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This Is Helping Me

Sunday, 09 Sep 2018, 09:45 UTC

The day was done. School was over. We sat in the classroom for a while going over the algebra.  

When we were finished, she gathered her things and began to walk out of the room. I started to think about the next day. She stopped at the door and looked back.

“This is really helping me,” she said, with a sincere smile on her face.

What awesome feedback to have in your first week or two as a teacher. It helped get me to the next day.

Modern Art

Saturday, 25 Aug 2018, 22:14 UTC

It’s late at night. I had a cold brewed coffee in the late afternoon as I graded papers. It was after 3:00. Caffeine after 3:00: not a good idea, he says, with nary a wink of sleep coming over him.

It’s an hour before midnight. The full moon is rising and marching with Mars across the sky. A hot wind in blowing in the parched leaves of the Walnut, Ash and Oak trees. 

I’m wide awake. So I might as well tell you a story…


On Friday, I taped numbers to the desks at school. I did this to better connect the faces and names of my 150 students. Black numbers hand-drafted on white squares of paper with a blue border. (The border was a flourish that I had added on a whim, because I have a wonderful big-brush pastel blue marker.)

I put white card stock underneath the white squares when I drew the blue border around the black numbers. And after brushing four borders on 30 squares, the card stock was a randomish mishmash of pastel blue lines and dots and miscellaneously shaped marks where the brush had marked beyond the edges.

At the end of sixth period, I put the marked up card stock under the document camera. The image projected on the screen.

“Here is my modern art for the day,” I said.

There was momentary silence, and then one of the boys in the room said, “It speaks to me.”


That is my story. The moon has advanced beyond the periphery of the canopy of the Walnut tree. The caffeine is still speaking. It’s going to be a long night.

Sometimes it Works, Sometimes Not

Monday, 20 Aug 2018, 22:54 UTC

I tried to get them talking to each other about math today. Just some light conversation about what kinds of gotchas they thought might trip them up. I had talked about some of the gotchas… dropped negative signs, missed terms, that sort of thing.

“Talk to your shoulder partner,” I said. “Share what gotchas you think you might have to watch out for when you are doing the math.”

Sometimes that kind of thing works. When it does, it’s amazing to hear the mathematical banter rising in the room. And then sometimes it doesn’t work so well — the kids look back in silence.

I started the day with the former. Sadly, my day went out on the latter. Oh well. It’s all good.

First Week Retrospective

Sunday, 19 Aug 2018, 14:36 UTC

So the first week of school was pretty good.

Sure, there were a few heads down on the desks. And I did collect some phones and ear buds and a book that a student had in their lap. But there was nothing that pushed the limits. Push-the-limits events — belligerence, aggression, cursing… — have been my big question marks. And I didn’t have to deal with any. 

We all know that that day will come. But not having to deal with it at the outset was terrific. What’s more, I actually caught myself with a smile on my face on the way out of school on day one. That counts for something, eh?

The only downside was something that all teachers will understand: my feet are so sore!

The Joy of Bamboo Wind Chimes

Friday, 17 Aug 2018, 23:04 UTC

It was Friday afternoon. The students were working on a foldable. They were alternatively picking up and setting down colored pencils, shading in x-related and y-related things on their papers.

The room was dark so that the screen projection of what I was doing was easy to see and follow. The only sound was the clinking of wooden pencils, like bamboo wind chimes in a breeze.

It was a joy to hear.

Daddy’s Ties

Thursday, 16 Aug 2018, 20:51 UTC

In the scramble of yesterday morning, I searched for a tie. I have not worn a tie in many years. I had not opened that container forever. It was a difficult search ending in all my ties scattered on the bed and not a one tied around my neck. (For what it’s worth, I saw only two ties at school.)

This is how Izzy spent that morning. 

Daddy’s ties. I good spot to nap.

Note to self: get a few plain ties.

Observations from Day 1

Wednesday, 15 Aug 2018, 19:29 UTC

1. Good Indicators

I left early this morning so that I might get a few final things done in my room. The commute was fine, even though it’s outside the county. Indeed, the drive time is less than half my previous daily commute.

As a bonus, I didn’t have butterflies which seemed a bit odd. I just felt calm… and a smidgen curious.

As I got close to the school, there were students with backpacks and headphones standing along the road waiting for the school bus. There were blooming rain lilies along edges of the parking lot.

Good indicators, all.

2. Just Checking

During fifth period, the teacher next door poked her head into my room. (We both have a conference period then.) She’s been helping me for days. Yesterday she helped me with a mad rush to get some things printed on copy machines that were groaning under the strain of the day before school.

As she peered in, she asked if everything had gone ok.

Just checking up on me. 

3. Tardy Fail

Earlier in the day, during second or third period, a kid had arrived well after the tardy bell. The classroom door was locked, as per school policy. I told him he needed a tardy slip. Ten minutes later, he returned — with the principal. She leaned in and calmly said, “We’re not doing tardies today.” 

“Got it,” I said.

Massive fail.

4. A Good Place to Be

At the end of the day, the principal came by. I smiled and shook my head and said something about that tardy fail. She laughed and told me to stop shaking my head. She said she was thrilled. 

“You have no idea how many people I’ve told that story to,” she said. “I didn’t announce a special tardy policy for today. You had no reason to do any different. You know how I’m always asking folks to just be consistent. I’m telling everyone about my consistent teacher.”

She smiled genuinely. We laughed. Yet you know she was just making sure I didn’t beat myself up. And that, my friends, is the best thing that happened today.

This is a good place to be.

The Day Before Tomorrow

Tuesday, 14 Aug 2018, 20:18 UTC

I should be reading the newsletter our principal sent this afternoon reiterating the things that need to happen tomorrow, the first day of school. I should be making a few more notes on my plan. I should be getting horizontal. I should be closing my eyes. 

But before that, a few words…

Morning Meeting. As we reviewed the plan for the day, the principal looked up from the front of the cafeteria. “This time tomorrow,” she said, “the kids will be here. Buses will be pulling up. Freshmen will be getting lost. Seniors will be proud of their fancy clothes.” And then she added, “Y’all, for some students, this is the best thing they have.”

We have to make the day go well for them.

Priorities. At the end of our morning meeting, she boiled it down to four priorities for the day: (1) Get ‘em off the buses and into the school with their class schedules in hand, (2) count ‘em (i.e., take attendance which has huge funding implications), (3) feed ‘em lunch, and finally (4) get ‘em back on the buses at the end of the day to take ‘em home.

Nothing clearer than that, is there?

End of the Day. As I sat at my desk writing out the assigned seating for my six periods, one of the other teachers came walking by. She looked into the classroom thru the windows along the hall. “Ok,” she said. “I just want to say this.” I looked up. She was pointing to the far corner of my classroom. “I’m impressed that you’ve got the Aztec calendar up on your wall.”

Yeah, baby.

Now. The principal’s newsletter. Then horizontal. And then eyes closed. Because… tomorrow.

Just When That Was

Monday, 13 Aug 2018, 21:39 UTC

We bumped into each other in the hall. He and I had actually met a few days ago. He smiled at me like he was seeing and good friend.

“Hello!” he said.

He mentioned that he had heard that I might be interested in helping with student council. He nodded understandingly when I confessed to having my hands full for these first few months. Still, he seemed happy at the prospect of having some more help.

We talked about our backgrounds. He mentioned that he had been state president in Indiana. I think he said that was 2002. I told him that I had been a state vice president in Illinois.

“When was that?” he asked. 

I told him. His face didn’t betray a thing when I told him just when that was.


Sunday, 12 Aug 2018, 07:56 UTC

We met at Caspian Grill.

“Could we have some must-khiar as an appetizer?” I asked.

She glanced up. “The yogurt and cucumber?”

“Yes please.”

After Kelley and Gregg and Trudy, I ordered the Koobideh and rice. 

She glanced up. “The K2?” 

“Yes please.”

“You like using the names,” she said.

I agreed. She smiled.

The food was awesome. And the table talk about their trip to Colorado and my upcoming dive into teaching was equally awesome. And the dessert at their house down the street (where it was raining) was also awesome.

It was an altogether awesome evening.

This morning, we woke to rain. Here. In southwest Austin, rain. Imagine that. Awesome!