Conrad Wolfram, Do They Even Need Me?

I am rarely out sick. In fact, I once went two consecutive school years without taking a single day off. I am hearty and find prepping for a substitute teacher to be dreadfully boring. So this past weekend, when one of my lovely little ovaries had a ruptured cyst, I took Monday off when I couldn’t bare the cramps I got after standing up for more than two minutes. I came to school on Tuesday, and when the stabbing gut pains seethed out of nowhere, I lay on my own classroom floor. I got one student to guard the door and be on the lookout for “anyone in a suit or carrying a clipboard”. The students continued class work, business as usual. A student called out over me to others across the room, “Hey, how can you tell if a quadratic has imaginary roots or real ones?” I thought to answer, but before I could they had figured it out on their own. As I lay on the floor starring up at the ceiling tiles, I wondered to myself, “Why would anyone ever want to leave this job?”

I’m leaving the classroom. On November 21st I’ll start a new position with The University of Texas’ Dana Center. I’m heartbroken to leave the classroom and my students, but also excited about the work ahead of me. I thought I’d stay a teacher forever. I’ve been very happy as teacher and it’s a big part of my identity. I love math, helping young people, and the hard work.

The history of my school, Eastside Memorial High School at The Johnston Campus, is frustratingly sad. I think there have been five different principals in the past four years. (Here’s an ominous departure announcement from one of them. “I am optimistic about the future for the school.” How?! What would you say about the school now?) In the past ten years, the school has been a magnet school then a traditional comprehensive high school with vocational academies added to it, shut down and reconstituted and renamed by the state of Texas, and then changed back to a regular school, and then split into two New Tech high schools, and, most recently, those two schools were closed and merged back to one comprehensive school with a New Tech Academy. What next? The superintendent is pushing plans that will replace my school with a private in-district charter school operated by IDEA. All the teachers were placed on one year contracts this school. After hearing the CEO Tom Torkelson say “we like to hire our own”, I realized I’d picked the wrong school to teach until retirement.

The reality of leaving hasn’t hit me. I told students today. There were tears (mostly mine), one very angry student that won’t speak to me, and some good questions. One student asked, “How will we learn what we have to learn if you’re not here and we just have subs all the time?”

I’m not sure how to answer that question, but I care a lot about it. I think that computers could be a part of the solution. There are some students who I think I could just give them a list of the topics they need to learn and they would do it. When I was out on Monday, my AP Statistics students taught themselves conditional probability! In fact, my substitute teacher didn’t show up at all for that class and they still managed. I’ve showed them Google, Wolfram Alpha, and how to read the textbook. What else do you need to survive a math course?

What more could I do to make sure that they still learn despite of not having a teacher?

About the position, please consider applying here! I have great students, awesome co-workers, a beautiful classroom, and teach fun subjects. I’m really sorry about the poor job security though.


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