I promised myself that I would use this thing for my personal reflections during my summer course, but never quite got around to it.  Let's see what we can do about it during the full semester.

So, to catch everyone up, I am on my second semester seeking a Masters of Education from The College at Brockport.  To be specific, I am in the Alternative Adolescence Mathematics Inclusive Education program.  It's Alternate because I already have a full math education and just need education classes, and it's Inclusive because I'm learning to work with students with disabilities.  (This is not to say that I will focus on special education; the modern reality is that American classrooms strive to place students in the least restrictive environment in which they can learn effectively.  As a result, the general education setting contains students with a diverse array of gifts and needs and a large part of a teacher's energy is spent on identifying how education can be tailored to meet the needs of all students and particularly those that need accommodations.) 

Anyways, this semester I have four courses on deck.  That's overloading in Brockport's eyes, but I got a 4.0 under the same load last semester and my advisor doesn't seem to mind.  The first is Inclusive Teaching Middle School Mathematics, which is the first of my field studies which looks to be dealing with lesson plans and common standards and all that paperwork as it intersects with the reality of effective teaching.  The second is Teaching Language Skills in Middle and High School Content Areas II (can you guess that I love being in an environment where administrators won't use two words if eleven will do?), which is about literacy and comprehension strategies and differentiating instruction and many things that will probably be far more engaging that the way the course catalog makes it sound.  (I adored the prequel class, although I have heard rumors that this class ramps up the scholarly rigor.)  My third class is on Assessment for Special Education, which I think means diagnosing education-related disabilities rather than accommodating students with disabilties on general education standardized tests, but I'll know more on Thursday.  The fourth class doesn't start for another few months, and it's on drug awareness and public health and such.  Sounds like a bunch of boring seminars, but it's a critical certificate for schoolteachers so into the breach I go.

Back

May. 6th, 2012 12:42 pm
So I seem to have stepped out without turning off the lights first. Um, what to say....

First, I'm fine, and I've been fine. I've been working on having a more deliberate life (in Thoreau's sense), which in the context of the internet means a life made up of people that I can see and touch while I'm communicating with them. That has been quite an effort, and I can still see ways in which I need to continue to improve, but at the same time it has been entirely rewarding. I can see the value I'm bringing the world and aware that there are things that would have gone undone had I not been there to do them.

So, I'm back, and I've got some thoughts about what an internet soapbox offers to me in this chapter of my life. My brain is cramped with all of the facts and debates of educational philosophy and praxis. I need to sort out how to be an effective and authentic partner in learning and development and how that interfaces with the epistemological and pedagogical realities of the secondary mathematics curriculum. (Trust me, I have a graduate school vocabulary and I'm not afraid to use it.) I'd like to get it sorted out in the company of thoughtful people so that it will come out clearly in a job interview or a conference. If my classes are any indication, publicly wrestling with my own synthesis is productive for others whose journeys are like mine. And it's nice for me to be able to re-incorporate all the dear people who are outside the range of my eyes and hands.

This I know

Dec. 5th, 2010 08:45 pm
Here is a list of facts that were personally reinforced for me this very long and exhausting weekend. Some of them are more important than others, and I would be honored if you found them worth reflecting upon.

1) Don't stop talking to your brother just because Glen Beck or Michael Moore tells you that his (generally mainstream) ideas are treasonous or otherwise corrupting your noble ideals. If they told you that that's what I'd say, then they can doubly suck it.

2) Every children's toy that makes noise should have a mute switch. Especially if the noise is loud and annoying and on a very very short very loop.

3) If you're the only person in a crowd that is drinking alcohol, you should probably stop. If you can't stop, then you should definitely stop.

4) If you read a Bible passage in front of a large crowd of people as if it were a poem and not a government document, then they get a better chance of being able to actually hear it, which is a big plus when it's saying something neat that even you didn't know was there.

5) Being able to solve a Rubik's cube still seems to be an impressive feat, even if it takes you close to ten minutes to recall how to do the last few bits.

6) Be fair with your family, if you are able. Take what you need, offer what you can, and leave to recharge when you must. I am enormously privileged to live in a family healthy enough that this happens, but have hope in times of calamity that this will be the time that things will work as they should rather than as they have.

All of this put together adds up to the fact that I miss the heck out of my uncle and am glad that I can do my part to help lay his body and estate to rest and more deliberately live my life in a way that reflects the ideals that he lived so nobly.
I just got a letter from SUNY Brockport.

It is a very heavy letter.
I should start getting used to talking about me, especially since I'm doing some interesting stuff that I'll probably have to be talking about before long.

I've been spending the last handful of weeks as a volunteer math tutor for the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center, helping folk to get their GED and qualify for an LPN license and similar sorts of job training and college prep opportunities. The organization I am working for is a non-profit affiliated with one of our local state universities that does all this training tuition-free for qualified prospective students (and it seems like pretty liberal standards to establish the economic need) and it really seems to do a lot of good in helping people to chart out a better future. For me as well: it's not a paid position and doesn't even count as field work for a Masters in Education (even though the affiliated university is the one at which I'll be studying), but it'll be a leg up to have the experience in both the schmoozing sense and in being actually prepared for a room full of adolescents.

And so far it's been going really well. The staff is thrilled to get all the help they can, and they've been very helpful and welcoming. The students have been very generous with their praise as well, and even though there is selection bias in my hearing primarily from the sorts of student that I am helping, I can also objectively see that they are growing from one class to the next. That has more to do with my students being eager to be taught and willing to invest the time and brainwork than in the role that I'm playing, but again I am a critical catalyst in that reaction and if I don't give myself credit for my part then I can hardly expect people down the road to independently offer me future opportunities.

At the same time, it has been very challenging and I have yet to even comprehend the scope of the challenges. Math anxiety is a significant hurdle, and I don't have any specific strategies for dealing with it. (Nor do I have any personal experience with it at this level no matter how much I know about other sorts of anxiety.) I have also come to appreciate that people who talk about anti-racism math have their thumb on a very real and important problem. Again, I see it when I see it, but I'm still soaking in it and I've got to figure out how to confront that. 95% of my students are women, 90% are people of color, and I'll go ahead and guess that at least 95% of them aren't commuting from my upper middle-class neighborhood. In short, the only thing that comes easily to me in this class is the math.

But those last two paragraphs are both true and coexist in balance. My best isn't good enough, and my students deserve even better than my best. But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't do what I can do. The alternative to me teaching this class isn't Jaime Escalente taking over the class for me; the alternative is no class at all. I need to fail a little bit better every day, because a lot of people are still going to succeed in spite of me because of me.
Another twelve hour shift, another $WHOA thousand pieces of paper printed, another coming back home with my brain slightly tired but my body ready for more and needing to sleep so that I can do it again tomorrow.

Okay, I need to make one point about yesterday first, because this will probably be completely amusing to any snigglers reading out there who know of my horrid mutant power. So I mentioned that I was helping a pleasant young woman gain some confidence in her Excel intuition, and along with showing her how formulas can be copied and pasted and how to add and remove and resize rows and columns, I mentioned that a great tutorial is "Excel for Dummies" if you can get past the demeaning (and truly unfortunate) name.

So in addition to working my mouse-clicking finger to the bone, this was the day that I settled my employment future. I talked to the superboss I mentioned before (who is apparently so highly competent and effective that she only seems like a superboss) and she recommended a phone number for me to call that got bounced around a few times and wound me up with an admin rep on the other end of my cubicle farm. So I went to visit her, and she took down my vitals and said that she'd see what she could do. The next hour or so seemed to involve everyone in the office to some degree, including my great-grandboss who walked me around all the maps in the office until we could find one with fine enough detail to show what census district I lived in for placement purposes.

After all this, and a brief picnic lunch to enjoy some of the sunshine, I came back to my workspace to see a memo with training info for me for next week signed "Deb". And then a voice behind me said "I got it worked out for you," and turned to see the co-worker that I'd been helping with Excel. So in addition to the dumb luck of even getting all this work instead of sitting by the phone waiting for a message that still hasn't been returned, I made myself useful to the most important person in the office without even realizing it. So I was floating for the rest of the shift, even though getting trained this late means replacing someone who bails out, which might not happen and might put me in a position where bailing out might have been the rational choice. The training itself is another week of work and these contacts have strange and wondrous ways of extending my employment and giving me reasons to get dressed and leaving the house. Later, I found the admin rep from earlier and thanked her for her help, and she said "Deb really likes you ... but you know, you shouldn't have called her a dummy." *headdesk*
So shortly after writing yesterday's post, I got an email from my Census boss saying that those of us who didn't get enumerator jobs could maybe do some clerical work this week since it is OMGWTFBBQ week preparing all of the casebooks for everyone who didn't mail in their forms. He gave a phone number which ... didn't get answered by a person and the voicemail was ignored for at least an hour. I then made another one of those bold decisions that I've become capable of, that since I know where my grandboss sits I can go see her even though if I don't know the number of her direct line. The worst that could happen is that I get escorted out by security.

The best that could happen is what did happen. I said "I heard you need help", thinking that she'd tell me when to come back. She brightened and said "let's find you a chair!" and I spent twelve of the next thirteen hours working. And and my chair turned out to be right next to the superboss who was the most capable of being concerned about my falling through the cracks and working to get me into the final round of training next week when all this dust has settled. That's no sure bet, but at least this time I'll know. But at the least, making the decision to seek my fortune instead of waiting by the phone probably made me nearly a thousand dollars in income this week alone. There's probably a moral in there somewhere.

The work itself is routine office work with the printing and the collating and the cross-checking and the metric-keeping. But it's fascinating to be there. First off, during a recession, Census workers turn out to be the cream of the unemployed crop, so everyone is a caterer or a masseuse or a retired businessman with a lifetime of world travel. Plus we all get to comment on how inefficient the work processes we're doing are, and how we'd do things differently to make the work easier for people in the field. And I even get to share my bounty of Excel wisdom with a cow-orker who needed to make a spreadsheet report. So that was my lesson for the day, both in my work and in my work outlook: to find the awesome you've got to penetrate the corporation and meet with the people. They're awesome and smart even if they look neglectful and ill-conceived from a distance.

Also, holy cow I don't know for certain, but I think I printed out and ran my hands over 7000 pieces of paper yesterday. I'm not sure I've ever done that in a month before now. Now I've got to go make lunch and head back so I can collate and punch holes in those papers I think.
It's snowing. Quite a bit, actually. It's what I call "snowglobe snow" (in my personal effort to prove that we've got SO many more terms for snow than the Inuit) with big puffy flakes that are just as willing to move to the side as to drop, and while the sky seems quite full of action it doesn't amount to much on the ground. If it keeps up, it will be more than a trace of snow and we'll be able to move our last measurable snowfall up from February, which would be helpful for our Arctic cred.

In other news, my week of vacation from Census work is at serious risk of growing longer, since they never called to let me know when training for the next phase would begin and it might be that it's happening now. At the same time, they could be really busy figuring out how to assign teams and plan training locations and so they decided to push the training back a few days and they're so darned busy that they don't have time to respond to phone calls from enumerators wondering what's going on. I'm not bugged one way or the other, I just wish I knew which way it was so that I could look for another job if that's necessary and know that I can now schedule things for my evenings and weekends.

In my offtime, my brother pointed me toward the Sphere Online Judge, which seems to have all of the good things about online programming judges that I've seen in the past without quite so much of the annoyingness. As you can see, I have been busy at it. The thing that is quite pleasing to me is that I've gotten this far just in Python, although I think that there is getting to be a backlog of programs that I'm going to have to recode in C to get the speed boost I suspect.

That wasn't precisely a true statement, because a few of the programs have finally pushed me into learning brainfuck. I had been gunshy of it for a while because I had be given to believe that it was an actively hostile language, when in truth it's just very very minimal. But it's been great fun to tackle thorny problems and then wake up in the middle of the night saying "Aha! THAT'S how you write 'if x==58'!" I don't even particularly know if my solution is elegant, but I don't care because it's mine, and it looks like the first rule of coding in brainfuck is that you don't talk about coding in brainfuck.

And now it's stopped snowing.
I think I may have decided what I want to be when I grow up. A schoolteacher. Which is mildly disturbing, since I was scared off of that when my graduating class deemed me most likely to return to my school as a teacher and that seemed non-complimentary. But I'm great at math and good with people as long as I'm not terrified of them and from talking to the teachers in my acquaintance they've been waiting for quite a while for me to want to jump into the square hole alongside them.

The exciting news is that I went to the campus of our local state school that has an excellent reputation for education on Monday and talked to a whole bunch of different people who all had their own ideas of what it would take to get me to the literal head of the class. The not-so-exciting news is that this afternoon I talked to the person who actually seemed to know the answer to that and her answer was the most disappointing of the lot. No, I don't get to pursue an MS in mathematics, no I can't apply in the fall for an MSEd, no I can't actually teach for at least three years (maybe after two years in special circumstances). And, not being affiliated with the Math department, the prospect of a teaching fellowship has probably dropped to zero.

The thing about this that tweaks at me is that all I've ever heard is that there is a back door for people who want to teach math in under-served communities but have the knowledge without the credentials. I'm hoping that one of my friends can show me where that back door is, because the front door is mighty unappealing. I'm mildly tempted to talk to the Math department guy again and see if he thinks there is good placement for people with MS in Math, because I got such a buzz from looking over the course catalog at that program. As you might imagine, my advanced undergraduate studies at Carnegie Mellon make the first year of study for an advanced degree at a state school a cakewalk, plus the hope of a fellowship and the knowledge that admission for Fall 2010 is still a few months away. Oh well, I suppose that at least I might be able to clean up the leftovers part-time after I get my boring old MSEd.

I stopped by the state vocational rehab place with an update. When I told my assistant caseworker that my plan wouldn't start until January from what I can see and that I'd probably need some sort of work placement for the interim, she smiled and said that it would at least be better than what I had been doing. That wouldn't be hard. I continue to be glad at how much I'm able to get done and how wonderful and supportive my team is.
Barring any surprises, the facility enumerating phase of my Census work ended this afternoon. Then more training next week (with our team being split into as many as twenty-one pieces waaaaah) for the door to door operation. It was a lot of fun, being a beautiful day and kind of a FUBAR dorm to count so we stretched out the schedule to make a few final passes of the floors that we were assigned to maximize our count and put off the inevitable breakup for an extra half hour.

But something happened. Yesterday I went through my floor interviewing the people I could find and leaving forms for the people I couldn't, except there was one woman who I met that was too busy for the interview so I left her the form. So I come around this afternoon to pick up the forms, and hers has a post-it note saying that she's a photography major and would I mind if she took some pictures of me?

And, I, uh, well, huh.

I know my powers of self-image are totally borked, and also that I'm not a horrific looking person especially if I make an effort to clean myself up. I can smile at babies in checkout lines and they smile back, so I'm aware that I'm not a freak. But I never like pictures of me. I don't know if it's the freezing in time or the perspective switch needed to form a two-dimensional image, but I can pretty much count the number of pictures of adult me that I've liked on one finger. In fact, the very reason I don't have a userpic here or on my LJ despite having a digital camera and a USB port is that this process is one of the things that I'm afraid of.

I'm going to sleep on it, but I think I'm going to agree to her proposal. I'm certain to learn something. But I can't stop looking at my bottle of clonazepam and asking WTF is in these pills that I could think of agreeing to model for a woman that I only met for twenty seconds. Strange days indeed.
1) I don't own a cellphone or a laptop. This isn't a philosophical position, I just have yet to have a need for them.

2) I once co-wrote, co-starred, directed, and edited a twenty minute movie to roast a friend at his wedding. It turned out to be pretty good for a home movie filled with in-jokes.

3) In addition to that, I have appeared on stage (both singing and acting), and in local newspapers and radio in several points throughout my youth. (I've only been on television in crowd shots.)

4) To the best of my knowledge, my name has never been in national media; the closest that I can say is that I was one of the three volunteers who actually carried out Diskette Day, a promotion giving away Macintosh disks to the first three hundred students at the Carnegie Mellon/Case Western football game in 1987. That made it into CNN and ESPN and the Wall Street Journal. And, as good and entertaining as the Tartans (and the band) are, it didn't work (although it surely didn't help that it was raining that day) and I had leftover Mac disks to last me through the remainder of my undergraduate career.

5) Speaking of Carnegie Mellon, I imagine that I am one of the very few people to graduate from that prestigious university with a full four-year degree in the past thirty years without taking a single computer programming course. It is required even for Drama majors and there is no placing out of it with the single exception that the first Computer Science AP exam turned out to be so OMGWTFBBQ hard that they decided to give people who got a 4 or 5 a pass. All the same, my degree carries great geek cred because people know that Applied Math at Carnegie Mellon is our code for computer programmers and they don't notice that my degree is in pure math.

6) I don't know my IQ. I'm outside the range of the normal test, and I've never cared enough to go hunting for the actual number. I think that it's a metric desperately searching for a context in which it is relevant. Abraham Lincoln is said to have claimed that his legs were long enough to reach the ground, and that's how I feel about how smart I am.

7) I don't recall ever saying "I told you so". I don't even think it. What I think is "I'm sorry I wasn't capable of persuading you enough back when it would have made a difference."

8) I can sing, but you've never heard me doing it. (Actually, I sang once at a boink, having been dared to sing the rap portion of Barenaked Ladies' One Week, which I can do except for half of the line about the golf clubs.) I was a soloist in my elementary school choir, but left it when my voice broke in eighth grade. (The only course that I could transfer to mid-semester was computer programming, which was the start of a beautiful friendship.) The choir director, who went on to help train Renée freaking Fleming can still pick me out of a crowded room after nearly thirty years, bless her soul. In my adult years, I sang bass for a small church choir, and my voice was described as "complex" and "adding depth". I presume that these are euphemisms.

9) I can ballroom dance, but you've never seen me doing it. Technically, my frame and signaling skills are very credible, but my mind freezes when it comes to actually leading in a way that shows off my partner's grace. I'd be an awesome follower if I ever trained for it, but there isn't much application for male followers in the world, alas.

10) I enjoy playing games, but it's an experience that I enjoy from the perspective of strengthening my knowledge base and having fun and not so much from winning. Specifically, I can't play Pictionary or Acquire because I am frustrated at my lack of growth and I don't play Settlers of Catan because it really screws up the dynamics when someone isn't playing to win. The one exception to this is that I refuse to throw a game to a child. There's no shame in doing your best and coming up short, especially if you've embiggened yourself in the process. I'll never be a parent, but I've got some wisdom to pass along.

11) I love people. I just do. You could be some asshole who has dedicated your life to pissing in my metaphorical Cheerios, I don't care. There's a jigsaw puzzle in this universe, and you've got a piece of it, and I want to get to know you. I'm afraid to do that, which sucks, but there we are.
"Some of you may have had occasion to run into mathematicians and to wonder therefore how they got that way." - Tom Lehrer

I don't know so much about this question, but I got a really stark insight yesterday into how it has transformed me.

I was doing prep work for the enumeration of one of our local college dorms. In a nutshell, it is putting two hundred one-page census forms into an envelope. The form has to have a sticker and a control number written on it, and the envelope has to have its own sticker and the same control number, plus some extra information like details on where and when the respondent should return the form plus some god-awful fourteen digit "for official use only" code that I don't think any officials actually use. (Indeed, I think that I'm the official the code is intended for, and I'd make much better use of it if it had three or four digits.) And all this work has to be double-checked against two other forms to make sure that I'm assigning the proper control number to each student and that I write in the proper RA for each student's envelope. (Yeah, now you wish you had taken the Census test yourselves, amirite?)

And I'm doing this work, and it quickly becomes routine. And I suspect that an average person would put some music on and zone out and through passive consciousness would look up five hours later and see that the job was completed correctly. But my brain only does passive consciousness when driving long distances in nice weather. While doing grunt work, I get hyper-conscious and continually analyze whether it wouldn't be more efficient if this piece of paper was over THERE and whether I should do those two steps in the reverse order. And so I'm done in four hours but ready to publish a time-motion study on this process that, um, only gets done once every ten years. Curses.

And the punchline of the story is that average person made more money than I did because they could charge for their extra hour of work. That's me, always thinkin'.
So tonight is TNSOL night for the Census, and it's 1:30 AM and I'm already home getting ready for bed. Not only did we not see a single homeless person through about a quarter of downtown, I didn't even get to enumerate any of the fun quasi-legal parts of town like the abandoned subway tunnels or the Lower Falls.

In theory, I'm glad that everyone has somewhere better to sleep in 40-degree windy weather. In practice, I feel like I missed an opportunity to be embiggened.
A government employee is me! My badge, let me show you it. All your personal information are belong to us. Okay, I'm through applying dated internet memes to my current job status.

My current job is as a General Quarters Enumerator. If you live in a house or apartment or an ordinary Housing Unit (HU) like that and had a Census form mailed to you but you didn't return it, then you can look forward to another month of increasingly desperate letters before someone walks around and knocks on your door. In the meantime, the Census will be busy counting General Quarters (GQs) like college dorms, nursing homes, prisons, military barracks, and other things like that. So I'll be working with administrators at each GQ and then come in to either conduct interviews or distribute mini-forms for the residents to fill out privately, and then double check and cross-tabulate everything over eight different federal forms and then collate everything and turn it in to my supervisor. And then assuming everything goes well during the next month, as we run out of GQs in our region, I'll get transferred into new training for the HU Enumeration operation that will last for who knows how long.

Oh, and the other neat part is that early next week before the official Census Day (April 1), I'm going to be running around town with my crewmates doing Service-Based Enumerator (SBE) to count homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and stuff like that. I'm really excited that I just got a call inviting me to join in the Targeted Nonsheltered Outdoors Location Enumeration (TNSOL), which is quintessential doublespeak for counting people sleeping in doorways and under highway overpasses in the middle of the night. Seriously, I'm psyched that the Census Bureau takes their mission of getting an accurate head count of America that seriously, and I am looking forward to participating in and learning from such a rare historical opportunity.

The training itself was fabulous, and I'm just wow. I'm a "shy" person, but I'm really getting a buzz from learning about what is expected of me and believing that I am capable of doing it, and also that my supervisors seem to agree. It's still temporary part-time work, but it's going to be a big step for me personally and professionally in making 2010 the first non-sucky year in quite a while.
Little was my second car. Dad suggested that it was a good idea to buy a new car, so that you could get to know it from the beginning and hear when she started squeaking or rumbling. I settled on a Saturn because I hate the notion that car dealers know the bargaining game better than you and are out to make you pay $500 more than you should, and Saturn uniquely didn't play those games. I got a small engine and standard transmission and no air conditioner because I liked the fact that it was both cheaper and better mileage that way. It was a harder decision to turn down the power windows and locks, but it would have brought the price tag all the way up to $13,000 and that'd be a crazy amount to spend on a car.

Little and I have been to thirteen states and two provinces together. Despite being from Tennessee, she handled some of Rochester's harshest winters like a local. As far as I can recall, she's been to four weddings and three funerals. She's carried one baby and witnessed one makeout session. A little over 128,000 miles, and I don't think she went fifteen of those miles without me behind the wheel. And for nearly exactly fourteen years, every time I walk through a parking lot looking for her I see her and smile because I had the prettiest car in the lot and I've been getting 41 MPG in the summertime all this time.

Still, she's been aging. While continuing to run like a dream, the annual inspections have been in the habit of turning up expensive problems. Two years ago, I had to totally replace the brakes and exhaust system, which was a few kilobucks. But this year, she failed with a rusted subframe, and I know enough about cars to know that's the beginning of the last chapter. I don't know if turning down the repairs was callous or sensible. I don't even know if I should be thinking about it like my car was a pet that I'm having put down.

Tomorrow morning the local Vietnam veterans group will come to tow her away. She's at my parent's house, so I've already seen her for the last time. My understanding is that she's going to be crushed because she's got a non-repairable condition. I get that, but I hope they strip her pull out all of her good parts first, because there are a lot of other '96 Saturns on the road and I bet her engine still has a lot of life to offer.

I still don't know what will happen next. I can't imagine what car I want next, and I can't envision myself bargaining for it. In the mean time, I'm driving my Mom's 2008 Yaris while she and Dad are down in Florida, which is very much appreciated and a satisfactory car, but.
Last night: Worked a three hour volunteer shift at my local regional food bank. (This is actually a *huge* deal. I feel like setting up a privacy filter just so I can talk about it.)

This morning: FINALLY got a call from the Census Bureau reporting that my perfect test score was good enough for a temp job for them, and perhaps a slightly better and less temporary job title than the standard neighborhood enumerator. YAYzorz.

Interestingly enough, this is not the first time I've had such fast employment karma turnaround.
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