Saturday, February 6, 2016

Life As A Math Teacher: My Hero

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. 
- Issac Newton

Once upon a time, there was a boy named John.

I know. Not an exciting start to the story. Please bear with me.

Even though he was a simple boy from a small town in the deep south, John had a big dream.

He hoped to become an Air Force fighter pilot.

As dreams go, that one is about as finely tuned and high-reaching as they come.

But guess what. Against all odds, John made his dream come true. Eventually, he flew 55 missions in a B-26 Night Intruder during the Korean war, worked as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base from 1957 to 1962, and later served in Vietnam. Bucket list item most definitely ticked.

When John retired from the Air Force, he established a quiet life in Norman, Oklahoma and thought about what to do next. And as he pondered his options, his thoughts kept circling round and drifting back to the circumstances of his own satisfying life, and this is what really captivated his mind:
I achieved my life's dreams because of math. I could never have made it as a pilot without my engineering degrees, and I would have not succeeded as an engineering student if not for my strong background in high school math.
And with that sentiment, John dedicated the remaining decades of his life to helping high schoolers build math skills that would allow them to make their own dreams come true. He developed a revolutionary math curriculum uniquely built for success, and spent years as an outspoken advocate for a return to strong, unsullied math education in American high schools.

In case you don't know, this man's name is John H. Saxon Sr.

And he is my hero.

Honestly, I get choked up l every time I ponder his genuine heart, deep wisdom and powerful educational vision.

I am a passionate proponent of his methods and his materials. They work. Every student who makes an effort to follow the Saxon program will succeed - I've seen it happen a hundred times. In fact, I would never teach students using any other curriculum.

John Saxon is the best.

Even though Mr. Saxon died in 1997, after a long, rich and rewarding life and just a few years before I began teaching algebra to high school students, I like to think we are kindred spirits.

Just ask my students. I speak his name pretty much every day in our lessons, invoking his wisdom and channeling his encouragement. I like to think he's sitting alongside of us,

doling out distance problems about girls who hike to Lake Tenkiller and ride back with Mr. Ali,
insisting that a good first step is to isolate our radicals,
and reminding us to always, always draw the diagram first as an aid to problem-solving.

And while I humbly acknowledge that I bring my own gift for teaching to the table, my success as a high school math teacher has been accomplished by standing on the shoulders of this math education giant, John Saxon

* * * * *

Other stories about my work:

Friday, February 5, 2016

Life Of A Math Teacher: What I Do

The measure of a central angle is equal to the length of its intercepted arc. 
Also, circles are pretty.

I am a high school math teacher.

I don't teach math because I love math.
I teach math because math makes my students' dreams come true.

I happen to love math too, but that's just a bonus.

Here's the thing. While young children are blessedly content to live in the moment, teens begin to dream about the future. They imagine living out their true selves in all sorts of interesting ways, and one of the most common expressions is vocation.Trying this job and that profession on for size, teenagers visualize themselves as adults and consider how they might make a passionate and meaningful contribution to the world.

I love that.

Truth be told, my job is not really about teaching teens to use the quadratic formula; I am actually in the business of helping my students make their emerging dreams come true.

I am, I suppose, a dream catcher.


Another truth to be told is that a dream is not worth much unless you have to work for it.

And that work often involves doing math.

No, I'm not going to drag out that old, tired argument that we must learn to solve problems about trains going north and south from the station because math is involved in all walks of life. That is mostly true but it's not what I'm getting at.

Parallel lines project stability and calm. They also have matching slopes. 

What I mean to say is this:
In order to make most dreams come true, a person needs education beyond high school.  
In order to qualify students for that training, most institutions of higher learning want to see proof of academic competence. 
And that almost always translates into admissions folks asking to get a peek at students' math scores.
We can debate all day whether standardized test scores are an accurate or fair way to measure a human being's potential for success. But that's not my point either. 

My point is that you will be more likely to make your own dreams come true if you can rock out some algebra.

A person who succeeds as math is considered smart.
And when a person is considered smart, doors will open.

The rule of thumb in decor is to group objects in odd numbers. 
But an even-numbered pair of things can be quite satisfying also. 

So maybe that is the best definition of my job.

I'm a doorman.

Because what I really do, most of all, is help my students open the doors of their dreams so they can step into their own bright and shining futures.

* * * * *

Other stories about my work:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Orange-Cupped Daffodil

If I were a flower, I think I would want to be the single orange-cupped daffodil in this vase.

I'm not afraid to be a little bit different, but I do like to be surrounded by people who get me. 

Alone but never lonely. That's the way I like to roll. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hidden Beauty

Sitting abandoned on the shelf at the thrift store, the object of my attention looked as battered and beaten down as Lord Voldemort's horcruxed soul.

It's alright, I told myself. I'll drill a hole in the bottom, fill it with dirt and use it as a planter. All those nicks and scratches will disappear behind a riotous display of rich, green leaves.

But on the ride home, this wooden bowl began to speak to me.

Look at my contours, she said. You don't see these kind of curves every day.
Check out my undulating grain patterns. To die for.
And you're right. I would make a lovely planter. But I could be so much more.

As I turned the bowl over in my hands, listening to her voice and imagining the possibilities, I caught a glimpse of a mark on the bottom

Sweden. And undecipherable words that surely must indicate the craftsman.

I'm not a label chaser, but that kind of insignia usually marks an item made with quality and care.

We took a detour to pick up sanding pads and finishing oils.

After ten minutes of sanding and a quick rub-down with mineral oil, all of the scratches, dings and dents had disappeared and my bowl's transformation was complete.

As I proudly displayed my newfound treasure, each of my daughters has asked me, "What are you going to do with it?"

I'm not entirely sure.

But for now, it's more than enough to set my wooden bowl out on the table, where I can see it every day and be reminded now important it is to look beyond the superficial flaws of life to see the hidden beauty that lies underneath.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Third Time

This is the back side of the secret building where Ranger and I walk every day. 

We first come round at the far end, down by the street light, 
and stomp along the lane that runs the full length of the back side of the building. 

Barely visible in the shadows are the three slim trees that grow against the building; 
the four large windows against the darker grey siding help highlight their location.

Yet another encounter with my owl today.

That's three times in one week. But this time was different than the others.

* * * * *

On our usual walk, with darkness gathering round, Ranger and I cornered our secret building. As soon as the back lawn came into view, my eyes immediately began searching for a white shape among the trees against the building.

I didn't see anything.

And honestly, I suddenly began to doubt that I had ever seen anything. Every day for the past week, I wanted so badly to see that owl, but how did I know for sure that my brain wasn't fooling my eyes into some sort of illusion or trick?

That was entirely possible.

My eyes continued to scan the bare branches of the trees against the building as my brain counseled caution and my feet marched along.



Two things happened at once.

* * * * *

Someone inside the building switched on a light. One of the windows directly behind the trees lit up in a flash, and the trees' silhouette now stood out visibly before my eyes.

And in that silhouette, I saw something that was most decidedly not a bare branch. 

Near the top of the illuminated window, I saw the outline of something solid, with rounded lobes. Clearly, this was the lower tip of something that extended up into the darkness above the window. Something that looked almost like the tip of a bird's wing.

A big bird's wing.

Adrenalin shot through my body.

My skeptical brain quickly offered up an explanation. This was no owl. This was a small cluster of dead leaves that still clung to the tree, as winter leaves often do.

Well. That would make sense.

But at the same time, my mind's eye clearly recalled that every single inch of those limbs was bare. 

Now my skin began to prickle and my hair stood up.

* * * * * 

In the same split second, Ranger made a bold move.

Though he had been happily prancing along with me in the center of the paved lane, he suddenly veered toward the lawn, in a direct line toward the base of the trees. He didn't bark or make any overt sign of aggression, but my keenly attuned hunting dog moved with clear motives of instinct and intent. 

* * * * *

Then a third thing happened.

It's hard to describe because I didn't actually hear or see anything. But beyond the power of my human senses, I felt a bolt of energy hit me like a surge of electricity.

Chills swept over me.
My body trembled, inside and out.
My brain scrambled to try to make sense of what was happening.

Then I saw it.

Majestic, powerful, enormous bird.
Wings outstretched against the dark sky.
Swiftly, silently, rising up and away from the building.

When my owl was directly over Ranger's agitated red head, the bird abruptly altered his course. I watched as he executed a sharp ninety-degree turn, now traveling directly away from me and my dog, and quickly disappeared into the shadows of the wood. 

No part of me felt fear, but I experienced all these things with an almost unbearable tension. 

Our third encounter now complete, Ranger and I walked on in the darkness and all I could think was I couldn't wait to see my owl again;

* * * * *

I'm still not sure why this bird has such a profound effect on me.

And I realize that this sounds rather dramatic and extreme.

But after these experiences, I can honestly say that when I see my owl, I feel as though I am staring into the very face of God. 

* * * * * 

Read the other stories about my owl:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Sweet Citrus

I've found a sure-fire way to bring order, peace and digestive good health into my dull winter days.

And no, I am not talking about

Feng Shui.
hot yoga,
Whole 30,
or a chakra alignment.

Here's my secret: go to the grocery store and buy some citrus fruit.

Oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and satsumas.

Peel them
Eat them
Let the juice run down your chin.
Fill up on their sweet and tangy goodness.

And taking a few photos always boosts the spirits too.

Trust me, you will be transformed.

* * * * *

Some other stories about beating the January blahs:

Thursday, January 28, 2016

My Day Among The Slabs

Hello, gorgeous slabs of stone. I am here to kiss you. 

If you watch HGTV as obsessively as I do, chances are good that we share the bucket list item of one day shopping at a granite slab warehouse.

We took more photos than the paparazzi outside Bieber's room in Bora Bora. No regrets.

Come on. How could anyone watch Christina run her hands over one piece of magnificent stone after the next, unfailingly choosing the one with sparkles, without madly desiring to do the exact same thing?

I mean, I could do without Tarek standing around whining about the cost, because he knows full well that his wife always - and I mean always - nails the kitchen design, which then drives their flip's selling price into the stratosphere, week after week after week. Christina will get her sparkles in the end.

It's all a part of their process, am I right?

Going in, I thought I'd given my heart to this one, a quartz product called Statuario.
But in real life, the veining looked a bit more engineered than natural, and I fell firmly out of love. 

Natural granite boggles my mind. The luxuriant colors and designs sweep me off my feet, but ultimately feel too detailed for my moderately minimalist tendencies. I blew this one a kiss and walked on.

* * * * *

If, by some fatal flaw in the universe, you are reading these words and saying "HG what now?" then please, let me fill you in. I'm talking about the Home and Garden TV network, and one of its hit shows, Flip or Flop, which showcases the renovation skills and real estate finesse of a Socal couple named Tarek and Christina. 

These two fix up houses that are nasty beyond the human imagination and sell them for insane profits. And many episodes feature an iconic scene wherein the kids pick out just the right stone slabs for their redesigned counter tops, while the viewers - and I speak for myself - drool all over themselves at home. 

* * * * *

So last week, as our slow-motion and multi-phased kitchen reno moved on toward new counter tops, my slab-selecting dreams came true.

Whoa now. This showstopper hunk of marble made me weak in the knees, and when 
I found the price to be within my range, I went home wearing his promise ring. 

Sadly, when I returned a few days later to seal the deal, I learned that this slab had been mislabeled
 and was actually priced far beyond my means. Dang it. The search was on yet again.

Daughters Two and Four accompanied me to Pental Granite & Marble where we strolled for a solid hour among the slabs, alternately seeking out specimens to fit our exact criteria, and wandering aimlessly down row after row after row of gorgeous stone to simply drink them in..

Expectations definitely met.
Bucket list item officially ticked.
Dream come true.

New search. new slab, new love story. 

This is a humble yet handsome honed Carrara marble that fits into my pocketbook, and promises to bring my eighties oak cabinets up a notch or two. I've committed myself to him, and we are to be united in mid-February.

And while I am excited to see the stone we ultimately chose come to life as counters in my very own kitchen, I will never forget the glory of my day among the slabs.