31 May, 2006


So what's a half-Italian native Virginian, residing "semi-permanently" in North Carolina, doing visiting Mississippi twice this year already?

I wish I could say that I have been aiding in the reconstruction, but I can't say that. The reality is that in February I was interviewed for a position at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. I didn't think I would get the position, especially after I visited it. The interview went well, though — and much better than I thought it did. They made me an offer, which I accepted.

The recent return visit was, therefore, part of an effort to find a place to live. The effects of Hurricane Katrina mean that thousands of residents of southern Mississippi are still living in temporary housing, or moving from their formal rural homes to urban homes. Apartments in Hattiesburg are hard to come by, and my chair strongly encouraged me to come early to find a place. While there, I spent time looking at school options for our son.

Regular readers won't be surprised that I was job-hunting, especially after the last semester. I'm not alone, apparently; at least one other first-year professor took a job at another university, and I've heard that others are looking elsewhere. I can't speak for the others, but the ultimate reason I decided to seek work elsewhere was that I miss the ability to spend a lot of time doing research. It's ironic, really; I spent most of my years in grad school grinding my teeth and cursing the research that I saw as an obstacle to doing what I really wanted. Once I had the PhD, I realized that all those years of grad school had changed me, and I was more interested in solving those math problems than in teaching people how to solve other math problems. It reminds me how two priests have told me that they felt themselves change in seminary.

Teaching can be quite fun, and I've had a lot of fun doing it. I'll still be doing it at USM, of course, but the job is quite different under different circumstances. It surprises me how teaching the same material at one place is very different from teaching the same material at a different place.

I wonder if this transition isn't a sort of failure. For the last 15 years of my life, I wanted to teach largely for altruistic reasons. It certainly wasn't for the money! People I tutored in grad school have gotten jobs that pay twice as much as I earn now. My idealism, alas, is in shambles. First at the high school level, then at the college level, I found myself unable to do what everyone says good teachers do: INSPIRE STUDENTS. — Well, that's not entirely true. Through the years, a number of students have told me that, for the first time, they enjoyed taking a math class. My biggest asset has been that I revel with delight in mathematics, and students finding that shocking. For most of them, it's the first time they've encountered someone whose so unabashedly invigorated by it. But my teaching style is in transition, just as the world is. I'm not sure most of the students saw that delight this past year; I felt harried, hurried, and hopelessly busy most of the time. In addition, things that people find cute or amusing in a young man come across as annoying and insulting in an older fella.

Moving to other transitions, my wife and I are expecting a child. When? you ask. Any day now. :-) Since our first child is already shockingly successful — he made all A's, which I never did in grade school, and scored the second highest number of Accelerated Reader points in his class, losing the highest by a mere 0.8 points out of about 120 — you can't begin to imagine what a fearsome champion this second child will be. Watch out, world; we're taking over — and we're making polyglots out of them: English and Russian now, Italian and Latin soon, Spanish and more after that, more, more! You won't be able to hide your thoughts from us in any language!!! ;-)

One last note: this child is unquestionably mine. How do we know? My wife tells me that when I sing Latin hymns, the baby stops shuffling around inside her, and pays attention. My wife insists that the baby likes it. How do you know? I ask. I don't know how to explain it, my wife says. I just feel that baby likes it. Who knows? Baby might sing Latin before speaking English. Cantànima.


Lee said...

Congratulations on both counts! Sounds like you're in for a lot of changes!

Elliot said...


And good luck!

qkl said...

Congratulations, sounds like you will be very busy soon! ;)