Come check out Liberation Math

I’m having a great time teaching a new class, Liberation Math, this semester. It’s a powerful class in which we are engaging in a critical exploration of mathematics education, mathematical identity, and the place of mathematics in our lives. If you are curious, check out the website http://liberationmath.org where you will find blog posts and lots of food for thought. Make comments, ask questions, and follow the hashtag #liberationmath on twitter.

Emotional Cycle of Teaching

I’m now in the second week of classes, and today I noticed how much my emotions have been fluctuating over the last week. I’ve experienced excitement, tension, anxiety/worry, happiness, connection, and isolation. For me, what primarily drives these emotions is how connected I feel and how exposed I feel. As I gear up for a class, I think about what I want to do and what the students might want and my anxiety and excitement both go up. I want the class to go well, and I manage the anxiety around that by preparing. Sometimes my preparation is great, and sometimes I over-prepare, repeatedly messing with my plans and making them more elaborate or complicated than they need to be. Essentially, the anxiety is about exposure and vulnerability. Teaching leaves you very vulnerable and we all deal with that vulnerability in different ways. The more I can just be OK with the vulnerability, the better things tend to go because when I do that I leave plenty of room for the students. When I get to tense and over-prepare, I tend to shut the students out, trying to control everything about the class. There’s a sweet spot to preparation, where I feel safe enough, but let myself be vulnerable enough to the students to make real connections. It’s often a hard spot for me to reach!

During class, my emotions all depend on what I get back from the students. If I’m getting a lot back from the students, I feel connected and less exposed, so I relax and take more risks. When I get less back from students, I talk more and feel more exposed and anxious. I want to focus this semester on watching the students more, no matter my mood, setting aside whatever anxiety I feel to really see what they are doing. It’s harder than it sounds, at least for me.

After a class, I tend to get a dip where I worry about both my performance and the students performance. What did they get out of the class? Are we moving in the right direction? Here I find that minute responses can help, because at least I have information from students and for me data is often an antidote to anxiety and that feeling of exposure. Even better is real conversations with students directly after class, and I want to make more of those happen. Checking in with students after class can lead to a great dialogue and a chance to offer support. I also feel relief after teaching — another class is over and I don’t have to start that cycle planning, execution, and evaluation for another couple of days.

Accomplishments and Regrets in 2012

With 2012 coming to a close, I’ve been thinking about my year. I am proud of a lot that I did this year including

  • My application for a Radcliffe Fellowship: I wrote a good application and was brave enough to apply
  • My application for promotion
  • Taking the first steps for my Liberation Math website (http://liberationmath.org)
  • The amazing connection I have had with my spouse this year
  • The way I talk to my kids about anything and everything
  • The great talks I gave and connections I made at conferences, workshops, and invited talks this year
  • The connections that I had this year with both my parents
  • Getting a 529 set up for kids for college and setting up regular contributions
  • Solving my long-standing digestive issues! Figuring out that I have SIBO was transformative, and I have made great strides in fixing my problems. Woo hoo!
  • I had a paper accepted to a sociology journal (the paper is in press at Rationality and Society), and I’m a mathematician!
  • I had great connections with students in many of my classes and I feel good about a lot of the teaching I did this year.

    Climb Ev'ry Mountain

    Climb Ev’ry Mountain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I also have some regrets:

  • Not pushing the 529 out to grandparents so they can contribute
  • Not being proactive enough in setting up solo time with my mom
  • Losing the connection with dad for a little while because I stopped calling him
  • Getting angry at my kids and not wanting to stop getting angry and be a grownup
  • Not doing something like yoga or meditation to restore and center myself
  • Letting myself get away with not connecting deeply with my students
  • Not blogging regularly enough
  • Not attending to how my net worth is growing (or, um, not growing)
  • Not dreaming big enough about liberation mathematics (but I’m working on that now!)
  • Spending my energy treading water and distracting myself rather than really digging in (busy bee trait)

I have started to work on setting up dreams, plans, and goals for this upcoming year, so I may blog about those in the coming week. A lot of my energy is going to putting up content at my new site Liberation Math, so come visit me there!