January 2010


Time is kicking my butt. One hidden perk of having one full-time job is that you typically can stay put. Having three jobs means I live out of my bookbag and my T pass gets plenty of use.

My students are doing okay. Some are a little intimidated by physics. I think it’s good that they already can identify their weak spots, but I hope that they can get over these mental hurdles; they seem to think they can’t do it. My math class has warmed up to me, but the challenge here is to make sure that I’m not going too fast and can fill a lecture. Two hours is a lot of time, and I haven’t taken a pure math course in about 5 years. I don’t remember how many examples we’d go through or the structure that much, which makes it a bit more difficult for me to plan.

The afterschool math program is a challenge. My first day was rocky, and I think the program is still in its infancy. There isn’t anything to base my material off of, and the students are resistant to change. Well, they’re resistant to anything that isn’t what they want to do (hanging out). That makes it a challenge. Writing calc problems has been rewarding but frustrating; I’m always checking to make sure that the problems aren’t too difficult but aren’t trivial and that the wording makes sense. I submitted 30 of them today, and I’m anxiously awaiting what my boss has to say. I hope he likes them!

I’ve also been going to dance class and fitting in practices. I think this next week will be more relaxing because I’m establishing a schedule.

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I’ve started taking Bharatanatyam again, a classical Indian dance. I’ve had on and off experience with Bharatanatyam starting in 2005. I switched to Odissi after a summer of Bhartanatyam. I studied Odissi for 2 years. Once I went to Chicago, I couldn’t find an Odissi teacher, which was remarkable to me; Chicago has a huge Indian population and even has a neighborhood/street filled with Indian businesses. I took the occasional Bharatanatyam lesson from Danielle, but I eventually stopped that (she didn’t think we had the room to really go where we should with dancing). Now that I’m more settled, I came back into Indian dance.

Why did I go to Bharatanatyam? Time suitability. I love Odissi and will probably end up studying it again someday, but for now, I’m happy learning Bharatanatyam. They are both beautiful dance forms. I’m lucky that muscle memory still exists and that the constant drilling of my past instructors has stuck with me. I’m not perfect, but it’s nice to see that I was trained well. I know people fear that switching teachers. There is the whole being in a new environment and just wondering if you are really in the right class. With Middle Eastern dance, there were quite a few holes in my education from not sticking with one teacher, since there are different standards of what constitutes an “intermediate” or who is really “professional-level.”One of the things I always liked about Indian dance is that it has been codified. Things are named. There are different schools/gurus that vary, but I had assumed there were things that were quite standard across the board.

On Friday, I learned that isn’t so much the case. I went back to a very beginner class of Bharatanatyam, because I thought I should learn from the ground up and regain the strength, etc. We go over the mudras (hand gestures) every week; the teacher gives us about 5 new ones to memorize. For the past two weeks, I have been perplexed, because the mudras are  named slightly differently than the names I was given from my other teachers; I always assumed mudra names were fairly standard, since I had heard the same set of names/been given the same charts from three others who do not know each other and from two different classical Indian dance styles. For instance, I memorized 2 forms of “kartarimukha” and pronounce it as “kar-tar-ee-mook-a.” My current class has only one form and we pronounce it “kar-tar-ee-mook.” It isn’t a different mudra, since it’s one of the 2 I know. I finally asked on Friday about this; I didn’t want to be “that student” who thinks s/he knows more than the teacher or assumes one of the teachers is wrong. I was curious, if it was a regional difference of pronunciation. It turns out that the texts are very vague about things and that while there are commonalities, it isn’t so cut and dry as I had originally assumed. I wasn’t taught incorrectly, just differently.

Unfortunately, all that great memorization of mudras that I retained will have to change in accordance to my current teacher. As I’ve said in the past, unlearning something is harder than learning it the first time.

I don’t think I mentioned that I have 3 jobs. I mentioned teaching as an adjunct and working as a middle school after school teacher to make math fun and exciting. My third job is writing problems for an integral calculus textbook. I feel like I live out of my bookbag, because I’m transporting stuff to and fro; at least with the calc job, I can work from home. That is, if my heat were working. Yes, it’s broken again. Fourth time in 3 months. However, I digress.

My students seems like a decent bunch of people for my adjunct teaching. Granted, I’ve only seen them once or twice, but they’re showing up on time and have been cooperative. I think last semester was really about them not having a professor for the bulk of the time. Unfortunately, last semester still haunts me, because one student is still upset with a grade. It was a very cut and dry failure, nothing borderline. I felt kind of bad failing the kid, because he is nice, but the numbers spoke for themselves.

In terms of my middle school job, they are middle schoolers. The challenge is to make math fun and exciting and more interactive than a workshop on what appears to be a low budget. We don’t have supplies and can’t use supplies, even meter sticks, that are in the school we’re using. Does anyone have any good ideas? I would typically turn to physics or cooking, giving them fun experiments, but I don’t have the supplies. They’re also 8th graders so they are too cool for a lot of things, like math.

I’m not sure about the calc problem writing yet, because I’m starting that project today. I roughly need to create 15-30 problems per week of varying difficulty. I estimate that I can do about 4-5 problems/hour. While the pay is okay ($5/problem), I’m more interested in becoming a better problem writer. I’m okay right now, but students have caught small details I have left out that I need to clarify. I sometimes assume things are implicit. For instance, today, we figured out whether a distance seemed reasonable when taking a trip to California. I assumed that everyone would think “Boston to California”, so I didn’t think to write it in. It’s a minor clarification, but I’d like to get to the point of not needing to do that. Well, practice makes perfect.

This past weekend Melina, a local dancer whose mother and sister both dance, opened her and husband’s  new circus/Middle Eastern dance studio in Waltham, a suburb of Boston. If you were looking to start dancing and live in the area, I’ve heard excellent things about Melina. I myself about considering lessons from her, since my significant other lives so close by and she is skilled in things I can’t necessarily get from my current class.

I went to her studio warming on Saturday. The performances were good, and they sure know how to cater. Their space is magnificent. High ceiling, sparkling wood floors, large openness, etc. It’s practically the perfect studio.

On Sunday, I went to workshops where Piper, Melina’s sister, taught. Piper is from Baltimore; I thought it was really sweet of her to attend this for her sister. The first workshop of Sunday was a drum choreography. Typically, I am not a fan of choreographic workshops; I went to this one, because I wanted to make a day of it and was interested in the second workshop. Why don’t I like choreographic workshops? I’m never going to use the choreography, and unless they are used to teach special skills, like propwork or a certain flavor like Turkish, I don’t really get much out of it. Piper did an excellent job, changing my opinion of choreography in a workshop or class. She gave us moves to do, little combinations, that I hadn’t seen before and I could use later. I appreciate that she would talk about different aspects of the choreography and tell us why she did what she did, like why she drove certain moves from her leg vs. glutes. I was further impressed that in both workshops, she told us where she learned or was inspired by a move or step; I think it’s very respectable to give credit like that.

The second workshop was not what I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be veil and taqsim (the improv, solo instrument part of a song); instead, it was pretty much all veil. If I hadn’t taken so much veil from Sonya and some other teachers, I would’ve gotten more out of it. I’m not in top veil form (I hadn’t used my veils since May), so I at least got a healthy workout. I agree with everything Piper said (veil being the partner, dancing with the veil and adding something small make veils amazing, etc.) and those items are worth repeating, but I’m also aware of them. I learned some new names for moves I knew, which I do think it useful. Piper is good at teaching veil, especially since many people in the room seems novice.

Throughout both workshops, Piper was a true professional. I like that she emphasized safety, did charm us with tales but didn’t make it story hour, and was just overall a warm, caring, knowledgeable instructor. She had us switch rows, too, which is a small but important sign she knows what she’s doing; being in a fairly crowded workshop means that not everyone gets a good view of the instructor or a spot at the mirror, so I am always happy to have a row switching teacher. Melina’s setup allowed for Piper to use a headset microphone so we could all hear her; that may seem trivial, but in crowded areas with noisy dancers, that is a necessity that I haven’t really seen used. I can’t wait until she comes back to the Boston-area.

After a long, peaceful break, I begin school on Tuesday. Lots to prepare for that still. The syllabus was changed last minute (the department of the students’ major wanted electricity and magnetism introduced in the beginning of the semester; EM is usually introduced after a Newtonian mechanics section), so quite a bit of the planning I had done is for nothing :(. Oh well. Part of life is being flexible. Some things are salvageable, but I have to spend some time planning things I wasn’t anticipating planning.

Hopefully, I’ll be prepared for this week.

My first day of being an after school teacher at a middle school started out rough. The lady who hired me has been out sick, so I went to their office and no one knew what to do with me. My new boss (not the lady who hired me) eventually found me. He is very nice.

Due to the confusion today, I merely observed and did light interaction with the students. They did worksheets and then played math games. The job will be challenging, if only because the students are not enamored with math and they are middle school kids. However, I already have some ideas about what they don’t like and what they do like. Hopefully, I can develop some things for them that’ll be fun.

In addition to my adjunct work, I’m going to have a small part-time job (about 5 hours/week) where I engage middle schoolers in math after school. I think it should be fun. Challenging but fun. I worked as a middle school camp counselor for a week in my junior and senior years of high school. I remember how funny middle school kids are. They’re part-child, part-teenager. Although my interest in education isn’t really at the middle/high school level, I do look forward to this. After all, college students were once middle and high school students, and I think it’s important to understand where they’re coming from.

I start tomorrow. Wish me luck!

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