cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Saturday, May 18, 2013

An act of wisdom

"One thing I know for sure is that when you are hungry, it is an act of wisdom each time you turn down a spoonful if you know that the food is poisoned."                            
— Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions
There are some truths you have to live, even when that path is hard. For me, this is one of those times. I have this quote hanging over my desk, which is helpful because I have really had to live it this school year. Every morning I need to remind myself of the wisdom and sanity of this perspective.

For me, this truth is bedrock. 

I resigned from my current school in March to remove myself from a toxic situation that is still unfolding. My conscience told me I could not be a part of the direction that is being pursued.

I had to turn down the spoonful to save my soul because I knew in my bones that the food being offered had been poisoned.

Hence my current job search.

I may have resigned that position, but there is no way on earth I am going to leave this profession.

I am a very effective and highly qualified teacher of mathematics, which is an area of desperate need and critical shortage around here. But we are living through an extraordinary period of economic uncertainty and complete political insanity — a time in which our leaders oscillate between one extreme of grandiose talk about "reforming" public education and its opposite of all-out panic at the crisis-level reality of our schools' current situation. 

Our leaders are lost, and our children are bearing the brunt.

The Serenity Prayer instructs me to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to reach out and change the things I can affect, and the wisdom to discern the difference between these two very different kinds of things. 

So as I apply for new jobs and do interviews and give demo lessons, I am also choosing moment by moment to renew my focus on growing and improving my practice as a teacher of mathematics.

And as I do this — even as I fret or worry about finding a new position — a curious thing keeps happening: I keep falling in love with math teaching all over again.

I've created a really great project-based learning (PBL) version of the Barbie Bungee activity (see here and here and here and of course, here), and I'm doing the same thing for the Double Stuf Oreo measurement extravaganza I plan to guide my students through this week. I am learning a ton about differentiation through teaching problem-solving from the online course I am taking from Max Ray at The Math Forum, even though I feel like I can never do enough of the coursework. And Kate Nowak (now of Mathalicious!) and I are having a blast brainstorming our 'PCMI Problem-Solving, TMC-style' problem-solving session for Twitter Math Camp '13 in late-night Google doc chat sessions.

I am hoping that all of this work will be of benefit to me in the fall, but the reality is, of course, that there are no guarantees.

I remind myself daily of the three great teachings my own teacher Natalie Goldberg passed on to me from her root teacher Katagiri Roshi. These are:
  •  Continue under all circumstances
  •  Don't be tossed away
  •  Make positive effort for the good
I am working on writing up and sharing all these lesson ideas and learnings that I'm figuring out, but to be honest, I am struggling to find the time right now. So I am taking good notes to help me write up these blog posts over the summer.

I also remind myself of my amazing good fortune to have my tribe of math teacher-bloggers in the math twitterblogosphere. You support and inspire me every day, and my gratitude for you is bottomless.


  1. I'm pretty sure I've read everything from Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg. Everything except her latest "The True Secret." Great quote from Anne. I used "Writing Down the Bones" like a Bible when I taught writing many years ago. How wonderful that you were her student.

    I know you'll find a deserving school that will welcome you to "make positive effort for the good." Your expertise and heart are rare, Elizabeth.

    Hard to pick a favorite from Natalie, but this helps me a lot, "Every moment is enormous and it is all we have."

    1. Thanks, Fawn. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your support and friendship and witnessing on this journey.

      I remember when I first "met" you in the MTBoS and you told me you loved Natalie's work too. You should definitely read Natalie's latest book, The True Secret of Writing. It's very rich and (and oh, also, I am in it). :)


  2. Thank you for this post. I wish you all the best in your search. You and many others on the MTBoS have helped me continue to grow as a teacher, to share more and to feel like I can make a difference, despite circumstances beyond my control.

    Your new school, when you find it, will be fortunate to have you.

    1. Thank you for reading and responding, Mary. I am glad to have you in my MTBoS tribe.


  3. I hope nothing but the best for you. Your ideas for working with students have inspired me, and your willingness to share has let me steal and co-opt so many great ideas that I hope my own students have benefit from. Heck, you and the rest of the rockin' Math folks on twitter have almost made me want to jump ship from since ...only almost, though ;-)

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you, Meg! I appreciate knowing that my sharing makes a difference.

  5. That's a very thought-provoking quote. (I'll be adding it to the list I keep above my desk.)

    Teaching in toxic conditions is morale sapping and stressful enough to be bad for your health - that's a high price to pay for a situation that you can't change.

    Of course, resigning isn't just a wise move, it's a brave one. Very best of luck in your search for a new post. Your new school will be lucky to have you.

    1. I appreciate your supportive words, Lois. Thank you for reading and commenting and for being in my MTBoS tribe!

  6. Elizabeth -

    Love Lamott ... love your post ... love the honesty and integrity! There is a wise administrator out there that will snag you as math teacher! Can't wait to hear how that next opportunity plays out!

    1. Thanks, Beth. I am trying to focus on "acting as if" and on making positive effort for the good. Acting in a way that is unconditionally constructive definitely seems to be good for my soul, and also for my teaching! :)

      - Elizabeth

  7. interested in working in Jakarta? :)

  8. Dear Elizabeth,
    Your presence in the Mathblogosphere have been both comforting and inspirational to me...I am proud of you for having the wisdom to know that a school and a teacher must be a fit. Like you've said, when they are not, it is poison and too many teachers feel stuck to their schools even though they are miserable!

    The right school will be so appreciative to have you! And I concur fully with Beth...a wise administrator will snag you up!

    Goood luck!

    PS I am a huge Natalie Goldberg fan and Anne Lamott fan (Our youngest's middle name is Rose, after, AL's Rosie!)

    Here's Trust_in_what_you_love, continue_to_do_it, and_it_will_take_you_where_you_need_to_go.
    Natalie Goldberg

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