This year I am honored to serve as Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year. I am incredibly privileged to enjoy a sabbatical so I can elevate and advocate for the teaching profession.
As OKTOY, I get to work on a “passion project.” When considering what I wanted to work on, the answer was so clear: continue this blog on a state-level.
If you didn’t know, I credit this blog to saving my career. As a young teacher at a high-needs urban high school (my only previous teaching experience was at the college level…ha!), I truly didn’t think I’d make it. I didn’t think I had what it took to be a high school teacher. About half way through my first year, I found this blog.
One day, I decided to post.
Then the next day I did the same.
And then again on the third day.
And eventually, I got to 1400 days of posting good things.
More importantly, eventually my brain started shifting to notice the good all around me—to celebrate the beauty even in the middle of pain.
So, this year, I’m trying to hit all 77 Oklahoma counties, find teachers to celebrate, and share their good and important work.
I think I got about forty-five minutes of sleep last night. Maybe my body thought that if I never fell asleep I wouldn’t have to face the reality of today?
Today I locked up Room 2704 for the last time for a year. Next year I’ll start a new adventure as our state TOY (that still doesn’t feel real). While I’m looking forward to a year to reset, reflect, and listen, I’m mourning the fact that I am saying goodbye to a season of my life that brought me so much joy and fulfillment.
The last thing I needed to do before turning in grades was scoring my students’ folders. Though grading has typically not been my favorite part of this job, today was different. I found myself getting emotional, looking through these folders—these physical reminders of how much they learned and overcame. I often knew whose folder I was looking at before even seeing the name, because I know their handwritings. I know their folder colors. I know the stickers with which they use to decorate.
Each folder represents a student’s journey through calculus, through my class. And I found myself so grateful to thumb through each one—one last time—soaking in how far we’ve come.
I didn’t think I’d post again this year, but this is Post Number 1400 for me, so how could I not? 1400 good things throughout this chapter of my teaching career. 1400 big and small moments that have shaped me. 1400 reminders to look for the good and to insist that the good, the true, and the light always have the final word.
700 is a number used to signify blessing.
So here I am: double blessed for the last decade of calling Union High School my home away from home.
So what is Good Thing Number 1400? It’s these folders and each student they represent. As I’ve said before, my students are my real-life integral, pushing me forward infinitesimal inch by infinitesimal inch to my calling—helping me live the truest version of my life.
Good Thing Number 1400 is being connected.
Good Thing Number 1400 is tearful goodbyes, a reminder that what we shared was important to us all.
Good Thing Number 1400 is Room 3704–a room that held me, my kids, and so memories.
Good Thing Number 1400 is a card from a colleague that he had lost and just found in a moment where I needed to hear his words more than ever. He reminded me that, yes, I’ve served kids well but I’ve also served teachers, and that’s where next year’s path is so clearly headed: encouraging teachers in our good and important work.
Here’s to living out my middle name, Mozdeh, Bearer of Good News.
Today was a hard but good day. Today I said bye to my sweet calculus group, not knowing when or if I’ll see them again. I’ve said it over and over, but this is the worst part of the job.
And yet, maybe it’s also the best part?
I choked up in every single hour, and I hated it. But I also loved it. Because it’s proof that I invested. That I gave it my all. That they got as much of me as I could give.
And on that note, I don’t have much more to give today, so I’ll leave with my letter I gave to the kids today.
Next year I’ll be out of the classroom, so I don’t know when I’ll occupy this particular virtual space again, and I’m grieving that loss, too. But what this blog has taught me will be carried on to my next chapter, of this I am sure.
Until we meet again…
To the Calculus Class of 2022–
You made it! What a joy it’s been to share this classroom with you this year. From the very first day of school, you all impressed me with your kindness, inclusiveness, and encouragement. Now that it’s time to write the end of this chapter, I’m filled with so many emotions. I always tell people this is the worst part of teaching: you create this little family and then have to say goodbye, every single year. This year is especially challenging as I write this letter in a packed-up classroom, not quite knowing what next year will look like. Still, my gut tells me the next chapter for all of us will be a great one. And no matter what- you’ll always have me in your corner…
As you know, calculus has two branches: differential and integral (you didn’t think you’d be spared a math lesson, did you?). Maybe this is a sign that I’ve spent too much time on this topic, but I feel like calculus has a lot to teach us beyond mathematics. Differential calculus teaches us that things change the slowest at extrema. Similarly, in life, our highs and lows often seem to move at a totally different pace than the rest of our everyday rhythms. Then in integral calculus, we use infinitesimally small pieces–small rectangles–to calculate the whole. Inch by inch we get closer to the full picture, but we need every little slice to understand the grand view. In life, sometimes it feels like we’re moving at a snail’s pace (along the x-axis, of course!), but never forget that each little slice is needed to form the whole picture. We’re progressing towards our calling, infinitesimal inch by infinitesimal inch. Remember this in your seasons of waiting. We are still moving forward, as slowly as it feels sometimes. You are called to great things-each and every one of you. If there’s one lesson I want you to remember from calculus it’s that you need each inconceivably small part to make the whole. Each part of your story is vital.
People ask me all the time what it’s like to teach high school. And every time I respond, “I love it. It’s the best job in the world.” I’ve thought a lot about why I love teaching so much, and I’ve come to this conclusion: I love it because I love who I am when I’m with you. You bring out the best version of me. I could never teach nor give you as much as you’ve taught and given me. You’ve taught me that every story is significant-that everyone has something to teach us. You’ve taught me to listen more and speak less; you’ve taught me how to give praise abundantly in times of joy; and how to hold sorrow in times of grief. I know I should be the one teaching you those things, but you model it for me. You have changed me for the better. The famous lines from Wicked sum up my feelings perfectly: “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” Inch by inch, you help me progress towards my calling.
Friends, may you keep inching forward, even in seasons of waiting. May you do the hard work of searching for who you were created to be and then spend your life being true to that person. May you always choose courage over what’s easy; love over fear; hope over despair; empathy over apathy. May you continue to rejoice for others in their joy and hold your people’s sorrow as if it is your own. May you have the courage to sit with and name your emotions, and may you have the strength to keep fighting.
Finally, may you know you are loved and valued, exactly as you are- no need to perform. May you accept that love and give that love. May you know you are safe, cherished, and wanted. May you experience grace–both to give and to take. May you be connected to yourself and those around you–aware of each other and willing to both give and receive help. May you live a life full of joy and thanksgiving.
Thank you for letting me share in your journey. Thank you for your hard work and your dedication to Union High School. I love and adore you. If you ever need anything, I’m just an email away.
You are always in my heart; we’ll always belong to each other. You are the reason I do what I do.
Go light the world,
“In the end, maybe we’re all just walking each other home.”
It was such a beautiful celebration of their talents (inward gifts) and service (outward gifts). It was such a great way to start to wrap up this chapter.
Tomorrow, we say goodbye. Send in reinforcements. ❤️
Project description, if you’re interested:
You’re almost done! I recognize this can be a stressful and bittersweet time for juniors and seniors alike. While I hope you’ve learned lots of calculus (the study of change), there are things that are more important than mathematics: one of those being—How do you cope with change? There are two disciplines I want you to practice before you leave our class—service and art. When life gets chaotic, one of the best things you can do is remember that there are others in this world who need encouragement, and do something to help. Furthermore, creating something through an art medium is a great way to express yourself, especially in the moments when you’re feeling overwhelmed. As a way to encourage you to practice both the art of service (looking outward) and creativity (looking inward), this will be our final project for the year, worth 50 points.
SERVE: Think of something you can do that would positively impact someone else’s life in a significant way. Spend no more than $20/person. You may work in groups (no more than three) or as individuals.
CREATE: Create a piece of art that you’re proud of. This is not limited to drawing or painting: think outside the box! Express yourself in a way that is unique to you. Please work individually on this.
On Friday, May 13, you will need to let me know what your plans are (virtual and absent students, send me a Canvas message). On Thursday, May 19, you will be asked to share both your projects with the class. I do not want to stifle you in any way, so grading will be based on completion: do the project, keep it appropriate, and you’ll get full credit.
I’m so proud of all your work this year. It’s been an honor to be your teacher.
I’ve always had the intention of doing math through the lens of a societal issue after the AP Exam, but I’m always so tired and we’re sometimes short on time, so it’s never happened.
This year, I found a Desmos on food deserts that I was determined to use (here’s the version we did with my very light modifications).
It took us the whole hour, but it was worth it. The best part was the last slide, which linked to an interactive map that students could use to see where food deserts exist. The last slide asked: (1) Are there food deserts in Tulsa? If so, where? (2) Are there other kinds of deserts? In other words, are there things to which people should have equitable access, but experience barriers of some kind?
Here are some of their answers (names anonymized):
Are they not amazing? I love these people.
After class, one student said, “Thank you for making this. I learned about food deserts in environmental science and the way you taught it makes a lot of sense.”
Mathematics is a societal issue because it helps us debate using logic and facts and not just emotion. In an era where we are so divided, I truly believe math can bring us together. Math helps us reason critically, explain concisely, and justify accurately.
We need math citizens.
We always will.
I’ve had countless people tell me, “I know you have a lot; let me know how I can help!”
And I know they have the best of intentions, but the truth is—I don’t know. (Funny, they say this is exactly what not to do to someone who is grieving, because you’re putting more on their plate, instead of just doing something for them.)
During sixth hour, a student who often stays back to ask if I need help with anything, said, “Ok. What needs to come off your walls?”
And something just clicked.
Well, now that’s a question I might finally be able to answer.
One task led to another and before we knew it, my room was a disaster, but we were making serious progress.
After an hour, two more boys joined in to lug books to various rooms.
And by 4:30, the room was totally transformed.
It’s not done, but as I told these three saints, I think I just breathed easier for the first time in months.
I finally felt a little lighter.
Like we can do this.
And that’s just it, right? We can do just about anything as long as we have people who will do it with us—walking alongside us, holding our hand, and maybe taking down some picture frames.
“In the end, maybe we’re all just walking each other home.”
My fifth hour got to meet their pen pals today for a breakfast party before school! It was the best. Truly.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a high schooler sit on the ground and listen to a kid chat about his hobbies, or watch a teen play Uno with a group of children, or witness a high schooler gift personalized shirts to her pen pals, but I promise you—it will completely restore your faith in humanity.
This is what our culture is lacking: intentional connection, particularly between generations. Studies show mentorship is crucial to success, but I can’t say we’re particularity great at fostering those partnerships.
We have to do better. We have to connect these students.
Not just for them…but for us, too.
Hope rises when you see these kids together. It makes you realize there’s so much potential in the room.
We went through Monday’s FRQs today, and I invited my former student, current colleague and dear friend, and the one taking over my calc classes to come listen.
She took her seat in that back corner…the same place she sat when she took calc in my room seven years ago. I had to catch my breath.
And there she sat, taking serious notes, exactly the same way she did her senior year, eager to learn everything Calculus had to offer.
I texted her later to ask how it went and if it was helpful, and her answer couldn’t have made me any happier.
She, too, said the memories came flooding back, both of the class and the content. She outlined her plan to prep this summer and, while I was never worried about her, this just increased my confidence even more.
Then this: “This is my dream. This is what I pictured when I decided to become a math teacher—I get to teach calculus.”
While I’m sad to take a break from the math for a bit, I could not be anymore excited for Morgan and for her future students. And, I’m beyond excited to work as her mentor in this new role.
If you know me, you know it’s a joy for me to teach calc. I mean…I just love it.
But seeing a student teach it too…that’s next level. That’s pride that’s indescribable.
I taught u-substitution the good ol’ fashioned way today. I told the kids: “Listen, when you take Calc 2 in college next year, please don’t mention the ‘Anti-Chain Rule’ to your professors. They’re not going to know what that is because it’s something I made up. So let me show you the way they’ll teach it, just so you know what they’re referencing.”
I made a worksheet with nine integrals, each appearing twice—once to recall Anti-Chain, once to practice U-Sub, so they could check their own answers.
Each hour said my way was way better than the way we’ve been teaching it for centuries, so that was enough to boost my ego for the month.
“So…what’s the point of this? Why are we doing this in five steps instead of two?”
And I rest my case (again): goodbye to u-sub forever.
As we were finishing Hidden Figures this morning in first hour, I don’t know what came over me exactly but all of a sudden I felt extreme loss and intense emotion. I think the push for the AP Exam kept me distracted, but now that it’s over, reality is staring me in the face: I am not going to teach next year.
The emotional and practical implications (packing up a decade’s worth of classroom decor and memories)—not to mention the guilt of leaving in the middle of a severe teacher shortage—weighed so heavy on me, and the feelings rushed in like a tsunami.
Make no mistake: I wanted this. I do want this. I want this sabbatical. I want to travel the state and listen to teachers. I want a year to reflect.
But, one of the things that makes me me is that I feel everything—everything—very deeply. You’ll either find me lovable or a basket case, and you’ll be right either way. But I can’t change it. Nor would I want to.
I’m so excited for next year.
I’m also mourning the loss of something I adore.
And I can do both. That’s what joy is: it can hold the happy and the sad; it recognizes that the two almost always coexist.
Today, my sadness stemmed largely from the thought of trying to pack up my classroom. I’ve poured my heart and soul into that room, and packing it up is a daunting thought on both a practical and emotional level. In the moment, it felt like just one more (very large) thing to add to my to-do list that never seems to wane.
In that moment, my dear friend and coworker Alyssa texted and said, “Don’t worry. I love organizing. We’ll pack up your room together!”
Then at lunch, another coworker offered her cabinets as extra storage.
A few hours later, a secretary asked if I want some packing boxes.
I started this day dreading this task.
Ok I’m still kind of dreading it.
But now I’m feeling…held. Like I’m not alone. Not even close.
I started this day truly overwhelmed by one very specific thing.
By the end, multiple people—without my asking—reached out with practical, helpful hands, holding me with their kindness and their words.
This is what it means to belong to each other.
This is what it means to hold one another.
This is what it means to carry each other’s stories.