In which I plan

I always feel like I need some sort of master plan any time I have a break in class lasting longer than a weekend. I have never actually been any good at relaxing as a thing unto itself; the good news is that I do consider a number of my leisure activities as doing something, so if I come out of the next four days having read three books that’s actually a Thanksgiving well-spent. We are not especially observing the holiday; there’s going to be ham and au gratin potatoes for the three of us tomorrow, and there will be additional food distributed to our (socially distanced, mask-wearing) dads this weekend, but nobody’s risking anything. I already feel like I’ve dodged enough bullets just with the covid that’s passed through my classroom; we’re not about to tempt fate by having even just family over.

So, yeah. I’m going to try to get something done over the next four days, if only so that I have an answer to “What did you do over your break?” next week, but right now other than a lot of video games I’m not sure what the hell that’s going to look like.


I need to have a word with you, Internet. I have joked several times on Twitter that anyone who wanted to hack into my student loans was welcome to, so long as they paid them.

When I said that, I meant with your own money, and I randomly glanced at my bank account earlier today to discover, rather unpleasantly, that I was overdrawn. Somehow my student loans had processed twice, which was … a problem. A quick balance transfer kept me from getting hit with any overdraft fees, but further investigation revealed that a third payment was pending and just hadn’t shown up on my bank account yet. I was able to straighten everything out with no more damage than an hour of my time, a fee from my bank for reversing the two charges, and I’ve changed all the relevant passwords, but … yeah, this one’s a mystery.

Seriously, though. It was supposed to be your money.

You may have figured this out

Taking tonight off. See you tomorrow, y’all.

In which I’ve been thinking

At this point I am fairly certain that my students will not be returning to school during the second semester. It is possible that they will– the district has given no hints that I’m aware of of how long this current round of e-learning is expected to last– but the notion that we’d send them home at the end of November and bring them back before January seems unreasonable even by my current district’s standards.

So I’ve ben thinking a lot about semester grades. In the past week, the following have all happened:

  • One student’s mother had a baby and she promptly stopped coming to school or showing up virtually. I am a hundred percent certain she has been taking care of her five other siblings.
  • One student emailed me to let me know that her mother has tested positive for covid and that she and her twin sister have not been tested but have been sick and are both assuming they have it.
  • One student, who was a straight-A kid until we went to e-learning in March, at which point he disappeared, has remained disappeared all year up until this week, where he resurfaced, emailed me to find out what work he could still do, did five weeks worth of work in two days, and assured me that he would be around regularly from now on. He did the work after I told him that I’d be happy to exempt him from it depending on why he’d been gone. He said he didn’t want to talk about it and then did all the work, which … raises some questions.

I have had at least one suicide attempt this school year, one student (more than one? Christ, I don’t remember) had a sibling murdered, and at least two have done stints in mental hospitals. And that’s just the stuff I know about. Then there’s the less emotionally taxing stuff like internet outages or internet not-existings.

I think I’m passing everyone this semester. Everyone. No matter what. The minimum grade anyone could get in my class at semester would be a D.

I refuse to fuck up anybody’s lives any further by tossing shitty grades onto all of the bullshit they’re already having to endure right now. So, theoretically– hell, not theoretically, I know it’s going to happen– there will be some kids with no particular life traumas, full internet access, and happy, middle-class two-parent homes who have done no work at all this semester because they’re shitheads who don’t care and know they can get away with it.

That kid got a D and didn’t “deserve” the grade he got. He didn’t try, and he should have failed. Chose to, in fact.

My rebuttal, and you best believe I’m being completely honest right now: What the fuck do I care?

It’s not like it’s a good grade. Getting a D in my math class isn’t going to amass any privileges for him or anything. But not failing for a kid whose life has gone to shit recently in any of a number of ways could at least theoretically provide a moment of good news in a year that for many of us has had very little of it. And frankly, right now, that’s enough for me to justify it, I think.

I haven’t completely decided, and I did email my boss to see if he wanted any input on the matter, so I may end up overruled anyway. But I think there’s a good chance of me putting a D in as the floor on my grades this semester.

What say you, internet?

On DEAR JUSTYCE, by Nic Stone

This is another of those posts that is sort of a review of the book, but as I’m currently planning on talking more about what the book isn’t than what it is, I’m not going to tag it that way, at least not in the headline. Here’s the review part: this is a good book, and an important book, and you should read it, and I think it’s probably better than Dear Martin, the book it’s a sequel to, but I’ve said before that Dear Martin suffered for me by being read nearly immediately after The Hate U Give and covering a lot of the same territory. Dear Justyce isn’t suffering from that, so it may just be that I was more able to review the book on its own merits.

Anyway, the story: Dear Justyce is, like Dear Martin, mostly an epistolary novel, or a story told through letters. In Dear Martin, the main character was basically writing journal entries that were framed as letters to Martin Luther King Jr. In Justyce, the main character, a Black teenager named Quan, is actually writing to Justyce, the main character of the first book. I’m pretty sure Quan made some appearances in the first book, but honestly it’s been a few years and I’m not a hundred percent certain, and Justyce is the POV character for occasional bits of this book as well.

And it’s the structure of the book that kind of has me frustrated with it. Justyce is in his first year at Yale as this book begins, and he’s pre-law. He was always presented as an academically oriented, really bright kid, so the notion that the story is being told through his letters is entirely believable. Quan is presented as a kid who could have been Justyce, had he been dealt a fairer hand by society. He could have been the Yale kid, and instead he’s been arrested multiple times (he is incarcerated through the entire novel, although portions are either flashback or him describing times when he was free) and he’s currently imprisoned because he’s accused of killing a cop. And I’m not going to get too far into spoiler territory, but we’re given plenty of other reasons to feel sympathetic toward the kid.

Here’s my thing: I’ve got perhaps half a dozen former students who I know are locked up, at least two for murder and one for aggravated assault and a few other things. And the two kids who are locked up for murder? At least one of them definitely did it. And my kids don’t have good friends who are conveniently in law school and have access to good lawyers, and– and this bit is important– none of them are remotely capable of writing the eight- and ten-page letters that Quan dashes off routinely throughout this book. A lot of the kids who get caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline aren’t as academically talented (I am deliberately not saying “smart”) or as literate as Quan is portrayed in this book, and that’s sort of a problem when you’re trying to write an epistolary novel with a parallel structure to your first book.

This doesn’t make Dear Justyce a bad book, mind you. There are ways in which Nic Stone sets up Quan to be a sympathetic character, and you want your main character to be sympathetic. What I’m wondering is what Dear Rayterrion might have looked like– a book about a kid who might have been every bit as screwed by the system– he says he’s innocent, after all– and no doubt had a very similar upbringing as Quan did, but adds a ton of academic challenges as well and lacks his easy facility with the written word. Can you even write a book like this when the main character can barely read or write? Because I remember this kid from 8th grade, and I’m pretty sure nothing got better between 15 and 17. What’s that book look like?

(I also want a book about Martel Montgomery, who is simultaneously a mentor, a local gang leader, a college-educated social worker, and the reason Quan is in jail. He’s a fascinating character. But that’s a side conversation.)

Anyway, none of this is really Dear Justyce’s fault, it’s just where the book got my head going. I’d recommend you read both of them, if you haven’t, and I may well revisit Dear Martin— it’s short, after all– to see what I think of it after this book and with some distance from The Hate U Give.

In which I lose a day

I woke up at 10 or so, which is a good hour and a half later than I normally sleep on Saturdays, and it was probably 4:00 before I felt human. Dad was going to come over for dinner and I had to push it back to tomorrow because I couldn’t motivate myself to shower, much less clean anything or, God forbid, cook.

Since then it’s been all sitting and staring. I managed to vacuum my office and our bedroom and that’s as close as I’ve gotten to accomplishing anything today. For most of it I felt like I’d taken too many sleeping pills last night. Actual number of sleeping pills taken last night: zero.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be more human. I need to figure out what I’m doing with the last two in-person days of school (there will be no 8th grade students in the building on Monday or Tuesday, watch) and I suspect that will be more difficult than usual if my brain is leaking out of my ear.