Saturday, July 16, 2011

the end of the de anza math teacher

early one march morning, in 2001, i boarded a plane in lansing, michigan. that afternoon, i had an interview i remember almost nothing about, for a job i don't remember applying for, in a city i'd only just learned of a few weeks earlier. that was beginning of the de anza era.
this was followed by a lot of thinking on my part, several calls from the current undersecretary of education, trying to convince me that a move to california was the right choice, then a drive from michigan to california, to start my life as the de anza math teacher.
yesterday, i submitted my letter of resignation to de anza college.
one of my first days in the south bay was on september 11, 2001. not knowing anyone in the area, i went to campus, even though classes hadn't started yet. i wanted to be somewhere near people, and so i went to the only place i knew in the area - de anza college.
when classes started a few weeks later, i was listed as 'staff' in the course catalogue and jokingly told my class my name was 'mr. staff' - they didn't laugh. my relationship with students changed over the 8+ years i was there though. many moments of laughter, both in class and out, moments of sadness, anger (usually directed at me), and every emotion in between.
the students that made fun of my daily class opening, 'are there any questions?' that was lip synched by more students than i can count, on many a class beginning. the students who told me things they probably should not tell their instructor, because they felt comfortable enough to. the students who cried in my office, pleading for a grade change, or in frustration with how things going for them in class, and out.
the somewhat crazy (and also very good) problems students made up on assignments, the student who got a calculus tattoo while in my calculus class (he now has a Ph D in mathematics). the mps ceremony that brought me to tears and the one that humbled me. the gigantic birthday cake a class got for me one year. the class that cheered when i told them i got engaged and the students who told me how much they cared about me, when i found out my mother had terminal cancer.
i thought about listing all the students i remembered and how much they meant to me, but that would be a book.
i move on now, but i'm not going to be teaching. i haven't felt an itch to teach in a long time. i'm not sure if it's because i happened to fall into teaching in the first place and always wanted to try something else, or if i don't have an itch to teach because i would not be teaching at de anza.
regardless, the ghana flag is gone from my office door, and there is no futon to take naps on in my current office. the de anza math teacher is no more. he's just a guy now; kodwo in jeffersonia.

bye bye de anza. you will be missed

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Closing my office for a while

I was lying in bed this morning when I heard the garbage truck roll by. Every Tuesday it comes by and the same thing happens: Geordi, who has heard this truck every single week for the past 5 years pauses in the middle of whatever he's doing, then runs to the living room, as far from the noise of the truck as he can.

He's only going to hear that truck three more times, and then he's headed to Baltimore, where instead of garbage trucks rolling by, on schedule, every week, there will be fire trucks noisily going by, at random (my parents live a block from a fire station).

Lauren got back to Mountain View yesterday, after being in Oxford for the past 2+ months. Her coming back has changed the dynamic of the apartment - Geordi can't have her side of the bed all to himself and I found myself being very quiet last night as she took her jet-lagged self to bed. Her alarm is going off as I write this - I haven't heard that alarm in all the time she was gone.

The next few weeks are going to be spent packing, getting rid of some of our stuff, and seeing Bay Area folks for the last time before we head out. It's going to be a hectic three weeks, and I'm sure they will go by quickly, but I will try and savor the last 21 days I have here.

This is finals week at De Anza, and then the De Anza Math Teacher will not be a De Anza Math teacher for a while, and the blog will lay dormant because one cannot post as the De Anza Math Teacher when one is not a De Anza math teacher. I'll be moving my thoughts to a new blog, which has no postings as of this writing, but will be found here.

I thought my last post here would be more thoughtful, meaningful, or powerful, but I'm not a person who writes things to be thought provoking, meaningful, or powerful. I just write what's on my mind, and right now it's that garbage truck that rolled by 30 minutes ago, that I will hear three more times, chuckling to myself as I see Geordi make his dash for the living room.

Friday, November 06, 2009


I was in the Menlo Park Trader Joe's the other night, about to check out, when...

Trader Joe's employee: Don't you think he looks like Juan.
Other TJ's employee: Yeah, he does...Juan with dreadlocks.
Me: Who is this Juan?
TJ's employee: He works here, but he's not here now. You look just like him.

I'm sure just about everyone has had this type of experience before. I feel like I get this a lot - just today, someone told me that I look like their friend, who is a woman.

The most amazing "you look like..." story is from my junior and senior years in college. It was a series of "you look like.." situations, and several of them told me I looked like one specific person - Kevin.

More than a few times during those two years, I would have people come up to me, sometimes running, tap me on the shoulder, or say "hey" then see my face and say "oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were someone else". This was odd, because not a lot of people at MSU looked like me in the late 1990s.

During the Spring semester of my junior year, I was in a cafeteria when a guy came up to me and something like this happened...

Guy: Hey, what's up?
Me (not having any idea who this person is): Nothing.
Guy: You don't remember me?
Me: No, I'm sorry, I don't know who you are.
Guy: We played basketball last week. You don't remember?
Me: I haven't played basketball is several years.

At this point, he got a little upset, thinking I was dissing him.

Guy: Man, you don't remember me, you're name's Kevin, right?!?
Me: No, my name is Jeff.

He was stunned. "Damn, you look just like this guy Kevin. I'm sorry, man".

That's how I learned Kevin's name. The next time someone mistook me for someone, I asked if the person's name was Kevin and sure enough, it was. This happened a couple of times during my senior year.

I told a friend about this Kevin story and they mentioned that there was a guy they had seen in the business school who looked "a little" like me. I decided to spend a lot of study time in the business library over the next several weeks.

I think I saw this Kevin once. There was a guy with dreadlocks, with glasses, about my build. I considered walking over and asking him his name but I didn't, because in my opinion, he looked nothing like me at all.

I don't know if that was Kevin, I guess I never will. Maybe it was Juan, and maybe he now works at the Menlo Park Trader Joe's.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I was talking to Lauren the other day when she said "I've finished the book". My response was, "I've almost finished my book". The difference is, Lauren has been working on writing a book for the past couple of years where I have been working on reading a book for the past 6-7 months.

People who know me well know that I'm not a reader (I feel like I've blogged about that in the past), but today, for my first blog in weeks, I want to blog about books.

I've been dealing with a lot of books over the last few weeks. I've made it my mission to spend some time every Saturday, usually during the evening college football games, packing. I've been working on our bookshelves, and last weekend, I started the scariest bookshelf of them all - Lauren's office bookshelf.

For some reason, I find that bookshelf intimidating. I think it's because of all the knowledge it contains. I think of it as Lauren's mini-research resource center, and I worried about putting something in storage that I shouldn't, or messing up in some way. Also, the books just look heavy on that bookshelf. When people say their head hurts when doing research, I look at those books, and I can see the weight they would put on a researcher. Scary.

I was listening to Maureen Corrigan on Fresh Air the other day - she is a regular book reviewer on the program. I find her voice very soothing, which you probably didn't really need to know, but I do. She was reviewing some novel and said it would go on the shelf of books she reads over and over again. As someone who doesn't find reading particularly pleasurable, I don't see why anyone would want to read books over and over. I'm not saying I have anything against people who do - I actually admire people who like reading that much - I just can't relate. I can count on one finger the number of books I've read more than once ($5 for the first person who can guess what book it was).

In packing our books, I ended up with a stack of books I don't want (which was most of my "pleasure-reading" books). I thought to myself, "I"m never going to read these again, why keep them". If anyone wants any of them, get in touch.

About the book I'm almost done reading; I've been reading Freakonomics since March, reading a few pages here and there. With Lauren gone and no one to talk to at 11 PM at night, I find myself reading, partly as way to hear another person's thoughts, since the person's thoughts I usually hear at 11 PM is miles and miles away.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Job Search Begins

I sent off my first Oxford job application the other day. I hadn't planned on reaching the point of sending off applications so soon, but came across a job I think I could be a good fit for so I figured, why not apply?

It's been a long time since I've looked for a job. The last time I applied for jobs was during the 2000-2001 school year, when I made the decision to leave Michigan. It was a very different job search than this one is.

The biggest difference, which really hit me a couple of weeks ago, is the scope of where I can work. When I was looking for jobs back then, I didn't particularly care when I ended up; I just knew that I wanted to leave East Lansing, so I applied for job everywhere. Besides De Anza, I interviewed at a school in Chicago, was invited to interview for jobs in Austin, New Jersey, Bermuda, and with a Navy base in Korea. I also had a vague offer from a school in Massachusetts.

This time around, I'm somewhat limited. I'm pretty much restricted to looking for jobs in Oxford, a city with a population of about 150,000 people; that's small. Sure there are two universities in the town and who knows what else, but that somewhat limits how many jobs would be available for a person with experience teaching math and who has math and business degrees. Without a car while we're there, any job I look for pretty much has to be in Oxford.

Another issue is this idea I have of getting a job where I use my MBA. Many people who have MBA's have some experience that's related to business; I, of course, do not. This is a case of being over-educated to work in a low-level business position and not experienced enough to get a job that a typical MBA would get.

I've talked up so much my want to get a job where I use the MBA that I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that the job I applied for has nothing to do with with business; it is a teaching position.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Kurtz Bounce

When I was in college, I took two courses taught by Prof. Kurtz. I don't remember what classes, specifically, except that they were math classes. In fact, the thing I remember most from the classes taught by Prof. Kurtz is what I will call "the Kurtz bounce".

When he taught, he would move from left to right, along the board, as it got filled up with material - this is normal for anyone who uses the board to teach. But, after he got to the right end of the board (and also when he would finish going through a proof), he would quickly go up onto his tiptoes and back down again. It looked like a bounce. I always thought of it like a typewriter, when it would ding at the end of a line. It's almost like Prof. Kurtz had reached the right end of the board, and the bounce was a signal that he would now be starting on the left side; it was great.

I'm sure I have quirks of my own when teaching - I know that I tend to hold the back of my right hand to my chin, which sometimes leads to me getting chalk or marker on my face. I'm sure there are others my students know of that I have no idea I do.

Two teaching habits I do have stem from my very first teaching experience and stay with me to this day.

I can count the number of times I've not written out lesson plans on yellow legal pads. If you come to my office, I have a lot of yellow legal paper, filled with lessons I've taught over the years. At home, I'm staring at 4 thick, yellow, empty, legal pads waiting to be filled in with the chicken scratch I like to call my handwriting. The few times I've planned a class without a yellow legal pad, I've felt wrong, or dirty, in some way. The plans never looked right on the white paper, and I just felt like the classes I taught without yellow legal pads just didn't go well - it's all in my head, I know.

I never planned to be a teacher. To this day, I feel, in a small part, that I'm not supposed to be a teacher; like there is some Sliding Doors version of me in an alternate universe doing what I was "supposed" to do.

I was asked if I wanted to be a TA the Summer before I started grad school (by Prof. Kurtz, coincidentally). I said sure, I can grade papers, handle a section a week, no problem - I was assigned a class; to teach alone, 3 hours a week. The Friday before the semester started, I was handed a college algebra book and a yellow legal pad, and I've never let go of it.

When I walk into a room to teach, one of the first things I do is take my watch off and put it on the desk. I've only had one student who has ever asked me why I do this. It was several years ago, and when he asked, I didn't realize I did that everyday, and I couldn't give him an answer immediately. I thought about the question for overnight and into the next day, and then it hit me.

On that Monday, after I was handed a college algebra book and a yellow legal pad, I taught my first class at 8 am. I was a nervous wreck (but that's another blog post). I walked into the room, looked over the class and noticed there was no clock in the room. How was I to know when class was over? I didn't want to be one of those people who looked at their watch while doing their job (some think Bush Sr. lost to Clinton in 1992, because he did just that), so I put my watch on the desk. I could then check the time without, hopefully, being obvious.

Now, I teach in classrooms that all have clocks in them (and most of them are actually accurate), but I still take my watch off, and put it on the desk very soon after I get to the front of the classroom.

Two days in August 1998 created two habits I still carry with me 11 years later.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


I haven't blogged in a few weeks. I thought about blogging about our trip to the East Coast, but everyone goes on vacation, so if you really care, you can look at Lauren's pictures.

I was going to check the mail the other day, walking by the apartment pool when I noticed a long line of ants. This was the same colony of ants that were in our apartment a couple days before, getting into Geordi's food, a line of them running to (and out of) our window. This blog is not about ants; it's about living and leaving, something I didn't let the ants in Geordi's food do - I killed them before they could get away.

As I saw those ants, for some reason, it hit me - we're moving out of this apartment in about 4 months. We got our visas the same day I saw those ants, kind of cementing that the move was going to happen. At the end of the year, we will be moving our stuff out and heading to Oxford (Lauren will actually be heading out in less than 4 weeks).

I've lived in this apartment longer than I have lived in any other place since I moved to the US at the age of 12. We've been here over 5 years now, 5 1/2 by the end of the year rolls around. I'm going to miss this place; the pool I never use, the stomping toddler that lives above us, the guy who kicks us offline when he thinks we're using too much bandwidth. You'd think I hate this place based on the last sentence, but I actually miss those things; the toddler has taught me to be more patient with kids, the internet guy has taught me to be more frugal with my internet use, the pool...the pool has taught me nothing, except reinforcing my idea that black people don't swim.

A couple of months ago, Lauren mentioned that she was hesitant to visit Baltimore, saying she had only so much time before moving out of the apartment. At the time, I didn't see what the big deal was, but that day, as I saw the ants, probably headed to some other apartment, getting into some other cat's food, I felt what she felt. I'm hesitant to go anywhere for the next few months, to savor this place I've lived for the past 5 years, with the toddler, the internet guy, and the ants.

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