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!

Why did the self-esteem movement fail?

Most of us have heard that the self-esteem movement is a failure, and many believe that the emphasis on self-esteem resulted in a generation or two of entitled yet under-performing students. In math, for instance, it is often quoted that American students think they are great at math, but in reality they are near the bottom of the pack. But why would the self-esteem movement fail? It is certainly well-intentioned and plausible. It seems reasonable that students who feel terrible about themselves are going to have some trouble with learning, so wouldn’t raising self-esteem provide a necessary precondition for learning?

I wonder if the educational emphasis on self-esteem was really just a creative way to address shame and other difficult emotions. When people struggle in school (and in work), it feels terrible. School is an important part of a young person’s identity. When school is going poorly for students, their relationships with teachers and peers are in jeopardy, and they are probably struggling with shame. When we bolster student egos without addressing the underlying educational and relationship issues, we may have helped the students repair relationships, but the shame is still there. If we fail to address the core issues, we are simply helping the students to hide and manage their shame (and as educators became complicit in the hiding). If we fail to challenge students in their education, we communicate to them that we don’t trust them and don’t believe they are capable, which can serve to cement the shame and further disempower and alienate students. I think the real question is how we all learn to deal with failure and shame while staying powerful and connected.

Ever have one of those days?

Today I had one of those days as a teacher, the one where everything goes wrong. The kind where I got to class one minute late, forgot something I needed to hand back to a student, had four students absent out of nine, and planned to show several video clips as part of the class, none of which actually worked. And of course, after a day like this I’m heading back to my office and I get to thinking about how I really should have done the first two units in Math, Art, and Design differently this semester. I should have combined the topics of infinity and fractals which would have allowed me to alternate classes that were more abstract and cerebral with classes in which the fractal visuals provided both grounding and motivation. Why didn’t I think of that?

That’s when I got back down to my office and realized that I left my keys upstairs. On the way back up I started thinking about how I should have just abandoned my script once I realized that technology was not going to be my friend today, and done something hands-on. Moments later I’m back to the classroom, but the door is shut and I have now left the ID that I need to get into the classroom downstairs by my office. So I turn around in something of a huff and that’s when I realize that I’m not really all that good at going off script, especially not in this class, and in my current frame of mind that just says that I’m kind of a crappy teacher. Then I’m downstairs getting the ID, back up again getting the keys, and back down to the office, and my main focus is berating myself for my lack of student participation and the fact that this class isn’t inquiry-based and student led.

Yes, I know I’m not really a shitty teacher, but teaching is a job that we are going to screw up repeatedly. Wait, maybe all jobs are like that. I think maybe teaching is like being a stand-up comedian. In either case you are going to fall on your face repeatedly, and when you do there will be an audience, magnifying your failure. But tomorrow is another day…