Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Bad Timing for a Good Thing

So - if you've been reading this blog (somewhat) regularly, you know that I'm pretty frustrated with the education system these days. I find it misguided, often irrelevant, and completely unequal in the opportunities it offers kids based on class and race (and gender, I should add).

As a result, I've been pondering a break. With this frustration on me, with my seeming inability to do some inspired math teaching, it seemed like a good time to make a move. I've known for a long time that I need to spend some real time in China to finally figure out what that side of my blood all means to me, but things keep coming up. So I decided that - next Fall/Winter - no matter what, I was going to make that trip, and I wasn't about to let anything get in my way.

Which seemed perfect, since I was feeling a little burnt, anyway. So I gave word to my boss and my co-workers, and I started making plans. For the last few months, I've been slowly setting up my departure from this country, and it seemed like everything was falling into place to make that the best choice.

And then, today, something happened. I sat down with my boss (we have scheduled one-on-one meetings every two weeks or so) and started talking about improvements we could make to our school's structure and way of doing things to best meet our kids' (and our staffs', really) needs. I talked - again - about my frustration with the State math standards. How I felt they kept me from doing my best teaching. How my elective classes (Psychology and Music Production) have been so damn FUN and educational and positive for the kids (and me). How I wished there was a way I could do the same for my math classes.

And none of that was new, really. I've had this conversation before. And, basically, they ended up with me and my boss agreeing that I just wasn't as passionate about math, and so I didn't spend the time making it as dynamic and empowering as my elective classes. That's where it would have ended any other today.

But today . . . I don't know what happened. But right when I would have normally hit that wall I've hit so often this year (of "f-ing system sucks, no way around it, f--- math"), I kept right on going to a SOLUTION. Inspiration struck me right between the eyes, and I couldn't stop talking. I started talking about how I could totally restructure the math curriculum to stop even looking like a math class. How I could basically turn it all into faux-electives that just so happened to teach all the hard math skills I've been trying to teach - but in a more hands-on, relevant way to the kids.

My boss mentioned me not coming back, and I said, "yeah . . ."

But I couldn't stop. The meeting ended, and I ran to my room, sat down at my desk with a pencil and the state math standards, and I drew out an outline of my restructured math curriculum. Suddenly, "Math" had turned into a year-long project divided into three large pieces - from start to finish, the kids were going to come up with a new product to market, test "public interest" through surveys, design a corporate office building and product, budget and make projections on earnings and market shares . . . And I incorporated almost every damn state standard into the whole deal.

The kids were going to take control over their learning, be creative, while learning hard math skills and how to apply them to real problems. Holy sh--!!! It's the freaking Holy Grail of middle school math teachers. And it just came to me like a bolt from the blue . . .

A few months before I've decided to leave the teaching field for a while.

A few months before I've decided to leave the teaching field for a while. Not enough time to implement anything at all.

And, suddenly, I'm thinking about coming back for "one more year."

But I can't - because I promised myself I wouldn't let anything stop me from making this trip. Because I know there will always be some reason to delay it for another year. Every year will bring me closer to one commitment or another that will keep me from ever being able to go. So I have to go now.

But I just came up with something so beautiful . . . And what if I never end up implementing it? What if my trip to China changes the trajectory of my life and this inspiration and (possibly) brilliant idea never makes it out to the world? Because that's how things work - I know too well.

Why did this have to happen now!? Why not a year ago? Why not in two years?

So exciting and yet so disheartening at the same time. I'm going to have to do some serious soul-searching now, and I'd rather not.

I honestly believe "everything happens for a reason," so I'll find the reason in all of this, and it should all end up how it ought to - but that doesn't make it any less beautifully frustrating right now. Not at all.

Such bad timing for such a good thing to happen . . .


uglyblackjohn said...

People who don't care are never frustrated.
Give it another year - you'll do great things.

Lxy said...

Since you're a teacher, do you get the summers off?

You could also travel to China during the Summer.

Jennifer said...

Congratulations on your inspiration for a new math curriculum--I mean SERIOUSLY you should feel so proud of yourself, regardless of what you end up deciding to do. It shows you have passion, dedication, and creativity.

It also shows that teaching is in your blood. Because you care, because you want to really make a difference in your students' lives--because you aren't content to just let things stand.

I also believe, for what it's worth, that you'll make it to China. I know I don't really *know* you (as in never met you in real life) but you WILL get to China. Your post is proof-positive of this--you had been thinking that you had hit your head against a wall with respect to a math curriculum that would really speak to your kids and then BAM! you formulated one on the spot.

Whatever you decide, CVT, you've already made a real breakthrough and I think it's a great thing.

Latoya Peterson said...

C'est la vie, CVT.

I guess it all depends on how amazing this idea is. (I wish I had a teacher that taught math like that - I could only ever understand the tangible [read: money] lessons so I think it would have helped me a lot.] I have faith that whatever you are supposed to do will take over your brain so much that you won't be able to focus on the other project.

Best of luck.

CVT said...

Lxy - I do get summers off, but I want to really LIVE in China for a bit (at least half a year) to get some sort of understanding (anything less won't allow me to get a real feel of how things work out there). So, summers aren't enough.

Plus - I have to admit that, since summer is the only time of the year that it's nice to be in Portland, I don't want to skip it if I'm going to be coming back for the fall and winter.

@Everybody -
Thanks for the support and/or advice. For right now, I'm going to draw up a detailed curriculum for one trimester and just see how it looks - see if reality keeps it from being possible . . . or not. Then I'll just go from there.

Lisa J said...

I'm sure you will make the right decision and I hope your tri-mester experiement works out. If you don't postpone your trip to China, I hope you keep doing a little blogging while you are there. I really enjoy your site.
Best Wishes.

Greg said...

CVT, This seems like a very frustrating place to be in. I'm sure you'll be very happy with whatever decision you make, but for what it's worth, math will always be there. I suppose you could say China will always be there, too, but this is something you've wanted to do for a long time. Nothing was going to get in your way. And I don't want to make too many assumptions, but I think you should go to Chine while you're as young as you are. However exciting the curriculum is, you can implement it when you get back. Just my 2 cents. Oh, and to echo Lisa J, when you do go to China, please keep blogging!

Ms. Sis said...

ok it has been awhile since I have posted on the blog and I have gotten a bit behind and want to comment on so many entries, but I will start with this one.

you are amazing, talented, inspiring etc... and i feel like the wider world needs to have the joy of your presence, so we can't be stingy and just want you to stay here for our sakes.

two things come to mind- i knew i wanted to go to africa since I was pretty young. i've always planned to travel around the globe and check out the wide world. I intended to go to Senegal when I was 20 and stay with a good friend and his family. I was also going to start this training thing to be a flight attendant. Then I found out I was pregnant.
Press pause.
Fast forward.

I was your age when I first left the country and went to Mexico (for a wedding and only a couple of weeks). A couple years later I finally went to Canada for a performance. Then in 2004 I finally made it to Africa and stayed in Rwanda for 3 weeks. I still have aspirations to live in another country(ies) for a period of time, cause like you said, a few weeks, a few months is not enough to really get to know the nuances. So on the one hand, things don't always happen in the time we intend them to happen.

On the flip side, 2012 is but a heartbeat away, and we have to live for today. Moving to China could shift everything and draw you in a whole different direction. You could be there a year or more and then miss the rain and whiteness of Portland soooo much you come back. But as a person with no biological dependents, I think YOU have to be in the now of doing what you want to do because you can.

As much as I'd like to talk you into staying for the sake of my own self interest- cause i will miss you tremendously- let's be real. You can keep developing your brilliant math curriculum on a laptop in China somewhere. You could write a book about it if you wanted that could be adopted in schools around the globe. You can leave some of your ideas behind for the person who would have the task of trying to fill your shoes at the middle school.

I say, expect the unexpected, and know there are things outside of our control- but when you have a plan for your own joy and self fulfillment you have to follow through as if it is going to happen in the time frame you intended.

And if we miss you too much and can't stand it, we'll just have to visit you there and crash on your couch.

CVT said...

Thanks for the support, everyone. Even the famous Latoya Peterson of Racialicious supports me - nice!

In case anybody was wondering - still leaning towards China. I'll always have an excuse not to go - and if this curriculum works, that will be just one more argument to perfect it even further for ANOTHER year, etc.

I'll post when an official decision is made, however.