In which we breathe

The board meeting is still going on right now, and they haven’t voted yet (but school starts in 9 days, so they’re not going back to the drawing board) but it looks like we’re not going to be back to face-to-face instruction until the first week of October at least, and there are indications that they’re at least beginning to prepare for the possibility that we won’t be back at all this year. Supposedly there will be a determination in mid-September about whether that October return date is happening or not, so we’ll have a two-week warning or so about what the plan is at that time.

The one thing I don’t like: they seem to want teachers back in our buildings for the duration during e-learning. Which, on one hand, I kind of get, and I don’t know that there’s a lot of health concern about me sitting alone in my classroom all day long, but this is my setup at home:

Versus at work, it’s me and my lil’ school-issued laptop. I am much better set up for e-learning from home than I ever will be at work, and other than giving principals a way to keep an eye on us I don’t see a strong benefit to keeping us in the buildings.

That said, I expect them to back off on this particular rule pretty quickly, and knowing that I won’t be in front of kids for seven or eight weeks is a relief. For right now, I can take a deep breath and figure out what’s next.

Sunday miscellany

This has potential to be a really, really important week, both for reasons that are obvious and I can talk about and at least one or two that aren’t. I’m kind of in a place where I want to just put my head down and sleep through it and find out a week from now what happened.

The school board is meeting tomorrow, and supposedly they are going to vote to let us know what the plan is for the next few weeks, which is good, because school starts on the 12th. I will probably head into work at least once this week, if for no better reason than to move my stuff into my new classroom, in a pile in a corner if nothing else. I am not going to put any effort into decorating my classroom this year, simply because I don’t expect to be in my classroom this year. My district’s plan has gone from “we’re back in person, but parents can opt their kids out, and we’ll find teachers for those kids” to “we are going to be virtual for two weeks to get kids used to the rules about masks” to a document that I was emailed by my principal today that at one point uses the word if to describe returning to school in-person. I am fully expecting to find out that we are virtual for the first nine weeks, I am predicting we will not return to school at all in 2020, and while I’m not willing to make it an official prediction yet I would not be surprised at all if we don’t return at all during this school year, because none of this is fixable with the current administration in office, and it’ll be February at least before President Biden (and Vice-President Harris, crossing my fingers) are able to start solving problems. But one way or another I ought to actually know something in about 24 hours (maybe 26) and at that point I can sort of maybe pretend to start planning.

To that end, I went to Guitar Center today, because I want to put my desk microphone on a boom arm so that I can keep it out of my way when I’m not recording and it’s more functional when I am, and while they didn’t have what I was looking for I was really happy to note that they are actually taking the pandemic seriously– the front door was opened for me by a guy with a mask and gloves on, and another thanked me for wearing my mask and explained that I needed to keep it on and my nose covered while I was in the store. Not a single employee had their damn mask on under their nose while I was in there, either.

Which: for fuck’s sake, people. I had to make a Target run afterwards too and by the end of it I was halfway to being a goddamned axe murderer. You motherfuckers have been told how to wear these goddamn things and you have been told why to wear these goddamn things. I am tired of stupid people.

Anyway, I came home and ordered a boom arm, because I can’t find one in a store and I’m not about to do what I might have done a year ago and check more than one place before having someone bring me shit. I wish there had been something else I wanted to spend money on at Guitar Center, but as a non-guitar person there just aren’t a lot of options.

(Okay, I took a look at a $1000 “podcaster recording bundle,” but I’ll never have a podcast because I’ll never have a good idea for one.)

Let’s see, what else? Eyes are getting better. Dropping the nighttime gel drops was a good idea. I’m noticing them a lot less often, which I think is supposed to be the point, right? Let’s go with yes.

I feel like I had more, but it’s fallen out of my brain. Maybe I’ll update if I remember something important.

An email I didn’t send

Dear Sir and/or Madam:

I have received your email communication of Jul 27th, and it did indeed find me well, at least for a moment, until the subject of your message sunk in and I found my previous wellness replaced with a bone-deep, nearly painful level of exhaustion. While in principle I do agree that we will be working together this year and that we should discuss such things as the curriculum we will be teaching, I feel compelled to remind you that it remains July for several more days yet, and that furthermore it is also somehow still March, and that at the moment I find myself entirely unable to do anything so civilized as “plan” for any so-called “future.” At the moment I barely even believe tomorrow is happening. Three weeks from now is literally unimaginable, and yes, I know what both of those words mean and I assure you I am using them accurately.

Furthermore, I have stalked you on Facebook and you look like a cop, and while I admit and agree that forming an early impression of someone by such means is manifestly unfair, doing so has not led to the cessation of one single bit of my current level of exhaustion. In addition, your use of “your new partner in math” as the closure to your email is unnecessarily precious when a simple “yours,” or perhaps the somewhat archaic but at least moderately humorous “Your obdt. servant” would have sufficed.

In conclusion, please do not expect a response to your query prior to the 3rd August, and later than that is a strong possibility. Responses to this message will be deleted unread, and I swear to God and baby Jesus that if you email my ass just to say “Okay!” or “Thanks!” I will kill myself on the spot and haunt the dog shit out of you and your descendants unto the 4th generation.

I remain,

L.M. Siler

In which I tell a brief, unpleasant story

I’m pretty sure I have never told anyone this story before– not in print, not in person, it’s not in Searching for Malumba, nothing– and I’m also not exactly sure what chain of thought brought it to mind as I was taking a post-pool shower and shaving my head just now, but now that it’s there I’m gonna talk about it.

It is 2005, and I am either on my last day of student teaching or it is the last day before Spring Break; I don’t remember which. I have three years of actual teaching experience, but I spent them at a Catholic school because I wasn’t certified, and completing my MA and getting my certification means I need to student teach anyway. I have ended up at a massively overcrowded (45+ students in several classes) K-8, primarily Puerto Rican, Spanish-speaking school on Chicago’s north side. I am teaching Language Arts and I have 6th through 8th graders.

My mentor teacher, a woman (this is relevant) tells me we need to talk about something before I go, and something about her tone immediately alarms me. She hands me a folded note. I open it and note that about half of the paper has been cut off, possibly to preserve a handful of student signatures. I am teaching LA in this building, however, so this doesn’t do a ton of good as I recognize the handwriting and I know who the young lady in question’s friends are.

The note says that I have been staring at her and her friends’ butts, and that none of them feel safe around me.

I note that there is a date on the note. It is about exactly two weeks old.

Chances are I paled a bit. This is bad. This is real bad. For a bunch of perfectly obvious reasons, plus the one where if I fail student teaching I’ve basically wasted the large amount of money I’ve borrowed to pay for this degree.

I look up at my mentor teacher, about to start strenuously denying some shit.

“It’s not true,” she says before I can get a word out. “I’ve been watching you for two weeks. You aren’t doing that.” I think about it for a moment, and I also realize that I’ve had this specific girl as well as all of her friends in small group instruction several times since this must have been written, with no inexplicable drama occurring. My mentor teacher has set the groups.

My mentor teacher goes on to explain that she’s not told anyone about the note, and that she wouldn’t have unless she witnessed some sort of untoward behavior herself on my part, so the two of us are the only adults who know about it. She says it’s a product of– and I will never forget hearing her say this– “these kids’ fucked-up lives, and their fucked-up problems,” and that she wanted me to know about it but that I shouldn’t spend any time worrying about it.

(Thinking about it, this must have happened before Spring Break, because I feel like she said “spend your Spring Break” worrying about it.)

And now, fifteen years later, this story pops back into my head, and as I’m thinking about it, I’m trying to decide how I might have handled it, if I were in the same position she was in, and whether I think she did the right thing by not sharing the note with anyone and just observing me herself. I mean, I wasn’t under her direct supervision every time I was with kids; that’s not how student teaching works. It’s conceivable that I might have been saving my creepery for when there weren’t other adults around, yes?

(To be perfectly clear, I wasn’t. But still. She didn’t know me that well.)

I genuinely do not know– I don’t think she told me, as opposed to this being something I’ve forgotten– whether she had a sit-down with whoever signed the note or not. The situation, again, appears to have been forgotten about as soon as the note was written, because surely I’d have heard about it faster if they had kept complaining.

What do y’all think? What’s the move here?

On planning and the lack thereof

A week ago, my school district was telling all of us that we were back to in-person learning on the day school starts. There have been a couple of School Board meetings since then and hundreds of teachers (myself included) have been burning up the internet sending irate emails, and now the plan appears to be that we’re starting with e-learning, but only for two weeks, and then phasing everyone back into the building in early September, except that at least three Board members appear to believe that we need to lose the entire first nine weeks, the plan hasn’t been voted on, and they do not have remotely enough time to hire the people that they are going to need to make any existing plan beyond “keep everyone home” work.

I made this specific point at one of the board meetings, actually; every plan that does not involve keeping us all home requires hiring more people, or if it doesn’t require that immediately, it will start requiring that the very second people start getting sick. We are not at full staffing as a district right now and in the last twelve years we never have been. There is a board vote scheduled on August 3rd, but remember, school supposedly starts on August 12. There is not enough time in nine days to do anything.

The superintendent has sent out three or four separate surveys trying to figure out who both wants to and/or has a medical need to be home beyond “I don’t want to die.” Each time they’ve had to pull the survey because of health privacy violations. They’ve made no decisions about who might be home to teach the kids whose parents don’t want them to enter the buildings and as of right now they don’t have time to, because every teacher that gets pulled out of a classroom means they need to put another body in that room.

(I was very pleased to discover that both obesity and high blood pressure put me in high-risk status for Covid, and no, that’s not a typo; I was pleased. I do not want to return to classroom teaching right now, and it’s nice that for once being a giant fat man is working for me and not against me.)

In addition, the county health department … person— I don’t know if he’s a chairman or what the hell his title is, but one way or another he was at one of the board meetings too. He stated in front of Jesus and everybody that he thinks the county needs to be at or below fifteen new infections a day before he’s comfortable reopening schools. We are currently at about three times that many, and I don’t see that number falling into safe range anytime in August at all, much less September.

A number of things have been clear to me for a while, and at this point I’m basically just waiting for everyone else to face up to reality and make the necessary intelligent decisions: we are not going back to school for at least nine weeks and I suspect we are probably done for 2020. Sports– professional, high school, college, whatever– are not coming back this year. They may have started some practices, but the seasons are going to get cut very, very short if they even get started at all. This has only gotten worse since March, and it’s not getting better until the current US government is mostly replaced, so we’re looking at probably February before we can see any any chance of actual useful positive movement, and if the Republicans aren’t voted out of office in every imaginable capacity in November and then probably forced out of certain government buildings in Washington at gunpoint on January 20 we are dead. I’m not ready to say we’re going to lose the entire school year yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if it happened. Not one tiny bit.

None of this had to be this way, but … y’know. Emails.