey, I like that. Six and a little bit. Everyone agreed?” Yesses come back. “So did everyone get something that looks like this?”

6bitcirclewradius

“Huh. And did it matter what size the circle was? Jody, you had the big two, right? Samir, the tiny ones? Same difference? Six and a little bit?”

“So no matter the circle size, it appears, the radius goes into the circumference six times, with a little bit left over.”

No one has any clue where I’m going, usually, but they’re interested.

“‘Goes into’ is a familiar term, isn’t it? I mean, if I say I wonder how many times 2 goes into 6, what am I actually asking?”

Pause, as the import registers, then “Six divided by two.”

“Yeah, it’s a division question! So when I ask how many times the radius goes into the circumference, I’m actually asking…..” The pause is a fun thing. Most beginning teachers dream of using it, but then get fearful when no one answers. No. Be fearless. Wait longer. And, if you need it:

“Oh, come on. You all just said it. How many times does 2 go into 6 is 6 divided by 2. So how many times the radius goes into the circumference is…”

and this time you’ll get it: “Circumference divided by the radius.”

“Yeah–and that’s interesting, isn’t it? It applies to the original formula, too.”

6bitcircform2

“Cancel  out the radius.” the class is still mystified, usually, but they see the math.

“Right. The radius is a factor in both the numerator and denominator, so they can be eliminated. This leaves an equation that looks like this.”

6bitcircform4

“The circumference divided by the radius is 2Π. Well. That’s good to know. Does everyone follow the math? Everyone get what we did? You all manually measured the circumference in terms of radius length–which is the same as division–and learned that the radius goes into the circumference a little bit over six times. Meanwhile, we’re looking at the algebra, where it appears that the circumference divided by the radius is 2Π.”

(Note: I have never had the experience where a bright kid figures it out at this point. If I did, I would kill him daid, visually speaking, with a look of daggers. YOU DO NOT SPOIL MY APPLAUSE LINE. It’s important. Then go to him or her later and say, “thanks for keeping it secret.” Or give kudos after the fact, “Aman figured it out early, just two seconds before figuring out I’d kill him if he spoke up.” Bright kids learn early, in my class, to speak to me personally about their great observations and not interrupt my stagecraft.)

And then, almost as an aside: “What is Π, again?” I always ask it that way, never “what’s the value of Π” because the stronger kids, again, will answer reflexively with the correct value and they aren’t the main audience yet. So the stronger kids will start talking yap about circles, and I will always call then on a weaker kid, up front.

“So, Alberto, you know those insane posters going around all the math teachers’ walls? With all the numbers?”

“Oh, yeah. That’s Π, right? 3.14.”

“Right. So Π is 3.14 blah blah blah. And we multiply it by two.”

6bitfinal

That’s when I start to get the gasps and “Oh, MAN!” “You’re kidding!”

“….so 3.14 blah blah times 2 is 6.28 or…..”

“SIX AND A LITTLE BIT!” the class always shouts with joy and comprehension. And on good days, I get applause, too, from the stronger kids who realized I misdirected them long enough to get a deeper appreciation of the math, not just “the answer”.

******************************************************

So a traditionalist would just explain it, maybe with power point. I don’t want to fault that, but I have a bunch of students who would simply not pay any attention. They’ll take the F. I either have to figure out a way to feed them the math in a way they’ll remember, or fail more kids than I’m comfortable failing.

A discovery-oriented teacher would probably turn it into a crafts project, complete with pipe cleaners and magic markers. I don’t want to fault that, but you always get the obsessive artists who focus on making a beautiful picture and don’t care about the math. Besides, it takes forever. This little activity has to be 15-20 minutes, tops. Remember, there’s still a lot to explain. Radians are the unit measure that allow us to talk about circles in terms akin to similarity in polygons–and that’s just the start, of course. We have to talk about conversion, about the power that radians gives us in terms of thinking of percentage of the entire circle–and then actual practice. I don’t have time for a damn pipe-cleaning activity.

As I’ve written before somewhere between open-ended, squishy discovery and straight discussion lecture lies a lot of ground for productive, memorable teaching. In my  opinion, good teachers don’t just transmit information, but create learning events, moments that all students remember and can use as hooks for further memories of learning. In this case, I want them to sneak around the back end to realize that  Π is a concrete reality, something that can actually be counted, if not exactly.

 

Teaching as stagecraft. All the best teachers use it–even pure lecture artists who do it with the power of their words (and an appropriate audience).  Many idealistic teachers begin with fond delusions of an enthralled class listening as they explain math in terms that their other soulless, uncaring teachers just listlessly put up on the board. When those fantasies are ruthlessly dashed, they often have no plan B. My god, it turns out that the kids really don’t find math interesting! Who do I blame, myself or them?

I never had the delusions. I always ask my kids one simple question: is your life better off if you pass math, or if you fail?  Stick with me, and you’ll pass. For many, that’s a soulless promise. To me, that’s where the fun starts. How do you get them interested? How do you create those moments? How do you engage kids who don’t care?

It’s not enough. It’s never enough.

But it’s a good way to start.


Celebrating Trump in a Deep Blue Land

Rick Hess and Checker Finn complain about the schools and  teachers  who are encouraging their students to be fearful and angry at a Trump victory.

I agree, but as long as media outlets are determined to make this about teachers and students, I see two narratives missing. First, somewhere in  Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania, is a high school in which students are ecstatic over a Trump win. Where they’re saying “Wow, I had lost all hope! The media was so sure he was going to lose!” and consoling the despondent Hillary-voting teacher, “Don’t worry. Trump’s going to be great! This is how my uncle felt when Obama won.”

Also missing are any examples of GOP-voting teachers talking to students about the election, particularly that unicorn Trump-supporting teacher living in a blue state.

Hey. I can help there.  (Note: this this piece gives some additional context to some conversations below.)

Wednesday morning I came into work with maybe two hours sleep and some mild trepidation  layered over the euphoria. It’s one thing to be a cheerful loser while students view you as a curiosity, secretly somewhat impressed that their teacher is a defiant non-comformist. Quite another to be the only Trump voter in the school after Hillary’s catastrophic, wholly unexpected loss.

My ELL class, immigrants all, was buzzing at the results. Charlotte was upset. “Hillary wanted to make life better for us.”

“But so does Trump.”

“No,” Charlotte sighed.

“Yes.  Donald Trump wants to make life better for all Americans, just like Hillary does. ”

“But  Hillary wanted to make it so more people could come in to America.”

“Not everyone wants that,” said Julian. “I think many Americans don’t want that.”

We watched Hillary’s concession speech. CNN reprinted lines on the screen, and I pointed them out, repeating key words.

“Why ‘not lose heart’?” asked Marshall, confused.

“Heart. Passion. Ganas?”

“Ah!”

“She is telling her supporters to not give up. To keep in their hearts their ideas, to continue to working for their beliefs. That’s what you all should do. That’s what America offers, right?”

I was walking from my ELL classroom to my regular class when I ran into Chuy, whose support had remained steadfast despite his activist girlfriend.

“I TOLD YOU!”

Chuy had, in fact, told me Tuesday morning he was sure Trump would win. I had smiled, told him I hoped he was right, secretly thinking I’d be pleased if he kept it close. “I doubted. You called it.” We bumped fists. “I’ll stop by later,” he promised.

In my brief advisory class,  Sasha the drama queen, who the gods have granted me as a student three times, flounced in with a pout.

“I can’t BELIEVE you voted for Trump!” she announced.

“Hey, I’m a Republican. It’s kind of what we do—you know, vote for Republicans.”

“But Trump is EVIL!”

“You were fine with me voting for him yesterday, when you thought he’d lose.”

I suddenly noticed another student, Marjorie, who just saw me in this once-a-week class, realize the import of our conversation–realize that I’d  voted for Trump. What I remember most is the purity of her shock. Maybe later she’d be disgusted or angry, but for now the dominant factor in her reaction was that never once had Marjorie considered, for a single moment, that she might know a otherwise totally normal person–a teacher, no less–who voted for the orange demon.

Devon said, “Remember the first advisory day? You told us that Trump would probably lose, but that it was weird how close it was.”

“Yeah, I told my dad you said that,” said Jesus. “My dad said Hillary was a bad candidate.”

“I don’t think candidate quality matters these days,” I said. ” We only get two choices. Hillary couldn’t openly appeal to Trump voters without risking the loss of media approval. At the same time, she couldn’t do more to appeal to win enthusiasm for young voters by making promises that would lead to criticism.”

“Yeah, but Trump didn’t care about making everyone happy. I guess that’s the difference.”

I laughed, genuinely surprised. “Yes. That’s right. He didn’t care.  OK, you’re right. She was a terrible candidate.”

I ran into Abdul in between second and third block.

“Hey! You still American?”

“God, don’t depress me! But at least I’m a citizen. We’ve been ragging on Omar, nyah, nyah, Trump’s going to deport you!”

You know how they say smiles fade? Mine was wiped clean. “Hey. That’s not even funny. Is Omar worried about that?”

“Well, you know what Trump says about Syrian refugees.”

“Yes, but that’s about reducing future refugees. Omar’s here now. Look, is he worried? Is his family worried?”

“Naw, we’re just giving him sh**. They won’t kick anyone out, right? If they’re legal?”

“Right. Tell Omar to stop by, ok?”

All those stories about students  teasing immigrants–did anyone ask if in some instances, the kids teasing were also immigrants, razzing their friends goodnaturedly? Oh, don’t be silly, Ed. The media wouldn’t distort a story like that. (Omar did stop by, to ask me if I’d write him a letter of recommendation and edit his application essay about the pressures his parents were forced to put on him and how he’d developed a tremendous facility for languages. He seemed fine.)

Many snickers in my algebra 2 class as I explained how to test regions for  systems of inequalities , which took me a while to figure out.

“…so you test. Is (0,0)  on the true side of the border or the false side?”

“Ask Trump,” Eddie snarked.

“Yeah, ask Trump whether I’m born on the right side of the border,” said Elian, more seriously.

“I’m sorry if you’re worried, Elian. And to anyone else worried. But I think things will turn out well. Now, let’s focus.”

“I can’t focus. Trump’s gonna kick me out of the country.”

“You don’t focus, Eddie, I’m gonna kick you out of the classroom.”

“See, already you’re marginalizing me!” Eddie does deadpan hysteria very well.

“It’s true. I’m marginalizing Eddie’s fears that he’s faking because he’s a citizen. SAD! ” Eddie grinned.

After I’d released them to work, Mark ambled up. “So what do you think Trump will do?”

“I hope he appoints a good judge, and rolls back some of the executive orders. Past that, I don’t know.”

Peter came up to me quietly. “You voted for Trump, right?”

“Yep.”

“I think the anti-Trump demonstrations are….idiotic. Totally insane.” I nodded.

“Oh, hell yeah,” said Mark. ” I didn’t want him to win either, but it can’t be that bad. Those people are crazy, wasting time, whiners.”

In pre-calc, class began with an announcement reminding students that a walkout would result in a zero grade.

“Total waste of time,” Antonio said.

“It’s so depressing,” sighed Janelle. “We could have had a female president!”

“Not for me,” said Teng. “I won $500 betting on Trump!”

I commiserated. “I only ever voted for one other president who won.”

“Bush?”

“No. Hillary’s husband.” Pause as they absorbed this.

“And cheer up. You’ve lived through an amazing moment in history. Every powerful institution in this country wanted Trump to lose. The leaders of academia, almost every owner of a media publication, television or print, our political leaders. Business largely rejected Trump. Even most Republicans in the media rejected him. Most politicians kept their distance. He had few advisers. Trump’s supporters were insulted and mocked–or at best presented as….”

“Total losers living in little white towns with meth addicts and hillbillies” finished Morgan.

“Exactly.  Last night I was tired.  I hadn’t voted yet. Trump was going to lose my state anyway. Everyone was saying the exit polls were showing a huge Clinton win. So why bother voting? It wouldn’t make a difference. But I literally…I mean this,  I literally thought ‘I want my vote to count.’  So I went and voted.”

Leah, always imaginative, spoke up. “It’s like….all the other Trump people did that too. Instead of staying home.”

“So Hillary voters didn’t care as much,” Kenny said.

“Trump convinced voters to care. He screwed up in a million ways, he was rude and obnoxious and you can’t really take anything he says literally,  but he never backed down when all the cool people on TV, in the movies, in the media, in the universities were laughing at him, mocking him. It made him angry, he often responded in infantile ways, but their hatred never stopped him from understanding what his voters cared about. He went everywhere and asked for votes.”

“People are treating it like an earthquake. ” argued Inez.

“Yeah, but an earthquake is a natural event. A powerful one. We are living through an epic moment, where ordinary people created an earthquake, defied the will of the media and most of our leaders, simply by showing up and voting. What you should take away most of all from this is that earthquakes are possible in politics. You’ve now seen one.”

“I’ve spent a lot more time than you guys have, feeling sad my candidate lost. You focus on the good where you find it. So Hillary lost. Feel sad about that. But feel good that elections aren’t all about turnout and commercials and interest groups. Sometimes, every so often, an election turns on ideas. No one in the media, in academia, or our businesses really liked Trump’s ideas. They tried to  shut them down. And they failed. Because people came out and voted for Trump’s ideas.”

“So sometimes ideas really do win.” mused Teng.

“Yeah,” Adriana agreed. “It’s really…epic.”

“Epic?” snorted Gita. “Hillary won more votes! Trump’s a racist!”

“Yeah, well, no one said epic was perfect, yknow?  So let’s look at inverse functions and turn our thoughts away from epic wins.”

The Thursday after the election, I was standing in front of my trig class, explaining angular velocity, when I suddenly stopped and said “There he is.” Hustled across the room to the left door, opened it, and hollered.

“DWAYNE!!”

The beefy senior had just strolled past, and turned. “What? I’m not out of class, I have a pass.”

“That’s not the point. It’s TWO DAYS and you don’t stop by to celebrate? I’m pissed.”

He grinned, came back towards me. “My mom called me in sick yesterday because I stayed up all night watching returns! Can you believe it?”

“I really can’t.”

Last weekend, I was in a different, equally blue, state for my grandson’s first birthday party.   A successful salesman in a roofing and windows company, my son has only Trump co-workers and only Clinton friends and family (save me). A colleague showed up in his MAGA cap, and  my son steered him over to me for safety and celebration.

“I’m a gambler, you know? And when Florida’s returns were nearly done , when you could see Michigan and Wisconsin ahead, North Carolina won, it was like a $100,000 hit on 20:1 odds. That’s how good it was.”

Yes. That’s how good it was.

 


This Great Election

This is the first election day since 1992 that I’ve really enjoyed. 1992’s election was exhilarating and in many ways a set up for this one. Bill Clinton back then gave a master class in how far a politician could go if he lacked shame and had a message the voters cared about. In 2000, I thought Gore ran a poor campaign over the summer, and the recount was a little too much evidence that our court system is just a reinforcement of our political system. I was just pleased it was close.

2008 radicalized me. I didn’t mind Hillary much back then (she was against driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, remember that quaint old restriction?), and the media’s anvil on the scale for Obama in both the primaries and the general was just nauseating.

I quit watching or reading about politics from late October 2008 to the Obamacare fights of 2009. And when I came back to it, I stopped trusting any media. Going on Twitter in 2012 further reinforced my understanding that even the ones who write in a seemingly neutral and unbiased style are, in fact, predictably liberal with tremendous disdain for half the electorate. For a news junkie living squarely in the mainstream, this comes as an unhappy shock.  (This time around, Sean Trende and Jack Shafer, two of my favorites, have been the most disappointing re the disconnect between the bias in their tweets and their carefully cleaned up columns, Josh Kraushaaer the one I still have illusions about so dammit Josh, don’t screw it up. Michael Goodwin, Mickey Kaus, and Byron York have, in their various ways, been solid gold treasures.)

Anyway. One thing I did learn from 2008 was that outside of progressives, white voters aren’t very interested in the presidential election issues. It’s been clear to me for a while that the public, particularly the GOP base, was not getting the candidates or the issues they wanted. Two elections in a row, I thought it likely that white voters were staying home, not bothering. Two elections in a row, I thought that the GOP was ignoring its voters in favor of ideas that no one really wanted–from immigration to education to social issues to entitlements. (I never thought of trade, sorry.)

Then came the 2012 autopsy, in which the GOP said hey, we need outreach to Hispanics in order to win back the presidency. Not to blacks. Noooo, the much-vaunted Party of Lincoln didn’t even think of blacks, didn’t think to find the common ground between their base of working class whites and the many blacks (and non-immigrant Hispanics). No notion of using immigration restriction as a uniter. Nope. Their money men wanted cheap labor, and they all figured that the 2012 loss could be used as rationale to argue against the base’s desire for restriction.  “See, we’d love to end H1B visas and implement e-verify, but we gotta do outreach!”  Because that’s how you grow the economy, with lots of businesses making money off of cheap labor. Good for the stock market. Meanwhile, of course, the GOP wanted to double down on blaming schools for failing to educate kids–that’s why they need immigrant labor, because teachers suck!

So I wasn’t excited about 2016, what with all the talk about another Bush, hints of returning to the autopsy plan, even after Rubio got his ears pinned back.

And then came Trump, down that damn escalator.

He never had to win to make me happy.  I wanted the message out there.  I wanted another politician to defy conventional wisdom, to refuse to step down or apologize, to insist that the people be given their choice. I wanted someone to show the popularity of issues the media and elites considered completely unthinkable, to force them into the debate. The Overton window has shifted feet–yards, even–back in the direction of sanity.

But GOP elites are trying to bargain their way out of reality. They  think fondly of a world where Rubio–the GOP’s version of bland, teleprompter-ready Obama–could have won if Kasich and Christie had dropped out because golly, he gave a good speech. Or Cruz–whose voice is so awful I change the channel when he shows up–could somehow win over enough swing voters.  Or they blame the media for giving Trump air time, forgetting that the airtime was devoted to blasting Trump for insensitivity, for “racism”, and demanding the public share their opinion. Instead he won more votes every time he refused to back down.

If you want to rebuild the GOP, start by asking a Trump voter what the key moment in his success was. Most will point to his refusal to apologize for his June 16 announcement. NBC dumped him. Univision fired him. And he didn’t back down. He didn’t play the game. He didn’t apologize, mend fences with the media. That was……well, huuuuge in the world of Trump’s base.  He snarled back, and got more popular.

What we’ve needed in America is someone willing to defy the media and the elite. Someone who had the money and message to succeed despite blasted disapproval. This forced the media and the GOP leadership to realize that all of their power relied on their ability to shut off the microphone. Take that ability away, they got nothing.

I don’t lionize Trump. I think he tried for years to win approval from the same elites who despise him now. I’m glad he chose to run. I’m glad he showed them, through the people, how wrong they were.

Because unless the polls are dramatically wrong in Clinton’s favor, Trump is not going to get destroyed. If he loses, it will be be a margin less than McCain, possibly less than Romney. With few ads and even fewer experts to advise him–the experts being the one class who still needs elite approval.

All he had was a message.

Next steps: win or lose, Trump voters need to see that class, not race, is the way to grow their ranks. This Sheryl Stolberg story on the decimated black working class that see no hope from Hillary but hate Trump–they’re the first step. I believe that African Americans can be convinced that our immigration policies are incredibly harmful to their interests: in jobs, in education, in reducing their political viability. Working class Hispanics, those of long-standing in this country, are also a great opportunity for actual outreach.

I’m not sure where it goes from here, because very few Republicans in media or leadership have any interest in rebuilding. Most of them believe that surgical removal of Trump voters is not only necessary, but simple. Laugh at them.

It’s all the meme these days for the media to talk about how horrible this election has been, how dispiriting it’s been to true believers in democracy and American greatness. That, again, is one reason why we all hate the media and elites, for failing to realize how exciting many of us are by the opportunity to vote our issues.

To all of you out there in Trumpland, I hope you share my sense of joy in this campaign. Watching everyone in power realize they had no power to stop Trump and his message.

If our side loses, it wasn’t because the media won the narrative. Entire publications were dedicated to convincing the public of Trump’s evil nature. They failed. They weren’t able to frame this election, because in their framing, Trump is unthinkable, a fascist racist misongynist who’ll start nuclear wars. But “unthinkable” doesn’t include close to half the country’s support.

If we lose, we’ll lose because we don’t yet have enough votes. Trump’s important qualities are alienating. I believe they were also essential. There was no moderating, no winning approval, that wouldn’t likewise end his ability to sell his message. And the conservative wing of the party has had it their way for so long that they can’t conceive of voting for a candidate they aren’t crazy about. That, too, was a non-negotiable constraint.

But moving forward, I believe this can be fixed. I believe the media  and the GOP will find it impossible to shut down these issues. I believe we’ll get more compelling candidates. I believe we’ll find a way to win more support.

If not, well, at least we had the chance to try.  That’s more chance than I ever expected.

Go Trump!


A Clarifying Moment

This semester has had several  unmitigated professional plusses: (1) my schedule is now ELL, trig, algebra 2, and pre-calc. (Cue Sesame Street.)  Last year, I briefly (and oh so irrationally) considered resigning because I only had two preps. Four is better. (2) I’m actually helping the school out in a pinch by taking this ELL class. Feels noble and self-sacrificing….(3) well, no, scratch the self-sacrifice, given the  33% pay bump for the fourth semester in a row, with next semester the fifth. You would be shocked to learn how much I make extra a month. Score. (5) I’m getting a new professional experience with no risk.

On the other hand, I’ve set a new benchmark for exhaustion. Work rarely tires me out. But for the first time in memory I’m mentally zonked by my schedule. Enjoying it, yes. But not only am I finding myself thinking longingly of Saturday and sleep,  but I’m often teaching my fourth block from a chair. I’ve been puzzling over the cause, because nothing about four preps should in and of itself be so draining (for me). As I wrote this,  I suddenly realized that club adviser should be added to the list. Then I’m an induction  mentor. And oh, yeah, an administrator voluntold me to co-lead a science/engineering after-school program, which is getting kind of ridiculous. I don’t do science.

The after-school program gave me some insight into my state of mind. I’d been MIA for the first few meetings, for good reasons. I’d done the several hours of weekend training, met with my co-lead (also my mentee), but had just not gotten dialed into the weekly sessions.  I’d been mentally shying away from even thinking about that two afternoon commitment, on top of everything else. But once my first meeting started, I was hooked and charged, working with the kids.

I suddenly realized that this is how I’m facing every single class, every obligation (save the induction meetings, which take place at a local liquor store with a great beer bar): mentally shying away from each instance until I’m in the moment, when it’s an electric shock of fun and joy. Which, for me, is a sign of incipient burnout. I have cancelled one road trip entirely over Thanksgiving, and am rethinking the best way to achieve two others. I may even fork out plane fare, which is a big concession. Semester two will be better, just two preps.

*********************************************************************

Related:

Yesterday, Friday afternoon, just minutes from beer and sushi, I was waiting for some pre-calc students to finish a test when in walked

“Hui! My lord, I haven’t seen you since…” and I stopped there, just jumping up to shake hands, because the last time I’d seen Hui, nearly three years ago, he’d been choking back tears as he told me his SAT scores.

Hui had been a junior in my first pre-calc class, where he struggled. (Based on my results with him and other similar stories, I slowed down instruction dramatically in subsequent precalc courses.)  He wasn’t a student I was particularly close to, but the next year, he stopped by and asked if I could give him advice about the SAT.  I wasn’t sanguine. He tested terribly in math, and he spoke, read, and wrote English at perhaps a fifth grade level. A top state university was his goal. Asians with impeccable scores and transcripts face routine discrimination by college admissions staff; the notion of an underprivileged Chinese lad whose abilities weren’t best captured by standardized tests simply does not compute in that world. I tried as gently as possible to prepare him for this likelihood, but didn’t push the issue, and twice a week, he came to my classroom after school for half an hour or more,  steadfastly working through test sections and trying to make sense of the questions.

After his test date, Hui asked me if I’d look at his personal statement. I gave him several tutorials in self-promotion.  Hui’s weak English suddenly became a remarkable achievement  when considered in the context of five years in America and two parents with limited education and less English. He was reclassified quickly (probably too quickly), which allowed him to take a normal schedule and qualify for admission to a state campus. Play up that achievement, I told him, and put your scores in context.  Hui had started a new draft when he came to my room one day, devastated: he’d received his SAT scores and they were as low as I’d feared.

His despair has remained a memory I flinch from–although at least in this case the recoil wasn’t for my poor handling of things. I didn’t try to console him, didn’t point out the local community college was very good (it is).  Hui accepted my heartfelt sympathy as best he could, nodding tightly, eyes filled with tears. He left my room, and I don’t remember another conversation, although I’m sure we ran into each other in the hallways.

“So how’s college?”

“Good. I want to get a degree in economics. I’m planning a transfer, getting everything in order, and…” Hui paused.

“Oh, hey. You didn’t just come by to say hi!”

Grin and a ducked head. “I’m want to apply to the same school as….. as last time. Could you look at my personal statements? They are short answer questions, so it won’t be one big essay.”

“Sure! You’ve got a good shot at transferring. I’m glad you’re trying again. You want to mail the responses?”

“They’re on my Google Drive. Do you have time?”

I sighed. “I do, but only until these last three are done with their tests, because then I have beer awaiting.”

I flipped through the short passages. “Hey, your writing has improved tremendously.” That wasn’t empty praise; his writing was still obvious an product of an English Language Learner, but the deficiencies now were….well, not infrequent, but not constant, either. Far fewer grammar errors, allowing me to focus on style issues.

Passage one needed a complete rewrite; Hui focused entirely on describing courses in his desired major. I told him to branch out. Passages two and three were nicely done, with only a few grammar and style edits. Passage four….

Passage four, in response to “what significant obstacle have you faced and how has it affected your academic progress” or something like that, was a lovely little explanation of the struggle he faced as a child who came to America at the age of ten, with two parents who still, to this day, speak no English.  Not just vague assertions, either, but entertaining, brief comparisons of verb tenses and articles that presented tremendous challenges to Chinese speakers, and finishing up with his constant efforts to remedy his gaps with books and films.

I looked over at Hui, who was watching me closely, and don’t tell anyone, but I was choked up. “You kept my notes from last time.”

“I didn’t need to. I remembered them. They really helped to think of my English as…something I’d achieved, rather than just something I do really bad at.”

“You should finish with a sentence to that effect.”

“OK.”

He left after wangling my phone number out of me, but promised to try email first. A student finishing up his test said “So can I come back to you for college admissions help after I graduate?”

“You better.”

I tell this story for two reasons. First: I write quite a bit about Asian immigrants , the corruption that China is introducing into US college admissions, the continual obsession with grades   and resumes with little interest in underlying knowledge, the pressure the parents put on the kids, and the  my concerns that they’re not here to become Americans, but to take advantage of a system not set up to defend against them. Inevitably, someone takes offense and argues that “they aren’t all like that”. Yes.  Even the ones who are like that….aren’t. I know that better than most.

But I tell this story in large part because I didn’t instantly think to write it up. I was just sitting around last night thinking of the three posts I have in the hopper, and trying to get the energy to finish one of them, when the events of the day popped into my mind and I thought it might make a good story. Then I realized it made a great story. Then–in the moment of this essay’s title–I realized the reason it didn’t instantly present itself as a great story is because this happens to me all the time.

A month ago, I was sitting in a Starbucks when I noticed the kid sitting next to me was a trig student from last year, now attending a graphics arts program. We were chatting when his pals showed up, all past students, and they sat down for half an hour and told me about their lives, exchanging funny stories about my classes. Two ex-students came back just this month asking for some help in their college math course. Every year, a few students make coffee dates, just to chat. Still others just stop by my classroom and say hi.

What a tremendous, amazing job I have. Teaching feeds my love of drama, my ability to think on the fly, and my love of intellectual challenges–and gives me tremendous independence. Then, it turns out, I live in my students’ memories.  I am Chips, not Browning.

In Clan Teacher, pay is substituted in part with ego gratification–and don’t think it’s not a fair trade. I’m a cranky introvert–you don’t think it matters to me that I send kids out into the world with Memories of Me? Good memories, of course–and yes, like all teachers, I worry about the damage, the memories I might cause through a careless word or ill-considered retort. But  I don’t demand perfection from my own performance. I am satisfied. I can try to do better.

So I’m not telling this story because it revived my flagging spirits, reversed my burnout. I’m telling you about Hui because it’s a glorious part of business as usual.

Which means I have to rest up, take this mild burnout seriously. Maybe take next summer off. (Yes. Laugh.) Get home earlier, particularly when I feel too tired to get up from my desk.

Because I never want to lose the sense of joy I get when remembering they actually pay me for this gig.

 

 

 

 

 

 


ELL isn’t Language Instruction

I’ve only taught English once in a public school (a humanities class), but I’ve been teaching private instruction English for a decade. Language instruction it’s not. I took French for a few years, and vaguely remember having to study verbs, and verb forms. Something about subjunctives. Unlike my father, I’m terrible at all new languages that don’t tell computers what to do.

I thought teaching English as a language was more structured.  Start with common verbs, the “persons”–I eat, you eat, he/she eats, they eat. Then common nouns. Then put things together? Isn’t that how it works? In other languages?

But then, French teachers speak English. Or Russian. Or whatever their students’ native language is–and a French teacher’s students only have one native language. You don’t see French teachers in American classrooms playing to a class of Punjab, Chinese, Spanish, and English students. Nor is the French teacher expected to be utterly ignorant of Punjabi, Mandarin, Spanish and English–yet still teach the students French.

Yet here I am with six students, only two of whom have even minimal conversational English, with four native languages. I’m not supposed to teach them English like a French teacher teaches French. Nor am I supposed to teach them English or anything else in Spanish, Punjabi, Chinese, or French as it’s spoken in the Congo.

American schools have never taught the English language.  Many education reform folk–and most non-experts–glorify immersion, our original method of handling language learners. Dump kids in, let them learn the language. That worked, right? Well, maybe not. Lots didn’t learn.  They just dropped out. As Ravitch the historian (not the advocate) observed, America’s past success educating immigrants has been dramatically overrated. (The immigrants’ children did well, but why we can’t expect that today is a tad Voldemortean for this essay.)

Giving additional services to non-English speaking students  became a public education mandate with Lau vs. Nichols.  But after the Chinese Lau, the case history shows that all major bilingual court cases involved Hispanics.

First, the Aspira case built on Lau, as  New York City signed a consent degree to provide bilingual education to limited English Puerto Rican students until they could function in regular classes. This led to a de facto mandate for nationwise bilingual education, and created the infrastructure of support. Not the curriculum, of course. (Ha, ha! Heaven forfend!)

One of those court cases was also one of the heads of the hydra known as US vs. Texas , which has a long, controversial history much of it not involving bilingual education. But at one point presiding judge  observed that the “experts” were appalled that Hispanic ELL students had only to reach the 23rd percentile in order to be reclassified as fluent.  The kids would only be doing better than 1 in 4 kids, wrote the judge, which simply wasn’t enough to perform adequately in mainstream classrooms. The judge never considered that black students aren’t given all this additional support, despite similar or worse test scores. We still don’t.

Anyway, as a result of that court case,  many if not all of states require ELL students to be proficient on achievement tests before they can be reclassified.  Proficient.  Often above average. Not basic. Different states have different procedures, different standards, but “proficient” is usually mentioned. And remember that ELL is only nominally concerned with teaching non-English speakers, since ELL students are primarily citizens.   Kids are asked  if  English is the only language spoken at home. Those who say “no” get tested, and if they don’t test proficient, they get tagged ELL and stay ELL until they do.  Schools don’t care–arent’ allowed to care–if the student came to America yesterday, a decade ago, or through a womb.

As I’ve written before, in math as it is in English, elementary school “proficiency” is much easier to acquire than the skill required for high school. It is thus much easier to test out of  ELL elementary school, regardless of original language, than high school. Most elementary ELL students test out after two or three years. Those who don’t make it out are categorized “long-term ELL”, meaning they’ve been ELL for over five years and never made proficient. Left unsaid is that kids need a certain cognitive ability to hit those test scores.

Thus by high school, over half the long-term ELL students are US citizens, split evenly among second and 3rd generation Americans who consider English their native language but have  lower than average cognitive ability or some specifically verbal processing issues. These are the kids who weren’t able to meet the relatively low elementary school proficiency standards. The other 44% are foreign born kids who couldn’t test out in the first five years.  It’s unlikely that either group is going to escape ELL in high school.

Consider: the primary reason for sheltering ELL learners once they’ve achieved functional fluency is to avoid kids being stuck in long term ELL. But there’s no solution to the “problem” of long-term ELLS, save accepting it as an artifact of an entirely different attribute.

If you’re following my dispirited trail of musings, you might be wondering if the elementary school proficiency levels are so low, then shouldn’t some of the kids who escape ELL status early run into trouble in high school?”   And to quote Tommy Lee Jones: Oh wow. Gee whiz. Looky here! Many Reclassified ELLs Still Need English-Language Support, Study Finds and points out that this finding is consistent with past research.

If you aren’t following my dispirited traill of musings, you’re thinking this has nothing to do with my assigned task of teaching English to one African, two Chinese, two Mexican, and one Punjabi student.

Sorry, I’m just explaining why I don’t teach English language instruction in an English class of kids who don’t speak English.

ESL and bilingual education from its earliest days was never intended to instruct students in the English language. It was actually a means of directing funding to close the Hispanic achievement gap for English speaking Hispanics which–it was believed–was due to inadequate academic instruction in English.   ELL’s purported objective is to provide support to non-English speaking students until they are proficient. Its actual  purpose is, first, to define a category that reports the academic achievement of  primarily Hispanic US citizens of lower than average cognitive ability–the better to beat our schools up with. Second, the classes gives the kids something to do until immersion gives them enough English to be mainstreamed, or at least into a higher ELL class.

So just as before, ELL teachers don’t provide English language instruction. Kids don’t come to America with a six word vocabulary and take English 1, followed by English 2, then English 3, and then AP English because hey, now they’re fluent.

When I express the concern   that I’m not teaching the kids English, I’m just giving them vocabulary and grammar enrichment in a sheltered English class, other ELL teachers and the admins nod their heads approvingly and say “You’re doing a great job!” Because ELL is not about teaching the English language.

Then I look at these six kids–and really, they’re terrific. In an ideal world, I’d never question my assignment. They’re a joy to teach and I’ll do my best for them. But only one of them is a citizen. Collectively, they are consuming one third of three English teachers’ schedule–that is, one full-time position at our school is dedicated to giving language enrichment to five non-citizens. All across America you’ll find thousands of these sheltered classes, for kids who just got here and instantly given free and guaranteed access to small classrooms and support in lessons that may or may not teach them the language, but gives them something to do in school until their English gets good enough for academic instruction. Which will–again–happen outside these classes, because lord knows, we’re not involved in language instruction.

I think of the millions of citizen kids. Of the bright high schoolers who could use challenging enrichment, maybe digging in deep to a Milton sonnet because they have the ability to do something more than fake their way through interpretation in carefully modeled  Schaffer chunks.  Of the many citizen students from the bottom half of the cognitive scale who didn’t check the “another language spoken at home” box and thus are not given additional time and money….not to get higher test scores, but just spend time with a teacher reading them a story and talking about vocabulary and context at a level they can enjoy. Every day. Of the many citizens from the bottom half of the cognitive scale who are told for their entire k-12 education that their native language isn’t, in fact, their native language.

Of course, whether or not we should be spending this kind of money on non-citizens never comes up. All we ever debate is whether we should use immersion or follow Krashen’s dictates and instruct every 1 in 20 kids in their native language. See, dedicating one full English position to six kids is the cheap version, the one favored by conservatives and most taxpayers. Bilingual advocates want native language instruction, which would further reduce class size from six to one or two, in every language we run into in our public schools.  Of course, we don’t have enough qualified teachers in each language, but since we can’t have perfection, at least  it’s a great way to boost employment in immigrant communities. So not only do we spend more resources on the kids, but the schools often provide more employment to the communities. As for citizens, well, you know, being bilingual is important. You should have studied more.

The entire debate about bilingual education vs. immersion is a canard. Of all the many education debates that aren’t as they seem, none wastes as much time,  money, and resources as that of the ludicrously named English Language Learner.

No one is asking whether we should be doing this at all. Well. I am. But then, I’m no one.

Someone, somewhere, will furiously argue that I’m “pitting brown students against each other”.  No. That’s what ELL does. And not just to kids of color, either.

Cynical? Scratch the surface of any ELL program and see how far off I am. Don’t listen to what they say. Go look at what they do.

Not sure if this piece has a point.  In math, I don’t have to think of this too often.

At the end of the day, I remind myself that I like the job, the boss folks like what I’m doing, and regardless of what you call it, this is a hell of a lesson.

 


Twitter: A Choice, Not a Publication

Jim Ruttenberg is upset because Twitter isn’t policing itself like radio and TV did. Hatred spewed by “venomous” pseudonymous accounts–the new “white hoods”–is simply not rooted out and purged as it  should be. (Disclosure: Education Realist is not, in fact, my name.)

I’ve been around the online world, although not as Ed, for close to twenty years, which is a middling time. Usenet is forty years old, older than the the Web itself, older than the domain naming system, and the Great Renaming that created the notion of “alt” is thirty.  And for nearly that long, we’ve all known that  the news groups and every other online communication form invented has been used to promote racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and all the other bad isms. I don’t think Rutenberg wants us to believe that any of these opinions are new, although he doesn’t say so in that many words.

I wonder if Rutenberg has discussed this with Chris Cillizza, who has written two  different articles celebrating the death of blog comments, explaining that comments aren’t nearly as good as the superior, “self-policing” nature of Twitter.

I think it was Alex Russo who observed that Twitter has done a lot to kill comments sections. For the commenters, Twitter offers a much  bigger audience, freeing them from the blog’s limited readership. For the media organizations who abandon comments, the single biggest reason isn’t the aggravation from blowhards, but the cost. Comment curating is expensive, and leaves them open to free speech and consistency complaints.  Advertisers don’t value comments pages, or their views. So comments cost a lot in employees and bandwidth and don’t offer much.Twitter’s larger audience drives views and saturation –and it doesn’t cost the publishers a cent.

Journalists and other figures came to Twitter long before the their corporate owners did. They  willingly cast off the protections offered them by a media website without realizing the tradeoff. They can refuse to read their email. They can refuse to engage with the comments section. They can ignore all the the angry blog posts linking to their work.  Twitter doesn’t give them that option, and their publishers can’t protect them.

But they want Twitter. They want to compare follower stats and watch their popularity grow. They want the “viral” attention of a popular article.They want the increased visibility.  They want the rapid communication with their colleagues and experts. They even want the feedback of the many intelligent and committed readers. They want it all for free, the audiences that can rapidly join up and participate without the overhead of websites, domain names, and curation. They want to show their real selves to their loyal fans whilst still pretending to be unbiased in their “real” journalism.

They also want to look in on the little people to produce some of that “real” journalism or to further reinforce their professional status. Hey, I’ll just grab some “regular people” tweets for my article. Let’s see what the hashtag for the newest terrorist attack has in the way of color commentary. Or hey, look at this racist tweet–I’ll just tweet it out to my followers for shaming. Here’s a moron I can mock. Maybe it will go viral and I’ll look influential.  Or look, here’s a bathos-drenched Twitter conversation amongst rape victims that I can rewrite with little effort for lots of clicks, and I don’t need their consent.

Journalists and other elites routinely cull Twitter for content, whether to keep their followers happy, to fuel their causes, or to do something they think of as reporting or analysis.  Yeah, they want Twitter.

They just want Twitter without any risk of being called out,  mocked, and abused, because   calling out, mocking, and abusing people has been the media’s job for generations. It’s not supposed to go the other way.

When journalists left the confines of the media domain protection and set out onto the open range, they became the news, just like the little people. Because on Twitter, no one is little, or everyone is. Blue check or no.

Rutenberg calls Twitter a “new media development”. But Twitter is a communications medium, not a publishing empire. It’s the connective fiber, not the content. Twitter “publishers” don’t exist in a centralized form. Or, as one academic puts it, Twitter enables ambient journalism, in which the public doesn’t just receive the news and analysis selected by the gatekeepers, but participates in  “digitally networked” information generation in which news generation goes in multiple directions.

The problem isn’t Twitter. There aren’t any sentiments on Twitter that haven’t lived online since online existed, and before that  lived in print. But in a networked digital world, the journalists can’t filter.  Journalists aren’t wilting flowers. They’re used to criticism. But just as Twitter makes reporting on “the people” easier, so too does it make the people’s response a lot easier to deliver.

Jim Rutenberg calls for a “robust discussion” about Twitter’s danger to national discourse, even though he’s clearly aware that the platform has been around for a decade. He’s been a member for half that time.  Little late, Jim.

I am not excusing the Pepes, the gas chambers, the tweeted threats. Nor am I drawing any equivalencies between media mockery of their chosen targets and the *isms we can’t filter out now. My advice to journalists and other opinion folks: stop calling for purges. Stop castigating anonymity, as if ordinary people have nothing to fear from your prying eyes. Stop pretending that rudeness and nastiness actually dangerous. Stop demonstrating, once again, that you think you’re more important than the rest of us.

Stop feeling sorry for yourselves. Stay safe within the confines of your publisher’s website if you don’t want the abuse, and pay the price of a lower profile and a smaller audience. Twitter is your choice. But it’s not your property.

 

 

(Hey. Less than 1000. Sorry for breaking up my ELL series. But this has been on  my mind for a while.)

 

 


The Things I Teach

“OK, today in focus we’re going to read  Grandfather’s Journey together. We will find new words on each page, talk about vocabulary and meaning.”

“Grandfather?”

“Me! I know!” Marshall waved his hands. “It is….the father of your father.”

“Also the father of your mother, right?” Charlotte asked.

“Abuelo?” Kit looked to Marshall.

“Yes, abuelo,” I nodded. “But what about journey?”

Silence.

“I think it means hat,” offered Julian.

“Sombrero?” Kit was surprised.

“No,” I shook my head. “Journey means ‘trip’. It means…to travel. To go somewhere else.” Blank looks. I grabbed a white board and drew–badly–what I call in my history classes the Great American Porkchop with an airplane, also rendered poorly.

journeysketch

“Ahhh!!” Comprehension. They didn’t laugh. So don’t you mock my artwork.

Charlotte said, “So I took a….journey from the Congo?”

“I took a journey to India?” asked Amit.

“No. From.”

I pointed to “Here” on my sketch. “In a journey, your beginning point is from. Your end point is to.”

“So I came from China to America?” asked John.

“Use journey.”

“OK. I took a journey from China to here.”

“Marshall?”

“I…journey from Mexico to America.”

took a journey,” said Charlotte.

“Either. I journeyed from Mexico to America is good, or I took, or I made, a journey” is good. Kit?”

“I….took journey from Mexico to America.”

“Good! Sebastian.”

Long pause.

“Sebastian, put the phone away or you’ll lose it.”

“I journey from China to…here.”

Fun, clear learning, but five minutes had gotten me through two words.

“My grandfather was a young man when he left his home in Japan and went to see the world. He wore European clothes for the first time and began his journey on a steamship.”

“Look at the difference between Grandfather in the first picture and then on the steamship.”

“He is not wearing…same clothes.” from Amit.

“Oh! He is dressed like he is from Japan!” said Julian, “and now he is dressed like an American. Why is that European?”

“So does everyone see what Julian means? He is dressed in what we call traditional clothes. This story is about the past, yes? About a long ago time?” Nods. “Well, in this long ago time, Europe was more well-known than America. Today, Julian thinks of America before Europe. Today, probably the best word to use for this sort of difference is ‘Western’. Why would he want to dress in different clothes, Kit?”

Kit is quiet, particularly compared to Marshall, whose American aunt is really helping him develop skills. He paused. “He…belong?”

“He won’t be strange,” offered Charlotte.

“Yes, he wants to fit in, or assimilate. Good! Back to the book. The Pacific Ocean surrounded him.

“Océano Pacífico!” Marshall beamed. “That’s here.”

“Yes, and now we know the first part of his journey,” I walk over to the large wall map. “He left from Japan” (points) “and traveled across the Pacific Ocean. Where will he end up?”

“AMERICA!” chorused from all six.

“What does surround mean? Sebastian?” Sebastian tried to check with Julian in Chinese, but I stopped him. “He is on a boat, yes? In the Pacific Ocean? What would he see?”

“Water.”

“Amit, would he see land?” Amit was puzzled. I went back to the map, showing the trip. “He would be here. Would he see land?’

“No. Only water.”

“Yes. Surround means that everywhere you look, you see only one thing. It could be water. It could be people.”

“So what does ‘surround’ mean, Kit?”

“…around?”

“All around.” Sebastian.

For three weeks he did not see land. When land finally appeared, it was the New World.

saynewworld

“Kit, we just talked about days of the week. How many days in the week?”

“Seven,” jumped in Amit.

“Is that right, Kit?” Kit nodded. “So if the grandfather traveled for three weeks, and each week is seven days–and this is only for Kit–how many days did he travel?”

Kit clearly knew the answer, but needed time to put it in English. I held back everyone else with my hand, giving him time. “Vienti…no. Twenty. Twenty one.”

“Twenty one days on a boat?” Charlotte was skeptical.

“It was a steamship, which would be faster than sailing.” I googled up an image on my cell phone and held it up and walked around to give kids a look.

“Oh, so he didn’t fly on a plane,” Julian. “Twenty one days is a long time.”

“Yes. We can travel more quickly these days. That changes everything. Think about how different you would feel if you had to travel for twenty one days.”

“Please–I would travel more, yes?”

“Longer, not more. Yes, it is a longer journey from India.”

Sebastian was puzzling over the second sentence. “What is New World?”

“America,” Marshall offered.

“Yes, all America. North and South. Mexico is part of the New World. So is Canada.” Back to the map. “All of this.”

sayrailroad

He explored North America by train and riverboat and often walked for days on end. So a riverboat is a boat that travels on a river, yes? Who can tell me what a river is? Kit?”

“Rio”

“Yes. Like the Mississippi, here on the map. It’s a…long.. you know? It’s long, but much skinnier than an ocean. Also, ocean is salt water. Rivers are in countries and are not salty.”

“Rio Grande!” from Marshall.

Amit looked confused. I googled “Punjab rivers” and then brought up an image of the Chenab to show him.”

“Oh! Yes. Rivers. Big. Punjab has many rivers. Five.”

“Charlotte is from Africa, which has the Nile,” said Julian.

Charlotte snorted. “The Nile is in Egypt. We have the Congo River.”

“Oh.”

“What does explore mean?”

“Aagh!” Marshall smacked his head. “No sé cómo decirlo en Inglés (at least, that’s what Google says he said.) Uh, he looks at. No. Looks…deep.”

“Explore means to learn about…to study. No…is that it?” said Charlotte.

“Yes, Marshall and Charlotte have it right. Explore means to learn about a new place, a new idea–or maybe something you already know a little bit about. Marshall says ‘deep’, to go deep into a subject. Good work! Now, think about that with journey.”

Julian said, “So you go on a journey to explore.”

“Outstanding. Let’s put it in the story terms. We are reading a story about the author’s grandfather, who has crossed the….”

“Pacific Ocean” they chorused.

“…to…”

“explore America!”

“Good! Deserts with rocks like enormous sculptures amazed him.”

sayrocks

“What is ‘amazed’?” asked Charlotte.

“Julian?’

“I don’t know. What is a sculpture?”

“it’s art formed out of a hard material–rock, or metal.” I googled “rock formations America” and held up the results one by one. To a kid, they all gasped in…

“Yes. You see that feeling? That is amazed. See how you are all thinking oh, how beautiful. How you didn’t know about such beauty. It’s when you see something good…or bad..or just different. But something you didn’t expect. So when you came to America, what amazed you?”

“The food,” offered Charlotte instantly. “I was..amazed at how much food. How much you could eat..how much you could have. It is wonderful.”

“I was amazed that you can take cellphones to class. But mostly that you can ride bikes on the road, with cars,” from Julian.

I chuckled. “Yeah, that’s a quick way to die in China, huh?”

“Here the cars have to stop!”

“See Julian’s behavior, guys? He is acting amazed. Sebastian, what amazed you about America?” Sebastian clearly understood the question, but said something in Chinese to Julian.

“Oh, that’s true,” Julian turned to me. “He said..oxygen. You can’t see it here.”

“The air! Yes, the air in America is so much cleaner, so much clearer, is that it?” Sebastian nodded. “So can you put that in a sentence?”

“I was amazed at the clean air in America.”

“Good! Back to the book. The endless farm fields reminded him of the ocean he crossed. Endless? Kit?”

“No stop?”

“Keeps on going.” said Marshall. “But what is field?”

“A field is an open space, a big one. A farm field is an open space used to grow food.” I googled corn fields and wheat fields .  We determined that the grandfather was seeing wheat fields in this picture.

“So the author is making a comparison. Just as he traveled across the Pacific for twenty-one days, surrounded on all sides by water, so too did these fields seem to go on forever.”

“Like an ocean,” said Max.

“Yes. See how the author drew the fields to look like an ocean, surrounding the grandfather? Huge cities of factories and tall buildings bewildered and excited him.

cities

“Who can tell me what bewildered means?”

Amit, galvanized, pulled out his phone, looked at me for permission. I nodded, and he handed me the results.

“Oh, perfect!”

“Ah!” the class chorused. They all got it at once.

“So bewilder means to confuse you, to see or experience something that fills you with questions. Nice job, Amit.”

“I…feel bewildered a lot.” Amit replied, and everyone nodded.

“Welcome to America!” laughed Chancelle.

He marveled at the towering mountains and rivers as clear as the sky.

saymountains

“But ‘tower’ is like a building,” puzzled John.

“Maybe the mountains are big, like tower,” offered Max.

“Yes, that’s it. Like a tower. He’s comparing the mountains to a tower, like this.” and I googled some towering buildings. “See? What does marveled mean?

Kit muttered something.

“What? Could you say it again?”

“Maravilloso?”

“Ah, yes, like…” Max, like me, uses his hands to fill in blank spaces.

“Would you say marvelous is like amazed?”

“Yes!” Charlotte beamed. “They mean the same thing!”

“Close to it. So notice, let’s page back. The author said his grandfather is amazed, excited, and that he marveled. All of these words have similar meanings. So the author is creating…making a mental image for you.”

“The grandfather is seeing many things that surprise him but…they are good things,” Julian nodded.

“Please–the words mean the same?”

“Not every word, Amit–but amazed…do you see, go back? Amazed and now to the cities page. Excited and now the mountains page…marveled. Everyone see those words? They all have very similar…very close meanings.”

“But not ‘bewildered’.”

“Good! Bewildered is something different. That’s why the author writes yet .See that small word? Yet means that he was confused but still feeling…”

“He is confused but happy he is seeing all this.”

“Exactly! Going on: He met many people along the way. He shook hands with white men and black men, with yellow men and red men. In Japan, would he have seen only other Japanese people. Julian, Sebastian, did you see people who weren’t Chinese before you came to America?”

“No,” Sebastian shook his head. “Only…movies.”

“Only in movies. Charlotte, Congo is mostly black people, but there are some white people there, too, right?”

“Yes, also Chinese. Not…many. But some Chinese.”

“Chinese people in Africa?” John couldn’t believe it.

“Yes, Chinese people are starting to build businesses in Africa.  Asia and Africa are less diverse–they are mostly one race. Well, not North Africa.”

“Yeah,” Charlotte nodded emphatically. “Egypt, Libya, they… have more types. More races. More…mix.”

“Mexico, too,” said Max, and Kit nodded.

“Yes. North and South America have had more than one race for many years–because we’re the New World. Many people from different places came here. Mostly white in North America at first, but still blacks and Hispanics, and even some Asians. But Asia, particularly East Asia, doesn’t see many differences.”

“India has many types,” said Amit.

And the bell rang. Nine pages.

Debrief and other thoughts soon.


Defining the Alt Right

Am I of the alt right?

Last spring, I thought the answer was ‘yes”. I figured it was the new name for the “Dark Enlightenment” or neo-reaction.  I’m barely right of center, having travelled that long road from barely left of center over the past fifteen years, so my membership is more of an adoption than a joining. But others would (and have) put me there.

The ensuing discussion has  left me pretty sure the answer is “no”. I don’t read Breitbart or Ann Coulter, much less Stormfront, 4chan, Richard Spencer, or Jared Taylor of American Renaissance. “Cuckservative” and “mudshark” are not in my vocabulary, much less my ideological framework.  I didn’t even know who Milo was until a few months ago, when I read his treatise. I only use one parenthesis on each side, solely to denote a diversion or clarification on the sentence’s main point. I don’t tweet out pictures of gas ovens or frogs.

Notice that I exclude myself based on behaviors. Because everyone is clear on what the alt-right does. Journalists and political writers don’t like the behavior one bit. They want it to stop.

What the alt-right believes, what opinions they hold, is a different matter, where no clear agreement is found. I’ve only seen three pieces, two of them recent, that are well-reported, well-sourced, and  make a sincere effort to accurately represent the alt-right.

Dave Weigel’s otherwise solid analysis  linked Steve Sailer and Jared Taylor as “alt right” or “race realists”, which made me very nervous. Yes,  Steve is an influential writer at Taki and VDare, and I thought he was well-represented in that piece. But Steve is a writer whose primary sin is that of noticing, as he often says. He’s snarky and sarcastic and occasionally brutal, but if he’s a racial separatist, the sentiments don’t make their way into his writing. Jared Taylor is a political activist with explicit goals of giving individuals and businesses the legal right to self-segregate. If these two are in the same region, it should be a very large one. Weigel makes it sound small.

A December piece by Rosie Gray  that I reread after listening to her on NPR does the best job of capturing “alt-right” beliefs. Jared Taylor, who I heard for the first time on that same NPR show, strongly approved of Gray’s work and didn’t mention anything about  the reassuring (to me) fact that Gray omits Steve Sailer. She gives  plenty of space to some major players in what is clearly a fringe movement, capturing both the beliefs and the behavior, while allowing conservative pro-Trump folks like Coulter and Limbaugh a chance to clarify whether or not they were part of the alt-right, rather than just assuming it.    I learned a few things–that The Cathedral , as Moldbug calls it, is  their Synagogue,  and how “echo” links to the multiple parentheses.  Gray even explains the frog.

Up last is my favorite of the three alt-right descriptions by TA Frank,  How the Alt Right Became the Party of Hate. While Gray reports from the inside, Frank examines the movement’s path from unknown to mainstream, spotting this Evan Osnos piece as the initial piece connecting Trump to the alt-right, and  pointing out that Breitbart is “nowhere near” the alt-right, linked to them only through its “biggest provocateur, Milo”. Frank’s piece often delights, for example: He was not reading Carl Schmitt. Neither is Bannon. And neither is the 70-year-old billionaire for whom Bannon is now working. (Trump’s staffers would be lucky to get their boss to read his own policy papers.)

But more importantly, from my admittedly self-absorbed perspective, Frank likewise portrays the “alt-right issue” as one of different regions. The alt-right–white-nationalist, anti-Semitic, democracy doubting– is fringe, a tiny country with rocky terrain and few  friendly neighbors. Another region, according to Franks, is white resentment and tension as more whites struggle economically, while  thanks to continuing progressive disparagement makes them feel under attack. In my geography the men’s rights movement, neoreaction, the Dark Enlightenment proper, all live here. This region is, I believe, consistent with what Breitbart writer Milo considers the alt-right–and, possibly, accounts for the behavior problems mentioned above, primarily from young, often well-educated white men in their 20s.

The third region contains the people who notice and describe the denial ferociously practiced by those responsible for our nation’s social policies. In this world lives Ron Unz, hbdchick, Razib Khan, Jason Richwine, JayMan, Greg Cochrane, VDare magazine (I think), John Derbyshire, Steve Sailer, and, yeah, me. People in this space have either suffered professionally for their opinions and writings, or are anonymous because  they fear repercussions. But it’s their opinions, not their political objectives or behaviors, that are at issue.

The three regions don’t overlap much. The first two read the third, but the reverse is less common. The first two are safely described as alt-right. The third is the one that is cause for disagreement.

What binds the three regions, why they think of themselves as related in some way, is not anti-Semitism, not racism, (or “race realism”),  not men’s rights, not separatism, not political objectives. I can’t stress this enough.

The common factor is utter disdain for the aforementioned  Cathedral, the fortress-like canon controlling the dogma of the neighboring region called The Mainstream.

Few literally think of the elite Cathedral as a religion, but the paradigm is the most effective metaphor to describe its impact. Frank calls it “a rebellion against political correctness” but  that term seems a tad mild to describe the rigidity of the canon that excludes, or seeks to exclude, all contrary thoughts.  Jon Chait, for example, complains about political correctness, but he’s a paid up member of the Cathedral.

Well within mainstream regional boundaries are the Breitbart reporters other than Milo, Ann Coulter, Mickey Kaus, and Mark Krikorian.  Most agree that just being a Trump supporter isn’t sufficient to qualify, so they go here as well.

Thus, agreement on what the alt-right does, and what the alt-right isn’t, and the three articles above should give people a decent start on figuring out what alt-right is.

Who is in and out of the alt-right becomes less a matter of academic inquiry when the GOP starts calling to exclude them from the party. Jonah Goldberg–a writer I’ve liked and read for nearly two decades–wants to “John Birch” the alt-right, defined thusly:JGaltright

So Goldberg wants to purge the tiniest of these regions, the people who want to segregate by race, the “white supremacists”.

But hang on a sec. Didn’t the GOP say “no” to white supremacists a long time ago?

(Pause. Note that Democrat and Republican answers to this question…..vary.)

Any attempt by the GOP to purge itself is probably doomed to fail. Some day soon, an earnest mainstream media folk is going to ask Jonah Goldberg why he’s friendly with Charles Murray. Jonah will protest in outrage, arguing that Charles Murray isn’t a racist. I absolutely agree.  Murray is also brilliant, and someone I find personally generous with feedback and helpful data despite my lamentable support for Trump, a candidate he  ferociously rejected from the escalator on.

But that’s besides the point. “Murray the racist” is an article of faith  held by far too much of the mainstream academia and media. The Southern Poverty Law Center, commonly (and, in my opinion, ludicrously) cited by major outlets as an objective think tank on racist organizations,  says that Charles Murray is a white nationalist. Murray is  more than just a member of my ideological region, he’s the patron saint of many within the land, one of the people who attracted us to the cause, as it were, and much beloved (until his Trump heresy) of the neighbors Taylor, Spencer, and heartiste.  Jonah Goldberg calling for a purge of white nationalists leads right to Murray.

And so it will go, forever. The media, academia, the Dems, and even portions of the GOP media, will seek to define the alt-right as anyone in violation of the Cathedral, growing the region larger and larger,  enveloping Coulter, Kaus, Krikorian and anyone else who can be discredited and shut down. The distinct regions I carefully described above matter to me and many others but certainly not everyone. If both parties with access to the megaphones start purging, I don’t think Jonah Goldberg will like where it ends up.

Defining the alt-right isn’t just “a” problem. It’s the problem, because, as Mark Leibovich said just recently, no one agrees on “the curve”. We, as a country, disagree on what constitutes bigotry, intolerance, and the big R. The public–and I mean the public, not white folks–is dramatically out of synch with the media on this issue, but the media and other elites have vehement internal disagreements on this point as well.

I suggest we reframe it as an opportunity, and in this I’m joined by TA Frank:

franksaltright

Am I of the alt-right? As a practical matter, using the definition most agree to,  no. I hold to the Voldemort View and the wisdom of Philip K. Dick. I’m an immigration restrictionist and Trump supporter. I’m a nationalist, not a white nationalist. I’ve lived in more racial diversity my entire life than the vast majority of elites preaching its value can even conceive of.  I don’t live in the same ideological region as Jared Taylor and Richard Spencer, or heartiste and men’s rights advocates. That’s a difference that won’t matter to the media, which is why I’m anonymous.

At the heart of this semantic debate, of course, lies more than words and ideas themselves, but our visions for the country. Jared Taylor said in the interview above that he doesn’t want America to be an experiment. Too bad. The United States has been an experiment since its founding.  But a successful experiment requires parameters, careful hypotheses, and data showing results. It requires open inquiry, skepticism, challenges.

Instead, our society’s elites  are refusing to stop and take stock, evaluate the conditions. They refuse to consider control groups.  They go further and simply reject results they don’t like, and then shut down any attempts to challenge their findings.1

Defining the alt-right requires acknowledging that many among us view the recent years of the American experiment with skepticism, some with outright rejection. Such an effort would, I think, serve as an important balance to the excesses that it’s safe to laugh about now but might just be added to the list of behaviors our high priests check for (gender pronoun usage, kneeling for the anthem).  Certainly many would learn that many unacceptable beliefs (IQ differences in racial groups, gender biology) are routinely accepted as fact by the quieter, science-based members of academia. Or, as  Steven Pinker’s famous smackdown goes: What Malcolm Gladwell calls a “lonely ice floe” is what psychologists call “the mainstream.”

The media is filled with people bewailing this miserable election. I’m excited, regardless of outcome. Our leaders, policymakers, and journalists have been forced to face how little their opinion matters to the people who have little say but their votes. That realization can lead to many valuable and, with luck, productive conversations.

Best of all, their ability to stop the conversations is diminishing, day by day.

(added later: I’ve gotten enough comments to know my regular readers understand this piece. But Jonah Goldberg‘s response made me go wait, what?

I am not advocating an embrace of the alt-right. I am observing strategic and semantic problems with trying to purge them. By all means, give it a try. I’m happy to be wrong. But my primary point is, literally, to define who is and is not the alt-right and to join with TA Frank in calling for a more open discourse. If you think “open discourse” means “talk to Nazis” then you aren’t clear on how much debate and information is forbidden at risk of economic or career disaster. So for now, just accept that I do not advocate giving the mic to Nazis, people who tweet images of gas ovens, or those use the term “mudshark”–never mind those who advocate ending democracy or using violence.  And for now, accept that many are concerned about legitimate discourse being shut down. If this translates to you as “embrace Nazis or racists” then accept you have an experience gap beyond the scope of this essay.)

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1And not just on the right–see Fredrik deBoer for a look at what the alt left thinks is wrong with the country (sadly, he shut down his blog a month ago, but his essays are still there).

2Note to my followers on Twitter and my readers here: I realize that many of you are not Trump supporters, not “of the alt right”, and very often not GOP.  I appreciate everyone who takes the time to engage with my ideas  and am glad that online–as in real life–I’m able to maintain my connections to people of a wide range of political and social beliefs.


Charters: The Center Won’t Hold

I’m pleased to see more articles agreeing with my assertion that ed reform as we know it may be over.

But as I mentioned in the previous piece, charters live! Choice is good! Even the Trumpster, who clearly doesn’t much care, offers up choice like puppy chow and–wisely–using it in his appeals to black voters, as a contrast to Hillary’s doubling down on teacher unions.

Why, in the face of so much rejection, do charters still have such great numbers?1

I offer this up as opinion/assertion, without a lot of evidence to back me: most parents know intuitively that bad teachers aren’t a huge problem. What they care about, from top to bottom of the income scale, is environment. Suburban white parents don’t want poor black and Hispanic kids around. Poor black and Hispanic parents don’t want bad kids around. (Yes, this means suburban parents see poor kids as mostly bad kids.) Asian parents don’t want white kids around to corrupt their little tigers, much less black or Hispanic. (White parents don’t really want too many Asians around, either, but that’s the opposite of the “bad kids” problem.)

Parents don’t care much about teacher quality. They care a lot about peer group quality.

They are right to worry. Before I became a teacher, I’d read other teachers talk about how just a few kids can really disrupt a classroom, moving management from a no-brainer to the primary focus of the day. Now I am one of those teachers. I’ve worked in several schools in which the overwhelming presence of low income students who didn’t care about their grades has utterly removed the “stigma of an F” from the entire population, causing panic in the upper middle income white parents who can’t quite afford private school yet live in a district that worries about lawsuits if they track by ability. Their kids, particularly the boy kids, start to adopt this opinion, and white failure rates start rising.

So charters become a way for parents to sculpt their school environments. White parents stuck in majority/minority districts start progressive charters that brag about their minority population but are really a way to keep the brown kids limited to the well-behaved ones. Low income black and Hispanic parents want safe schools. Many of them apply for charter school lotteries because they know charters can kick out the “bad kids” without fear of lawsuits. But they still blame the “bad kids”, not the teachers, which is why they might send their kids to charter schools while still ejecting Adrian Fenty for Michelle Rhee’s sins.

As I’ve mentioned before, education reformers are now pushing suburban charters with strong academic focus, which are nothing more than tracking for parents who can’t get their public schools to do it for them.

I really can’t stress this point enough: charters have succeeded because of their ability to control students, not teachers. 1

Most people disagree with me on the purpose of public education. The entire discourse of education reform begins with the conceit that public education is offered to parents instead of taxpayers. I think we need to do more to support parenting, particularly in two couple, employed families, but public education is what we do to try, at least, to ensure that the subsequent generation is functional, while minimizing the impact on taxpayers.

Ultimately, charters will be bad for taxpayers. Yes, yes. I know that right now, they’re cheaper than public schools, because they use a lot of philanthropist dollars and teach cheaper students. They also save money by using and discarding new teachers, so salaries stay low. Many charters use the same pay scale as the local district, despite all their talk of merit pay.

But bet on charter teachers unionizing, despite best efforts to stop the efforts. Along with LA, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia and other cities, more charter schools are organizing. It’s going to be very difficult to stop charters from unionizing. What do charters offer? Maybe more pay if the principal likes you. But definitely longer hours. Moreover, if a charter school is short on teachers, it can just take away preps, add more classes to schedules without being the need for more pay. It’s no surprise that the charter union movement starts in urban environments. But it will spread, almost certainly.

And over time, charters will almost certainly be forced to provide more access, take more students who require mainstreaming, face legal action over expulsions. All the perks they now have will slowly siphon away, particularly in those areas that achieve their dream of total charter domination. Just ask the charter advocates in New Orleans, the first all-charter city. At first, charters were able to reject special ed students, or counsel them out. But a major lawsuit has set up some specialized schools and also required more of charters. Expulsions are down, too, once the process became centralized. More and more, New Orleans is facing questions about its “opportunity youth” (aka dropouts) and whether an entirely charter district makes it easier to lose track of students.

Charters simply can’t scale. Their success relies on traditional public schools picking up the slack. But their proponents are determined to kill those traditional public schools.

So urban public schools will continue to bleed the strongest students to charters, but will still face the higher costs associated with the most expensive students and the salaries that come along with teachers who stay put, rather than leave after a couple years. States will continue to foot the bill for both charters and district schools. So a state has X kids that used to be covered by A schools, B teachers, and C administrators. Now, the state will still have X kids, but M new schools, which means that B and C go up as well. Right now, some of those costs are covered by philanthropists, but that will change. Right now, some of those teachers are cheaper, but that will change. (The administrators get paid more than district schools.) Busing kids to their “choice” schools will cost more money if choice is required.

The lawsuits on special ed access and expulsions will continue. Data tracking on dropouts and “lost” kids will improve. Ultimately, the abuses will be curbed. And of course, despite carefully massaged talk about improved test scores, the public will realize that black and Hispanic kids are still doing poorly on college admissions tests.

All choice won’t offer any cost or quality improvements unless a) teachers are banned from unionizing, b) parents and advocacy organizations are barred from lawsuits, and c) schools are allowed to let unmotivated, low-skill kids drop out.

Yeah, good luck with that.

New Orleans is a decent indicator of the future “all-charter” paradise. Once all the schools are charters, the charters are forced to acknowledge that their secret was “better” students, not “better” teachers. Autonomy, decentralization, higher standards, parental contact, “firing bad teachers”–none of those close the achievement gap.

In fact, “bad schools” exist because black and Hispanic kids, on average, get lower scores than white and Asian kids for reasons that don’t involve superior teachers or even superior parents, for reasons that have thus far remained unrelentingly resistant to change. Kids with lower scores, regardless of race, are harder to teach and less interested in education, on average, and more likely to disrupt classes. Therefore, schools with disproportionately black or Hispanic kids are going to have lower scores and more disruptive classrooms.

While the low test score problem isn’t, as yet, fixable, the disruptive student problem is a different story. That’s the problem that charters actually address, while bragging about improving test scores, which they don’t (in any meaningful way).

The entire charter narrative is written by people who realized that public policy wants to ignore reality. The policy makers are pretending that schools can be improved. Charters allow them that pretense.

Meanwhile, the parents are intent on improving their childrens’ peer groups, and, if they can’t afford to use private schools or geography to achieve this aim, they’ll grab happily at charters, even though most are aware that the policy makers are hyping false promises.

One way or another, I don’t see the center holding. I think the end of ed reform will tilt the balance of power to public schools. But if it tilts the other way, if more cities follow New Orleans to all charters, then I expect things to get much more expensive, teacher scarcity to become even more of an issue, and a greater willingness to let kids fall through the cracks.

I’m really fine with being wrong, though.

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1This chunk of text through the second subscript was originally written as part of my response on the CTU strike, almost four years ago. The post is prescient, I dare say, in that I was starting to see the failure of the reform movement. But the second half of the post has nothing to do with the strike and is one I refer back to often. But I can never remember where I put it. So since it’s a slow month, I’m giving it its own post with some extra thoughts at the beginning and end.


Graduating My Geometry Class

In the fall of 2012, I began my first year at this school. First block, first day, I met a group of 29 freshmen in their first high school math class: geometry.  From the beginning, we all clicked. A new school didn’t seem quite so intimidating because every day of that first semester started with camaraderie and good times–and some learning, too.

Three freshmen left the school mid-term. All but one of the rest passed. Eleven Asians (1 east, 3 south,4 south east, 3 mideast), nine whites, seven Hispanic , one black. Five Muslim. No long-term ELLs, one suffered from near-blindness. Ten athletes who played their entire high school careers,  including two who eventually got scholarships. The eventual senior prom queen. All those who passed made it through trigonometry, at least. Most made it to pre-calculus. Only a few made it to Calculus or AP Stats, although at least three talented students were derailed by an F from Mr. Singh , which I found frustrating. All of them are going to college. They reflected the school’s population writ large: diverse, athletic, not overly focused on academics, but smart enough to get it done.

One student I never saw again: the feckless, charming girl who failed all her classes by treating school as social hour continued to frustrate her father, who brought her away from the Philippines and her mother, hoping he could prevent a pregnancy before a high school diploma. Another student I just didn’t run into much.

Four others were likewise never in one of my classes again, but I saw them frequently; they’d always shout a greeting across the quad, identifying themselves because they know I never wear my glasses.

The remaining twenty saw me in at least one subsequent math class. Five saw me twice more. None seemed to mind.

In all our frequent chats, literally up through their June graduation, we’d regularly refer to “that first geometry class”.  Our touchstone memory, kept alive through four years of their education.

One of my “three-timers”, a sweet, tentative young man  who never had another math teacher until pre-calc, stopped by with his yearbook. As we thumbed through the senior pages, calling out familiar faces, he suddenly said,”Man, I bet you’ve taught most of the seniors at least once.”

We counted it together—of the 93 rows of four students each, I’d taught 288 of them, or roughly 75%. Many–at least fifty–more than once.

In the face of that percentage, I decided it was time to work around my dislike of crowds, speeches, and heat in order to represent on their big night. So at 4:30, I showed up to help assemble them for the procession.

At first, the seniors were gathered in informal groups outside the staging area, taking pictures, talking, dancing about impatiently. Many called me over or waved, shouting out their names because they know my sunglasses aren’t prescription.

As they moved into the cafeteria for the staging, I wandered around, touching base, asking about plans, saying goodbye. As I’d expected, they needed teachers to organize the alphabetized lines for the procession, so I took a list of twenty. Rounded them up, hollered them into line, while the fourteen students I’d taught before joked that in less than three hours they’d never have to listen to me again. “And that’s why you became a teacher!” a bunch of them chorused.

Finally, the graduation manager gave the sign for zero hour. Suddenly well-behaved and serious, they streamed out in order, paused for a few minutes at some inevitable delay, and then the music started. Their procession took them by the stadium’s fence along the security road; I stood about 15 feet away by a barrier and put on my prescription glasses, even in the sun, the better not to miss any face. Waved and cheered at brand new adults who waved and cheered back, glad I was there, happy to see me, happy that I was wearing my glasses and could see them.  And when the last student–one of mine–turned for one final smile, I decided that the graduation itself, the heat, the speeches, the names, would dull the joy I felt in this moment. Time to go.

As I walked back to the Starbucks where I’d parked my car, latecomers were hustling to the stadium, many holding signs and pictures. I saw pictures I knew, stopped to congratulate the parents and send them on their way. And suddenly:

“Hey, it’s my geometry teacher!”

I looked at the pretty, lively young woman holding a…toddler? infant? gurgling happily walking towards me, waving. Smiled, running through the names of the only other geometry class I taught and coming up blank.

“You don’t remember me? I’m Annie!” and I gasped.

“Oh, my god. Annie! I thought…I haven’t run into you for so long…you didn’t go back to live with your mom? I don’t think I’ve seen you in..three years? I didn’t recognize you. You’re all grown up!  How’s your dad? You look fantastic. And how’s this little guy? How old is he, fifteen months?”

“Nope, just nine months.”

“He’s gorgeous. How are you? Come to see the grad…well, duh, yes.”

She laughed, and hitched the baby to her other hip. “It’s great you came! I still think about that geometry class. It was so fun!”

“I wish I’d run into you more. Go, get going, you don’t want to be late. Take care of this adorable one. I’m happy to see you.”

“Me, too. Take care. Bye!” and off she went, striding confidently into her future. I watched her, thinking of all the questions I wanted to ask: did she graduate? Go to our excellent alternative high school? Is the baby’s dad in the picture? What are your plans? and being so very glad I didn’t.

I resist presenting Annie as a tragedy. I didn’t feel guilt, watching her walk away.  But I did feel…awareness, maybe? I’m good with unmotivated underachieving boys. Am I as good with girls? Could I be reach out more? Give them reasons to try, to play along?

“You should never be satisfied. You can always do better.”

I remember telling that ed school professor that the two sentiments don’t follow. I am satisfied. I can try to do better.

Goodbye, class of 2016.

Goodbye, geometry class. Next year is my first without my touchstone group. I’ll miss you.

I want you to go forth and live happy, productive lives. Please know that for the past four years, your presence has been a big part of mine.

Thanks.