Posted in numbers, writing

How the Fear of Math Prevented Me from Teaching High School English

When I was hired at McLane High School, back at the end of 2017, administration placed me in a SPED math classroom, even though I came to them with a B.A. in English, M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and several years teaching in college English classrooms.

From what I gathered, they were just doing their best to shove corks into the leaking holes of the ship; the high school had hemorrhaged a good deal of faculty in the last three years, none of which is the fault of the campus’ current (and awesome) principal.

So at least, in the beginning, this is a story of misunderstandings and doing-your-bests.

And they needed a SPED math teacher.

😶 A Complicated Relationship with Math

However, I wasn’t informed during the interview that I’d be placed in a math class; rather, because the interview focused on my experience teaching English, I thought they’d likewise assign me that subject. I even made a lighthearted comment about how my math score on the CBEST was by far my highest score, yet to say I would feel uncomfortable teaching would be an understatement.

I was also transparent about being on the autism spectrum during the interview.

The first time I heard I was teaching math, I was talking to a coworker at a required weekend training. (The recruitment program that helped me get my emergency teaching credential, Transition 2 Teaching, required us to attend Saturday trainings once a month; that was a real juggle, since I also visit my family and friends in Orange County every 4-7 weeks; and though the trainings were unpaid, they had lots of useful information I could apply to both K-12 and college classrooms; so I was grateful for the opportunity, but I also think it may have been too much additional stress to my schedule, especially after I started teaching at a high school and two college campuses simultaneously.)

I didn’t confirmed I was teaching math until long after the “you’re hired phone call,” and shortly after that foreboding training—when I stepped onto the campus to teach for the first time—they assigned a coworker (rather than manager) to oversee my use of V-Math (booklets, not technology) in the classroom.

And I couldn’t do it.

You see, I have arithmophobia.

Or do I?

😭 The Panic Attacks

For the first two months of teaching, I was experiencing anywhere from 3-10 anxiety attacks per work week, although I didn’t start keeping track of the triggers, lengths, and aftermaths (pun intended) until a month in, when I realized I would not receive support without “banging my head into a wall” several times.

Here are some of the notes I wrote down:

Inevitably I was diagnosed with an anxiety condition related to the calculation of numbers. I needed this diagnosis, since McLane High School required medical documentation for the issue, and “I have autism and a fear of all these numbers” wasn’t enough on its own merit. Since I’d been seeing a psychiatrist and/or therapist weekly during the peak of the events, I brought a note in.

Then I was reassigned to teach English.

But not until I had to spend another several weeks locked in a small room, no larger than your typical 2-bedroom apartment bathroom, with a coworker who—although her heart is made of gold—speaks very, very loudly, and sometimes extremely harshly.

This was the nail in my coffin. Social anxiety began devouring the pieces of me that remained after the math trauma. By the time I walked into the English classrooms I’d fought hard to teach, I was already a broken, jumbled, sad mess, with no time available for self-care. I slept, stressed, taught, ate. Slept, stressed, taught, ate.

My graduate school ulcers returned.

I started moaning and rocking to sleep, like I used to do as a teenager.

Sometimes, while I was driving to work, I’d look at a brick wall or an abandoned building—something I knew I could use, in conjunction with my car, to end my life without hurting anyone else—and of course, I let my therapist know I’ve suffered from lifelong passive suicidal thoughts, that they’re coming back again, that I’ve always thought they’ve been my trigger for extreme self-care, but I was open to his interpretations, as long as we could sort this issue out. Deep down, I’ve always sincerely appreciated the nuisances and different angles endlessly provided by life.

I’d inevitably be placed on stress leave because of the social phobia, the pressures of my regional instructional manager, and case management; but I wonder sometimes, if I hadn’t spent two months establishing an environment of fear—if I hadn’t eaten lunches under my desk; buffered coworkers who questioned my autism; and if I had been given time to heal from the obvious damage the misunderstandings had caused me—could I have thrived as an English SPED teacher?

Could I have helped children with autism?

I hope this blog helps instead. I’d like to help somehow.

😱 So is it Arithmophobia…

🤯 Or it Something Else…?

My curiosity about “what happened?” is what led me to explore numbers further on my own time. On stress leave, I took to the activities I thought I’d needed all along, but never had the time for:

I have other therapy plans set in place too, but all of this costs time.

For now, I think it’s safe to say it isn’t arithmophobia…

But it’s something.

Still feels like fear.

🤓 Today’s Autism Video

🤔 3 Takeaways

  • I want an abacus (and I’ve always wanted a damn abacus) more than you’ll ever know. I even want to pronounce it the same way he does @1:33.
  • I love tree bark. I love trees. I love how @0:50, they get cozy with the trees.
  • stream of thought writing while I’m watching the video: I want to use the yellow dots to count 2, 4, 6, 8… the green to count 3, 6, 9, 12… but I don’t like that he’s counting with the blue beads 1, 2, 3, 4, he should use the red beads instead for—AHHH HE’S DOING IT—okay, I’m thinking my abacus shouldn’t be colored. Or maybe I should just make one with the colors I like. I need materials to build an abacus.
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Posted in numbers, special interests

Colors in Flowers and Numbers

Says Everyone: “But don’t all girls like flowers?”

Says No One: “She might have a weird interest in this flower thing…”

🤓 Today’s Aspergirl Video

Being a woman going to a doctor to find out if she might be autistic is somewhat like going to a proctologist for a pap smear; it’s just not gonna happen.

🤔 3 Takeaways

  • My autism’s been full-blown challenged (“She’s not autistic!”) by family members and coworkers, even though I have a diagnosis;
  • I was misdiagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (and prescribed a highly addictive drug) by Fresno’s MediCal hospital, Clinica Sierra Vista; and that was just one of many misdiagnoses and uphill battles;
  • Thus I distance myself from people who decide, “She’s not autistic,” who deny the day I felt the dappled sunlight, dancing along me through the swaying boughs of tree-arms above, after having this specific experience:

When the diagnosis came, I cried with relief. I felt it was almost a battle that I had to prove to myself—that I wasn’t mad.

I will never forget the feeling of that tree rustling above, outside of the hospital, walking to my car.

😄 So Back to Flowers

When I visit new places, I document my time there by taking photos of wildflowers, potted plants, and landscaping; and when I step on flowers, it’s as startling as stepping on a cat’s tail; and when people step on my garden, I cry like they stepped on me; and when I grow spices, I let them spike and flower, just to see what it looks like;

Because when my succulents flower, it feels better than winning twenty bucks on a nickel slot machine; it’s like a backstage pass to the inner workings of life; it’s redefining beauty through experience;

Because flowers feel like the evolution of our love for sunlight, color, and sustenance, it opens us up to reconsider and revalue these things.

Flowers chase the sun, glowing more vibrantly than most, (although, we are as capable as glowing as vibrantly as them,) and they embody the same colors as the numbers in my mind.

I think that’s why I like them.

Flowers are made
with the same bright colors
as the numbers in my mind,
and as a child, I found
they never minded
if I counted those numbers
on their velvet petals.

😎 In High School

I got hooked on this idea of attending a summer regional occupational program to learn how to be a florist. I wanted to transform into Final Fantasy VII’s Aerith.

But I struggled with transportation. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 18, despite trying since I was 15, including driving school, one-on-one lessons with half-a-dozen family members—each who could only handle 1-2 near-death experiences before passing me and my 1991 Maxima along to someone else—

And I tried the public bus,
but the smells of the people,

(and the way others judged
if I tried to explain
how the scent of people
overwhelmed me;)

Eventually Gra, my dad’s dad, finished up my driving lessons, and after my ninth driving test, I earned my license; but I never attended the regional occupational program to be a florist because, by then, I was working part-time as an administrative assistant for a construction company.

I don’t know how many potted flowers I bought, put out on a patio, then overwatered, underwatered, sideways and upside-down-watered… I spent my twenties with a brown thumb.

But I was determined to replicate the fluorescent green of the number three, to bring this number to the surface of visible nature; and to this day, I tend our backyard of vegetables and spices to surround myself in glowing green.

Of all our vegetables, my favorite is the tomato, with bright yellow buds that reflect the number two.

Recording Bloopers

Meet Meeper
Do you enjoy Cleo’s Autism Awareness?
Consider supporting me on Patreon.
🌸 @ $1 – $35 a month, 🌸
you not only help me add more
daily hours to writing and editing posts,
but you can receive handmade products,
such as poetry, postcards, and books.
🎁 Pledge rewards are limited. 🎁