Monday, April 24, 2006

Coming Full Circle

As I get ready to leave, I've found myself having an odd sort of closure that will probably make no sense to anyone else.

The first year I came to grad school here, I took the masters level real analysis class and passed a prelim at the end of the year. (I loved the course, and it convinced me to pursue analysis instead of algebra.) My professor recommended a particular book at "the Bible of Real Analysis", and I actually found a copy in the library and used it to study for the prelim. Since then, I've occasionally looked over it again.

I've got some professional development money to spend before I leave now, and it occurred to me that I could order a bunch of wanted texts off of for cheap. My first pick? That "Bible of Real Analysis". It arrived this week, and I finally own a copy of the book recommended by one of my first teachers here, just as I start preparing to leave.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


One of my favorite holidays is "The Day After Easter." Did you ever stop to think about how much candy is manufactured for Easter, generally with specific wrapping (or even shapes) designed just for Easter? And that all the left over candy goes on sale the day after Easter each year and can be had for cheap? If I were poor and had a small child, I would insist that Easter comes on Monday. Or maybe Tuesday, to give me more time to shop.

As it is, I usually make stops at a number of places on the way home from work the Monday after Easter to stock up. You can have enough candy to last for months--if you have that kind of self control. If you don't mind chocolate in the shape of bunnies or eggs, and if you like jelly beans (I love 'em), you can really hit the jackpot.

This year was a little more awkward than usual, since I've been carpooling with my neighbor and colleague, and couldn't think of a good excuse not to on Monday. So when I started up the car to go home, I asked "Are you in a hurry to get home?" followed by "How much would you laugh at me if I stopped to raid marked-down Easter candy at a few places?" The answers were "no" and "only a little", so I went for it. And he did only laugh a little, which I think was justified, considering how much I managed to load up on.

Target was the absolute bonanza, and it usually is. I think they have better selections to start with. I found one new winner: Sweet Tart brand jelly beans. These are awesome. Unfortunately, I only got one bag originally, and they were out when I went back to see if they had more.

So I guess I'll think about a better diet once I'm out of the candy. Fortunately, I may have collected enough candy to postpone that until September.


I've done it; I've got a new job next year.

Upsides are many. The department is moderately large and friendly; they're a fun group, and seem to both work together and socialize together. The students seem to be a good group. (One faculty member described the students as "appreciative", and he was right: after I guest-taught an algebra class, I had some students come up to me in the hallway afterward and actually thank me for teaching their class. I could have passed out from surprise.) I have a good friend from college just 20 minutes away, and she and her husband say they've met a number of nice people in the area. The school has made me an attractive offer. (OK, so many things would have been attractive compared to what I was getting. Also it could have been a better offer if the school had been willing to count some of my previous experience, but it was in a non-tenure track job. And what could anyone learn from six years of teaching, coordinating teachers, course development, department work and so forth if there was no hope of tenure from it?) Oh, and real estate in the area is apparently pretty cheap to boot.

I've talked with my partner, and he's up to coming to this new location. I think to be honest if we can find an opening, he's a shoe-in for a job at the same university. And even if not, there are other colleges, and the public schools in the area pay well too if he wants to continue with that.

The only downside I see is that it snows. A lot. When I was little, I loved snow, and swore I would love it for the rest of my life. I pined for it terribly when my family moved from Indiana to Texas. I have a picture of me around the age of ten or so holding a snowball that I pathetically scraped together from scant dustings of snow on the corners of the yard and fence at around the age of ten when we had a small flurry in Dallas. But that was before. Before having to do anything in snow, like having to be somewhere on time or having to drive in it to get groceries. It was also before a few years ago when I slipped on ice and broke my arm, which didn't heal correctly. (You should see me trying to walk when there's snow or ice now--I'm such a wimp.) So I'm a little apprehensive, but maybe it will turn out alright. Maybe I'll rekindle my love affair with the white cold stuff.

But either way, I think I'm going to enjoy next year. In any case, I'm finally leaving where I have been for the past 13 years. I had only planned on being here for maybe four or five years, but grad school stretched out, and then I was waiting for my partner to finish, and then we were job searching. It was a temporary stop that lasted for more than a third of my life up to this point. I have actually lived in this area for longer than I have ever lived anywhere else, and I never meant to. There are things that I will miss and things that I will not. I'll have friends to say goodbye to, and favorite restaurants to visit, and tons of stuff to do like finding a new place to live and hiring movers (and excavating the apartment to the point where it can be moved). I'll also have to make a visit to The World's Largest Computer Lab(TM) so I can do my "I'm never coming back here" happy dance.

In a way, it feels like I'm finally getting started on my life. So Hallelujah indeed.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

My Bat

At the beginning of Fall semester a couple of years ago, I got a bat for my office. He slept in my window during the day, between the screen and the glass (there was a big gap outside). That's him (or her; I have no skill at sexing bats) at right.

He was cute furry little thing, small enough to have fit in the palm of my hand. For the first week or so he was there I thought he was a leaf.

I thought this was very cool. It was the first semester I was teaching large sections, and I took it as a good omen. I watched him get ready to go out one night, after I turned out my light. Did you know bats groom? He would hang from his toes and stretch and lick himself, finally using his little front paws (wings) to clean his tiny little ears and head. Then he finally clambered out and flew off.

Personally, I would have liked to have trained him to hang from my jacket pocket during the day. Then I could wear him to class and freak out my students. And if one of them gave an answer I didn't like, I could say, "Fly! Fly my pretty! Get them!"

But he left to find another perch at some point after the first week or two of the semester, and he hasn't been back since. I miss him. I was just thinking about him and thought I'd share. It's one of the coolest things that happened at my office, Ooga Booga notwithstanding.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

On Being a Piler

I'm a piler. I have piles everywhere. At home, there are piles on my dining room table, piles on sofa, piles on the counter, piles on the floor, even piles on top of upended boxes. (Any flat surface will do for me. Don't sit still too long if you come to visit.) In my office, there are piles on my desks (yes, I have more than one), piles on chairs, piles on my closet shelves, and one bookcase is serving as a pile-holder. Come to think of it, I have piles on top of boxes in my office, too. I do put some things into filing cabinets, but if you think about it, those are really just horizontal piles with tabs on them. (And "pile" is just "file" with an "p".) I have a small desk organizer with little short shelves on which to sort things; it's really just a set of level surfaces on which to put new piles.

It's probably partly being a hoarder. I like to keep things. You never know when something will come in handy. (It did when I had to make a case for being considered in-state for my last semester of graduate school. I put together 34 pages of supporting documents, including phone and utility records, receipts from charities, letters from state organizations I belonged to, voter registration, a letter from completing jury duty, and other random junk from the seven years I'd been living here.) Hopefully I'm not following in the footsteps of my grandmother, whose house was found stuffed top to bottom with all kinds of random effluvia of a lifetime. (She had a box in which she had saved the worn-out sole inserts from shoes, and another in which she had put the hair scraps when she used to cut my grandfather's hair. One dresser was found stuffed with newspapers. Not any particular clippings or anything, just old newspapers she had opted not to throw away.)

Occasionally, I clean up. This involves sorting random piles into specific piles: things to throw out, different kinds of records that I already have files for, things that need to go to my office or home, things that I need to do right away, things that I forgot about but should have done a month ago, etc. Usually when I clean I also have an "I don't know what to do with this pile", and I made a realization years ago that if I use this pile, I'm not really making any progress.

Of course, sometimes it would be easier if I were actually more organized. I know somewhere here I have a list of students who didn't complete an on-line assignment but turned in the written portion, but I may not find it again until I do a major excavation. (Perhaps when I do I'll find my little poster that says "Neat people never make the exciting kinds of discoveries I do".) But I think piling is what I do. Maybe it's a fundamental personality trait, like whether you're an introvert or extrovert, or being a psycho serial killer. (I never said fundamental personality traits were all good.) Maybe if I were neat and organized I just wouldn't be me. So I make my peace with myself and move on.

Now where are my notes for tomorrow's class...?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

250 Students and No Class Bunny

I totally (heart) Phillip Done. He's a veteran third-grade teacher and author of 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny. The man can write, and the book is a riot.

I also find myself identifying to an amazing degree with what he writes about teaching third graders. Sometimes teaching college students doesn't seem that different. Some things are different. I don't have lunchroom duty, I rarely meet parents, and I've never had to get a student loose who has licked a frozen flag pole on a dare. (It rarely gets cold enough for that here.) His opening essay is about being a teacher, which starts with:
I read Charlotte's Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every year, and every year when Charlie finds the golden ticket and Charolotte dies, I cry.
I take slivers out of fingers and bad sports out of steal the bacon. I know when a child has gum in his mouth even when he is not chewing. I have sung "Happy Birthday" 657 times.

OK, so I read Calculus: Early Transcendentals every year, and I no longer cry when my students say the derivative of ex is x ex-1. I know when a student is not paying attention even when they are looking at me. (The iPod buds in their ears are a good clue.) And although I have not yet set it to music, I have definitely said "Integrating the rate of change gives the total change in a quantity" more than 657 times, possibly just this semester. They guy in the office next to mine can probably attest to that. (And probably wishes I would stop.)

But when I got to the following, I had my first major guffaw of appreciation:
I say, "Use two hands!" when they carry their lunch trays. I say, "Accidents happen," after they did not use two hands.

And I understand. I feel like I spend a great deal of time saying "Accidents happen" to students who "did not use two hands", although it usually sounds more like: "Yes, printers sometimes run out of ink. You can turn it in tomorrow. But next time, try not to print out a major assignment two minutes before class."