Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mr. O

It's been what? almost three years since our last seismic life-changing upheaval? Too long. We grow weak and flabby in this luxurious post-Katrina landscape (the Land of Blight and Trash Heaps). So I've decided to initiate my own new seismic life-changing upheaval by undertaking a radical career makeover.

For seven years I've spun the bits and bytes, marshaling the tiny computer elves, guiding them as they arrayed the luminous pixels into appropriate and meaningful forms. Which is to say, I've been a programmer. It served me well, taught me a lot, kept my brain busy. And it put food on the table while Sarah stayed home with the kids.

But now Sarah's back at work. And now it's time for the next thing. So I'm plunging from the gilded cubicle of software engineering into the roiling, tumultuous waters of the New Orleans public school system. Which is to say, I'm going to be a teacher, specifically a middle-ish-school* math teacher in a (to be determined) "high needs" New Orleans public school. ("High needs", in this context, encompasses all but a handful of the city's schools.)

The notion has been simmering for some time (I dig kids; I dig math; I dig explaining math to kids; our schools desperately need math teachers), but now it's boiled over. It's the right moment for me, and it's a critical moment for New Orleans as our historically failing school system undergoes the most radical education reform ever undertaken in any American city.

I'll be making the transition with the help of these fine folks. They'll train me up real good over the summer,** help match me with a school, and send me, this fall, as an ever-so-slightly-less-clueless lamb-to-the-slaughter, a bright-eyed, ripe-for-the-disillusioning teacher-newbie. (I won't claim to be a teacher-proper until I've made my generous allotment of newbie-blunders before a classroom full of merciless kids eager to pounce on my every mistake.)

Onward and upward. Wish me luck. I'll need it. (And stay tuned for more exciting adventures and misadventures in our nascent saga, The Mr. O Chronicles.)

* Middle-ish-school: I'm inclined to teach kids at the earlier end of their mathematical studies. That could mean middle school. It could mean a bit earlier. (When I mention middle-school, most teachers I know look at me with horror—or just shake their heads and laugh.) My eyes and ears remain open. We'll see where I land.

** I gave notice at work on Monday, but before doing so—just to make for sure for sure—I went and visited the elementary school where my neighbor-buddy Wheeler teaches, Martin Luther King, the only school open down in the Lower Ninth Ward. It was fantastic. The school is just a few blocks from the breach that decimated the community, and the surrounding neighborhood remains something close to a lifeless wasteland. But the school has been beautifully restored, and inside was brimming with glorious, rambunctious, wonderful kids. I loved every moment of it, but there were some particularly memorable highlights
  • During a Student of the Month award ceremony in the "cafetorium", a young black ob/gyn (standing in front of a huge portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr.) talked about how she'd become a doctor and encouraged the kids to strive for similarly lofty goals. But when she opened the floor to questions, the assembly took a decidedly more biological turn. "How do you deliver babies?" She hesitated, then gave a vague answer about making sure the mother and baby were healthy. Not good enough. "Where do they come out?" She laughed nervously, glanced at the principal with pleading eyes, then muttered something about "either the tummy or the [inaudible]" before quickly moving on to the next question.
  • Before lunch, Wheeler asked his kids to show me the dance routine they had performed at the school pageant the previous week, an eight-minute elaborately-choreographed groove-bust set to "Rapper's Delight". When the music started, they fell into place, criss-crossing in interwoven rows, backing out into circles, facing off in flash-footed pairs, dropping to the floor and twirling in perfect break-spins (they'd watched 80s breakdancing movies for research), cartwheeling and alligator-flopping across the room... (For the pageant, itself, they'd performed the routine in full 80s regalia.)


  1. Anonymous10:53 PM

    Congratufreakinglations! I am so happy for your change of career and looking forward to reports from the front.

    My seventh grade math teacher told us not to bother even saying hello to him once we became eighth graders. We could resume contact as ninth graders, he said, but to him eighth graders were the lowliest, most self-centered and miserable of all humans. He made good on his claim, too - we used to try to get him to acknowledge us in the halls but he remained stone-faced. I, on the other hand, didn't think were were that bad, except maybe for the acid wash jeans and underage drinking.

    Good luck!

  2. That is awesome! I'm really happy for you. And the kids you're going to teach.

  3. You say "fan-tas-tic" about the dance routine, I say it (in all-caps, even) about this decision of yours!

    Truly, I'm in awe of this decision, and I'm thrilled for you. I genuinely think that you're going to be one those all-too-rare teachers who makes a difference in the kives of kids. I salute you, and...


  4. I don't know if I'll be able to read this blog much longer...You're just too perfect.

    You have a beautiful wife who also has a humanitarian-type job, adorable kids, writing talent, photography talent, drawing talent, you play an instrument, math skills, programming skills, you're into local folklore, you lived through Katrina, you have cool pets, you're about to be a math teacher in a high-needs region...

    (There are probably 20 cool things I missed!)

    And to top it off, most damning of all, you resemble Harry Connick Jr. more than a little.

  5. Worthy and courageous move. Best of fortune. You have a good imagination so hopefully you can make those numbers sing for the children.

  6. Anonymous1:09 PM

    That's great, Dave. The world needs more cats like you. Best of luck.

  7. congrats on the change!

    my husband just started teaching at a combined high school/middle school this year and he loves it. he says those middle school kids are really sweet.

  8. Congratulations! Here's hoping that you can throw away the teaching guides and fill those growing minds with the wonder of numbers!

  9. Awesome. We need more like you.

  10. Anonymous11:11 PM

    That's a wow wow fer sure. Congrats!

    If you're up for it, a distance problem (uniform rate) dare (I'm trying to poke a hole in MC Etcher's Mr. Perfection theory, personally):

    Mr. O takes off for Groove-Bust Middle School from the same point as Student X did (same path, same distance)…but Mr. O leaves 12 minutes after Student X (seems he spent too much time on his black-with-metallic-trim color scheme that morning). But once pumped with coffee, he is speedily out the door on his bike, surpassing Student X in only 3 minutes…for Student X was on foot, and traveling about .05 miles per uh…minute slower than Mr. O (…unifying the units for ‘ya and all) what with the new-and-improved-acid-wash jeans worn in a pace-crippling sag style. What is the rate of Mr. O and Student X on their way to Groove-Bust Middle School? How much of a groove-bust did these two exert? Extra credit: change to mph.

    (This is why Mr. O has only 3 hairs left on his head, and why it looks like he’s been munching off his fingers.)

  11. What's the point of skidding into middle age without a few major life upheavals?

    This is wonderful news. I'm both happy and proud.

  12. (Zelma's mom here) as someone who has taught middle school, I have to say I think you will be wonderful.

    Just remember, when the going gets tough- I don't know. I always wanted something to fill in there, but I don't know. Good luck, though! You'll be fabulous.

    Oh, I just thought of one. When the going gets tough, remember they think you're much better than they let on. (That's true, I've found, with middle school.)

  13. Anonymous4:24 PM

    Congratulations Mr O! Glad to have another Presbyluski (sp?) in the family! Looking forward to hearing all about it. Love, Z

  14. Great Good Luck
    We need great teachers!

  15. BTW, I am seriously considering taking Accordion lessons, after seeing/ hearing of your A-Love.
    (love the A, generally speaking)

    There is an Accordion shop here in NYC, called "Main Squeeze." how can one resist?

    Hope teaching doesn't cut too much into your A time.


  16. Welcome to the fold. Teaching rocks!

  17. Fantastic news! The kids will love you.

  18. Anonymous9:17 PM

    Let me add my congratulations to the roar of the crowd. It's a big decision, but I very much doubt that you'll have any misgivings as you go into your new career. Yes, society needs more like yourself.

  19. My goodness, I'm quite touched by the outpouring of encouragement. (Please remind me of it this fall when my posts all read something like, "AAAAAAAHHHHH!! What the hell was I thinking?! AAAAAAAHHHHH!!") As for the assertion of my perfection, I'm flattered, but I must protest. My flaws are as numerous as the stars in the sky. (Why is there no grape pie?) I just usually only tell you all the good stuff?

    p.s. Mothgirl, don't forget, acid-washed is back (and underage drinking never went out of style).

    p.p.s. Craic-head, I'd give you the answer but my fingers are all munched off and I can't work the number pad.

  20. "I just usually only tell you all the good stuff?" was supposed to end with a period, not a question mark. I told you I wasn't perfect.

  21. Anonymous7:54 PM

    very impressed. best of wishes on training and teaching.

  22. holy bejeezus T. christo, you have my utmost respect and well-wishes. High-needs middle schoolers: 100 times more challenging (and rewarding) than their sleepy suburban cousins.

    The story fodder for posting will be so voluminous you'll need to hire an intern to take dictation.

    my suggestion (from someone who has never taught but closely followed some newbie Detroit teachers): write out The List. All the reasons you're doing this, and all the challenges you know you'll face. Refer to The List as needed.

    good luck! May your love for your city be your guide.