Monday, July 20, 2015

Teaching Again

I've taken the last year off to have my son.
It's been quite a ride.
People have been asking me which is easier, parenting or teaching.  Since he's only 11 months old, I don't really know yet what parenting consists of but I can say that this has been the most relaxing year of my adult life.  What does that say about being a teacher?
I was able to take some classes for myself (abstract algebra, graph theory 1 and graph theory 2) and I reconnected with what I love and hate about being a student.  It was really helpful for me to remember what not knowing math feels like and what a different persona I adopt as a student (super quiet, shy and uncertain) vs. who I am as a teacher (gregarious, adventurous, unashamed of making mistakes.)  I spent a lot of time observing the other women in the classes (only about a quarter of the graduate students were women) and how much they participated compared to the men (about 90% of the comments made in class were by men.)  None of the students were black or Latino. I'm still processing how these observations should influence my teaching but for now, it's clear that I need to do more for my female and minority students.  Why don't women participate?  Why don't I participate?  My personal reasons are related to fear that at some point, I will hit a wall mathematically and just won't be able to understand something (even though I've overcome every wall so far), inherent shyness and introvertedness, fear of being wrong, math being so tied to my identity that I don't want to be revealed as a fraud (which I do feel like sometimes.  What right do I have to be telling other people how to do math when I'm unsure I could have pursued math seriously.)  I did have some sexist math teachers.  I never felt encouraged in math.  But these are my reasons.  Does every woman in math share these misgivings?  Or do we all have our own individual insecurities reinforced by our cultural context?  My sample size was really tiny.  And my shyness prevented me from sharing my observations with other women in the class.
Anyway.  I'm going back to teaching.  Algebra 1 and Japanese for next year.  I'm excited and scared to go back but I'm looking forward to catching up with what everyone's been doing on the MTBoS while I've been away.  I hope I can start contributing again and I'm so grateful I have this community to lean on when I'm in need of inspiration, which I always am!  I hope someday I can contribute something useful in exchange for all this community has given me.