2015: The Year in Review


As I was browsing Twitter today, I saw that lots of people had been posting year-in-review posts, and I thought that I should do the same — not just because I always do whatever the crowd does, but also because I think that there's real value in reflection.

So, what did I do in 2015? Well, 2015 was a relatively formative year for me for a variety of reasons. Chief among those reasons was the fact that I quit my job as a public school teacher after 3.5 years of suffering and transitioned into private lessons. Initially, I was worried that private lessons would be as painful as classroom teaching, but I was pleased to discover that my worries were unfounded. This transition led to a variety of confirmations of hypotheses that I had entertained about myself and about education. First, I finally concluded that performing the job called "classroom teacher," especially in a public school, actually requires one to be both a communicator and a policeman: classroom teachers must both communicate and reinforce information and processes and keep the students on track by enforcing rules. In direct relation to this, I finally concluded that I am not that kind of policeman: I have neither tolerance nor time for misbehavior. I won't put up with it and I won't take the time to manage it. (Nowadays, as a private instructor, if students misbehave, I simply don't teach them any more. It's glorious.) When my past administrators noticed my lack of classroom management, I'm sure that they thought that I was just lazy or ill-prepared or under-trained or overly-friendly with the kids or something — but really, I chose not to employ classroom management techniques simply because I believe that they shouldn't be necessary. Redirection and similar tactics are just a stall; what's really needed is for the students to learn respect. Respect is something that the students must learn how to give — it's not something that can be taken by a teacher — and so I focused my efforts on eliciting it from them by treating them with all of the respect I could muster. In other words, I tried my best to treat them like adults, like fellow human beings. I won't say that this was 100% successful, or even necessarily 50% successful, but I at least feel that I earned the respect of all but the douchebaggiest of students. I've learned, too, the truth of the leading-a-horse-to-water adage, which has changed my approach even in private lessons. I no longer try to control the direction of the lessons. Instead, I merely ask what the student wants to work on, and then attempt to guide them in the learning process. Again, to parents and administrators on the outside, this might look like lunacy. Let the students direct the lessons?! But I know that it works because I know that I can't force a student to work on something that they don't want to work on ... but I can try to harness as propulsion their natural interest in any particular topic. Second, I've read recently (though I can't find the link right now) that computer scientists that are self-taught tend to be more successful in the long run than those with just a college degree. Of course, this is probably only one instance of a broader principle about education and success, and it's surely controversial, but it at least seems to be true in my own life. Therefore, I've made it my mission in my private lessons to try to impart a desire and a toolkit for learning to the same degree to which I try to transmit the theory and practice of whatever subject it is that we're discussing.

Another important feature of this year has been my attempt at self-displine. For the first three months, I loafed around the house, played video games, watched anime, etc. Sure, I completed a few useful, job-related tasks — I created flyers, business cards, and a website for my piano lessons — but then I just sat back and waited for stuff to happen. I partly felt that this period of relaxation was a justified reward for the misery of the previous 3.5 years. I also felt quite a lot of uncertainty about whether I had done the right thing by leaving my teaching job — and rather than spur me to work harder, this uncertainty became a paralyzing anxiety. I knew that I was accomplishing nothing, but I was somehow unable to do anything about it. Well, for a while, at least, I wallowed. One day, though, I snapped. I had had enough. I decided to make a change. You can see my previous blog posts for more information, but the change, which turned out to be the real key to my success in self-discipline, was my commitment to recording what I spent my time on every day. It was such a simple change, but it had drastic, incredible consequences. I absolutely could not bear to write "I spent 4 hours playing Call of Duty" in my diary at the end of the day, and so I simply quit playing it (or, at least, radically reduced the time). Conversely, I felt a fierce, glowing sense of pride when I could honestly claim to have spent a quarter of the day programming or researching. As with all changes, it was hard at first, and I struggled to figure out how much leisure time was reasonable and even helpful, and I burned out on some things because I worked too hard at them, but after a few months, I had become a highly productive person. Of course, this productivity is now tightly coupled with my very rigid schedule. The schedule-less, let's-do-everything-on-the-spur-of-the-moment Christmas break I'm currently experiencing wreaks havoc on my sense of well-being. I'm stressed to a retarded degree because I don't know when things are happening and I'm unable to plan stretches of time in which I can fiddle with my projects. I yearn for the return of my routine, not necessarily because I like working but because I can't cope with unpredictability.

Another thing that happened this year was that I learned a lot about my food allergies. I don't think that I have any severe food allergies, but I do seem to have several mild to moderate food allergies. I won't go into the gory details, but I'll just say that modifying my diet has had wonderful effects on my health. I've lost weight, I'm able to think more clearly, I'm not constantly itchy and bloated, and my anxiety levels are the lowest they've been in a long time (though I'm willing to believe that they're related to my work as much as to my diet). Plus, some of my chronic allergy symptoms seem to be going away. The only downside is that I've had to eliminate virtually all of my favorite foods, which really sucks. I'm still in the process of finding new recipes that meet all my dietary needs, which can be tedious and frustrating, but for the most part, I'm really happy about the results achieved through the changes.

Lastly, here's a list of a few small things that were significant but not large enough to deserve their own paragraph. First, I think that I became a much better programmer this year because I was able to devote a huge amount of time to it. Second, I've discovered that, even though my self-discipline has improved massively, I still can't work very well at home; most of the time, I have to get out of the house in order to get anything done. Third, I've learned that spending a lot of time at home makes Josh a dull boy — or, rather, a sociophobic, crotchety old man. Fourth, since Facebook isn't a real person that I can strangle with my bare hands, I had to settle for deleting the Facebook app from my phone; after that, I only checked in once every month or so (which I mainly did to make sure that I hadn't received any contact on my piano lessons page). I still loathe Facebook with all of my heart. Fifth, I wrote several blog posts that I never posted because I worried that they would reveal too much about me to people that aren't ready to hear those sorts of things. Maybe I'll post them someday soon.

All in all, even though the year started with some stress as I struggled to figure out my new work and to manage my time effectively, it was a good year. It was year of immense growth for me. The struggles were, I think, worth it. May 2016 be even better!