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About Me

Me, at the beach near my father’s home in Connecticut a few days before heading off to my new home in California.

I suppose it is about time I put up a little information about myself.

If you have read any of my posts thus far you have probably figured out that I am a teacher.  A math and physics teacher at that.  And if you have read a few of my posts, you have probably figured out that I have something to say about everything .  Who doesn’t?  I know everyone who blogs about blogging suggests that you keep to a theme – and I try – but that’s just not how my brain works.

A little background – I was your typical awkward nerdy math science kid with textbook ADHD – or whatever you want to call it.  Throughout my life I have always felt like a huge contradiction.  I was an active member of my church youth group (by my own choice – not because anyone ever forced religion on me) while I struggled to come to terms with my sexuality.  I was simultaneously a mathlete, band geek and varsity athlete – from my freshman through my senior year.  I always knew that I was intelligent, athletic and talented but I still doubted everything I thought, said or did.  I had truly outstanding teachers and a wonderfully supportive and loving family – but I still always felt alone in my mind.

I have always had great ideas, but I rarely finished anything I started – academically or personally.

I have gotten the “you have so much potential” speech so many times – well, by 6th or 7th grade I would preempt my teachers and parents and give it to myself.

I have come to realize how incredibly frustrating I must be as a son, brother, student, partner or friend.

I graduated from high school and went to college to study mathematics and physics.  I graduated in August of 2003 (I had to take a basic English class over the summer that I kept putting off every semester because there were always more interesting math and physics courses to take).

After college, I officially had no clue.  My partner suggested I take a job substitute teaching for a year while I figured everything out, so he called someone he knew in the Springfield Public School Department HR office (that’s Springfield Massachusetts) and mentioned he had a friend with a math and physics background who was interested in subbing.

Four days later was my first day as a full-time mathematics teacher at the city’s vocational technical high school.

So much happened over the next seven years I couldn’t possibly write it all down, but I eventually realized that I absolutely love teaching.  And I was starting to feel like I was getting pretty good at it too.

My seven years teaching at that school defined much of the person who I am today – not just as a teacher but as a human being.  My former colleagues, administrators and more than anyone else my students have taught and given me more than they could ever realize and I will forever be grateful to them.  Especially the ones who annoyed me the most.

Always having a restless mind, I was doing some casual research on private schools when I ran across the website for an educational placement agency.  Just for the hell of it, I wrote up my résumé and submitted it.  The following August I started my new job as a physics teacher in an amazing independent school in West Los Angeles.

A year before moving to Los Angeles I had been diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis (I won’t go into details but it is a thoroughly unpleasant condition).  That year was extremely difficult – especially the job search and hiring process which required a fair amount of cross-country travel and then the move itself – but I stuck with it believing that the sunny weather, laid back lifestyle, manageable class sizes and freedom of teaching in a private school would be the perfect environment to lower my stress and force my disease into remission.  It was an amazing year; I learned so many new things, met so many incredible people and of course, my students were awesome.

It never ceased to amaze me how dramatically different yet similar everything was.  Especially my students.  It did take me a while to get accustomed to having so many white kids in the same class and I had to remind myself that the Latinos weren’t Puerto Rican any more but they were Mexican, but other than that I realized something a friend/guidance counselor once told me after she made the difficult choice to move on to a new job – kids are kids and there are great kids everywhere.

Sadly, it was both my first and last year in that school.  My life had not gotten less stressful and I was not getting any healthier.  Instead of grading lab reports on the beach and hob nobbing with celebrities like I joked about with my former students, I came home from work every day and went straight to bed.  While driving back east for the summer my condition went from bad to much worse thanks in great part to a new medication I had started taking a week earlier.  While the medication effectively suppressed the condition it even more effectively suppressed my immune system – leaving my body extremely vulnerable to infection.

Over the course of the two weeks leading up to the day I pulled into my mother’s driveway I had lost roughly an additional 20 pounds and felt like I was dying.  Apparently I looked like it too, because my mother promptly had a nervous breakdown (the only thing worse than a mother seeing her child sick and suffering is a mother who is also a registered nurse seeing her child sick and suffering).  You see, before those two weeks I had still been getting slowly worse and worse over the previous two years.  Since my mother had last seen me (Christmas time – so roughly six months earlier) I had actually lost a total of 45 pounds. 
 
(Pre-illness I was roughly 180lbs and in the best shape of my life, before this infection I was hovering around 155lbs, and by the time I got home I hit a disturbing low of about 135lbs – exactly a 25% drop from my starting weight)
 
My east coast doctor was able to identify the infection with the help of some thoroughly unpleasant medical procedures, but beyond the infection things looked pretty bad.  When I got the call from my doctor a few days later he told me that the tests he had done came back negative (I had no idea what tests he was even referring to at that moment).  He then laughed and told me how relieved he was, as he was originally convinced that I had cancer and suspected I would be in surgery within a week.  Thank god he didn’t share that opinion with me or my mother until the evidence came back. 

A few doctor’s visits, procedures and treatments later the infection was gone and over the next few months I realized that I hadn’t just recovered from the infection but, my condition had gone into remission completely.

There is no way to describe what this has been like for me.  I suddenly realized just how sick I really had been over the last two years.  The pain and fatigue had become a part of who I was and everything I did.  I didn’t even think twice about it unless I was having an extremely bad day – and even then it felt no more unusual than the Monday morning after a busy weekend.  I became extremely depressed.  I started realizing how much I missed and how many opportunities passed me by – personally and professionally.  I started to feel guilty that I ever took the job in Los Angeles because I wasn’t able to be the teacher I could – or should – have been.  I felt that I had let down myself, my students, my family, my partner – everyone.

I was planning on moving back east with my partner when unexpectedly a door opened up for him here in Los Angeles.  The moving truck was three days away when we decided to stay.  Due to a lot of bad timing and a lack of a California teaching credential (of course I had one for Massachusetts but private schools don’t require a credential so I never bothered getting one here) I couldn’t find a job.

This did nothing to help my depression and frustration.  I applied for my CA credential but by the time my paperwork went through and my fees were processed (take a wild guess which took longer) it was already several months into the school year and I couldn’t find anything.

A little over a month ago (around early March) something started to happen.  It was like everything I had ever experienced and learned in life – from my childhood to college, professional career and up to the present all just made perfect sense.  I felt like a computer that had been running one program on top of another on top of another (repeat a few hundred times) and had just been stuck in ‘processing’ for the last decade or two.  And now that life had forced me to stop accepting new commands, I had time to just process and process and eventually – it all seemed to click.

It was extremely overwhelming at first.  I quite literally felt like I was going insane.  Imagine that you learned how to drive in a golf cart and suddenly you find yourself in a Ferrari – and you tap the gas petal for the first time.  I did the wisest thing I could have possibly done.  I just wrote and wrote and wrote.  It was a mess at first but my thoughts eventually found some order.  I decided to start this blog a couple of weeks ago to share many of my thoughts with anyone who cared to read them.

I have to make a disclaimer here.  I read the last few paragraphs back to myself and want to make sure that nobody reading this gets the wrong idea.  I don’t think that I’ve miraculously become enlightened or anything like that.  And I don’t think that I’m better, smarter or wiser than anybody – except for the person that I used to be.  And I don’t think there was anything too horrible about that person either.  And I think I start too many sentences with the word and.  Take my first year teaching in Los Angeles as an example.  Although I constantly think of different creative and innovative things I could have done, I’m also extremely proud of what I actually got done.  I wasn’t up for teacher of the year, but my students learned and I was there for them – attending school functions, helping after school for hours at a time, just getting to know and talk to them – all despite my condition.  I missed very little time, and although I’ll admit I was a little late in returning student work and assessments, I got it done – and I did it well.

My mission and purpose is education.  I want to take everything I have learned through my own education and my time teaching in public and private schools and do something amazing.  Maybe that means being the best teacher I can be until I am forced to retire.  Maybe that means I will become an administrator.  I have even put very serious thought into opening a school myself.  I’m still not certain, because I still have so much more to learn.

What I do know is that things need to change.  Actually, change isn’t even the right word – education needs to be torn down, redefined and rebuilt.  I got extremely lucky.  So many people have saved me so many times and helped me get to where I am today, and I didn’t even have it bad.  But so many children and young adults these days have not been so fortunate.

It seems so overwhelming but not unlike in physics, I believe the solution will be so mind-blowingly simple that we will eventually look back and laugh at ourselves for missing something so completely obvious.  And I feel like I am ready to contribute something significant to that big picture.

Thanks to everyone who has read my blog so far.  I hope that you get something from it, as I have from reading so many of yours.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Lissa Masters permalink
    July 8, 2012 11:15 am

    Matt, I enjoyed reading your story and we have some things in common. I worked at a vocational high school as an art teacher for 12 years in CT. I was the only light skinned person in my homeroom class and learned quickly about different cultures. I learned SO much from that experience and saw how much of the “education” (this was a public school) that we were feeding the students was not so important or useful for these students. I left after a life altering experience with cancer and traveled to California…(and ,many stories in-between) to now… where I work at a private Montessori school and am writing a curriculum book to be used in holistic education settings. I am involved with AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization.) Their conference this year is in Portland, Oregon -August 3- 6. You will find all sorts of info about revolutionizing education and support to start a school. Glad you are feeling well and here sharing your wonderful insight and writing. Blessings to you and yours!……Now feed the dog…:)

    • July 8, 2012 11:33 am

      Wow, that is not just similar, it is almost creepy. I saw your mention of AERO and was very interested. If I can make timing work and there are still spots left I may just take a drive – Oregon is one of the few states my car and I have not seen yet.

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  1. The Final Stretch of a Difficult Year « Everything Needs to Change

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