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Backstory

Backstory

A little about the blog…

I’m a little crazy or maybe a lot crazy, some may even say masochistic.  I must be.  After obtaining a ‘real’ job as a high school math teacher, I chose to go back to school as a full time student to earn a PhD in history (my second undergraduate major).  I considered pursuing a PhD in applied mathematics after obtaining my bachelor’s as a double major in secondary mathematics and history education, but the itinerant lifestyle of a professional historian appealed to me as much as the opportunity to broaden both my own and my students’ perceptions and understanding of the world, ourselves, and each other.

This blog is meant to be a space to explore my “voice” in writing.  It is my goal to develop an engaging writing style, a skill I hope to translate to the writing of my dissertation.

I chose the moniker of “the pilgrim” because life truly is a journey.  While it may be cliché in some circles, it was personally meaningful both because I travel often for research and for pleasure, and because I am constantly seeking… knowledge, new understandings, perspectives, ways of seeing the world, life, other people, and myself. I want to approach each day with an open mind and heart, prepared for whatever adventure lies ahead.  My quest for spiritual, personal, and historical insights will be a part of this narrative and analysis of my journeys, both literal and metaphorical.

While I have no great and noble mission to carry out, I intend to make the most of wherever my path takes me.

A little about me…

Before returning to grad school, I taught freshman algebra and advanced geometry at a large, urban high school for a couple of years.  Despite the short time spent in the district, I had enough wonderful, challenging, heartbreaking, frustrating, hilarious, and rewarding experiences to fill a book.  In my first year, I taught at two different high schools in the district.  The first half of the year was spent as an intern teacher – but what an internship!  It truly was a trial by fire.  I taught two history courses and one math course. The history courses each had 38 students and not enough textbooks for each student in one class to have their own.  We worked on a block schedule, so I had nearly 40 extremely active, social, and attention-seeking sophomores and juniors (some who had failed the course once before) for 90 minutes.  My style of teaching was entirely different from that of my mentor teacher, and she allowed me to try many different pedagogical styles, various learning activities, and several different assessment strategies.  It was incredibly rewarding to see little sparks of interest begin to glow in the eyes of a few students as I allowed them to explore different aspects of the time periods and events that they found intriguing. I co-taught the math course, “mathematical modeling” with an excellent mentor.  Again, our styles differed, but I taught the course as he asked, which worked out well since I had to spend a great deal of time creating my own curriculum for the history courses.  There is so much more to relate about my experiences in this school.  Suffice it to say, I believe that I learned as much from my students as they learned from me, maybe more.  Since I survived my internship, the district was thrilled that I could teach math, as they had an opening for a full-time position in the middle of the year, and I was hired immediately after graduation.  A celebratory trip to Florida with friends followed, and I returned to my first “real” job in January.

I moved to the other high school in the district where I entered a freshman “academy” as their math teacher.  At each high school, the 500 incoming freshmen are divided into four ‘academies,’ so approximately 125 students share the same core teachers in math, English, social studies, and science, and each team includes a special education teacher.  Each week the teachers of the team meet to discuss curricula and any content that can be reinforced within the other disciplines and, most importantly, to discuss how students are performing in class and catch any that seem to be falling behind or have problems that we may be able to help them with.  I ended up being placed in the academy with the most eclectic group of teachers I had ever met.  I believe our science teacher wins the honor of most eye-catching.  At our first team meeting in which the outgoing teacher (who would become the district’s math coach) introduced me, my attention was immediately captured by the science teacher’s bright green 6-inch mohawk. I kept thinking, “They never would have allowed him to teach like that in my high school!” and I loved the fact that I found a school in which such things didn’t matter.  In spite of the fact that I looked no older than the students we taught, everyone welcomed me onto the team, and I had found a new home.  It was a good thing I had such a supportive group of teachers to work with.  The environment was challenging, as many of the students came from impoverished families, families with different social norms, and little interest or appreciation for education.

My first year, I coached track and field and, just as I had been transformed from student to teacher in a matter of weeks, I went from being a high school sprinter to a distance coach.  Thankfully, I had run distance when I was younger, and I could always call my father, an award-winning cross-country and track coach, if I had questions.  By the following spring I had already applied to several PhD programs, been accepted by a couple and had chosen one to attend.  It had been an incredibly difficult year at the high school with a group of apathetic students who were more interested in fighting in the classroom than working on math projects.  Instead of coaching track again, I chose to start up a non-competitive running program for girls I knew were struggling with image issues or needed a mentor.  I thought of it as “Girls on the Run” grown-up.  We began with running/walking and various exercises to build strength, discussed healthy eating, relationships, etc. and worked towards completing a 5K.  Sadly, only a few of the original ten girls stuck with the program to the end, and only one ran the 5K. However, I would love to try the program again with the same age group but with more forethought, advertising and some sort of accountability system.

With a strange mixture of regret at having to say goodbye to colleagues and students I had grown close to and a sense of relief that the emotional strain was over, I set off for graduate school, blissfully unaware of the challenges that awaited me there. 

Of course, there is much more to share about my time as a high school teacher and a graduate student, but those subjects will have to be the topics of subsequent posts.

 

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