After the last dance. Starting over. Year 9. Maroon.

Opening Day Jitters

Through most of this past week, I think I was at an eleven.

This would be on the “scared” scale of 1 to 10.

Opening day is tomorrow. And1 even though it’s my 8th full rodeo,2 I still get panicked nerves as the day approaches.

Sure, it’s3 perfectly normal to be nervous about opening day. Usually however, it’s the sort of an “I know things are going to go well but I’m just excited and anxious” type of nervous.

As in, I feel a little nervous, but really I know I’m going to be fine.

As in, even if I’m not perfect at the start, I’m established, and if all heck breaks loose, the principals and teachers and counselors4 who know who I am will have my back if need be. So I know everything will be okay.

For most of this past week, it was different. It was more of a “deer in the headlights”, absolutely terrified and frightened type of nervous.

Every year at this time, it is routine for the following two thoughts of self-doubt to be creeping through my head:

  1. How do I know that I’m going to be any good this year? What if I completely strike out with my new students? What if this is the year that make the last seven-and-a-half out to be a complete and utter fluke, and I discover that I’m not actually any good at this?5
  2. Then I think about the sheer amount of emotional energy that it took for me to make it through last year.6 And I’m just not sure that I have that kind of magic in me again this year.

As for thought number one: I’ve thought that every year going back to season one.

Thought number two is more of a recent thing.

About a year ago, I stumbled upon a fellow teacher’s blog, Petals of Joy, when one of the author’s posts from that month went “viral” on social media. The title of the post was “What I want the Parents of My Students to Know”, and there was one particular excerpt that resonated with me, emphasis mine:

I want you to know every year is a make-or-break year for me. It could always be my last. Because this is not just a job. It’s a calling. And there are some days I wonder if I’m still called.7

When I look back at any of the past seven years, I think of the incredible amount of complexity involved in playing a piano piece properly. If you actually stop to think about the individual finger movements, it’s impossible. Like, literally8 impossible.9 But when you let instinct take over and stop focusing on any singular sequence of notes, and when you stop thinking too hard, that’s when things just start to flow… and that’s when things start to work.

In our line of work, it is far too easy to get hung up on any singular detail of the journey, to the point where it just all seems impossible.10


I found a moment of calm today when I found some time to put labels with my name and room number on my class set of yellow calculators. And put numbered sticky notes on the corner of each desk for first day intros. And rewrite a question on our first review and group quiz. Little routine things like this can be oddly therapeutic.

The electricity of tomorrow11 will be matched only by May 1312 and I trust that by the time 1st period opens up tomorrow, I’ll have found my rhythm and realize that there’s no reason to be skiing scared.

As ready as I’m going to be.

  1. I’m thinking of the greatness of Weird Al’s “Word Crimes” video, and although it’s not discussed specifically, I am aware that it is not appropriate to start a sentence with the word “and”. []
  2. I’ve said it before, but for clarification: I started teaching full-time in January — mid-year — so while on paper this is my ninth year of teaching, I have at this moment been teaching for 7-and-a-half. Which is why I will refer to this upcoming campaign as Year 9… but Season 8 (that first half year is what I refer to as “Season Zero”). []
  3. this is a contraction! so it’s correct to use an apostrophe! Thank you, Weird Al! []
  4. well, maybe I’m not so sure about that one, now that I’m hearing McNeil has five new bodies in the counseling offices []
  5. Sometimes I wonder why it’s important for personalities like me to need to feel like we’re good at what we do. Apparently that’s not a universal thing… []
  6. I think that to myself every year. But last year — Season 7 — was special. And yet, when I look back on my thoughts from one year ago, everything I wrote back then is still valid today. []
  7. I should make the point — as did the author — that teachers are not the only ones with difficult jobs in this world. As a buddy of mine pointed out last summer in Westlake over a Carl’s Jr. bacon-heart-attack-burger: “Every job is stressful.” []
  8. or is it “figuratively”… []
  9. Anyone who has stopped in the middle of a piece — breaking the flow of the moment — and failed to recall what note to play next knows what I mean. []
  10. And I can’t even begin to describe the mountainous hordes of our job that don’t directly involve teaching your subject matter. Even if I could, I wouldn’t — it would just depress me []
  11. and I actually really look forward to the first day of AP Stat, more so than any other course I have taught []
  12. AP Exam Day []

So that didn’t take long…


It’s only been a week at my new campus, which is to say that I’ve seen my students twice.

But it has already happened.

See, there’s a science teacher on my new campus that is an Asian male (you know where I’m going with this, maybe). Let’s just pretend that his name is “Mr. Nguyen”1

In three of my six classes, I have had a student ask,

“Are you friends with Mr. Nguyen yet?”

In all three classes, you get a rough copy of the following series of events:
A handful of kids chuckle, some kid next to her looks down in apparent embarrassment and says “Oh, no you didn’t”, and I look around with a face that says “oh that’s cute.”23

Other “fun” details of my first week as a Dragon:

On my first day of school, second period, I led off with,

“My name is Mr. Youn, and this is my first year here at McNe… nooOOOo…”4

Interestingly, a number of the students laughed, as if they already knew of where I came from.

That same class period, a kid asks about my policy regarding food and drink in the classroom. When I was done explaining, of course, one smart guy pipes up with the words,

So… no alcohol?

When I flashed my “seriously?!” face, another kid a few rows over adds,

Yeah. We’re not like those McNeil kids.

When I then quizzically asked them about their perception of “McNeil kids”, I got a colorful variety of responses, one of which was:

There’s somebody that’s worse than us at football.56

Of course, starting over in a new place isn’t all fun and games.7


This past May, on the Tuesday before our Statistics AP Exam, a pair of students came to visit me in the afternoon — one was a student that I had in class the year previous, and the other was a junior at the time, who was considering taking either Calculus AB or AP Stat for his senior year. Apparently concerned with rumors that I might be leaving, this student asked me,

“Are you going to be teaching AP Statistics next year?”

And I told him, in a partial truth, “Yes.” 8

When he heard that, he immediately let out a huge sigh of relief, which I found curious, so I asked him, straight-up:

“Hypothetically, if I was not teaching Stat next year, would you still take it?”

His response still floors me a bit to this day:

Without hesitating, he said, “No.”9

And in my never-ending weighing of the pros-and-cons of the decision-making process, I always knew without a doubt that this10 is the sort of thing that would be the most difficult part of leaving and starting over elsewhere.

But just like any other school year — or anything else in life, for that matter — one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

  1. it’s actually not, but that was the name of one of my previous co-workers, so let’s just go with it []
  2. Hashtag, asian teacher problems []
  3. I kinda wanted to respond with something to the effect of, “You never go up to your white teachers and ask if they’re friends with their other white teachers, just because they’re white…” … but that may have been a bit much. []
  4. by the way, this has happened SOOO many times this past month. []
  5. Of course, it so turns out that McNeil won their first game and Round Rock is 0-1. Go figure. []
  6. Other responses I heard regarding “McNeil people”:
    — “A lot of us went to the same middle school so we’re still friends with a lot of them.”
    — “They think they’re smarter than us and they call us ‘ratchet’ or whatever…”
    — “Aren’t they the rich school?” (a number of other students quickly retorted with, “No, that’s Westwood.”) []
  7. nor did I ever imagined that it would be. []
  8. Technically, it was the truth. Although I knew I would be teaching at a different school, I also knew that I would still be teaching AP Stat. But I admit it was slimy and you have my permission to throw glitter and tomatoes at me. []
  9. For the record, I really, REALLY hope he changed his mind and took it anyway. At the time I could only say so much, as I didn’t want news of my transfer to get out for another week… []
  10. “this” meaning: knowing what I’d be leaving behind []

black and white and back again

I cannot for the life of me remember why, but back in Season 5,1 I started the habit of wearing either a solid white or black shirt on major test days:


It was one of those weird things that I continued for every single test day in my AP Stat classes that I’m not sure anyone ever picked up on. I’d wear white for A-day, then black for B-day… and then swap for the next exam, and so forth.

I finally broke away from this sometime the middle of last year,2 for no better a reason than why I started.3 But tomorrow is our first major exam of the new year,4 anddddd…

In my fifth year of teaching the subject, there aren’t a whole lot of “firsts” to be had, but this is definitely the first time that I have only taught one prep. And when it comes time to grade piles of papers, that means grading six periods’ worth of the same thing.5 For you math teachers who have never graded AP Stat exams: It’s an acquired taste.


Open House was last night, and while it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to meet parents in the new neighborhood for the first time, I was incredibly fortunate enough to have nothing but kindness and cordiality from the new locals.67 It was during last night — on top of everything that transpired this past week8 — that I realized how fortunate and blessed I am to have had circumstances fall into place just the way they did, when they did.

Three weeks into the new journey, and things are finally starting to feel like home. The perennial feeling of homesickness has slowly9 worn off a bit, and I don’t feel like a fish-out-of-water as much as a few weeks ago.10

  1. 2011-12 []
  2. after about two years []
  3. which is to say: for no reason, really. []
  4. in the new place []
  5. It also means teaching the same lesson six times in a row every time… that’s a whole other #firstworldproblem []
  6. I still remember my very first Open House when I got angrily chewed out by some of the parents of my Pre-AP Algebra II students… I’ll tell ya, that stuff sticks with you FOR-EVER. []
  7. I did, however, have one set of parents ask me if I had met “Mr. Nguyen” — which is the fictitious name for the other Asian teacher on campus. Meh. []
  8. with my grandmother’s passing and my subsequent trip to California []
  9. but surely []
  10. Incidentally, if you’re on my FB, today was the day of the Apple keynote “flunk” funny… []

The crowd of people in the lobby that stood between me and my tacos.

The cafeteria at the Oak Hill Motorola1 campus had great breakfast tacos. Bacon egg potato cheese on grilled tortilla.

That’s all I was thinking about as I made my way from the parking garage into the lobby and saw the mob of people crowded around the television. For a selfish second I could only think of bacon egg potato cheese on grilled tortilla as I made my way towards MOS-11 that morning, thirteen years ago today, when I heard a guy explain to a friend that walked in just before me:

“Another plane just flew into the other tower from behind…”

Like anybody else will tell you: the rest of the day — nay, the week — was beyond surreal. 2 One of my coworkers and I had a conversation about how our different cultures3 tend to handle such national tragedies — would we sensationalize it on the news, or try to put it out of our memory and pretend it never happened? In the aftermath of the dot-com bubble burst — and in the context of the global economy — what happened that day may have marked an inflection point towards the current chapter of my journey, which began five years later (eight years ago, today).

That was before Facebook and Twitter and smartphones.4

A couple of years ago I asked my students what they remembered about that day. 5 Most of them told me that that was the day that they got to watch TV all day, and that their parents cried a lot.

I was eight when the Challenger explosion happened, and I barely understood much about that. 6

Yesterday I told my students that I actually remember life before the internet, and they asked me what that was like. I paused before answering, and said,

“It was easier to hide from parents.”

That apparently drew some heartfelt agreement. Seems that a lot of their parents track them via their smartphones. I cannot imagine life as a teenager like that.7

Tomorrow marks the close of the first 5-day week of the school year. While it’s been an exhausting one,8 it wasn’t close to being that bad.

  1. later Freescale []
  2. Newspaper front pages showed pictures of people that were caught above the floors where the plane hit choosing to escape from the tower by diving off the tower head-first — images that I will never forget []
  3. He was Indian, I’m Korean []
  4. Hey, iPhone 6 preorders begin tonight~ []
  5. today’s high school seniors were 4 or 5 on nine-eleven []
  6. I *do* remember that my school teachers were saying that one of the astronauts was a teacher — Christa McAuliffe — and that my friends laughed when some of the teachers said out loud, “that could’ve been me!” []
  7. Uh, not that I ever did anything bad when I was a kid, of course. []
  8. filled with grading AP Stat papers []

Today is the center of a unimodal (and roughly symmetric) week.

I think most teachers – myself included – would never vent publicly about the difficulties of our profession — trust me, you couldn’t make up half of the stuff, nor could you imagine it unless you’ve been in our shoes.

But based on a number of things in life that have transpired over the past few weeks, this much I know:

If you have people in your life that you appreciate — including teachers1there’s nothing wrong with letting them know.

Because a new day does not always bring what one expects.

  1. perhaps, especially teachers, since I’m biased… but this is not on my behalf, rather on behalf of my professional kin. []

What you know you don’t know

What you don't know

I’ve said it before:

Being a teacher gets more difficult with each passing year — not easier.

Granted, we probably get better at our jobs with added experience, but things sure don’t feel easier.

I keep holding my breath for the day that I realize that I’m wrong about this, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that that day won’t cross paths with me this year.

The poetic parallel?

“The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.”

When I started this job almost eight years ago, I remember telling myself that it only felt like a proper “job”1 one day2 out of five, and that the other four3 felt more like a hobby.

And that has always been my point of reference — that if the “days where this job feels like a grind” quotient exceeds 1 in 54, that maybe something is wrong.

That if that quotient starts tilting the wrong way, that maybe it’s time to look for that sunset.

That’s the balance that I’ve been trying to get back to for these first seven weeks of the new journey, and thankfully, things are starting to feel like they’re settling into place.

Thankfully, these first seven weeks have been wonderful thus far.

Mostly. 5

  1. insert negative connotations associated with the word “job” or “work” or “grind” []
  2. well, maybe two days… []
  3. …or three. []
  4. or maybe 2 in 5, tops []
  5. Just hoping it stays at least “4 out of 5 days” mostly. []