Last month, near Easter I found out my Mom has breast cancer. I vividly remember reading the email from my Dad in total and complete mouth gaping disbelief. They’d known for 2 weeks prior but had been making all the Big Decisions that come with this type of diagnosis. The following week she went in for a mastectomy. Today was her first day of chemo.
When my brother died when I was barely 14 I thought we’d had enough shit for one lifetime. But then, This. Cancer. A child and then a breast, it is almost poetic.
And wow, grief. Big fat ugly motherfucking grief. It just came up all over again. Anger. It is there, too. And the relentless never worth it question; Why?! Fear. Yup, that too. I’m not any younger, my brother isn’t any more alive and Cancer isn’t any less relentless.
People, being the caring loving creatures that they are, have been encouraging me that it is only Stage 2. And I get that, I really do. But it is my Mom. And there just isn’t any other way of putting it into words and the tears tell the rest of the story.
I’ve been feeling helpless, confounded, literally shocked and in disbelief since I found out. Like grief, it come in waves. And tonight, this first day of chemo for Mom, the tears appeared. But then a clearing and a thought.
Seeing as Mom was a brilliant math professor for 40 years and because of she and Dad, I got the privilege of growing up in Japan, it might be time to employ a Japanese folktale.
The folktale states that whoever makes 1000 paper cranes gets their wish granted. So here’s mine: Fuck off, Cancer. So far I’ve solicited 4 crane makers and counting? Let’s do the math! 1000 cranes/ 5 months = 200 cranes per month.
One of the curriculums new to me is the International Primary Curriculum, herein known as IPC. IPC comes out of Canada and are integrated units of study with a theme. I recently started my unit called The Generation Game: Young and Old.
We are just getting started so we have done some cleverly disguised pre-assessments. One activity was for each student to make a drawing of a young person and an old person. After drawing they were instructed to write words that describe or remind them of activities that young or old people do.
I ended up having to break up the lesson into three days. On day 2, I was trying to quickly review the instructions by drawing a quick sketch on the board. When it came to the words to put around the drawing I asked the class “Anyone have any ideas for a word we could put here (pointing to the picture of the older person)?
Without a beat one student yelled out “Bingo!”
I was so surprised that bingo could transcend culture that I ended up just busting up right then and there. Kids. They really do say the darndest things.
So here I am. Hot, humid, angsty, depressed, struggling to keep my head up but still finding little moments of joy in what I do. But we’ll save those little moments of joy for another post.
When I’d been told “We are all ELL teachers now” in my posh, overly flourescent lighted, newly carpeted, ELMO equipped school, a mere 2 years ago I could unequivocally tell you that sure enough ELL didn’t apply to math. Oh sure, there were the complex words and terms but in the end the numbers, being universal, would win out. And given the 1 or 2 intensive ELLers I had in my class and the others working towards English fluency we did pretty alright in the arena of math. Hell, I got my class with a large majority of ELL at different stages of English mastery to start using the word “disequilibrium” correctly and accurately. Oh how I thought I was a goddess of math instruction. Then I got them to use the word “metacognition” and surely I had conquered the highest teaching mountain.
But now here I am. Hot, humid, angsty, depressed, struggling to keep my head up and still finding little moments of joy in what I do. But again, that is for another post.
Now the sacred safe realm of numbers seems to have turned its back on me. Here I was going along, really being a kind of ELL teacher to a class with 1 native English speaker, and the numbers decided to fail me. Or is it the vocabulary? Just how DO you translate partial-sums method?! I’ve tried writing it out step-by-step, using different colors, using graph paper and lastly doing a hell of a song and dance up front to a deadpan audience of students. Still, we struggle. Okay well, “we” being “me,” to figure out what the problem really lies. Could it be that sweet unmovable numbers have betrayed me or hath a lack of understanding of place value reared its ugly head? Could it be that they simply don’t understand my English? Mathematical vocabulary is pretty specific, after all.
And herein lies the conundrum. How do I get to the bottom of this? I feel like on Monday I’ve got to show up in sequins to get the point across. I’m doing all the work here, los estudiantes. It can’t go on much longer like this; I’m hanging by an exhausted thread. So like a good teacher, I ponder. Then I shall email my in-house super extraordinaire colleague who can translate a worksheet for me. I will get to the bottom of this. I just can’t accept that my beloved math may have turned on me.
On a more serious note…teaching with this uncertainty is and has been quite a blow to my confidence. Having to constantly wonder…is it the English or the concept they don’t get, is exhausting. I don’t have much of a way of really knowing unless I constantly inundate my coworker with worksheet translation requests, which isn’t realistic or do-able. It is an odd feeling to be in my fifth year with a tad experience but to feel completely without a safety net. It is exhausting and some days, like today, just plain discouraging.
Even math isn’t sacred anymore?
This post is dedicated to my Mom, the greatest mathematics professor I know.
Twice in 2011, spurred by my awesome man, I traveled to Leogane, Haiti and volunteered with an NGO called All Hands Volunteers. (Re: Got heat exhaustion on each of my first days 7 months apart.)
This is not a post to get into the deep complexities of what can improve Haiti but simply what could improve one person’s life who lives there. Education really is and can be a beacon of light in moving a person’s life forward.
So let’s do this thing, okay? Skip a morning latte or two, hold off on your next Kindle purchase, take the bus to work one day and then…DONATE.