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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!

Our Convocation Chant

Saturday, 11 Aug 2018, 02:48 UTC

It was time for the annual school district convocation of faculty and staff who converged on the special events center on Friday morning. Breakfast was served, which served to motivate on-time arrival, even though parking was tight. Inside the auditorium, we sat by school, each of us wearing a school-specific T-shirt — ours Crayola Blue with the eagle logo on the front. 

After some preliminaries, the principals and assistant principals lined up on the stage. School by school, they stepped into the spotlight and called to their seated minions who responded with practiced chants.

When our turn came, the drum line stood and hammered out a cadence, and then we started our chant. We were grouped by where we graduated from college: A&M, UT, and others. The chant went like this, with each group standing in turn.

A&M grads: Gig ‘em!
UT grads: Hook ‘em!
everyone: We don’t care. We just want to get ‘em there!

And again… 

A&M grads: Gig ‘em!
UT grads: Hook ‘em!
everyone: We don’t care. We just want to get ‘em there!

… at which point we all held graduation diplomas up in the air, closing with Eagle Pride, y’all!

Sending Me Pictures

Thursday, 09 Aug 2018, 19:59 UTC

My brother is sending me pictures.

He’s sending me pictures of matriarchs sitting on a porch talking intently as the setting sun lights up their faces. And he’s sending me pictures of sons and daughters. And of sunlight glistening on the water just beyond the dock. He’s sending me these, you see, because he knows I miss it.

But what he doesn’t know is that I got to play with tape and scissors and bulletin board paper this afternoon. After the training sessions were over and the school was quiet, I got to play with paper and scissors and tape.

That and the pictures are a kind of meditation — a way to summon a modicum of head-in-the-sand calm. Because boy—howdy, there is a big storm coming.

Wondrous Machine

Wednesday, 08 Aug 2018, 18:05 UTC

There’s this machine in the school office. It laminates things.

I can report that as of this morning, I have laminated many things: two USGS geographical maps of the Copernicus and Kepler craters on the moon, a high resolution photo-poster of the surface of the sun, a cartoonish rocket ship, a drawing of a Mercury capsule, … Many things. Tomorrow I will return for more.

The USGS maps were the first ones, 11×17 prints I made from JPGs I downloaded from the Lunar and Planetary Institute. I fed them into the machine, pushing the leading edges against the drum. And I turned the crank.

The action of the crank was satisfying. It made a gear-ish sound, and the handle vibrated a bit. And with each little pop of the gear-ish machine, a drum turned and a little more of the prints emerged laminated from the other side. When the cranking was done, I cut them from the plastic with a small set of scissors.

During the day, I took five or six other teachers to the office to see this wondrous machine.

“Wondrous?” you might ask. “You don’t get out much, do you?” You might say.

But here’s the thing of it…

This machine doesn’t plug in. There is not ON-button. There is no touch screen to run it. It doesn’t jam. You don’t have to ask for help. It doesn’t have to heat up. It doesn’t have to cool down. And it doesn’t laminate bubbles onto your posters.

Oh my gosh, what a wondrous machine indeed.

In Eight Days

Tuesday, 07 Aug 2018, 17:30 UTC

She stood at the front of the room speaking into a microphone. It had been a long day, and she was a good speaker to end it with. She was talking about reaching English language learners.

“In eight days,” she said, “the children are coming. You have to be ready!”

There was some nervous laughter. I briefly got chills down my spine. (Don’t ask. I don’t control them.)

“The children are coming,” she repeated. “The children are coming! The CHILDREN are coming!”

They are indeed.

Lucky For That Owl

Sunday, 05 Aug 2018, 20:05 UTC

“There is an owl in the birdbath outside my window,” I signaled Trudy.

I proceeded to update her on its every move. I was fascinated, since although we’ve had Eastern Screen Owls in our trees for years, I’ve never seen one on the ground. 

The owl hopped out of the birdbath and onto the bench, perching on the lower rung three inches off the ground. I signaled an update. Then it hopped to the other end of the bench, sat there fidgeting for a moment, and then hopped along the ground and into the cluster of Turk’s Cap at the base of the Ash tree. I signaled an update.

From there, it hopped up the Ash, clinging to the trunk. I signaled the updates, but at this point, I knew that something was not right. I went to the front door where I could get a better view. From its spot on the side of the tree, the owl was alternately eyeing the canopy and preening itself. And then suddenly, it turned its head.

With its yellow owl eyes unblinkingly wide open, it looked directly at me. I had made no sound. I hadn’t moved an inch. But it had spied me there, and it was staring me down. 

“Wildlife Rescue!” Trudy signaled me. But it was too late. The owl had already told me. It was hurt. It’s right wing was hurt. It needed help. It couldn’t get back into the tree tops.

I didn’t see Trudy’s signal. I was already walking outside to reconnoiter the situation. As I went around the trunk, I could see that the owl had moved. It was waiting for me, perched on a small log beside the tree. It looked at me. I looked at it. It started clicking. I backed slowly away and went off to get a cat crate that we had found just the previous week.

I came back, crate in hand. The owl was waiting in the same place. It looked up at me with those wide eyes. I opened the crate door and advanced slowly toward the owl, hoping it wouldn’t panic. It didn’t. I pushed the crate opening up against the owl and reached around with my hand and patted it in and closed the door.

As it happens, although Austin Wildlife Rescue is on the other side of town, it is just down the street from where my evening certification class was starting in two hours. So, thirty minutes later, I was driving down the two-rut gravel driveway to Austin Wildlife Rescue. Juan was standing on the porch. He took the crate and went inside. When he came out, he said they didn’t think the wing was broken but that there was definitely a wound that they would treat.

Lucky for that owl that he hopped up to get that drink. Luck for that owl that he knew the man behind that door was just the man to stare at.

Making Coffee

Sunday, 05 Aug 2018, 19:41 UTC

1. The Advice

I stood in the faculty work room making coffee. Day four of professional development was about to start, and my coffee cup was empty. He with the first empty cup makes the coffee. So there I was.

I am new to this place, and had not yet made coffee. I looked down at the coffee filter. It was huge, and one packet of coffee didn’t seem sufficient. I looked around to ask, but there was no one nearby. I reached for another packet.

Just that moment, two people who had been talking on the other side of the room said goodbye, and one of them was coming my way. 

“May I ask a question?” I asked before she rounded the corner.

“Sure,” she said.

When she stood next to me, I asked her about the number of packets.

“Looks like two to me,” she said. She smiled and walked away.

2. The Introduction

Later that morning, as we were sitting at tables during a break in the training, the woman walked up and introduced herself. I stood up to shake her hand.

“Hi,” she said. “I helped you make the coffee.”

“Right,” I said. “It’s good to meet you!”

Here’s why I tell you this… she is my principal, whom I had never met — that is, whom I had never met until I asked her for coffee-making advice.

Booyah. Awesome first impression!