The highlight of the year for me has probably been going to a series of plays. The trend started last Christmas, when my sister Margaret and I spent a week in Chicago. While we were there we saw Ragtime, Chicago—the Musical, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Then in ’99 I saw Rent in Des Moines, Phantom of the Opera in Toronto, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat in Minneapolis, and Cabaret and Fosse in Chicago. Until a couple of years ago I’d never seen a big-time professional theatre production. This year alone made up for that, but I thoroughly enjoyed all the shows—as well as the lovely old theatres that hosted them. My favorite show was probably Rent, with Chicago close behind. Ticketmaster certainly got more than their fair share of my money this year, but I’d say it was worth it.
The plays were part of what was really a pretty busy year of travelling for me. In addition to spending last Christmas in Chicago, Margaret and I had a wonderful time in Toronto last August. At Easter I went out to Cleveland, where I saw the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Case—Western Reserve museums. Then at the 4th of July I spent a long weekend in Chicago, where I gawked at the big-city fireworks, took the behind-the-scenes tour at Wrigley Field, and ate my way through the “Taste of Chicago” food fair.
I was a student again this summer, too. I came upon an opportunity to get three hours of graduate credit for free—courtesy of the Insurance Institute. So I spent the last two weeks of June at Drake University in Des Moines, living in a cramped, dirty dorm room and taking an intensive course about insurance. I can’t say I learned much that will be useful in my teaching, but I did get an “A”—and I certainly can’t argue with the price. One nice break during the class was when Steve and his family came up to visit, and we went out to an Iowa Cubs game.
Another big event of my year was acquiring a new computer, a Gateway G5-166 Pentium machine. While my students tell me it’s obsolete, it does everything I could ever imagine wanting to do—and more. I held on to my old Apple II for 15 years; hopefully this will be just as serviceable.
There have been some changes at school this year. We had a math teacher resign, and the school essentially reduced that position. That meant my schedule was shuffled around, and I’ve got some enormous classes. I was intrigued to haul out some papers from the last time I taught Advanced Algebra, about a decade ago. We’ve got 25% more students here than we did then, but essentially 25% fewer math teachers. You can see why I spend my afternoon trying to keep order without an empty desk in the room.
While I don’t care for the overload at all, mostly school is going okay. I actually have fewer different classes to prepare for than I did last year, and most of the students are good. The whole school has been a bit sports-crazy all year long. I enjoyed watching our baseball team as they had their best season ever last summer. Then this fall our football team surpassed everyone’s expectations, going all the way to the state championship game a week before Thanksgiving. I wish I could say my quiz bowl or speech teams had done that well. Things go in cycles, though, and now it’s the athletes’ turn to be at the top.
One of the most interesting things I’ve done this fall is tutoring one of my gifted students in Russian. My sole qualification for that was cramming through a phrase book before Paul and I went to the Soviet Union 14 years ago. My background in Spanish and French makes it easy to catch the grammar, though, and all the Greek letters we use in math helped me to figure out the Russian alphabet. Fortunately the student is good—a lot better than me—at learning vocabulary, so we’re making fairly decent progress. I’m pleased to be able to add the greeting:
I did some more language teaching last spring, when I taught Spanish for the first time in over a decade. Iowa Lakes Community College needed someone to teach Spanish I, and I was there to help out in a pinch. I won’t pretend I did an outstanding job with it, but the students seemed to enjoy the class—and they did learn quite a bit.
Spanish wasn’t the only thing that kept me busy at college. I taught Statistics in the spring, summer, and fall semesters. Next spring I’ll teach “Finite Math” (a new course for me), as well as “Math for General Ed”. After mildly whining for years about how adjunct instructors have no input into things, this fall I had the opportunity to serve on a committee that is writing a guide for teaching over the college’s TV system. It’s been an interesting experience, and I think the guide will be quite useful when it’s done.
Aside from teaching, I’ve kept busy serving as a lector or “worship leader” at church. I enjoy doing that, but I’d probably like it better if there were one or two other people who wanted to help out. I’ve read almost every Sunday in ’99, and it would be nice to have a few more breaks.
The rest of the family is mostly doing well. Steve and his family are down in Oskaloosa now, with Terry teaching Spanish in a little town nearby Paul has been keeping busy as a lay minister in the Methodist Church. He has his own permanent church now, in a little town near Oskaloosa. John and Janet just got back from a trip to Ireland, and Margaret is looking at finishing her master’s degree. She and Paul spent a week in Peru early in the summer, and they thoroughly enjoyed it.
I saw many of the Burrow relatives in Waverly around Labor Day and several of the Millers in Iowa City at Thanksgiving. The biggest news is probably from Alaire, who had ear surgery last summer. Her hearing is actually improving for the first time in years. Almost everyone in the family is busier than they’d like to be, but for the most part they’re all doing okay.
I hope all of you are doing okay, too. May the holidays bring you happiness, and may the year 2000 be a good one for you—and for our world.
David Burrow's Christmas Letters