Sunday, April 7, 2013

We're both Union Redskins now

A few changes since I last posted...!

Brett made it through another busy season at Ernst and Young this winter, but, as usual, it wasn't a very enjoyable time for either of us.  We decided that it needed to be the last EY busy season.  Brett looked to see if Union (the school district I work for) was hiring, and lo and behold, they were!  He just finished his first week of work as an accountant for the school district and seems to be doing well with it.  Selfishly, I love the fact that he's less than a mile from me during the day (we carpool sometimes), he gets off at a normal time, and we're working towards the same goal--educating the kids in our community.  I love it.

I'm enjoying my time at Union as well and am very happy I made the switch from college to high school teaching.  Algebra II still gives me a run for my money in terms of ability and behavior, but I've grown very fond of these kids, so that makes quite a difference in my attitude.  I still wish the state's requirements for high school graduation were different, or that "college/career readiness" would focus more on the career part as opposed to the college part for some of my kiddos.  But I'm doing what I can for each of these 150 students, and that's incredibly rewarding.

On the upside, I was told I'll be teaching AP Calculus in the fall, so I'm quite excited about that!  I know this will sound weird to most, but I come alive when I talk about, study, and teach calculus.  It's my fave.  And the kids will be able to add and multiply!  (Couldn't help myself, sorry.)

Brett has been the greatest support in the world this year as I've treaded through the waters of public high school education (sometimes especially scary as I didn't attend any kind of public education institution until...grad school...which isn't at all the same).  Yesterday, he even helped me chaperon a Math Club field trip to the OKC Science Museum!

In addition to working, we've been enjoying doing some minor renovations to our house.  We love our home and the part of town we live in.  We're just two miles from the high school, so pretty much every thing we do is in our school district.  Even though Tulsa is big, being a part of community like Union makes it feel more unified.  And I rather like that.

As I've now been brainwashed to say: "It's a great day to be a Redskin!"

I'd love to hear what you've been up to recently!  Please drop us a line or two when you get chance.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Letter 2012

Dear friends and family,

We hope you are enjoying the Christmas season and getting some quality time with those you love.

This year has flown by (again) and has been filled with what seems a lot of change.  For starters, after three years of being married, we decided to leave the world of renting apartments and graduated to moving to our own house (pictures below!).  In addition, after about three years of teaching college students, I decided to leave the collegiate scene for now and gain some experience as a high school teacher.  The jury was out for a long while as to whether or not I was pleased with this decision.  But, after one full semester at Union High School, I think it's safe to say that I'm happy with where I am.  I've grown incredibly fond of my kids...and most days I think that feeling is reciprocated.

Brett continues to work very hard as an auditor for Ernst and Young.  In January, he passed his final exam for the CPA, which makes him the 3019th person in the history of South Dakota to pass the exam (he is certified in both SD and OK).  I thank God for such a dedicated husband.  I joke and say that he supports my teaching habit.

The Peterson side of the family welcomed some wonderful new members in 2012.  In June, Brett's sister Rachel was married to Joe Pope; the two seem to be the perfect match for each other.  On Brett's birthday, November 7, Becca and Rob (Brett's sister and her husband) introduced their beautiful daughter Ellie.  We cannot wait to meet her when we visit South Dakota for the holidays.  Ellie will have a cousin close in age, too, as Rachel and Joe are due in July!  We're thrilled to be uncle and auntie.

Brett and I are continuing to enjoy life in Tulsa.  We've been making some friends through church and work, which is exciting.  Our cats seem to like it here, too, and continue to keep us entertained.  Or maybe we entertain them.  I'm not always sure...

We pray that you and yours have a beautiful holiday season and that 2013 brings you much joy.

Love always,

Rebecka and Brett

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Washington, DC

A couple months ago, Brett and I did something very spur-of-the-moment. We decided  to plan a trip to Washington, DC, during Fall Break. I hate to even use the word plan though. I mean, two months in advance? How spontaneous of us!

Needless to say, we were very excited for a chance to leave our responsibilities for a few days and enjoy all that our nation's capital has to offer.  I'll let the pictures tell a few stories...

Washington Monument!  We took lots of walks...

Library of Congress.  So.  Cool.  Got to see the Gutenberg Bible!

Brett had to see the panda...

Georgetown Cupcake (from the show DC Cupcakes).
As delicious as they appear on TV.

Ai Wei Wei's amazing cube at Hirshhorn
Can I have this, please?  Or a smaller replica?

We toured the White House Gardens

The view from our hotel

I think this trip was exactly what both of us needed--a few days just to get away and enjoy a different city.  We've both had a challenging couple months with our jobs.  Brett's main client for the past year has been Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group.  As you may know, they are in the process of being bought by Hertz.  This has meant a lot of extra work for Brett and will soon mean a new client, which is like starting a new job.  As for my job, I'm still trying to decide if I'm cut out for public high school teaching. I love (most of) the kids.  I hate that they know so little.

I do know that both of us feel rested and rejuvenated after this trip.  We even admitted to each other that we are excited to get back to work in the morning (we'll see how long that lasts).

In other news...we just bought a house!  It's three miles from where I grew up in Tulsa.  We're really excited.   We should be closing the beginning of December, so pictures will accompany the move.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

It's about time

Several of you had asked me to keep you posted on the career change from college instructor to high school teacher.  And I haven't done that yet.  So, here's a little update.

The first two days of school (which was about a month ago?  How did that happen?) I think I cried more than the last two years combined.  These.  Kids.  Are.  Crazy.  Now, let me remind you what classes I'm teaching and to whom:

Pre-Calculus (Juniors and Seniors)
Algebra II (Juniors and Seniors)

Pre-Calculus?  Piece of cake.  They are all choosing to be there.  I heart them and they heart me and we all mostly heart mathematics.  We have a good thing going.

Algebra II?  To Seniors?  Holy Sha-moly.  I didn't even know you could take Algebra II your senior year.  I took that in ninth grade.

I keep thinking, "This ain't my gift.  I'm not trained in teaching basic mathematics; I'm not trained in selling it to kids who would rather be doing drugs.  My training and my gifting is explaining somewhat complex mathematics to students who find it at least somewhat intriguing."

Then I realized--anyone could teach to people who are choosing to take your class.  It takes something special to be able to reach people who are being forced to take your class.

I also realized--I have 181 days with these kiddos, and if they don't pass my class along with a high stakes test at the end of these 181 days, they don't get a high school diploma.  It seems imperative, then, that I put aside my high and lofty views of what I'm good at teaching and what I'm not so good teaching, and focus on getting to know these students and helping them understand math.

It's been an interesting journey so far.  I still maintain that I'm a better calculus teacher than I am an Algebra II teacher.  However, I'm incredibly grateful for this opportunity because I'd have no idea what most high school teachers go through without having this experience.  I have up to 36 students under my care every single hour who are both a joy and a struggle.

Yes, I have drama queens who yell at me when I tell them that everyone in my class is expected to work; I have goths who tell me that if I want them to focus in class I need to buy them their $200 ADHD medication; I have football players who don't know what half of four is.

But, I also have students who now come ask me to do math during their lunch or after school.  I have kids proclaiming, "I love this class!" as they walk into my room.  I have students high-fiving me after turning in a test because a light bulb finally went off.

Every week is getting better and better.  I'm getting to know my students so much faster than I did at the college level, which is one of the main reasons I took this job.  I've had this theory for a while that if you have a job that is really rewarding, in other words, a job that has some really high highs, it also probably has some really low lows.

That's teaching, I feel.  There are extreme struggles, but there are extreme joys, too.

And I'm learning tons.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Tax Talk

Election years bring out the worst in us.

I find myself fighting an uncontrollable urge to argue.  Here is my attempt to sway your opinion.

While I don't work tax returns on a daily basis, my world is engross in tax policy. I know enough to be dangerous. 

Over the past few weeks, pundits have talked up Romney's tax plan because it radically changes tax law in the pursuit of simplicity and fairness.  While I've never doubted the importance of taxes, (I like roads and safe food) a friend pointed out the lack of fairness in the tax code.  For instance, he makes more money than I do, but he pays less tax (9% vs. 20%) due to the fact that he owns a small business which allows significant tax deductions.  Yes, I'd love a simple and fair tax plan.

Here are the main points of Romney's tax plan (

1.  Reduce marginal tax rates for all brackets by 20%
2.  Eliminate taxation on investment gains for those making less than $200,000
3.  Eliminate AMT (alternative minimum tax)
4.  Reduce corporate taxation

All of the points sounds good, but how do you pay for it?  The traditional argument states that reducing taxes results in economic activity and likewise will result in higher tax revenue.  While this might be true, the U.S. economy hasn't grown faster than 5% in recent history (the 5% occurred in 2000 with the dotcom boom and bust)

In reality, the only way to significantly reduce marginal tax rates for everyone is by eliminating a majority of itemized deductions.  In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Romney's economic adviser Martin Feldstein (Harvard Economics Professor) tried to clarify how Romney's plan could be feasible.  It turns out that virtually all itemized deductions would need to be phased out for people making $100K or more for Romney's plan to be revenue neutral.

Here is a quote from CS Monitor (Tends to lean conservative by the way)

"Taxes would rise on families earning between $100,000 and $200,000 in Feldstein's analysis because he considers a tax reform that would completely eliminate itemized deductions for taxpayers with incomes above $100,000."

In all reality, Romney's plan has no chance because it isn't plan, simply an ideology.

Here the top three itemized deductions:

1.  Charitable donations
2.  Home mortgage interest (House)
3.  Real estate taxes paid (House)

What congress would actually eliminate itemized deductions for a significant portion of our economy?  How would nonprofits survive without a donation incentive?  Don't we want to encourage home ownership?

This is just political pandering.  Let's get real.  We need to cut spending and increase taxes on the wealthy.  It is called compromise.  I'm willing to do my part (obviously I do because I pay a higher marginal tax rate than Mitt Romney).

By the way, marginal taxes rates are historically very low.  Look at the 1950's.... 90%+ tax rate.  Ouch.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I'm teaching high school in the fall!

Next week marks the last week of summer classes at Tulsa Community College!  I'm exhausted from the two calculus courses I've taught, but I also feel that I've learned so much through these 8-week courses.  As usual, I entered the classes ready to transmit what I find to be absolutely amazing and beautiful knowledge.  And, as usual, I forgot that the best part about teaching isn't helping others learn.  The best part about teaching is that you--as a teacher--continue to learn.  I love that.  I don't think there's any other job in the world where continuing ed is so easy to come by.

Some (non-math) things I've learned this summer:

  • I really like teaching adults.  While they may not be up-to-date on technology, they really appreciate good teachers.  And they tell you that.  (I really like to feel appreciated, if you haven't gathered that already.)
  • Three hours of straight lecturing is really painful.  Literally.  It really hurts to look up at a white board for that long.  Remember, I'm short:  to reach the top of the whiteboard sometimes I have to stretch my neck so far that the back of my head touches my back.  It hurts after a while.  The answer to this mess:  more activities, fewer lectures.  Wish I could say I got there this semester.
  • Having a husband who is really smart and has taken calculus before is the best ever.  Why?  Because he can make handouts for your students while you grade.  True story, guys.  True story.
So, I've had a great time teaching these classes this summer.  However, as it turns out, I will be taking a little break from the college scene this fall.

This last school year I taught TCC College Algebra classes to high school juniors and seniors at Union High School, which is a public school here in Tulsa (though it is independent of Tulsa Public Schools, I should point out).  I really loved my job.  I felt like I got the students and the students got me.  It was just a good fit.

While I was teaching this year, I also started the process of becoming alternatively certified to teach math at the high school level (since neither of my degrees are in education).  Honestly, I was not seeking certification to actually teach high school students in America, as ironic as that may sound.  I just thought it'd be good if I ever wanted to pursue more education and certainly necessary if I ever wanted to teach at a high-performing school overseas.

However, I made some great friends at Union, and once they found out I was certified, they encouraged me to interview for a high school math position.  "Just go through the interview process.  It will be good for you to get a feel of what kinds of questions they ask."

"Sure," I thought.  "That can't hurt."

I'm not sure what happened between that thought and the interview.  I do know the principal was quite convincing when I sat down to talk to her.  And the next thing I knew she was saying, "We want to make you a Redskin.  Welcome to Union High School!" (Yeah...we can talk about their choice of mascot later.  We live in Oklahoma.  What can I say?)

Brett and I took some time to think about it, and I soon decided that Union would be a good fit for me next year.  There are a lot of things I will miss from teaching college students, but I feel like there's a lot I will gain by being around 17- and 18-year-olds all day.  All.  Day.

The college has asked me to stay on as adjunct, which I plan on doing.  However, I also plan on taking the fall semester off to focus solely on my high school commitments. 

I wrote more about the reasons behind this decision here, if you're interested.  The main reason though is--Union is where I think I can grow the most and--hopefully--help others grow, too.

Much love to all of you!  We hope that, wherever you may be, you are staying cool and refreshed through the God-given blessing we call air conditioning.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I need these emails to stop...or maybe not

I started a post on my math ed blog entitled "I need these emails to stop."  It was a little harsh, so I decided it wasn't best to publish that on a semi-professional platform.  Instead, I'll let my dear friends and family enjoy my cynical ways...

Initial blog posts starts--

I'm teaching two sections of calc this summer at the college (Business Calculus and Calc I).  I'm excited but scared.  It'll be my first time to teach calculus, and for whatever reason I chose to teach two different calc eight weeks.  I may need to be checked for a pulse afterwards.

While I'm really excited about teaching these courses, I'm starting to get a little worried about some of my students.  I have received an abnormal amount of emails regarding these two classes (especially Business Calc).  According to one of my colleagues, what tends to happen is that senior business majors from the 4-year state schools put off Business Calc as long as possible.  Oftentimes, it's the very last class they have to take.  In fact (according this colleague, at least), some of the students have even walked already but need to pass this class in order to get their diploma.

There's some pressure.

And the pressure is turning into emails.

Fascinating emails.

I'll give you two examples:

Student 1:  Hi, I’m actually going on vacation on the first week of school and will not be able to attend, and was wondering if I would be ok for the rest of the semester if I did not make it the first week.

Can you miss the first week of school of a summer session?  NO!  Would you miss two weeks of school during a normal semester?  Do you think it's ok for ME to vacation during the two months school is in summer session, or would you expect me to vacation before or after?

Student 2:   I'm good with math, always have been, but I took College Algebra 18 years ago.  Do I need to brace myself and make sure I have a tutor available?

18 years!  What counselor in her right mind recommended you take calculus?

That's what I wanted to say in response.  Thankfully, my responses were a bit more calculated (punny!).  I think.

--Initial post ends

I talked some more about how much College Algebra has changed in the past 18 years, which is significantly due to the invention and spread of the graphing calculator, in my opinion.  But I shan't bore you with those details.  The gist:  these students could be a bit demanding this summer.

And then there was light...

I got this email from a student this morning:

Good Morning,

I hope your short summer has treated you well.  First let me just tell you that thanks to your help tutoring me in the math lab last semester in College Algebra I got an 84% on my final and an overall 92% in the class. 

I am enrolled in your course this summer and was wondering if I need to purchase the book or if it will be on My Math Lab.  

Look at that.  She opens with a greeting, has perfect grammar, and even makes me feel good about myself.  What more could you want?

Maybe I don't need the emails to stop after all.