themes from writing feedback: fall 2021

At the end of the term, my school has a thing called narrative comments: individual written feedback by each teacher to each student.  A typical structure (and the one I chose) was 3 sections: commendations, recommendations, and comments. Below are some excerpts from my first term of comments. 

Commendations

  • You do a great job of leaning into the challenges in class. We have had many concepts that were tricky and nuanced, but you have always been willing to jump in and start trying to make sense of them.
  • You do a great job of pulling apart diagrams/breaking complex problems into smaller, more manageable problems.
  • You always come to class with a great attitude and a willingness to work with anyone.
  • You are very good at working slowly and methodically through problems and keeping your work organized. This will serve you well and we continue to delve into more complex problems.
  • You do a great job of asking for help with focused and specific questions. This shows me that you have put a lot of thought into your work before looking to other resources for help.
  • I was very impressed with your work on the unit 4 assessment, and the thoroughness of your proof map. Your best work comes out when you have the time to dig deep into a complex problem.
  • You use your time in class efficiently, and take advantage of extra class time to start homework. This is a great habit that allows you to get your questions answered before you leave.
  • Over the term I have seen a large growth in your skills tackling difficult problems. You seem more willing to dive into the complexity, rather than shy away from it. 
  • Your work is always thorough and well thought out. Your homework could be an answer key. I appreciate your ability to communicate so clearly and precisely in your work.
  • You are patient and kind to group mates when they find a problem more difficult than you do. You do an excellent job of balancing listening to others’ thoughts and contributing your own.

Recommendations

  • Continue to push yourself with communicating mathematically. There is a lot of specific notation in geometry, but it all serves a purpose. Becoming as comfortable as possible with notation (in diagrams and written out) will help to avoid confusion or miscommunications in your work.
  • When you face a problem that feels overwhelming, try breaking it down into smaller pieces. Another strategy is to list out everything you know in the problem. It will surprise you how much information you already know
  • Work on improving the organization of your work in order to communicate more clearly. Your process should be able to be read and understood by someone else.
  • Work on understanding and using math notation when marking up diagrams. In geometry, these figures hold so much information, and it will help if you write on diagrams rather than trying to keep the information in your head.
  • Practice slowing down when working. With some assignments or problems, you seemed rushed to get it done, causing you to miss some of the details. It will help your understanding to slow down, and take the time to make sure your work is organized well and you understand all the pieces. 
  • Practice approaching problems from different vantage points. See what ways classmates look at problems, and try to understand the similarities and differences in the approach, and why both may work. This will help you be more flexible when approaching unfamiliar problems.

Comments

  • You have done a wonderful job of adjusting to so many changes this year, including switching classes. I am so proud of you for advocating for what you needed, and taking care of yourself. It has been wonderful to see your confidence in math growing.
  • I really appreciate your honesty when giving me feedback on what works and what does not work for class. Our class is better because your suggestions, and because of your presence and participation.
  • I want you to know that your effort and hard work is seen, and remind you of the resources that are here to support you.
  • I appreciate how honest and communicative you are about how you are doing and what difficulties you are having.
  • You have all the makings of a great mathematician. You think critically and question information that is given to you, you persevere through difficulty, and you do it all with humor and joy.
  • Continue to hold yourself to high standards, but remember you are allowed to make mistakes as part of the learning process.

on being the only trans person in the room

This is a series thoughts in my attempt to process a meeting at work where we discussed trans people and students in such an abstract way that I felt invisible.


To be trans is to be traumatized. 

To come out is to choose authenticity but also to choose more trauma — not because you want it but because it is inevitable. When I am in public I am afraid of “looking too trans”. I am afraid of what people will say to me. I am afraid of what people will do to me. I am afraid that I only have myself to rely on or protect me. I feel alone.

This violence has never happened to me. But it happens to people like me, for being people like me, every day. I have accepted that I will face people who hate me before we have even met. I have accepted that because I need to in order to survive.


Part of coming out for many people is sharing your new name. Names hold power. To be trans is to take that power back. To fully attempt the human super power of self definition.

There is so much in changing a name or pronouns. 

It is not a small or a quick decision. 

It is a decision filled with anxiety and pain and stress. Asking for this change is an incredibly difficult step for a student to take. It is one that is not taken without a tremendous amount of thought and consideration. To choose to come out as trans is to choose to have to prove that you know yourself better than anyone else does, to a judge to a doctor to a school. And to have to prove that over and over and over.

And to, after all this pain and anguish and celebration of making it to the moment of living in truth, be told that the “official record” is more important than your lived experience is detrimental to someone’s sense of self and belonging. 

A document with name your parents chose before they even met you is somehow more official than one that you labored over and tested and changed and finally found something that made you feel whole. I don’t understand. 

To choose to dead name someone is to tell someone that you don’t care about the pain and trauma and bravery and hatred and joy that got them to this point. It is to say that your comfort is more important than this person’s personhood. We cannot do that to students.

assorted thoughts from my notes app (pt. 3)

  1. Statistics for how many calls I get per day to sub for various schools, despite working full time (I stopped keeping track after 3 days)
  2. “I am better adapted to a world with technology” (most of the time)
  3. “When teaching I give away the answer too fast”
  4. A selfie from when I was feeling cute
  5. Outline for my murder mystery review activity
  6. Things to do with my mom during break
  7. “I need more structure for self care”
  8. “My body is a plane of a non Euclidean geometry”
  9. “I love looking for patterns in data”
  10. “Proofs are about seeing connections”
  11. A list of ideas of things I would love to create from writing a book to
  12. How do you be introspective without being overly self critical (edited from original longer jumbled thought)
  13. “Adapting to a genre vs conforming to it”
  14. “Bad healthcare’s effect on my relationship with my body: Its too expensive to check in, So I tune it out. I tune out the creeks and throbs, the stiffness and pressure”

deep breaths

I began to bind my chest when I was 8 years old.
I remember feeling ashamed.
I remember feeling confused.
I remember feeling helpless.

But as it became apparent that my body could not be controlled
I tried even harder to minimize the evidence.
Tight tank tops turned into layers of camisoles
which turned into layers of compression sports bras
each one a size smaller than the last.

Binding made my back ache and ribs bruise.
I couldn’t seem to take a full deep breath.
But without it
the pain was much deeper
much more all consuming.

It wasn’t until the age of 20
that I was able to breathe fully for the first time.
A deep breath filling my chest, allowing it to expand entirely.

And that takes its toll on a person.
12 years of taking shallow breaths
of holding back.
of hiding.
of monitoring every millimeter.

These full lungs make me lightheaded.
There’s too much oxygen,
Too much possibility.

flustered

I say I want to feel seen
But as soon as someone looks at me
• I turn away
• I avoid eye contact
• I pretend I didn’t see
Because I can’t imagine that someone would actually be looking,
And looking to pay attention.

And so, to me,
• they weren’t
• they didn’t
• they couldn’t have been

My face burns from embarrassment at the thought of being seen
or is it the embarrassment that I am enjoying it, that I crave it, that I need it?
the heat of the floodlights of someone else’s eyes ignites my cheeks
Because that’s horrendously, unreasonably, selfish to want to have my existence confirmed by a secondary party.

I need to see them seeing me,
With my own eyes,
Just to be sure.

But if they see me seeing them seeing me,
Then it all cancels out again.

assorted thoughts from my notes app (pt. 2)

  1. “I have to consider the possibility that I have not done something wrong up to this point”
  2. measurements for boards for the bottom gap in the fence
  3. “Asking questions is not questioning”
  4. “Queerness is: the rebellious joyfulness, the purposeful mismatching, the thoughtful subversion”
  5. “cookie butter”
  6. Idea about animating mathematical operations to see how other people perceive them
  7. “Thursday Dentist”
  8. “Radio Plays”
  9. Just the letter “S”
  10. “Onion powder, thyme, red pepper flakes”
  11. “I want people to know I’m queer just by looking at me. I know you can never really know but I want them to ~~~ know ~~~ ya know?”
  12. Quote from The Body is Not an Apology (Sonia Renee Taylor): “How we treat our body spills into how we treat others bodies”
  13. “Shambling” (Thats it. Thats the whole note.)
  14. Ideas for costumes for the show I’m designing: Outgrown clothes, star stuff -> bleached = touched by stardust?
  15. “Camera people filming camera people”
  16. “Real in the lie”
  17. “make things accessible for more people, and more people will come”
  18. “Implication vs passive aggressive communication”
  19. List of possible coffee shops for meeting a new friend
  20. “What is proof?” (again, that’s the whole note…)
  21. Queer book recommendations from a friend (I have not yet read any): Untamed, This is How it Always is, Keeping you a Secret
  22. “Correlation Theories”
  23. “building relationships with people who’s lives inevitably overlap mine. making sure some peoples lives continue to overlap mine”

Mx.

Mx. (Pronounced “Mix”) is an honorific, like Mr. or Mrs, except it is gender neutral.

As the start to my first full year of teaching creeps ever closer (or rather it races unfathomably quickly towards me…seriously this must be an olympic record for time passing) I have to face some major logistical decisions. Namely, I have to decide on what name and pronouns I will use with students.

This feels like a huge decision for a few reasons:

  1. It determines how my students and new colleagues will know and refer to me
  2. It determines what type of non-binary/queer representation I am going to be for my students. Am I going to be out and proud as a non-binary person? Am I going to be vocal? Am I going to let it be a minor part of my identity and focus on mathematics?
  3. If I choose not to use Mr. and he/him pronouns, it means coming out yet again to my family and friends. And I am afraid that they will see that as me changing my mind or rushing into a decision, instead of seeing this as me more deeply understanding myself and my gender. Insert something about gender being a journey and not a destination here.

All of my being warns me that asking for people to use they/them pronouns, or to use Mx. as my honorific, will be a major inconvenience for everyone involved. I really struggle asking for things in general. To ask for this curtesy, this recognition, this respect, feels like a lot.

But I have to trust it will be worth it. It’ll be worth it to feel seen and validated in my queerness, my non-normativeness, by those around me. It will be worth it to help my students see whats possible for them too.