It’s been a year! The career-and-lifestyle experiment, the shift from multi-hatted idealistic artist to half-pragmatic full-time teacher is well underway. Results are somewhat mixed, though mostly as expected.
As of today, the material aspects of my life are solid: dishes are washed, bathroom is clean, floor is swept, car is paid off, credit card is paid off, and I am confident of having sufficient income to cover rent and living for the next nine months – and still have enough extra that I can begin stocking an emergency fund.
This is the first time I’ve been capitalistically debt-free in sixteen years. Though I’m not fully debt-free, as I remain indebted to the family, friends, patrons, colleagues, mentors, and strangers who have supported me in my idealistic quest to promote the understanding and appreciation of science, nature, and life through play.
That debt will never be fully discharged. I plan to honor it by continuing to pay it forward: talking talks, teaching classes, doing occasional volunteer work, and making games. Broadly speaking, the goal is to give more than I take. Yes! The quest continues, even if the details have changed.
While I am grateful that my material needs are met, the other aspects of life remain tough. This new teaching job has been far more work than I expected. In fact, I’ve been working even more than last year, which is problematic.
Because of the time I’ve put into learning the systems of a new institution, building lesson plans, building relationships with students, and teaching physics – I’ve been a respectably good teacher with real positive impact. I’ve also struggled to find time to exercise, sleep, maintain friendships, and otherwise care for myself. To continue this teaching work, I still need to find balance. I will give more than I take, but I need to dial it back, so it’s not *too* much more. To be a good teacher, I also need to be a healthy human, and health requires balance.
Some teachering highlights:
- Rollercoaster labs: I’ve written a pair of physics labs based on marble rollercoasters (with a third lab forthcoming). In these labs, students explore the physics of motion by building marble rollercoaster tracks in various shapes, and then collecting observations on ramps, loopdeloops, and so on. The labs are not without flaw, and I can already see how to make them significantly better for next year, but even these first edition labs worked pretty well. People learned stuff, and (mostly) (seemed) to feel good about the process.
- Learning beyond memorization and computation and physics: During the first week of class, we talked about values (kindness, self-reliance, etc.), expectations (assertive communication, good-faith actions), and the philosophy of science - including epistemology. As reinforcement, I regularly use key words from those early lessons during formal instructional time, and in smaller conversations with individual students. In the last few weeks, as we reviewed in preparation for finals, I’ve heard students use those same key words on their own, in side-conversations. Often, the conversations are in fun, rather than being serious – but I think that makes me even happier. Folks aren’t slavishly memorizing, nor are they obediently walking within the bounded lines. Rather, they’re making the ideas work for them, which is pretty cool.
- Progress towards positive vibes: I try to do a lot of hands-on demos and activities, asking volunteers to help out with whatnot and sundry. One day, during last period, I knew a student was having a bad day. When I asked for volunteers to help with a demo and this person raised their hand, I intentionally invited them to help. At the end of the period, as folks walked out, that student came up to me and said, “Thank you. I was having a bad day, but after this class, I feel a little better.” Not everybody loves the class. A few folks hate it, which breaks my heart. But it's doing net good for most – which is a big deal. Most of my students came into this class carrying some degree of scholastic trauma. The average student will leave my class with at least a little less fear and a little more curiosity than they started with.
What else? Desert and friends and rain. The past two weeks of winter break have been good. Coming up for air after a semester of alternating crunching and crashing. I’ve done some work, maybe not enough, but some. More importantly, I’ve spent time with friends and family, climbed a hill in the desert, played a chunk of games with friends, had time to read several books in the company of rain, and I’m looking forward to more.
What’s next? Spring semester. Which is several weeks longer than fall semester. The good news is that it has a two week break (Spring Break) rather than a one week break (Thanksgiving). Still, it’ll be a lot. Likely even harder than fall, which is again a scary amount of work. I’ve done this before, so I can do it again. And if I get to do it yet again next year, things will be easier. I just have to make it to that point.
Again, I am grateful. For all the challenges of life and school and world, I’m still glad to be doing what I’m doing, and the only way I can do this is as part of a community – family, friends, patrons, colleagues, mentors, and kind strangers. Thank you.