I found this title as a draft in my WordPress account today. I don’t remember what was originally going to go with this idea last year, as my son had his first seizure when I sat down to write and we dashed off to the ER instead. However, I am, and always have been, a bookworm, so I can dither away!
Here’s what I have been reading this week. Beware! Mishmash of genres and styles ahead! I am a very eclectic reader.
Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson
This novel about a tiny Northern California logging town in the late 1970s, fighting greedy timber corporations, government seizures to create old growth national parks, declining jobs, and incipient environmental awareness of the dangers of broadleaf herbicides used by the companies to clear everything that is not a redwood tree was intense and heartbreaking. I was submerged in the world and the landscape, and found the characters well-drawn and believable. For the first time ever reading a fiction book set in the real world, I got maps and traced every detail of the location. It was also difficult to read precisely because of its realism and my own knowledge of what happened in these communities in the following years.
Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh
I just finished this audiobook yesterday, and have the narrator’s New Zealand accent floating in the back of my mind. A twisty, tricky, sneaky mystery with a first person narrator who is unreliable for at least three different reasons. I was constantly surprised, and suspected absolutely everyone all of the time, while still never seeing the actual resolution of the mystery coming. I am not easy to fool or surprise with mysteries, and boy, did this do both.
The 7 1/2 Murders of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
I am reading this one on my iPad, and wondering why I did not pick it up when it actually came out. Aiden Bishop wakes up with memory loss in a forest outside of an isolated and decrepit country house, and discovers that he is trying to solve the murder of the daughter of the house…only she has not been murdered yet, no one will believe it is a murder when it happens, and every time he falls asleep, he wakes up as a different person on the premises, with their own knowledge of the events happening and their own secrets. He is told her will have eight hosts and eight chances to solve the mystery if he ever wants to leave this day…or this house.
The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey
I like to have many, many, many books around that I have not yet read, so our house is divided into bookcases of unread and bookcases of read books. My 11 year old, who will read any book in the library before deciding if he wants to check it out and read it again, has decided that this makes no sense, and what is the point of having books if you don’t read them immediately. More specifically, he has made it his mission to nag me to read one particular book, called The Everything Box, which he has settled on because he likes the bright blue cover. A few nights ago, he sneaked into my room, slipped the book from the shelf, and put it on top of my stack of brand new books that I am cataloging. (Everyone sleeps with their brand new books in a stack where they can appreciate them upon waking, right? That’s not weird. My dad does this with new pairs of shoes. That is weird.) Appreciating the effort, if not the bizarre fixation on what I am reading when he has not read every book on his shelves either, I started this novel too. It is a sardonic heist novel with a magic immune, down on his luck thief who steals magical objects in L.A., and an angel who has lost the object that will cause the apocalypse, and is still looking for it, 4,000 years later. In L.A. I believe paths will cross! So far, it is ridiculous and snarky and funny.
I have just tried to measure a cat. You can imagine how that went. There was a lot of chasing and lifting and fighting to get my tape measure back. At one point, I yelled, “Stop eating my tape measure!” followed rapidly by “Okay, eat my tape measure. Hold it like that. Just stop moving!” As I attempted to grab the other end and read the numbers, the tape measure, trailing after the cat, ran off at high speed, crossed three rooms, and looped around the dining room table to zoom past me in the opposite direction. Some day, I may see the tape measure again.
As I was going to write today about the adventures of my now 1 year old Savannah cat, measuring her seemed like a reasonable idea. Most people are not aware of this breed, so I thought measurements would be helpful. Eventually, I briefly got hold of the tape measure and took some fairly accurate measurements, with a lot of spinning in place and arm flailing. Gasping for breath, I watched the tape measure streak away from me once again and jotted down my numbers. From the floor to her withers (Shoulders? She is not a horse.), she stands 14 inches tall. From the tip of her nose to the tip of her stretched out tail, she measures 27 inches. In reality, she is closer to 28 or 29 inches, because she had an inch of tape measure in her mouth and was accordion pleating herself to prepare for pouncing. She is still growing. Savannah cats take about two years to exit kittenhood and reach their full size. Oh, and side to side? She is three inches wide.
Several generations back in her ancestry, there is a wild cat. This is where the spots, and the triangular head, and the energy and curiosity come from. She is a domestic cat, because they must be at least 4 generations removed from the wild parent in order to be considered a purebred Savannah. It does mean that several things about a Savannah are a bit different from your regular domestic cat. She purrs, but it is an odd, raspy sort of purr. She is incredibly affectionate and fiercely loyal, but she has no patience for being a lap cat. She will climb up on you, meow in your face, bat your ears, groom your hair a little bit, clamber over your shoulders and head, and then leave to do something more interesting. Most likely, she will repeat the process in twenty minutes in case you had forgotten about her.
And there, there is her activity level and her intelligence. A Savannah cat will not sleep for 20 hours a day on a cushion and wait for your return. A Savannah will explore every inch of her surroundings. In detail. And memorize it. And return to it again and again. They are magicians, escape artists, and stealers of things. They play. All the time. With vigor. Savannahs need a lot of toys, a lot of room, and a lot of stimulation.
To all of these admonitions, we vigorously yelled, “Yeah! Bring it on!”
We don’t regret it either. But we have weird stories to share. Aliza slithers over the bed and under the covers like a silent furry snake. Let me tell you, waking up at 3 a.m. as something slides over your body and suddenly licks the back of your knee takes some getting used to! She climbs everything, and when she got big enough, she discovered the fact that she can jump really far. Given some time to scope out her surroundings and think about the geometry and physics involved, we have seen her leap 5 feet straight up (from a chair to the top of a bookcase and the top of the antique china hutch, from the floor to the mantle, etc.) and 10 feet laterally from the far end of the sofa to the top of her cat tree. This made Christmas decorating a challenge. Surprisingly, she did not climb the tree. However, she chewed a light strand to bits before we even got it to the tree, so we decided no lights, and only the non-breakable ornaments on the tree. We strung the lights around the ceiling instead, and hung all of the breakable ornaments up high, just shy of our nine foot ceilings.
You’d think this would work.
It did not work.
First, Aliza stole all the bird ornaments off of the tree and ran off with them. She left balls and bells and other things alone, but if there was a bird ornament, on the bottom branch or six feet up the tree, it was toast. It is March, and we are still turning up random bird ornaments. Having de-avianed the tree, she set her sights on the tasty glowing lights, and made her way to the tops of all the tall furniture. After knocking off everything that she could move she stood on her hind legs and batted at the ornaments and the lights! They bounced! Hooray! She pursued them with a single-minded devotion, as bouncing them made them come down further so she could bite the tasty tips of glass balls and crystal icicles. We spent a lot of December on top of a stepladder, telling the cat “No!” She is smart, so worked her way through, ornament by ornament, maneuver by maneuver, to test which things we did not want her to touch, and in which way. When our son was a toddler, it was much easier to keep HIM out of the tree. We put baby gates all around it. He was neither 3 inches wide nor a baby Olympic high jumper, so it was just fine.
After exploring all of the upstairs living areas, scaring several years off of my life with her nocturnal slitherings, and getting stuck up the chimney once, she turned her attention to downstairs. Aliza follows us everywhere, closely attentive to our activities, in case we do something interesting or need her to carry something. (Savannahs are obsessed with carrying things. They will capture vegetables, TV remotes, shoes, pool filters…whatever catches their fancy. The internet has lots of hilarious videos. Our personal Savannah started out very small, so she could only carry small things. She prefers socks, underwear, Floppy Bird, Purple Mouse, Spotted Snake, and basically anything else she can get in her mouth that will flop or squeak or drag. We have found a few caches of Hot Wheels cars and random bits of our son’s clothing. She loves to carefully disassemble LEGO creations and hide the bricks. I am sure she is reaching an age and size when she can take away the remote and we will never watch TV again.) Our washer and dryer are in a portion of the basement that is unfinished, so there are lots of exposed beams, ducts, and pipes. For a while she would just leap in and out of the laundry sink to amuse herself while we did laundry, but soon she wanted to explore more.
One day before school, my son and I caught her slinking through a gap in the wall, after which we heard a lot of rattling and rustling within the wall. My husband assured us that while she might be able to get into the crawl space from there, she could not get outside. Within a few days, we could definitely tell that she had made it to the crawl space, as we could hear her thumping, pouncing, and rustling under various places as she made her way around. The fact that she was no longer exploring the inside of the wall was less of a relief than we would have expected. A few days after that, we started to hear echoing thuds and crashes coming up through our heating grates, though when we rushed downstairs, we would find her in the middle of the floor, looking studiously innocent in a completely unconvincing way. At long last, we caught her walking on top of a heating vent. Just below the ceiling. Within another few days, the thumps and crashes and echoing reverberations increased, and we realized that she was enjoying a daily jaunt through the floorboards. We prayed that if she could get in, she could get out again.
At last came a day when we could not find her anywhere. This was suspicious, as she is usually underfoot, sleeping atop an old mattress which she loves to climb vertically, on her climbing wall, or hiding behind a doorway to play pounce with the other cat, an overenthusiastic bout of which sent the other cat to the emergency vet with a dislocated sternum. No, we did not know that was possible. Nor did the emergency vet. My husband searched the house, calling for her, because Aliza adores him and comes when he calls. Ultimately, he found her when she uncurled from the top of the furnace stack, clambered across the duct work in the ceiling, slithered around the beam in the unfinished wall, and jumped down at his feet. This is now her go-to winter hideout. It’s warm; who can blame her?
She keeps us on our toes, and keeps us amused. Her six foot tall running wheel in the front room intrigues and entertains the neighbors. She is lively and fun and challenging and endlessly interesting. She’ll carry a balloon away by its knot, sneak onto the dining room table to run off with the candles, and endlessly prowl the kitchen counters in case someone accidentally leaves food out. Our evenings are spent removing her from all of these places. She stands on top of the fish tank and sticks her arm down into the one small hole in the lid, convinced that some day, she will either ooze through the tiny hole of figure out how to lift the lid on which she is standing. She stops traffic when she perambulates through the neighborhood in her harness and leash, and graciously soaks up the praise that she knows she so richly deserves. It’s fun, but not for the faint of heart.
Ha! I bet you clicked on this for cute baby pictures of a chubby cheeked one year old with cake. No such luck. Today is our cat’s official first birthday. She does not get cake, though she is willing to give it a taste, especially if it has buttercream frosting.
It’s very weird. We’ve never owned a cat with an official birthday before. We are usually rescue people and our cats have had an approximate age by week. We’ve also gotten them very young, from 5 1/2 weeks old to 9 weeks old. With this cat, though, we went a different route, getting a purebred cat who was kept with her mom cat until she was 14 weeks old.
First, however, you need some backstory. Last March, our 17 1/2 year old cat became very ill. I blogged about it a bit, as I had many, many, many hours stuck in my car with the emergency vet because, during a pandemic, we could not go inside the clinic. She rallied, but we knew that what we were doing was palliative care.
During the first week in April, her health took another nosedive, and after another sleepless night in the emergency vet’s parking lot, we made the tough decision that we needed to end her suffering. We were lucky enough to have access to a vet who came to our house. At this point, Calypso was curled up on the heating grate under a chair. She had stopped eating and drinking, but I was able to tempt her with a tiny bowl full of her absolute favorite Greenie treats and some water. I put her all-time favorite bird movie on my iPad and placed it on the floor where she could see it. Purring so loudly that she could be heard across the room, she struggled to her feet to move closer to the screen, as always, optimistic that she could bat those birds right out of TV land and into her mouth. When it was time, I gently lifted her emaciated frame and curled her on my lap, on her favorite blanket and her favorite chair. She purred more intensely than we ever expected from a cat who was now only three pounds of fur could purr. She stretched out to lick all of our hands, then settled down gently on my lap, so slight that I could barely feel her weight. She told us it was okay, and it was time, and she let go.
We did not immediately go and get another cat, but my son and I knew that the house needed a second one, and our four year old cat was bereft without her companion. Calypso was my husband’s cat, so I let him lead the way, and he decided that he wanted a purebred cat. I was quite surprised, but he grew up with purebred dogs and did not think it was a weird idea to have a pet whose lineage was traceable back to the Mayflower or whatever. We had always been drawn to cats that have a lot of intelligence and personality, so decided that was what we wanted to investigate. Our cat obsessed then 10 year old put in a bid for an Egyptian Mao, but they are apparently highly strung and startle easily at loud noises and sudden movements, so I nixed that idea, as 10 year old boys consist entirely of loud noises and sudden movements. Anyway, it got to be my husband’s choice and ultimately, he fell in love with a Savannah kitten. She had been born on March 5, and although we reserved her, she remained with her mom and the breeder until Memorial Day weekend, being weaned, socialized, trained to her harness for walks, and so on. We got continuous updates and pictures and videos until we were able to bring her home, so although we have not yet had her for a full year, today is her official first birthday.
Have you heard of Savannah cats, or that they are extremely high energy and extremely intelligent and not for the casual cat owner? Ooooh, yeah! Tomorrow: adventures in raising an extremely high-maintenance cat. Stay tuned for hilarious hijinks!
After lunch today, a 6th grader came into my room and said, “School is all gibberish and bad words.”
Yep. That pretty much sums up teaching in 2022.
We have renegade 8th graders roaming the halls like they own the place, swearing up a storm in conversation, at each other, and at any adults who attempt to assert their authority.
Fights happen daily. Physical, punching fights on the playground. In the lunchroom. In class.
My hollow-eyed principal says, “I hoped so much that kids would settle back into routine. Into the rhythms of school. I am starting to fear that we have lost them.”
Today, a trio of girls kept leaping out of their seats to rush between each other’s desks and pass notes and whisper furiously, until finally one pair moved to an empty table by the third girl. It did not escape my notice that the third girl is the one who students yesterday reported as having created a fake TikTok account in my name. I ordered the wandering pair back to their assigned seats, pointed out that I was aware that something was going on, and that it would not be going on in my class.
In another class, a girl asked to go and read in the library. I told her no. She complained that I always tell her no, and was I ever going to let her read in the library? No. Why not? Because this is class, not your personal free time, and you need to be in class. She flounced away.
In that same class, 15 kids stared at the walls, stared at their screens, stared at anything other than their work. They are nice kids. They come alive at breaks, in passing times, in club meetings. They have friends and interests and inside jokes and conversations with teachers. And two years of Zoom learning have left them confused, unmotivated, and waiting for education to happen to them. Nothing will get them to pick up a pencil, open a book, look at a file. They are broken. The world has broken them, the pandemic has broken them, and we have failed them.
In 5th period, a boy who struggles with his temper and struggles with his ability to pay attention stalked out of my class into the hall. I followed, but I did not yell. I asked him what was wrong. I told him it was okay if he turned his back on me, if he needed time, if he had to step away from class, but that he could not walk away. I would keep checking on him. The third time I stepped into the hall, I comforted this 11 year old boy who sobbed out that another kid kept picking on him, kept needling him, kept bugging him and he did not know why. He hadn’t done anything. Why was every day like this, over and over? I will do what I can for him. I will keep helping him with his work, I will find him a new seat, but I cannot actually answer that question.
Well meaning people say teachers need self-care. We should take time to relax. But that is not the problem. The problem is that we have our own griefs and our own fears, but because we are teachers, we pretend that we do not. We want to fix the kids, but we are hollow and exhausted and scared half the time ourselves. We pretend that we have experienced no trauma so that we can try to help the kids recover from theirs. We don’t know what the hell we are doing most of the time. The landscape of teaching has been shelled into oblivion. We are not counselors. We are not social workers. We don’t have training to deal with traumatized, frustrated, angry, damaged children. We don’t have the training and skills and time to create digital lessons for those absent, digital information and instructional videos that are easy to follow for demanding parents who got used to monitoring every aspect of their children’s education, while also preparing actual lessons for the kids in the classroom.
Today a 6th grader asked me why I always grade everything late. I looked at him sadly and told him the truth. I am overwhelmed. I am doing my best. There is so much to do to teach like this that I don’t have enough time left over to give them the feedback they need and deserve. He apologized for making me feel bad. I told him that he should not apologize. I do grade late, and he does deserve better.
It’s that time of day. I have gotten home, kicked off my shoes, and flicked on the electric kettle. The water has boiled, I’ve made a cup of tea, and I can settle back with a cat on my lap and some peace and quiet for a few minutes.
A few minutes seems to come and go quickly around here.
The young cat, alerted to me sitting quietly with the older cat by some unknown sense, will suddenly appear out of mid air to pounce and play and pounce some more. My son, who was happily and quietly playing games for his hour of screen time per day, suddenly wants a snack. And some YouTube time. And more game time. And to hover in an annoying fashion, climbing on and off of the furniture, squeezing whichever cat has won the pouncing. Today he tells me that I should write a sequel to The Rock, my first blog in March this year. It’s all good though. I get to sit down for a moment, maybe stare at the cover of my book or watch 2.71 minutes of a TV show that I wanted to see. And I have this lovely cup of steaming hot tea to sip.
Oh. My tea has gone cold.
Good thing I have a microwave.
Drinking tea is my lifeline. Like most American parents, I get nowhere near enough sleep, so, yeah, the caffeine keeps me upright and semi-functional. It’s more than that, though. Tea weaves its way throughout my days.
My husband brings me tea in bed in the morning. This would be quite decadent, except that I am usually only vaguely conscious and just grope blindly for it and slurp somewhat desperately, hoping that warmth, familiar flavor, and, yes, my old friend caffeine, kick in before I have to do important things like stand, dress, and make a cup of tea for the road.
Road tea gets out and about. It sees the driveway- sometimes more than once if we leave the house without our masks. It sees my son’s school. On very good mornings, it sees the sunrise over the river or the fog pooling in the crisp air while I take a breather and read for a bit before heading off to my part-time teaching job. Some days, it visits the gas station before work. It sees my school, my desk, and the mysterious paper dune of notes, late assignments, things I am grading, handouts for the day, and important papers that drifts across the surface of my desk in an every shifting array. It, too, gets cold, despite its shiny metal mug. Sometimes it gets left by the chalk rail or near the sink. I finish it, cold, outside at lunch time, where I take a deep breath of fresh air and eat away from the germy classroom.
When I get home, I get to drink the fresh cup, the relaxing cup, the teatime part of the day cup. I would like to tell you that I have a scone or a little sandwich and a lovely porcelain cup and saucer, but that would be a lie. I mean, I do have some lovely porcelain cups and saucers, but I don’t actually drink tea out of them. I would have to wash them and dry them by hand first, and that is a lot of a time commitment between me and a caffeine infusion. Plus, they are teeny tiny cups, many of them antiques collected my grandmother, some from our set of wedding china that is a design from nearly 200 years ago. Old timey people did not have cups big enough for modern caffeine needs. They probably got their energy from drinking cocaine infused soft drinks and patent medicines, or laudanum or something. Now that I am thinking about it, though, I would love a piece of cake and a tiny sandwich. Instead, I have the headscratcher of what-should-be-for-dinner-because-we-forgot-to-thaw-something-again, otherwise known as our standard Thursday night dinner, a noisy house, hungry pets, and a cup of tea that I know I had around here somewhere but cannot find.
Oh. Maybe I should look in the microwave? Oops, it’s gone cold again.
Still, the tea is here, somewhere. It’s how I know I am home.
Last night, my son informed me that no one could write an interesting story about a rock. As I am entering my 6th year of the March Slice of Life Challenge, I know a good opening when I hear one. Besides, I immediately had a story of a rock appear in my head. So, never one to let “you can’t do this” pass unchallenged, I present to you the story of The Rock.
One of the things that people who only know me as a reasonable person and dedicated teacher do not know about me is that I love rocks. Also, I have a passion for ridiculous hats, but that is another story. I have always loved rocks. Invariably, my purse and my pockets have some rocks in them. (You never know when you might need a good rock. Like, you might have to throw it at a bad guy. Or you could possibly be deserted somewhere for up to minutes at a time with nothing to read except the backs of your credit cards and you need something to fidget with when you have finished reading those.) When I hike, I find interesting little rocks and stick them in my pockets. Trips to the beach are exciting because I always find tons of rocks, big and small, sparkly and matte, smooth or strangely shaped from centuries of wind and water. As the waves slide back into the sea, I home in on the long and watery Vs that mark an object in the sand, and run haphazardly all over the waterline, up and down, back and forth, picking up rocks, keeping interesting ones, and tossing others into the frothing surf. My husband, convinced that walking on the beach involves consistently moving forward in a linear direction, frequently loses me in the middle of a sentence when I abruptly weave off into some random direction like a crazed sandpiper.
He is patient with me, however, and always loops back eventually to find me. I never make him carry the rocks, so it is an acceptable quirk.
Years ago, my husband had a client in Southern Oregon that he frequently needed to visit, and he would then drop in on his Dad’s ranch just across the California border and visit with his family. At the time, my father-in-law had extensive acreage that included the first ranch carved out of that section of Northern California, so he had lots of old buildings and miles to explore on foot or horseback. His dad is an outside man, and when my husband visited, they would explore the old barns and outbuilding, pet the cat who lived in the top branches of the biggest tree, check on the cattle, and walk miles up to the source of the spring water to look at the water. (I don’t know, I’m a city girl. They did outside, country person, man stuff.)
On one such trip, in the spring, they made a foray quite far into the property, chatting and walking. (I assume this meant that they exchanged six words over several hours, like good outside, country person men. I couldn’t say. When I visit, I get to round up the kids and drive for two hours into the medium sized town to buy towels. Women stuff.) After pocketing a couple of antique square nails from the old blacksmith forge and the old barn, my husband spotted a rock that reminded him of me. It was a big chunk of granite, roughly square shaped, worn to that shape, not cut. It had black and white speckles all over, sparkled with chips of crystal in it, and weighed a good couple of pounds. He scooped it up. Breaking all conversational precedents, my father-in-law used several words (possibly some choice ones) to ask him why the heck he was carrying a large chunk of rock, especially since it was nothing special, just a big chunk of perfectly ordinary granite. Erich (my husband) replied that it was for me. I don’t know if this explanation was sufficient (I am the mysterious city girl who would probably do all sorts of irrational city things, after all), or if his dad continued to tease him about carrying a rock. I do know that he hauled the big, heavy, pointy chunk of rock for several miles back to the ranch house, and then drove it a few hundred miles back to me.
When he got home, he presented me with the rock. It is beautiful and speckly and sparkly and he knew what it would mean to me and I loved it. Over the years, my rock has had various locations, but always in a place of pride, and always visible to guests, who often ask why I have a big chunk of random rock. I always tell them the romantic story of how I got the rock.
I spent the first three days of this week in my classroom, doing training and preparing for hybrid students in a few weeks. It was quite a bizarre experience.
I think I have to say a little bit about my pandemic world here. I have asthma, and I am also the person in my family who will catch any little germ that passes by (after all, I managed to get pneumonia with no contact with the outside world). We agreed early on that my husband, who needs to go out to meet clients, would be the one to do all the shopping to keep the bulk of the risk to one person. (Actually, he just announced that I should not leave the house, but he had a good point, so I agreed.)
I haven’t been in a grocery store since March 2020.
We have not traveled.
We have not taken day trips.
We have not gone shopping in any stores other than the grocery store.
We have stayed very strict about the quarantine measures and have stayed home.
I have waved to neighbors from a safe distance.
Walking even around my neighborhood has been difficult with a mask on, so I have not done that nearly as often as I should.
For much of the year, I have not left my house or yard for weeks at a time, sometimes with more than a month passing between experiences with actual reality.
You get the idea. There was a great deal of weirdness in actually going back to work. Here are my reflections.
I am an introvert. I like meetings where a staff meeting requires spreading out across the entire cafeteria and the adjacent gym and no one is near me. Woohoo! No small talk!
I miss my cats. I caught myself reaching down to pet empty air more than once today.
Even without students in the building, schools can be pretty noisy, but I actually felt pretty lonely without being surrounded by my son and husband in our small house.
Commuting alone is actually very nice. Audiobook time! Only, there is this thing called “rush hour” that I had forgotten about.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I totally miss prep time with my feet up and a cat or two on my lap. Sitting on a wobbly school chair at a teacher desk is nowhere near as comfortable!
I cannot drink tea through my mask! I’ll perish from lack of caffeine!
I should accessorize, but one of my earring holes is mostly closed up. Ouch.
I have to wear nice clothes BELOW the waist too???
Shoes? Every day? What? My feet are in shock.
Hybrid school starts in three weeks! I had better learn to keep track of my shoes and see what parts of my work wardrobe still fit.
Today was the second day of in school training for transferring from all online learning to hybrid + online learning combination. I thought about writing a six word sentence yesterday to commemorate this first day of this experience, but since most of my six words were swear words, I skipped it.
Where do I even begin? This is, of course, a big philosophical question, raising issues of equity and pedagogy and curriculum design for different types of learning and different learning delivery systems simultaneously and trying to talk to those in the room and on Zoom at the same time, and many other important teacher questions.
But, really, I just mean, my goodness, where do I even begin?
Teachers clumped together on day 1, no more than a couple of feet apart, and so many people taking their masks off to drink coffee.
An assistant principal who told us, in all seriousness, to let kids eat and drink in our classes, as it was only fair, since the kids who were still at home could continue to have a snack or drink whenever they liked. “Just, you know, as long as they don’t have their masks off for long. Not more than thirty minutes of snacking.”
Or how about the same assistant principal telling us that middle schoolers cannot sit still all day, so we need to let them get up and move around. But, in their space. Obviously.
We also were informed by the other assistant principal that she did not see it as her job, or ours, to police how close kids got to each other in the classroom.
Yeah, we’re totally safe. Eating and drinking and sitting side by side. Right.
My favorite were the written instructions from the district, informing us that we need to continue doing what we have been doing, and put all information into our online platforms and deliver instruction via Zoom. To the kids who are home and the kids who will be sitting right in front of us.
Let me repeat that for you.
Go to school and teach via Zoom. To the kids who are in the same room with me, in person.
Our union agreement states that we can do work that CAN be done remotely, remotely. But when I asked about working from home during our prep times (after the meetings are over) this week, because I have a child at home who is not yet returning to school, I was told that I had to be in the building because the district said so. When I mentioned that this was causing child care issues, the administrators told me, “Yeah, we all have child care issues.”
Today was our big test. We ran practice simulations, putting groups of teachers into one room to be “roomers” and another group in another room to be “zoomers” and then our brave and stoic tech people ran simulations of how to teach so we could see and hear how it would work.
News flash: Nothing worked.
I mean, really nothing.
No sound on the video. Lagging wifi with only 70 teachers in the building, instead of 600 kids all on Zoom at the same time. People forgetting to put in their headphones, so sound and feedback bounced around the rooms. Cannot hear the people who are “at school” when you are “home.” Can hear the teacher live and 2 seconds later in your headphones when you are “at school.” Strangely distorted views of teachers standing in front of their laptops to teach. Midriffs. Breasts. Half a face and half of what is projected on the screen. Up a nostril. Take your pick- it depends on your height. None of them are attractive. No one able to follow the chat and teachers routinely missing questions from those on Zoom.
And these were dedicated, hard-working, innovative teachers who have been doing amazing things for their students via Zoom and Canvas for a year. The system is simply ridiculously designed, and cannot possibly be what parents or students want in a return to school. A handful of students (as low as two people in person for some classes) in person, still staring into their computers all day, masked and distanced from everyone else. An education that has already been difficult, fractured by yet another seismic shift in what teachers are expected to do, reduced in time by the weeks needed to establish classroom protocols that normally are set up in September (and are usually a lot less complicated!), and sabotaged by dividing the teachers’ time and energy between instructing students in two diametrically opposed pedagogical systems simultaneously. All in the final nine weeks of school. And while case rates, hospitalizations, and positivity rates steadily increase locally and nationally and vaccinations remain difficult to get and not open to all.
I know that there are students who need to be in school with a teacher. I know that many of mine who are returning will get more help and struggle less if they are in the classroom. I know that many of those who most need to be in the classroom are staying home, so I will have even less ability to engage with and help them. And I know that this system is not what they are looking for when they express a desire to return.
But, hey, at least the schools will be open. And those “selfish, lazy teachers who have been sitting at home on their asses getting paid for nothing for the last year” won’t be getting a cushy ride any more.
Maybe the teachers will no longer get death threats on the school district’s social media pages.
While I know that many teachers have gone back to school days or weeks or months ago, where I live, the shift from fully online learning to hybrid learning is still in the future. On April 19, I will be back in the classroom with students in some sort of quasi-functional blend of students who are still fully online, students who are home but attending virtually because it is not their classroom day, and students who are in the actual classroom. Nothing could possibly go wrong with THAT model. In keeping with all of our information meetings (which seemed to primarily consist of administrators saying, “We don’t know yet,” over and over), we are going in to the actual building tomorrow through Wednesday for training in how this amazing system will work.
I will be in a room tomorrow with 70 other teachers and admin from my building.
I don’t think I have even seen 70 people since March of last year.
I didn’t even know gatherings that large were allowed yet. (Are they?)
Ok, I got distracted by looming agoraphobia there for a moment. The only thing that we do know for certain is that the students will be in one room all day, stuck at their desks, and the core teachers (Humanities, Science, and Math) will rotate through in order to minimize student contact with other cohorts. I truly cannot imagine students being able to simply sit at their desks all day without moving around. How is class supposed to function when we are all glued to our 6 square foot areas? I mean, I can put everything on the computer for them, but then…wouldn’t that be just like them working from home, except for uncomfortably stuck in one place for hours, minus snacks and not wearing their pajamas. So this got me thinking hard about all the reasons students leave their seats during one completely normal class period.
My tooth fell out. Do you have an envelope?
My tooth fell out and my mouth is full of blood and I am still bleeding.
I have a nosebleed.
I need a bandaid.
I need a whole lot of bandaids because blood is gushing down my leg and filling my sock because something sharp is sticking out of the edge of the table.
I need ice because I got smashed into the wall playing basketball at lunch and I think my fingers are broken.
My chair broke.
I need a pencil.
I need an eraser.
I need another pencil.
I need to sharpen my pencil.
I need to sharpen my pencil some more.
Oh, that pencil broke in half. I need another pencil.
My Chromebook is dead.
My Chromebook battery is low. Can I sit by my friend and use theirs?
My Chromebook battery is low. Can I sit by the power outlet and charge it?
I need some paper.
I need a new book to read.
I need a Sharpie.
I need colored pencils/colored paper/markers.
I cannot see from that spot.
He keeps poking me.
The student next to me keeps looking up bad words in Russian on the internet and repeating them to me.
I need a drink.
I need to use the bathroom.
I need a kleenex.
I need a pair of scissors.
My table is wobbling.
The leg fell off of my table.
I want the blue chair.
There is gum on the bottom of my chair.
It’s my day for the yoga ball and he took it.
Student X is playing games on their Chromebook instead of working.
I have ADHD and am bouncing off the walls and need to MOVE (Of course, what this student actually says to me is usually “Huh?” after I ask where they are wandering off to. And once, memorably, “I thought maybe I left something in Band.”)
I need to see the homework list on the board.
I need to check today’s agenda for the next step.
I need to ask you for the next step.
I need another copy of the assignment.
I need help with this question.
I need to turn something in.
I need my notebook from my writing file.
I need to let you know that my assignment on the computer is marked late but I turned it in on time.
I need to know if I turned in last Wednesday’s assignment.
I need to make-up that test.
I need you to fill out this form.
I need to remind you that I will be gone for the next two weeks.
I have a question.
I have a question.
I have a question.
I have a question.
Let’s just sit with all of that for a moment, shall we?
My classroom always has a lot of movement in it – for the students and for me. I do not know how it will work. We cannot even put supplies for the students on the desks, because there will be two different cohorts alternating, and different students every other day. Can middle schoolers really rise to the occasion and remember all their supplies and their chargers? Can we be an equitable school if we do not provide materials, no questions asked, to those who forgot them or cannot afford them in the first place? Is it really going to be better for students and for their education to put us all back into schools like this?
What do I do with the kid who is bleeding? Send a bandaid via paper airplane?