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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!

I’ve Got This

Wednesday, 25 Jul 2018, 19:43 UTC

They are watching, Jennifer Gonzalez tell us, and she suggests ten ways to lead for the students who are watching us. Number 9 in particular catches my eye: Geek out on the things students think are uncool.

Ok, folks, for all the experience I might lack, for all the attributes that I might need to polish, I’ve got this qualification! 

Real Teachers

Wednesday, 25 Jul 2018, 08:13 UTC

Afterwards, a few of us stuck around and chatted: getting to know each other, sharing war stories, challenges, frustrations. I mostly smiled and listened, because although I was happy to meet them, I don’t have war stories or challenges or frustrations (yet). Then one of them said something that made me wonder.

“You can see who the real teachers are,” she said. The others nodded. 

The comment sounded a bit like one I heard from my teaching hero who once told me, “Just don’t hate the kids.”

It makes me wonder. Although I know what kind of teacher I want to be, and although I know what kind of teacher I am planning to be, I don’t know what kind of teacher I will be. And I don’t know if I will be a real teacher who others can see.

I’m working on it. 

Vanilla Milkshake

Monday, 23 Jul 2018, 21:59 UTC

Today was “day one”, except that it wasn’t. It was in the sense that I spent the entire day at the high school. It wasn’t in the sense that school hasn’t started yet. It was a professional development day. I took two classes related to some of the online tools we’ll be using.

Today was hot. No doubt about it. Today was definitely hot. It got up to 110. (That’s the air temperature, dad. Not the humidex.) After the sun went down, it was still 98. The term blast furnace comes to mind.

To celebrate the “day one” that wasn’t, to give myself a treat, and for a break from the heat, I stopped and had a milkshake on the way home. I haven’t had one for many years. I don’t need the sugar. And in any event, my throat has never regained it’s ability to tolerate sugar, so sweets hurt as I swallow. Yet here I was at the end of the day, turning into the PTerry’s parking lot. 

The sugar cravings of the human brain are slow to fade, and since it was (and wasn’t) “day one”, and since it was so hot today, I had a milkshake. My throat didn’t like it. And I felt lousy for an hour or two afterwards. But I had a vanilla milkshake. Ok?

And… well, I don’t think I need to do that again.

Splayed Out Charlie

Sunday, 22 Jul 2018, 16:38 UTC

Once in a while when he’s running thru the house, we’ll hear Charlie wipe out.

There will be the galloping sound of his feet on the flooring, a sliding sound, and then a crashing/wipe-out sound. It vaguely sounds like he took a corner too fast, except that often there is no corner involved. Sometimes he just collapses — his hind end legs just give up, splaying out perpendicular to his body as he tries to keep moving forward.

There’s nothing in his expressions when this happens to suggest that he hurts. He just stands up and goes on.

I was at the vet with him a couple weeks ago, for a different problem. They took an X-ray of his knee. The diagnosis was a luxated patella, something that Miss Izzy had when she was young.

“But you know,” the doctor said, and then she stopped for a moment. “You know, his back hips are both out of socket.”

My eyes went wide.

We adopted Charlie as a senior dog when he was approximately 10 years old. No one knew his history, but there must have been some kind of trauma in his life. On our first ride home and in every ride in the car for many months to follow, he would shake uncontrollably, clearly scared to death. And when there was a loud sound nearby (a dropped pencil or fireworks down the street or a thunderstorm), he would start shuddering unconsolably.

“Was there some kind of trauma with him?” the doctor asked.

I told her what I just told you.

So… we don’t know what happened to him.

My theory used to be that he was driven out into the country and abandoned in the middle of nowhere. But that theory doesn’t seem right, anymore. It’s pretty clear that there must have been some kind of accident (a car crash?) where he was banged up pretty bad. Something made his hips pop out of socket, and they never got put back. In the years that passed, his body just adapted, tendons and muscles holding on to his free-floating femurs, fibrous tissues building up.

The doctor said there’s nothing to do for it, now. And it’s a relief to us that he’s not in pain. It’s just the way it is: once in a while everything lets go, and Charlie’s back legs splay out.