Extraordinary People

Like a lot of realists, I get called a cynic a lot.  I see the darker side of human nature, and while I have a good sense of humor, many folks think my sense of humor can be pretty grim.

So I decided to post today about my extraordinary people.   Students, teachers, mentors, and friends.    I have too many to list comfortably in a single post, so I’ll need to come back to this topic.   Today, I would like to focus on extraordinary students.

  • J___ was a single father who I taught several years back.   He had previously had some run-ins with the law but was trying to put his life together again.   During the time I taught him,  he worked hard and kept up with his school work.   There were times he had to leave class early to care for his young son, and he was incredibly apologetic for this.   He also lost his home midway through the term.   He arranged for more time on the shelter computer to finish his schoolwork, and completed the course.    He was very dedicated to completing his schooling so he could be a better person and father.
  • S___ was a woman who was brilliant and bullied because she was pretty.   Easily one of the most intelligent students I’ve had the pleasure of helping, many of her classmates mistreated her.   To my knowledge, she never said an unkind word about anyone.
  • Another student, J___ was a single mom and was fairly math-phobic.   She worked over 100 extra credit hours in a single quarter, aced every single exam and homework assignment, and continued to do this for the rest of her college career.  As I understand it, she is currently pursuing a degree in math.

In addition to which, there are the hundreds of students who were working for degrees after hours, making better lives for themselves and their families.   Some only needed my class to finish their degree, many moved on to bigger and brighter things.

To all of my amazing and wonderful students:   I am proud of you.   You make my job worthwhile.


I am Human

I’m taking the high road, but it isn’t easy.

To start with, I’m frightened, I’m angry, and I’m unhappy.   The United States just elected Donald Trump as president.  More than ever, I feel that America is on the wrong side of history.   We elected a fear-mongering demagogue who has promised to take away the right to marry for gays, has promised to block entrance for all Muslims, and had said that he will build a wall.  He even promised to take away our health care.  He is trying to take away all the hard-won progress that we have made over my lifetime.


I fear that we are taking the next steps to an authoritarian state.  And if/when this new state asks me, I will call myself Muslim, or atheist, or Latino, or gay… If you come after any of us, you will find me standing with you.   My hands may shake, but I’m with you.

I will admit, I’m scared as hell.   “American” is not a label I wear with pride today, but I am HUMAN.   I will stand with reason, decency, and human rights.

I will fight for LGBTQ rights.

I will fight for religious freedom.

I will fight for women.

I will fight for humans to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of national origin.

I will tear down your wall as fast as you can build it. 

I will build up the minds and hearts of students so they can fight this fight themselves.

Donald Trump does not stand for me.   I STAND FOR ME.  I will continue trying to be a voice for dignity when the rest of the country seems to have lost its mind.  Not for me, America the ugly/racist/misogynistic.   I will stand with blacks, Latinos, women, gays, Muslims, atheists, and all those people that Americans have voted against tonight.

Just because America has lost it’s mind, doesn’t mean that I have lost my heart.

Election Fatigue

I have been absent from my blog for a while.   There are a few reasons:   first, my scheduled writing time went away.   Also, every time I sit down to read and write I find myself assaulted with such awful discourse that it becomes too difficult to write.   I was tired of this election over a year ago… I even wrote an open letter to Donald Trump.

Part of being a teacher is trying to think and talk logically, offer other points of view, and teach others to think critically.   I have had no end of opportunities to do that over the past year.    But I am so tired… separating my personal feelings from my professional life.

My predictions:   if Hillary Clinton wins, there won’t be big changes.   Her main crime in most people’s minds is that she is a centrist.   If Trump wins, I think that good people will try to keep him from starting world war 3, and that his name will be attached to the “Trump Depression.”    But I won’t have to worry for my safety… mostly because I am a white man.   People of different color, faith, and women all would have to deal with a culture that will shift (quickly or slowly) to someplace hostile towards them.   I will keep fighting for critical thinking and reason regardless.

Whatever the outcome, the election will be done soon.   There will be fallout, but hopefully there will be room for more civil discussion.    Yes, that seems like a lot to ask.  I know that “civil” is not something that I can expect after the trajectory of this election, but I can hopefully stop the monitoring of this awful election.

In the meantime, I hope to be back to more regular postings soon.

Old Hat Tricks

I like to say that I have a Velcro brain, in that stuff tends to stick to it.  Being an experienced teacher, I find that I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for teaching, but I can focus more on it now that I have a complete-ish library of teaching materials.   I also have a regular venue for airing some of the stranger or frustrating pieces of teaching so it doesn’t stick around to haunt me…

There is a familiarity that comes with teaching when you have been doing it for a while.   It is simultaneously very comfortable, and a great deal of fun.   I have been teaching for about 6 years now, and I it is still the best and most rewarding work I have found.

Fall quarter brings this out of me especially.   It is the start of a new academic year and students are filled with hope and optimism, so I get to encourage their passion for learning.    More and more, I find that I have my tools for helping people learn.   Keeping my class entertained and engaged keeps them asking questions.  I can keep them coming back, and knowing that they have a safe community where they can get support.

I will admit that I watched other teachers struggle with burnout, and I wondered if that was where I was headed.   At least for this term, the answer is no… I love teaching too much, and I’m too damn good at it.


Also:  even though “Summer break” is fun to have (my classes unexpectedly canceled… welcome to the life of an adjunct!) I have missed teaching, blogging, and Zeus help me, I’ve even missed grading.

It’s good to be back to school.    Does anybody know of any Back-To-School tattoo deals?

Midterm Misanthropy, Spring Edition!

Spring term is wearing on, in more ways than one.

At the beginning of the school year in Fall, both students and teachers have a lot of ideas and a lot of energy.   A little bit of time takes the shine off of those lofty ideas, and after months and months of schoolwork (of varying quality) and low sleep a summer vacation seems like a wonderful plan.

Summer break is still weeks away for us though.   Students are getting tired, and so am I.  There are some issues that come up in every class.  For example, no matter how well thought out my lessons or exercises, some students seem to want to learn by osmosis rather than practice.  It is also an ongoing frustration when I have to remind some of my students that they are in college, and I expect adult levels of work (and communication).

Change isn’t easy so I have some helpful, if non-conventional ways of helping my students to learn.

  • I would like to have obituary announcements for my recently deceased red pens.    “Sadly, it was killed mid-test by a gang of rogue students bent on free expression in mathematics.”
  • Some students have trouble doing the reading.   I think having a set of stocks with a reading shelf could be a nice addition to the classroom.
  • Many students will turn in their homework on pages torn from spiral notebooks, with ragged messy edges.   I think lighting the edges on fire to remove the mess would be appropriate.   Although this brings up an etiquette question:   do scorch marks on homework send the right message to the student?
  • I think a small black hole would be nice for class, especially for students who don’t show their work.   Spaghettification is educational, isn’t it?



I will not kill my students and wear their skin.   I will not kill my students and wear their skin.   I will not kill my students and wear their skin…

Procrastination Station

I suppose I could apologize for being out of commission for the past month… but I don’t feel particularly guilty about letting this slide for a while.   Life has been busy, and I’m finally starting to see my way through to easier and better times.

I’ve missed my blog though.   This has been a weekly outlet for years.   Sooo…. what has been on my mind this week?


Not original, I grant you.   So much has been said about procrastination, what is destructive about it and how to quit doing it.   I want to pause and consider procrastination though in a more positive light.

Most people could use a bit more time to relax in their life, and putting things off (however important) can give your brain a break.   Much of our life (especially in American culture) is built around some intense or non-realistic work-ethics:   work/study long and hard so you can achieve… whatever.    The downside of this is immediate.   Somehow, self-care turns into a selfish act.


Leisure and downtime are necessary,  in moderation.

When the pressure to return to work does take over, it also forces people to prioritize what is important.   “Don’t sweat the small stuff” may sound trite, but it is useful to trim the excess details.   Pressure can lead to some breakthroughs, although not always obviously.   What did you consider important in those last minutes?   What could you have done better?  Smoother?  How could you streamline your work for next time?

The problem that many people have isn’t in the act of taking some time away, but in our emotional reaction to our work.   Not every project is do-or-die, and feeling guilty about not working every free moment isn’t something that leads to making more progress on personal/professional goals.  There are minimum standards that you have to meet, but those are going to depend on your own life and needs.

So why do I bring this up on my teaching blog?

I bring it up because all students procrastinate to some degree or another.   I don’t believe a perfect student exists, nor a perfect teacher.   It is okay if a student can only squeak by on a topic or two because they needed to have more fun playing hooky for a while.   It is also okay if teachers don’t hand back student work immediately or reuse some old lesson plans because they needed to catch up on sleep (or playing hooky  for a while).

Just remember that when the dust settles, you have some things that you should learn from your procrastination.   Was it worth it?   What should your priorities be?   Did you enjoy getting back into the swing of things, or did you fantasize about never needing to do that again?   What are your real responsibilities?

My answer:  yes it is worth it.  My priorities:  family, career, and the pursuit of evil.

Now go forth and kick some ass.  In your own time, naturally.


P.S.   My priorities are rarely about editing and polishing this blog.   :p

Mid-Term “adventures”

This post today has very little to do with teaching.  Just some reflections…

You know how things rarely happen one at a time in your life?   One problem? Okay, that is easy enough.  But let’s see how much you can take …   Life happens.   And sometimes life happens really, really hard.

Let me back up a bit.

A few things are happening.  Like moving, doing taxes, and getting sick.

Moving is a painful chore.   First there is the joy of sorting through all of your belongings, packing them up, and staging them for hauling.   Add to that scheduling moving vehicles and storage, overbearing landlords, friends who can’t help (legitimately), and the continuous processes of not having the right size boxes and losing your strapping tape.

Stressed yet?   Oh hey, have you done your taxes?   Show up to the tax prep place, take all of your documents… and wait for two hours.   You decide to run some errands while you wait, and end up getting locked out of your car.   Fun times.

Then there is illness…  Getting sick as a teacher is different than in other types of jobs.   In other jobs, you can call in sick, go to the doctor and get useful drugs, sit at home drink tea and binge-watch old TV shows.  Maybe you need to answer a call from work.

As a teacher, you call in sick, write lesson plans for a sub, check your emails to monitor whether your students have gone crazy or if you need a new sub.  Then you write more lesson plans, and answer emails.  Maybe that evening you can watch some TV, but only after you have written the rubrics for your assignments, because you will have an avalanche of grading waiting for you when you get back.

Getting really sick… is scary, regardless of your profession.   Your body doesn’t feel right.  No matter how excellent and professional the doctors are, it is still frightening.   I’m a mathematician by trade, so I understand statistics and appreciate a good explanation about relative versus absolute risk.  There is no such thing as risk free.  And I also know that in an individual case (like… mine), there it isn’t a 90% success chance… it will be either 0 or 100%. That is all.  And still most of my brain wants to take care of my students, as well as wants to reassure my friends and loved ones that I’m fine.

Not freaking outSo… I’m working on crisis lesson plans, as well as other contingency plans.   There are parts of me that want to be reassured by my loved ones that everything will be alright, because… fuuuuu….

I want to play hooky and binge watch scary movies.

I may do that while I pack.

Time to warp minds!

I have learned a great deal about teaching over the past few years.  From how to put together a good test to how to time a lecture without people going to sleep.     There is a world of difference between subject matter experts and teachers.    There is a lot of difference between just saying coherent things about a subject, and being able to engage students in a meaningful way,  help them learn new concepts and processes, and then evaluate them on their performance.

As time goes on I continue to refine my list of things that it takes to be a good teacher,  rather than a subject matter expert with a classroom.

  • Entertainment.    At least half of teaching is grabbing students attention and keeping it.
  • Patience.   Students will learn at their own pace, not always at yours.
  • Planning.    Your students will have a plan for your class time.   You won’t like theirs.
  • Self-Care.   Any teacher who doesn’t take time for themselves will soon become useless to everyone.
  • Alternatives.    No single explanation will work for all of your students, so be ready to help the outliers.
  • Empathy.   Listen to your students, they will tell you (and show you) what they need.
  • Communication.   Because you can’t really go wrong when you talk to your colleagues and your students.

One of the things that you can’t really fake:   enthusiasm.     Being excited about the subject matter, and feeling good about showing it to others is something that students appreciate.   Plus it helps that coming to work does not feel like work.

Also, a sense of humor can help you keep sane.

Now… it is time to warp some minds.

Horoscopes for Spring Quarter (2016)

Spring break is winding to a close, and you know what that means!    Another fun filled quarter is just around the corner.   The time has come to put on the sunglasses, show up to class (hopefully not to hung over from the break… I’m not just speaking to the students), and start the process of learning anew.

For now:   here are your horoscopes for the next 12 weeks.

Aries (March 21 – April 20) 

I know you like to live in the moment, Aries.   You are someone who lives for now, which is nice… but the skeletons in your closet are starting to collaborate with each other, so it looks like it is time for some Spring cleaning.     Look at the promises you make, versus the promises you keep.     Do you think that maybe “Living in the now” may just be a way of avoiding those pesky obligations?

This term, keep up with your homework or suffer.

Taurus  (April 21 – May 21)

Springtime is the right time.   Love?  Check.  School goals?  Check.   Family?  Check.   Time to wait?   Nope.

Opportunities that come your way now may not come back, so keep alert.   Also, “perfect” opportunities are an evil lie sold by Wall Street… so take the risk (and the work) that goes with the reward.

Also,  a Libra is hatching a plot against you.   It’s kind of flattering, really.

Gemini (May 22 – June 21)

You know that feeling that you’ve missed something?   You are going to have that.   So check to see if there was another class on your schedule that you didn’t attend, or that you are ready for your exams, or that you are wearing pants.

Don’t look into the browser history of any Aquariuses.   There are some things you just can’t unsee.

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)

Cancer, I appreciate that you are taking the time to read this, but you just don’t have the time.

Run.   Run like your life depends on it.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

“Love without pain is like food without flavor” is something that you may or may not agree with, Leo.  But I can tell you this, you will need some variety in your life.  You are passionate about what you love, just keep doing a couple different things for contrast!    It is helpful to embrace some changes to keep things fresh for you.   This keeps those passions as a slow burn, instead of just a flash in the pan.

A Virgo is going to pelt you mercilessly with mixed metaphors.   Be ready.

Virgo (August 23 – September 23)

I know that Virgos are notorious for planning things to death.    There are two things to keep in mind with this:   you can plan things to death (thus sucking any spontaneity out of your life), and you can still be blindsided by events.

There aren’t enough contingencies in the world to account for your life this Spring.   Buckle up, buttercup, because this is going to be fun.   If you let it.

Avoid Aries holding syringes asking you to trust them.

Libra (September 24-October 23)

You know the saying that “God never gives you more than you can handle?”   As a working hypothesis, it is disproven by the number of suicides every day.   So here is the thing to consider:  you don’t have to handle things alone.   Also, it is fine to acknowledge that you aren’t good at everything, Libra.   I know that isn’t easy to admit, but it could save your life.

Seek out a Capricorn for some advice.   And some really, really good sex.   Seriously.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 22)

Your life this term is going to feel like you’re living in a fairy tale.   Not the Disney fairy tale.   There are going to be ideas that will abduct your consciousness, and run you through a thousand years of life… and you will discover that only a week has passed.   Your transformations will be profound, but only in how you perceive the world.

Also, avoid fairies.   They’ll eat you and wear your skin for boots.

Sagittarius (November 23 – December 21)

I know you had planned on taking it easier this quarter, Sagittarius, but the world has other ideas for you.   While your workload is going to be doable,  a lot of your education is going to happen outside of school.   You are going to learn some valuable lessons, if not always comfortable ones.

Also, don’t hide bodies in your trunk.   The police will look there.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 20)

Does life feel like a tango to you Capricorn?   Intense, then twisting away from you at the last moment?    It isn’t always about the forward progression, so don’t concern yourself with the number of steps forward and the steps back you have taken.   The joy is in the chase, the tension of push and pull, and in the passion of the moment.    Don’t worry about the grades, just shut up and dance.

Also,  a Virgo will probably make an astonishing offer to you.   Do you dare?

Aquarius (January 21 – February 19)

You are done.   I know that you feel like you have more to do, but the rest is just busy work.

Play is where you are going to shine.   Have fun, expand your horizons, and whatever you do don’t get caught.

Pisces (February 20 – March 20)

I know you consider yourself fairly worldly.   On the other hand, you haven’t had a quarter like this one.

So, if you find that you suddenly dreaming that you have been abducted by aliens, they were all cats, and they chased you because they thought you were a spider… don’t discount it as just a dream.   This quarter you may so much time in the realm of the bizarre that you may want to get a reality boost from some grounded friends.

Also,  avoid a Taurus with an axe.


Enjoy your quarter.  Stay sane-ish.

Math or Crucifixion?

This was a previously written and redacted, because it was a bit offensive.  I decided to … resurrect it … because it was apropos for Easter weekend.    Please remember, this is meant as comedy.

Also, if you have a good answer to the question:   Why is it called “Good Friday” if it is the day of remembrance for someone’s torture and death?  (Answer in the comments!)

Here we have it:   the comparison between math and crucifixion

Some days my sense of humor gets the better of me, and today is one of those days.  I was having a conversation with a colleague about teaching linear algebra.   The subject matter is interesting but with many details to keep track of, and we got to the point where the students usually say “I just don’t know where to start.”   And many found it excruciating.   One of us (probably me) had a moment where instead of saying they found it excruciating, they found it like being crucified.    Something about this was incredibly funny to us.

Yes, I know some people will be offended by this.     If so, I will remind you that *you* installed that particular button.    If you feel you may be offended**, then skip this post.


  • The process of crucifixion is an act of torture that is meant set an example for others.
  • (Linear) algebra uses examples that are torturous.
  • One involves a painstaking process to things started, in the other they just nail you to something.
  • It seems excruciating at the start, but it gets worse before the end.
  • If you do it right, you will end up killing trees
  • It seems beautiful from a distance, but the closer you get to it you realize how messy it truly is.
  • Both will yield “Cross-Products”
  • There are fanatics who will practice these things to this very day.   There are also religious zealots.
  • Orthogonal Transformations.

Yes, it is a horrible image, I know.   It’s funny if you are me ***.


**     If you are offended because you are of a Christian or Catholic faith, then you can be both titillated and offended, then you can practice forgiveness.

***   If you somehow missed/ignored ALL of my warnings, then I don’t take responsibility. Also, if I believed in hell, then I’d probably go there.