Southern Hospitality

So it’s official. I live in The South. Some might consider southern Illinois the Midwest, but having driven through Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas to get here, I can tell you…I’m still in The South.

One of the most stark differences I have noticed since my arrival has been southern hospitality. It’s hard to explain just how jarring these experiences have been for a Californian like me (read: person who wears headphones with no music while riding the train just to prevent anyone from talking to me) so I’ll just recount a couple:

This happened while getting out of my car at Bed Bath and Beyond. A woman parked next to me was getting in her car at the same time.

Woman: wow you’ve traveled a long way…all the way from California!

Me: …

W: I could tell from your license plate

M: oh yeah we actually just moved here

W: oh really? Wow congratulations! I hope your move is going well I know those can be stressful.

M: yeah they sure can

W: well, just know that we are so happy and consider ourselves lucky to have you here with us. Have a great day and hope to see you around.

M: …

I was totally floored. It seriously made my whole day. But then there are other times where the hospitality has rubbed me the wrong way. For example this time while checking in to a hotel late at night in Arkansas:

Me: Yeah we have a reservation

Concierge: okay. Where y’all moving to? (We had a moving truck)

M: Illinois.

C: okay and where y’all from?

M: California

C: Oh wow! Why are you moving all the way out there???

M: wife got into med school

C: oh that’s a good reason. You know I once dated a girl and moved out here for her, and then [insert complicated story about how she left him] and so I’m still out here.

M: mhm. So…

C: Hey I see you have a guitar…you know I’m an artist myself. I majored in film. Did you know that California isn’t the film hub that it has always been? Things are changing…[insert LONG explanation about how Hollywood isn’t the only major city for film any more]


This place is so strange to me. I’ve gotten into relatively lengthy conversations with almost every stranger I’ve interacted with: cashiers, store clerks, waiters, restaurant owners, a car detailer, etc. It’s nice to know that it’s so easy to talk to folks though. Makes you feel a bit more connected.

Two weeks in…

After two weeks I find myself in that same anxious place I’m always in at the beginning of the year:

How is it possible that after 4 years it still feels like my first year of teaching?

It’s back to the drawing board in so many ways: new beliefs about grading and homework, new inspiration from Peter Liljedahl, new pursuit of National Board. Most new is my leadership role at school. At my teacher-led school I feel like a leader in every capacity, and rarely have a moment to breathe. 

Even more, it’s ever difficult to learn balance with new regimens and responsibilities at home with my family. 

A year from today I hope I remember the power of setting norms…the way that students really can end up still hesitant to even try something new in February. It’s difficult now, but I need to remember that it will be worth it when I see my students persevering. 

I think this is my official buy-in; I actually believe that my explicit goal for the year is simple and two-fold:

  1. Elicit as much student thinking as humanly possible. 
  2. Facilitate productive struggle such that it happily becomes the norm. 

I hope I can thank myself by February. 

I made a student cry today.

Two things: 1) It was during math class. 2) It was a happy cry. WTF?!

I tend to be so aware of the needs of the most struggling students–those who need extra support and need to be engaged at all times.

What about those students who are longing to do meaningful work? What about those students who are compliant but are waiting for their chance to be creative? Today, that student got emotional–all because I asked him to find the area of a heptagon without a formula, and he figured it out on his own.

Go figure.



It’s very rare that I do something like this–just use this space as a journal to capture a snapshot of what life looks like right now. No themes, no fancy quotes, and no forethought into formatting or style. Just what’s up right now.

I’m at a very tenuous point in my life–which, come to think of it, makes sense since I’m 24–where my impending marriage has prompted a decision about where to live for the next 2 years of my life. I could:

  • Move to the westside, work in the valley, church in downtown, friends in mid-city.
  • Move to Berkeley, work in Berkeley/Oakland, church in Berkeley, friends far away/Berkeley.
  • Move to San Jose, work in San Jose, church in San Jose, friends far away/San Jose
  • Live in downtown/mid-city, work in the valley, church in downtown, friends in mid-city

So many balls in the air at once. The temptation is to feel that I just need to make the right choice–whatever that means. Staying with work in the valley allows me to stick with my school, and continue to build what I’ve started there. Moving to downtown/mid-city would require my fiancé to sacrifice by taking the new train into the westside, while I drove. Moving to Berkeley sounds like a much slower pace, with everything making a bit more sense and being closer together…but at the same time a bit lonely, since I don’t know many people there. Searching for a church feels also quite important since I’ll be getting married and need older people to lean into when I’m feeling like I’m the only married person in the world feeling the way I’m feeling.

And at the same time as this tumultuous decision-making extravaganza, I’m thinking on deeper things.

I’m thinking about the way God is. God simply is. YHWH is existence in a way that I can’t verbalize, but just feel the need to soak in. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about how I want to restructure my entire math class to centralize on students reworking their definitions of math–learning to be collaborators, creative, and persevering.

There’s plenty thoughts that fly constantly into the intersection in which I currently find myself, but regardless…I think I’m happy to be here. I have so many options, and I don’t doubt that whatever we choose, God will be there.

Good things

  1. I took the day off after several weeks of no break. I’m learning–albeit slowly–to set boundaries.
  2. I have a good friend who has been willing to wake up at 5am to take my engagement photos for my fiancé and me.
  3. I sat looking at old memories with my fiancé via Facebook. (yay, FB isn’t always evil)
  4. The weather has been perfect this past week. Not too hot, not too cold.
  5. We had a fun conversation with the doctor at urgent care. I love it when doctors take time out to be real people with their patients.
  6. We made the decision to not change our wedding date, thus not rushing things.
  7. I feel like we have 2 great options for next year: The River church and The Way church.


Family dinner…even when family is just the 2 of us. This should include setting the table (including flowers/candles/napkins), electronics away, examen (highs and lows), and maybe finishing with common prayer and clearing the table.

I value regularity in being known. It’s more important than any deadline, text, or event.


The table is one of the most intimate and sacred places in our lives. It is there that we give ourselves to one another…We invite our friends to become a part of our lives. We want them to be nurtured by the same food and drink that nurture us. We desire communion. 

But I hate planning.

I’m a teacher…

I’m a leader…

I’m in a committed relationship…

One day I hope to have kids…

When I have my own family, I’d like to establish rich family traditions…


…but I HATE planning. 

Okay, maybe that’s not completely true. I do have a deep love for office supplies and an unhealthy obsession with what makes a “perfect” planner. But on a Wednesday evening, when the lesson for tomorrow hasn’t been planned, my fiance’s birthday didn’t go anything like I planned (i.e. restaurant closed, she gets sick, we have an argument), and now I’m up at 12am caring for this swollen-tongued and rather beautiful girl–I feel a deep hatred in my soul for the concept of planning.

Planning more often than not leaves me feeling like a failure. All too often, plans change or fall through. And what’s more? There never seems to be enough time to plan, reflect AND actually do things. 

I’ve planned so many educational units. I’ve attempted to plan so well that students who don’t want to learn not only learn, but leave my class thirsting for knowledge. I’ve succeeded sometimes, even. But for some reason the success feels like nothing in comparison to the overwhelming failure.

Then again, sometimes I think it’s not planning that I hate. It’s the expectation that I buy into (that my culture helps perpetuate)–the expectation that we can be and have it all.
I can be father, life-changing teacher, lover, friend, son, advocate, well-rested, well-educated, fit, financially secure, generous–and still have time to read books for fun and be up to date on the news.

It’s simply untrue. And it’s time to prioritize.



Meaningless assessment

“Assessment” is a huge and complex topic in the field of education. Standardized, formal, summative, informal, formative…there’s so much of the field that revolves around it.

And it’s oh so necessary. It’s freaking step 2 to the entire planning process:

  1. What should students know?
  2. How will you assess if they know it or not?
  3. How will you teach the material to them?

All that being said, I learned a good lesson today. Sometimes, assessments don’t accurately measure student learning. Sometimes, you didn’t think through them well enough, and the data they give you isn’t helpful, or isn’t enough to truly determine the level of student mastery.

Note to self: When assessments flop, just toss them and come up with another one. There is no point in including that grade and punishing the students for your own mistakes.


If I had to choose one major lesson that I’ve been learning through counseling, it’d have to be the elegance and fortitude of both/and over either/or.

I have a flaw/strength where I people-please/put myself aside for the sake of others. Sometimes this results in me losing touch with what I actually believe. Other times it results in others feeling deeply loved. Most of the time, people love me because I do this. But then, this same characteristic can hurt the ones who are closest to me because I am hesitant to share my truth, because it’s hurtful.

My girlfriend feels emotion deeply. This flaw/strength allows her to enter into the most complex pains of the human experience & also prevents her from seeing others’ perspectives when they have hurt her. This characteristic drives you into the ground but makes you feel heard. Because of her deep emotions she can be completely blinded but also see the truth.

I’m sorry, AND at the same time I feel like I was hurt.

He acknowledged that I was wronged, AND ignored not for his own actions.

I love you, AND I want to take time to consider marriage more carefully.

You irritate me, AND I don’t want to be with anyone else.

Imagine switching out any of these “and”s for “but”. The word “but” creates division and paints a picture that’s really hard to take in. The simple act of using the word “and” really brings peace to communication. No one person or characteristic is black or white. At least, not the majority. It is living in the gray that allows us to give grace to others–undeserved mercy. If we can understand the peculiarity of our condition, we can love each other well.

Good things

Every Monday, I ask my kids to share one good thing from their weekend.

I’m going to do something similar here and share multiple good things from my workweek: 

  1. I talked to Alison about her issues with a particular teacher and she decided to be mature about it and apologize for her rude behavior.
  2. I have realized and internalized that laughter and smiles always work better to motivate students than demands and sternness.
  3. Drinking coffee slowly in the morning before going to work…such a beautiful thing.
  4. My 3rd period had a beautiful moment of nerdiness: They asked me why a negative times a negative is positive. When I explained it, they GASPED and shrieked! “This makes so much sense Mister!!!” Then, they proceeded to ask about why you can’t divide by zero…after which students made explosion noises and talked about how their minds were blown and now they won’t be able to focus in any other class. These children are beautiful.
  5. I had a bagel and cream cheese stored in the fridge, so even though I forgot my lunch, I didn’t have to starve. 😀