So Late So Soon (BP Letter #8)
I am sorry this my response is more than a month since your last letter. Your letter was titled, "It all feels so different now" and though much time has passed, the title still rings true. I just learned that with my medical accommodation I will be remote through June. That news is still sinking in. An MfA colleague recently described how she was feeling as "whiplash." There have certainly been a lot of changes this year.
I miss a lot. I miss 1363. I miss casual conversations. I miss doing one thing at a time - not having email open constantly and two screens or more at a time. I miss knowing what my students look like, or for some, what they even sound like. My freshmen have not even really met each other yet. I'm working on this. Progress is slow.
I so appreciate your support and enthusiasm about Just Like Me. (It would not have existed without your pursuit of the Mathography. Thank you.) I keep editing and adding to that document with ideas. I can't wait to see what you do with it in your classes. I love the "Mathematician and Me" spin - are you tying it into your podcast?? - and the idea of the outreach. We also thought of this after we had assigned it, and I think that is a good direction to take. Perhaps the opportunity to have mathematicians visit our classes is a silver lining of Zoomland.
This year more than ever, I'm letting myself get swept up in random acts of inspiration. I think I've used the word "untethered" more than I ever have before to describe my teaching. I think it's going well. My tools of measurement is the feedback from a handful of students that propel me forward.
We are trying to keep things current, and that means we are disrupting the normal flow. It feels important to be real with students about the huge events going on in the world around them. To ignore it, feels like succumbing to White Supremacy.
Today we talked about, "What does '3% test positivity 7-day average' mean?" and in the course of that conversation, in more than one class, the issues of racial disparity in COVID's effects were brought up. I feel grateful for our RSJ work this summer, conversations with you and our colleagues which have given me the confidence to have these important conversations with students. Brave spaces. I have to model it to create it.
A few weeks ago, we talked about the Electoral college and disproportionate representation. Mr. D brought to my attention the inequity between NY's population (19,453,561) compared to number of electoral college votes (29) and Wyoming's population (578,759) compared to number of electoral college votes (3). NY gets 1 electoral vote for ~670,000 people. A student pointed out to me that number is over the entire population of Wyoming.
Side Note: I once visited the catacombs of Paris as a French student. It is an eerie place. On the walls are quotes, in French, with various morbid sentiments. I remember, eager student as always, excitedly translating each quote only to repeatedly step back and grimace when its meaning became clear to me.
There is a similar excitement-grimace feeling for me in these conversations with students. I am thrilled to see them flexing their math muscles in new ways, and making meaningful connections with math. Yet, it is still hard to share the sad realities of the world with these young people. Heck, it hard just to face the sad realities of the world.
There is a lot I could say regarding what is scary and worrisome. But I will digress to one potential silver lining of Zoomland. I remember hearing this story about an orchestra that began doing "blind" auditions -- the musician played their instrument behind a curtain. After this practice began.. low and behold, the orchestra had more diversity. In this "blind" Zoomland, I wonder what biases are being erased for me, when students do not have their cameras on. I wonder if anything might be going better.
I really do miss you too. And the ability to wander across the hall or pop in to another classroom. Strangely, COVID is all tied up in my head with becoming a parent. I've been a parent more in COVID-times than not. It feels like the last time I was really at school was before I left for maternity leave. The 10 weeks I was in the building from January to March 2020 were such a blur of adjustment to being a working parent. I'm nostalgic and sad knowing - is anything ever certain these days? - now that I won't be back for quite a while longer.
So, how to wrap this up? "I am seeking, striving, in it with my whole heart." I am here to lean and be leaned on "isn't going well? What is?
Sending you pockets of peace in these uncertain times. Be well. Stay safe.