Year 8

The story of the 2013-14 school year (“Season 7”), and this blog’s original raison d’être.

Every story has an “ending”

A few weeks back, I posted an entry with no words — no title, even — just assorted pictures from frozen moments in sports.

Here’s a rundown over the significance of these sporting moments in history:

Bill Russell, 1969

Bill Russell 1969

The Boston Celtics were in their 11th NBA Finals in 13 years, led by defensive titan — and player-coach for the last two — Bill Russell. This last year, they went into the playoffs as the lowest seed, wounded, an old dog on its last legs. The Lakers1 had lost in the Finals to Boston six times, but were sure this would be the year as they finally had home court advantage. Yet Boston somehow managed to triumph in Game 7 of the finals IN Los Angeles.23 He retired that summer, walking off into the sunset with 11 rings.4

Coach John Wooden, 1975

John Wooden 1975

The iconic coach of the great UCLA Bruins mens’ basketball team. 10 NCAA titles — seven of them in a row. A record 88-game winning streak.5 Announced his impending retirement in a 1975 Final Four post-game press conference, and walked off into the sunset after the Bruins bested Kentucky for the title.

Michael Jordan, 1993

Michael Jordan 1993

People forget: Charles Barkley won the MVP this season, and some even considered him better than MJ this year. Jordan went on to beat him in the Finals6 to complete the Chicago Bulls’ first 3-peat. His father was murdered that summer, and Jordan announced his surprise retirement in October of that year.7 This would be one of those sunsets that sports fans everywhere were sad to see him walk off into…

John Elway, 1998

John Elway 1997 (Super Bowl XXXII)

The Denver Broncos were for years the butt of Super Bowl jokes8 until Elway and the team finally pulled through in the 1997-98 Super Bowl. The picture above needs no explanation for anyone who remembers that game. His team won it all again the following year — 1998-99 — after which he decided to walk off into the sunset.

Michael Jordan [again], 1998

michael-jordan-shot

Post-baseball. Another 3-peat. The “Last Season” with Phil, Scottie, and Dennis Rodman. THE LAST SHOT.9 What would have been the storybook of all storybook sports endings.10 And another walk-off into the sunset.

Jerome Bettis, 2005

Jerome Bettis 2006 (Super Bowl XL)

The Bus. The Pittsburgh Steelers. … … … To be truthful, I don’t have much back-story on this one. At this point, I was just Googling for athletes that retired after winning a championship, and he was a Pittsburgh icon that fit that bill. -_-

Kobe Bryant, 2010

Kobe Bryant 2010

Any real Laker fan knew that this was the end of the run for this group of Lakers. There was talk all season long that Coach Phil Jackson wouldn’t come back, and after exacting revenge11 on Boston in game 7 of the Finals, I really wish Kobe, Phil, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, and the rest of the bunch would have just walked off into the sunset. It would have been the perfect ending.


There’s a reason that people like happy endings. There’s a quote I heard once,12 that says: “It’s better to leave too early than too late.”13

Did you ever wonder, as a kid, what happened in all of those fairy tales after the storybook endings?14 Well, there’s a reason the authors of those things choose to end their stories on a high note.15

The history of sports is littered with out-of-this-galaxy superstars who tried holding on to their glory years a little longer than the sports deities would allow. Sadly, Father Time — like gravity — is undefeated.


Last week I said goodbye to my students, which was rather tough. This week — through 3 days of staff development16 — I said goodbye17 to my coworkers, which was arguably even tougher.

As the saying goes: It takes a village. 18

Our *incredible* math department.  A truly awesome group.
Our *incredible* math department. A truly awesome group.
  1. yes, MY Lakers, sigh↩︎
  2. Jump to the 5:25 mark in this video… Russell could barely compose himself in the post-game locker room interview↩︎
  3. Jerry West of the Lakers — whose silhouette is the current NBA logo — had a triple-double that game, and won the Finals MVP — even though his team lost. That hasn’t happened since.↩︎
  4. This included the 1959-66 OCTO-peat, which… let’s just say it: is NEVER gonna happen again.↩︎
  5. Again: NEVER gonna happen again↩︎
  6. My heart still breaks for that year’s New York Knicks, ‘ney Charles Smith in game 5 of the ECF↩︎
  7. He went on to play baseball. Yeah…↩︎
  8. Although they had some competition from the Buffalo Bills↩︎
  9. Jump to about the 3:00 mark in that video↩︎
  10. …until his subsequent stint with the Washington Wizards. I’d prefer to relegate that memory to a footnote.↩︎
  11. Barely, at that↩︎
  12. If you’re curious, I heard it on SportsCenter, as the crew were discussing Ray Lewis’ incredible career↩︎
  13. I recalled this quote earlier in the year, with respect to Coach Mack Brown. Really disheartening to see the way things ended for him at Texas.↩︎
  14. I think — or at least I wonder if — that’s what this coming Fall is going to feel like.↩︎
  15. On that note, I’m reminded of the final 5 minutes of the movie, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”… -_- ↩︎
  16. which, in spite of my previous post, were actually enjoyable — kudos to the staff↩︎
  17. Or — since I’ll probably see them around in years to come — “see you later”↩︎
  18. It’s tough to properly elaborate the significance of being surrounded by a good team of teachers, but I will simply say that it cannot possibly be overstated.↩︎

Every ending has a story

Spring Finale

As final exams wrap up, and all of the life begins to leave the room, and the lights get turned out for the last time, the finality of it all begins to sink in, and things can actually get a bit… sad.

Until it dawns on us that we’re finally FREE and not actually sad. =)1

This week our seniors will walk the stage and officially embark on the rest of their lives. Earlier this month, many of the students that I taught as sophomores in Algebra II during my first full year2 walked the stage at their college graduations. The flow of time gets speedier as we age, indeed.

May 29, 2012

The above shot was taken on Tuesday, May 29, 2012.3 That was at the end of a wonderful three-year arc which took me through Algebra II (regular and Pre-AP), Geometry, Precalculus, and — finally — AP Statistics. Thanks to that trek, more than a third4 of the students in my classes that year were “stuck”5 with me for a second — or even a third6 — time. But having some of those students for multiple years allowed for some really special times,7 and as such, having to watch that year finally wind down to a close was rather difficult.89


This year is also a tough one to close out, for obvious reasons. Even on the first day of school, I could already tell that I had been blessed with an extremely special cast of characters. Ironically, though, when you feel like you’ve had maybe the best group of students that you’re ever going to get,10 that almost makes it easier for you to say to yourself: “It can’t get any better than this… now’s the time to walk off into the sunset.”

I'm fairly certain this kid (whom I have never taught) was trying to be funny with the "tears tears rolling down my face" bit
I’m fairly certain that this kid (whom I have never taught) was trying to be funny with the “tears tears rolling down my face” bit

Perhaps the toughest part of leaving for a new campus is personally knowing some of the students that you’re leaving behind. In recent weeks, I’ve had about a half-dozen of them come by my classroom or stop me in the hallways to introduce themselves, and tell me how excited they were to be taking my class next year.11 I’ve had to fake a few smiles, fully knowing — sadly — that they would not be in my class next year. (This was all in the timeframe after I had finalized my transfer to a new campus, but BEFORE I wanted to break the news to any of my students12 )

One of the luxuries I’ve enjoyed for the past five or six years is that many of the students that walk into my classroom on opening day already know who I am, and — thanks to word-of-mouth and such — know what I’m about. I’m reminded of the old theme song from “Cheers”“sometime you wanna go where everybooody knows your naaaaaaame”. Well that’s another tough thing about starting over in a new locale: I am literally going to a place where nobody knows my name.13


I don’t have a dog. But if I had a dog, even my DOG would tell you that I watch too much television. But my favorite TV show the past few years has been “White Collar”,14 and on an episode15 right before the protagonists take off for the Canary Islands, there’s a moment where Mozzie asks Neal if he’s ready to leave everything behind. Neal’s reply was a poignant, “I can always walk out that door, Moz. I can never walk back in.” Of course, Mozzie — being Mozzie — retorts by channeling his inner Orson Welles: “If you want a happy ending, it depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”

A few days after I told my students that I would not be returning next year, one of my most respectable kids came up to me near the end of class and said the following:

So… you’re going over there to teach Stat… but you teach Stat here. And [some] kids here sign up for AP Stat so that they can have you… … [insert slight pause] … and that kinda sucks for them. Do you just not care about any of them?16

And honestly, that kinda sucked the air out of me for a few hours. :( 17 But this just goes to show:

Even if the situation is right and the timing is perfect, saying goodbye is never easy.


Every Summer I try to embark on a “clear-my-head-before-the-new-season” trip.18 Teachers need to travel.19

Upper-left: Big Sur, Cali.  Lower-left: Grand Canyon.  Right: Siena, Italy.
Upper-left: Big Sur, Cali. Lower-left: Grand Canyon. Right: Siena, Italy.

One of the things I spend time considering over the summer20 is a personal theme for the upcoming school year, which is usually a cheesy little moniker or catchphrase that — on a personal level — sums up my feelings for the campaign.

Next year will be “Season 8”, and while it normally takes some time of reflection for me to arrive at an appropriate title for the season,21 this one almost seemed too easy:

HOW TO TRAIN A DRAGON 22

  1. Well, it’s still a little sad. Just a little…↩︎
  2. Season 1: 2007-08↩︎
  3. Right after the end of “Season 5”. This was actually taken the day after the last day of school. For those not aware, teachers actually have to come back after the last day of school for a mandatory day of work (or three, as it is this year — thanks to all of the snow-free ice days that we endured back in January), and in my opinion this is sometimes the toughest day of the year.↩︎
  4. about 60 of the 160 total↩︎
  5. and while I put the word “stuck” in quotations in jest, I’m sure some of those kids genuinely felt like they got STUCK with me.↩︎
  6. Two truly blessed students had me all three of those years, from Fall 2009 to Spring 2012↩︎
  7. On the flip-side, it’s true what they say about familiarity breeding contempt… towards the end of that year some of those students were not afraid to let loose with their attitudes after having me twice.↩︎
  8. 2011-12 was the year where 106 of our students took the AP Exam, with 103 earning at least a “passing” score. Numbers that good are never going to happen again. But as I’ve said before, the numbers on the AP Exam should not be the single most important thing about teaching an AP class.↩︎
  9. Season 5 was such a tough act to follow. I remember how coming back the following August felt a bit anticlimactic, and getting off of the ground was difficult.↩︎
  10. or perhaps, tied for maybe the best group with every other class of students that I’ve ever had… teachers don’t have favorites of course.↩︎
  11. This actually happens a lot. Which, I think is weird, because honestly, I really don’t think I’m THAT great, but okay… whatever. :shrug: ↩︎
  12. I didn’t want students finding out about my impending move until after the AP Exam on May 9, which was a full week after the fact.↩︎
  13. But don’t “awwwwwww”… it’ll be fun.↩︎
  14. Especially since “24” and Jack Bauer have been off the air since 2010… well until just this month anyway.↩︎
  15. Season 3, episode 10, if you’re curious.↩︎
  16. But honestly, those kids will all be fine. They’ll have another very capable teacher and everything will be just fine.↩︎
  17. However, it was nice to find out that this kid thought well of me. That’s one of the things with teaching smart kids: You never know if they like you or if they think you’re a total tool bag (and it’s really nice when you find out that they don’t think that you’re a complete tool bag!) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been surprised to get a note at the end of the year from a kid that was relatively quiet, telling me how much they enjoyed the year – I’m always like, “WHAT that kid actually liked me?!?”↩︎
  18. which, this year is looking to involve Nessy and Stonehenge↩︎
  19. Or at least “get away”, if not literally.↩︎
  20. Either while on the trip, or afterwards↩︎
  21. which in some cases I don’t even come up with until AFTER the year is over↩︎
  22. Well. This is THE END of this blog (or at least the current chapter of). As such, here’s one miscellaneous detail that never really found its way into any of my blog posts: my 404 page — which even the most vicious of blog-creepers have probably never seen — will tell you that I’m a big BIG fan of Chris Nolan. Cannot wait for “Interstellar” later this year. Oh, and with regards to the last picture above, yes, I know, the actual title of the movie is “How To Train YOUR Dragon”, but just go with it. Oh, and if you’re still scratching your head: the mascot at my new school is a dragon.↩︎

La première sept et demi

Final exams start today.

It honestly just blows my mind that we’ve come so far, so fast.

Occasionally at this point in the year, students tend to leave tokens of their appreciation,1 sometimes in writing, sometimes in drawings, and sometimes sprawling all up over my whiteboards. Here are some of the more memorable end-of-year mémoires2that I’ve managed to capture over the first seven-and-a-half:

Season One (2007-08) - Just call me... what??
Season One (2007-08) – Just call me… what??
Seriously?  Is this what they think I look like?!?  Never mind the fact that this kid drew me on her best friend's HAND.  Those eyes, though...
Seriously? Is this what they think I look like?!? Never mind the fact that this kid drew me on her best friend’s HAND. Those eyes, though…
Season Two (2008-09) - I guess this is when I started grading a little harder.  Like, -5000 points harder, apparently.
Season Two (2008-09) – I guess this is when I started grading a little harder. Like, -5000 points harder, apparently.
Hey, look!  I have eyes! =)
Hey, look! I have eyes! =)
Season Three (2009-10) - I guess she's not going to Paris?  This is about the time that kids started saying that my Pre-AP Algebra II class "destroys kids dreams" lol
Season Three (2009-10) – I guess she’s not going to Paris? This is about the time that kids started saying that my Pre-AP Algebra II class “destroys kids’ dreams” lol
In the midst of chaos and monsters and missiles, I sip calmly on my coffee, and mutter, "who wants cookies?"
In the midst of chaos and monsters and missiles, I sip calmly on my coffee, and mutter, “who wants cookies?”
During Season Two, a student brought in a class pet - a betta that we named "Foci" (yes, the plural of "focus", as in focal points).  He lasted until sometime during the first half of season three (upper-right... apparently it is not only kids' dreams that I kill...).  One of my Geometry students then thought it might be nice to replace him with a different fish (bottom).  As you can see, that sucker was BIG.  So big that he jumped out of the tiny pond twice during 2nd period.  In the end the kid's mom had to come pick up the fish and take him to a better place...
During Season Two, a student brought in a class pet – a betta that we named “Foci” (yes, the plural of “focus”, as in focal points). He lasted until sometime during the first half of season three (upper-right… apparently it is not only kids’ dreams that I kill…). One of my Geometry students then thought it might be nice to replace him with a different fish (bottom). As you can see, that sucker was BIG. So big that he jumped out of the tiny pond twice during 2nd period. In the end the kid’s mom had to come pick up the fish and take him to a better place…
Because I'm fun (or old?).  Like a dinosaur.  And I carry a mean calculator.  Like a TI 99.6...?!
Because I’m fun (or old?). Like a dinosaur. And I carry a mean calculator. Like a TI 99.6…?!
Season Four (2010-11).  Courtesy of one of my Precal students, who would go on to have me for 3 consecutive years.  Quadratics, though?  Really?  We tackled much worse things that year =)  That hair, though...
Season Four (2010-11). Courtesy of one of my Precal students, who would go on to have me for 3 consecutive years. Quadratics, though? Really? We tackled much worse things that year =) That hair, though…
Season Five (2011-12).  "Oh wait... take my animal crackers" LOL
Season Five (2011-12). “Oh wait… take my animal crackers” LOL
Clever. =)  Did you catch the YOUNicorn on the lower-left?
Clever. =) Did you catch the YOUNicorn on the lower-left?
Season Six (2012-13) - "Real talk: Sorry I called you Satan." =) [yes, this kid actually did call me Satan]
Season Six (2012-13) – “Real talk: Sorry I called you Satan.” =) [yes, this kid literally did call me Satan]
Season Seven (2013-14) - Hey, any high school math teacher will tell you - this is a serious win!
Season Seven (2013-14) – Hey, any high school math teacher will tell you – this is a serious win!
Season Five (2011-12).  Sometimes, that's all they need.
Season Five (2011-12).
  1. and sometimes, their frustration↩︎
  2. along with other assorted moments↩︎

The Impossible Quiz

This last week of classes usually consists of SERIOUS study time for students as they prep for final exams.

Occasionally, however, students will take the opportunity to sign yearbooks. And socialize. Or play cards. Or anything that does not involve doing actual work. You get the idea.

Six years ago, at the tail-end of Season One, my 1st period Pre-AP Algebra II class introduced me to one of the most entertaining distractions ever concocted:

If you're curious (and if you're on a computer with Flash installed), google "impossible quiz"... the link on notdoppler.com is a good one.  Be warned: Don't attempt it if you have anything delicate nearby that you may be tempted to throw at the wall in a moment of frustration.
If you’re curious (and if you’re on a computer with Flash installed), google “impossible quiz”… the link on notdoppler.com is a good one. Be warned: Don’t attempt it if you have anything delicate nearby that you may be tempted to throw at the wall in a moment of frustration.

I distinctly remember the kids in that class convincing me to play the game on the big projector screen, to which I thought, “what the heck, why not.”

If you have never played the game,1 let me tell you, it earns its moniker: It is crazy impossible. Students had to delicately walk me through the first 18 questions. Then came the following gem, question 19:

Colors.  Ugh.

The hint is the phrase on the painting that reads “BOGGY”. This requires the player to take the mouse and click on the paint buckets with the colors spelled out by that acronym: Blue-Orange-Green-Green-Yellow. After having that much explained to me, I looked at the class like an overly-confident n00b and proudly proclaimed,

“I got this”.

I proceeded to click on the bottom-right paint bucket, which is blue, of course.

Paint colors

Well, at least it LOOKS blue if you’re colorblind.

This is the very next thing that everyone in that class saw:

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 8.48.21 PM

After hearing a few scattered gasps of “oh what just happened”, I recall all 30 students looking at me with puzzled looks of bewilderment, and when they realized what had just happened,2 everyone had a good laugh, and then proceeded to go back to working on their final exam reviews.

I’m not sure why I suddenly recall this fun moment from my first full year of teaching, but it just goes to show that often it is the moments that have nothing to do with teaching math that we remember years on down the road.

  1. If you’re on a computer with Flash, try it here… otherwise, there is an iOS app on the app store, but it’s not free. Uber-kudos if you can even make it to #19.↩︎
  2. Yes, they all knew I was colorblind, as it came up in a probability lesson in April.↩︎

Things heard this week

After letting students know that I will be at a different campus next year, here is a smattering of the things that came my way this week:

  • So I hear you’re abandoning us. ABANDONING!1
  • Once a Mav, always a Mav.
  • Is it cuz we’re not good enough for you? That must be it.2
  • So if we burn down that new building that you’re moving into, will you have to come back here?3
  • (This was from a coworker): Hi Brian. Or should I say, “Benedict”.4
  • (This was from a student): Hey Brian.
    Me: Stop calling me by my first name!
    Student: Why? You don’t even work here anymore.5
  • Round Rock doesn’t deserve you.6
  • I’m going to buy some glitter and THROW it at you. (When I asked “why glitter”…) Because glitter sticks to you and no matter how hard you try to clean it off, it’ll still be there. So when you see the glitter on your skin and clothes, you’ll be reminded of the day that I threw glitter at you.7

And this is probably the last time I will mention the “Divaz”:8

Earlier this week as I was taking attendance, I noticed that “Diva #3” was absent. I asked her friends if they knew where she was, and two of her co-divas responded almost simultaneously:

Diva #1: Today’s her birthday so she’s shopping all day.
Diva #2: She’s sick today.

This is what friends are for.

  1. This is from a student I had never before met, and is graduating this year, to boot.↩︎
  2. Awwww :( ↩︎
  3. Horrible!!!↩︎
  4. Ouch!↩︎
  5. Double Ouch!!!↩︎
  6. This one tugged at my heart a little bit, not gonna lie.↩︎
  7. This one required some premeditation, I think.↩︎
  8. On a side note, I asked students to sign my yearbook this week, and three of the divas did so. What impressed me was that next to their names, they signed as “diva #1” “diva #2” and “diva #3” — and they all signed as the correct diva number, based on this post. Funny!↩︎