Old Adventures, New Adventures

I’ve been keeping this on the down-low for many months now, but I’m moving on to new adventures professionally this fall. My seven years at Saint Ann’s were enormously satisfying and growth-promoting, but over a year ago I began a search for a new opportunity to contribute to a community of learners.

Figuring out what I wanted that new opportunity to look like—and then actually finding a slot where it could happen—has been a long and textured journey. I’ve learned something about the educational landscape in the US in the process, and I’ve definitely sussed out some aspects of myself that I didn’t know about or that weren’t in focus for me before. I haven’t said much about all of this before now, because where I’d land was up in the air until just recently, and I wanted to be able to share the news of my transition in a future-oriented way. So here goes!

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I’m delighted to share that I’ll be working at the Princeton Learning Cooperative in Princeton, New Jersey. To get a real sense for the place, you should check out our website. Briefly, though, PLC is a supportive community that helps teenagers that are having unproductive school experiences to leave school and begin directing their own learning and lives. From a legal standpoint, these teens are homeschoolers, but not the kind where their parents sit them down at the kitchen table and teach them school subjects. In some ways PLC is like a free school, but it doesn’t have an attendance requirement. It’s not a school. It’s an “unschooling center.” Even though this is the case, staff members and volunteers offer classes and tutorials that members (not “students”) can choose to take, and each member has weekly mentoring sessions with a staff member to help them in their self-direction.

It’s very hands-on and personalized—helping young people to learn what they want and providing them with opportunities to figure out what that might be. No holds barred. I bet you can see the sparkle in my eyes all the way from over there. There will also be lots of opportunities for me to contribute to the structure, design, and execution of the program. All together, it’s really a fantastic match and I could not be more thrilled to have found PLC. Believe me, you’ll be hearing (if you wish) a whole lot more about it in the weeks and months ahead!

That's me on the staff page!

That’s me on the staff page!

This all of course means that I’m moving on from Saint Ann’s. Leaving a place where I made so many fond memories is definitely tough. Leaving behind my great students and colleagues is tough. And I’m way bummed that Michael and I are currently doing our best impression of two ships in the night.

Still, I’m ready and excited for new challenges. The metaphor that I’ve been using is that when I showed up at Saint Ann’s with by big britches and bigger ideas, they gave me blank canvas after blank canvas, nicely-sized, and all the colors of paint I could want. Seemingly infinite possibilities! And that wasn’t an illusion—there really are infinite possibilities and a lifetime of craftsmanship to learn and employ in the medium of a Saint Ann’s classroom. But “infinite possibilities” doesn’t mean that every possibility is open. Try as you might, you can’t do a tiny painting on a regular-sized canvas without it looking silly, and you’ll have a hard time painting a mural. Making a sculpture is a definite no-go. As an artist (if you’ll bear with me), there are experiences I want to help create for and create with young people that can only happen at a place that’s different from Saint Ann’s. And so I wish it well and recommend it heartily and will keep in touch with folks there, but I’m off to see what other art I can make.

After just a few weeks of interacting with the staff and a few members and parents at PLC, I feel really valued for my skills, my energy, and my ideas. I feel like I’m going to be able to do a lot of good, both for our members and for this community, and I know that doing this work is going to be good for me. What classes exactly I’ll be teaching is still up in the air, but it’ll likely be some math and a lot of other things, like a poetry workshop and a video games class. I’ll also be coordinating the Mondays program. No classes are scheduled for Mondays—they’re reserved for trips into the community and hikes and such, as well as for one-off or short-term workshops and guest speakers. Lots of room to experiment in new ways!

I feel really pumped up and secure in my decision to join PLC. It feels just so, so right. The only twinge I’ve felt is—get this—losing you guys, my wonderful personal learning network on Twitter and the blogs. Since I won’t be a math teacher per se anymore, will I still belong? Will my thoughts and experiences still be relevant to the discourse in this community?

I’m not really all that worried, because I’d miss y’all too much, and I know that I’m involved in projects and conversations that won’t be affected by my relocation. But what this has made me realize and appreciate is how big a part of my professional and personal identity is wrapped up in the goings-on of the mathtwitterblogosphere—with you wonderful people who I get to have as colleagues, co-conspirators, and friends. Thank you so much for that.

So here’s to old adventures and new adventures! And just adventures! Yay!

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10 responses to “Old Adventures, New Adventures

  1. “Will my thoughts and experiences still be relevant to the discourse in this community?” Justin, I think your new ‘un-bound’ experiences will make your considerable contributions to the community even more insightful and valuable to the MTBoS. Sometimes stepping outside the boundaries can help you better see that which was [sometimes artificially] restraining you. I am looking forward to reading your posts as you begin the next part of your journey as an educator. Seriously, how could you think you wouldn’t belong??

    They are lucky folk in Princeton to have you.

    • Thanks for the kinds words, Wendy. I guess I already sometimes felt out on a limb online while teaching at Saint Ann’s. Teaching without grades and with a great deal of curricular latitude is wonderful, but it’s not the norm. I sometimes bump up against the challenge of representing what I do and what I believe in without operating with a disconnect from teachers working under more constraints. I guess I’m just aware that this may be even more of a challenge now that I’m working at PLC.

      At the same time, I’m pretty happy with how I’ve lived online thus far, so I figure I can keep it up—especially given what I know about my online peers. And I’m really excited about the ways I’ll be pushing boundaries—my own and society’s—through my work at PLC. So it’s all to the good. :)

  2. Congratulations, Justin! Sounds like a great opportunity, and I certainly hope we continue to hear from you.

  3. “It feels just so, so right.” This gave me a big smile. You have a teacher’s heart, Justin. Always. Best wishes to you at PLC.

  4. Your fear? That was mine, too, when I shifted to teaching Computing and Design/Technology. But really, the fear is unfounded because the mathtwitterblogosphere community is so friendly, even to me who’s on the other side of the world and doesn’t teach maths anymore (not formally, maths has a way of sneaking into my classrooms…because let’s face it, maths is everywhere).

    and yes, I’d be keen to follow your adventures…you know this already. I’m thinking of incorporating video games in my grade 9 and/or 10 course so maybe we can share notes (read: can you please help me?).

    Poetry! I din’t know about that. Imagine teaching Maths and Poetry. Oh my! #loveit

    I wish you all the very best!

    • It’s good to be reminded that I’ve had a successful forerunner, Malyn!

      Let’s do share notes on video games. And for Maths and Poetry, there’s a book by Scott Buchanan—one of the founders of the New Program at St. John’s—called Poetry and Mathematics. I find Buchanan to be such a fascinating, dynamic, and thoroughgoing thinker.

      And thanks for the well wishes!

  5. I’m just gonna echo everybody who’s like “what the hell are you talking about, will you still belong?” ;) You know I had already left the full-time classroom before I even started blogging 4 years ago, and I’ve never felt anything but included. I know you and you are an educator to the core. Your contribution will continue to be highly valued here and everybody knows it. (I think even you!)

    P.s. but on behalf of NYC we already miss you!

    • Hey Ben,

      Thanks both for the kind words and for the reminder that there’s no right way, time, or chosen work to read, write, and discuss the learning and teaching of mathematics. And that I have fantastic forbears. :)

      Justin

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