I’m currently on a flight headed towards Omaha after a nice weekend in Los Angeles. I arrived in LA on Friday night. The shuttle looped around the airport many times looking for passengers to pick up, which quickly became tiresome. On the way to the hotel, i took a decent number of pictures in accordance with tourist customs. The Staples Center was especially impressive at night, with music, giant screens displaying basketball on ESPN, and, of course, nightly commotion. The driver dropped off an older woman at the JW Marriot, and it w on our way out that i spotted my first pretentious socal douche. We pulled out of the hotel driveway and disrupted the continuity of the sidewalk as we did so. The aforementioned pretentious douche, adorned in clothes that were too tight and labeled to be considered befitting of a normal human and holding the hand of the always necessary DBG, realized that our van had managed to threaten the very idea that the entire universe was created for the sole purpose of providing uninhibited walkways for him, his scantily clad companion, and his greasy head. Feeling fully justified in his indignation at having to mosey slightly to the right to avoid the van, the pretentious douche made harsh gestures and sounds towards the driver. Like one panda towards another of the opposite sex, the driver paid the douche no mind and opted for the nearby delicious bamboo that was the next destination. Math for America LA paid for my flight and for two nights in a room with a king sized bed in downtown LA only a short walking distance from the MfA headquarters. I arrived at the hotel a little later than 10:15pm. There was some trouble checking in, as the front desk wanted me to have the credit card that was used to buy my reservation. I didn’t have the credit card since it belonged to MfA. I called the MfA program specialist, Amy, who sorted everything out. By 10:35 local time, I was in my room. After investigating my surroundings briefly, I went to sleep.
I woke up at roughly 5:45am due to the fact that my body was adjusted to the time zone in which I have spent the better part of the last 4 1/2 years. I took a hot shower, brushed my teeth, and dressed for success. After reflecting on my previous interview at UNL, and after finding out that UNL is sending me a generous offer as a result of that interview, I felt comfortable, confident, and hell, even attractive. It’s hard to think of many professions that are so vital and foundational to society as that of the public school teacher. Moreover, my curious investigation of the universe in all the years of my life has given me skills that are sorely needed in education. I still have much to learn, and the challenges will be numerous and difficult, but I cannot help but be excited at the opportunity to help people discover the world around them at a young age. With a morning of these kinds of thoughts, along with an earful of Branford Marsalis, I set off to the AT&T building at around 8:05am.
Again respecting the universal laws of tourism, I took pictures of the lively city around me. Downtown was lively and awake, and the sun seemed to already promise a great day. I spotted a tree, and so decided to photograph it in case I am ever pressed to provide evidence to the claim that there are trees in Los Angeles. There are, of course, many trees in LA, but I hadn’t seen them until that point. There were directions to the building, but I didn’t need them, as it’s size was ample enough to be spotted between buildings now and then and my sense of direction was keen enough to navigate in absence of visual confirmation. I arrived at the building no later than 8:20, with some time to spare before gaining access to the food that had been promised.
The building requires security clearance, and no doubt I will feel really cool if I get accepted to the program and am issues a clearance badge. The person at the front desk took my license and returned it to me with an adhesive name tag that I would come to despise as it repeatedly fell off and got crinkled throughout the day. I was escorted to the elevator where the tyrannical ruler of the front desk pressed the button labeled “21” for me. The AT&T building is an office space that is rented out to many organizations. I like to think that the security is so tight because there are top secret government experiments being done, and so we aren’t allowed to choose the floors for ourselves. USC is in the process of constructing a new building for the Rossier School of Education, and so the entire school is in the process of being moved to The AT&T building. The building is a state-of-the-art green+ building with a fabulous view. In addition, the MfA is also headquartered in the building, so all of the available resources and support are readily available. There is no doubt that I will still go to the beautiful USC campus frequently to study and perhaps to perform various forms of mischief. I would like to develop a reporte with the professors of Mathematics because I think it’s important to keep connected to the Mathematics community. I have enough textbooks to continue learning Mathematics on my own at my leisure, whatever leisure there may be as a public school teacher. More on that later.
I reached the 21st floor in record time as the elevator lurched upwards. I stepped out of the elevator. To the right was a closed door at the end of the elevator area. To the left were two attractive women dressed in appropriate businesswear that exuded that “I’m about to have an interview” vibe. We introduced ourselves to ourselves. Their names were Laila and Katherine. It wasn’t long before some of the MfA higher-ups opened the door and called for us to come in.
As promised, there was food. I had a bagel with cream cheese and an orange juice. By the end of the day, I would realize that MfA is very serious about food. They ended up feeding us lots of good food that day.
There were five of us interviewing: Josh, Carol, Katherine, Laila, and myself. Apparently, there are 25 applicants who are to be interviewed, and anywhere from 10 to 15 (16,17,18?) depending on how much money is available. After breakfast, we were introduced to our first task. We were to write short essay responses to various questions, and these essay responses were to be handed in at the end of the day. Throughout the day, we would be interrupted from our essay writing by various activities. The first activity was the group interview. We were given a packet defining the Farey Sequences (pretty cool, actually), along with many guiding questions. We were to take 45 minutes to explore the packet and prepare a 10 minute long group presentation on the subject. We had that typical exciting interaction that groups of math people tend to have when working on a problem together. I thought it was lovely. I made some mistakes and stumbles, but I felt confident throughout and didn’t think much of it. After the group interview, we all furiously wrote our essays until lunch time. I would end up writing just about everything that I had to say in that time before lunch.
Did I mention that MfA is big on food? Lunch was delicious. There was salad, desert, and sandwiches–all of high quality. I thoroughly enjoyed a sandwich consisting of fresh tomato, mozzarella cheese, lettuce, and some miscellaneous spices. We spent lunch with current MfA fellows, some of whom were from the very first LA cohort (2008). They told us about their first year, and the years after that. They told us about the adversity that many of their kids face, and that it’s important to acknowledge those circumstances while still trying to hold those kids to a higher standard. I didn’t get to hear much more before I was pulled from the room to do individual interviews. I had a one-on-one interaction with Pam, the director of MfA. I probably shouldn’t say much about it in the slight chance that someone interviewing tomorrow or Tuesday gets hold of this post. The chat with Pam was pleasant and I felt very articulate and confident. I was then corralled over to a room that was uncomfortably small for five people, especially when four of those people were interviewers and the other was me. Some of the interviewers pressed me hard on some subjects. I maintained composure and answered as honestly, articulately, and logically as I could. The interview sort of turned into a discussion about some of the very difficult challenges that face teachers in high-needs situations. Throughout the day I developed a great sense of how important it is for teachers to have a network of support to help in a wide range of difficulties inherent to teaching (especially with things like classroom management). As is thematic of this post, I left the interview feeling confident. The following hour or so was spent with the 2011 cohort who were in our very shoes just a year ago. We had long talks about what the first year is like, and how close they have all become. By 3:00 I had finished my essays to my satisfaction, and decided not to go over them. I felt that I had said what I wanted to say, and that any more meddling would only make them worse and not better. Everyone else continued to vigorously write as I walked about the place, enjoying the various views, and even calling home for a brief chat.
My curtailed lunch ensured that I was rather hungry when the banquet of Mexican food arrived for the reception at 4:00. I ate to my heart’s content and continued to chat with the 2011 cohort members. There was merry conversation to be had, and soft drink to be drunk. Two additional applicants showed up for the reception, even though they won’t be interviewing until Monday or Tuesday. One of the two newbies was named Ariel, and she would go on to play a part later in the story. Since Katherine was an undergraduate at USC, and I was only in LA for basically one day, I asked if she might be willing to show me the ropes. Katherine agreed and offered the same opportunity to the other applicants. Laila and Josh had to travel various distances that night, and so declined. Carol was already familiar with the area, and so she also declined. It was Ariel and I who took Katherine as our guide that night. We left the building, I took more pictures, and we were on our way. Except there were a few minutes before we left that I used to talk to my mom and dad on the phone. Ariel showed off her Japanese-made red convertible, and Katherine sported her SUV. I was asked to decide who to ride with, and so I reached into my backpack to find a coin to flip when simultaneously Ariel grabbed my arm and I realized that I didn’t have a coin. It was no matter. I was herded over to Ariel’s convertible, and we were off. Ariel and i became fast friends. We chatted pleasantly and followed Katherine to her abode, where she parked her car and joined us in the convertible. I learned many interesting tidbits about what sort of neighborhoods to avoid, what sort of housing was available, and of course, Katherine gave us the grand tour of the USC campus. We had a great time talking, and I would slow our average pace periodically to fulfill my touristic duties. We made a lap of the campus and returned to the car by about 7:45. We stood together for a moment confused about what to do next when I said something about my being happy going with the wind or flow or something. Katherine laughed a lot at that and I’m still not sure why. Ariel had to leave us, so she drove us to Katherine’s place and said goodbye. Awkward carhugs ensued. Awesome.
Katherine and I waffled around thinking about where to go when she excitedly remembered that there is a really awesome ice cream shop called “Scoops”. We drove north, all the while having really nice conversations. We laughed, we cried, we got ice cream. Scoops was a weird place. They had flavors like “Vanilla and Bacon.” I sampled just about everything before getting one scoop of cinnamon chocolate and mocha something. That’s right. Scoops has the curious philosophy that you can have two different flavors with one scoop of ice cream. I think they’re confused, since it definitely takes two scoops to get two flavors. I dared not correct them, though, for fear that they might realize their mistake and deny me my bonus flavor. The ice cream was delicious, and the company fantastic. Even in one day, I was shown how close of friends this program makes people. I hope to hope’s fullest that Katherine and I both get into the program. It will be nice to have someone else there who has seen a lot of the same kind of theoretical math that I have. I would even think that we could help each other continue to study math, especially since I have access to so many excellent textbooks on my iPad. We left Scoops and arrived at my hotel. Contacts were exchanged and awkward carhugs freely given and received. What a day! I really hope we all get in.