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.

Well, this sucks

I gotta say, I know a lot of places have been harder-hit than us, and I know good and well we’re far from the first area to have to do this, but … Christ, is that a jarring fucking headline to see on your hometown newspaper’s website.

My district just announced that we’re going back to all virtual instruction starting after school next Tuesday. Which is good; we shouldn’t have been back in the first place. We started off the year with the district telling us “data, not dates,” and keeping us out until a week before the end of the first quarter, which … maybe some attention to dates might have been good, as there’s no real reason to come back right before a quarter ends. It was made clear to us that we’d be following the county’s recommendations for our metrics and for when we’d be closing.

Then shit got a lot worse, and they brought us back, which makes perfect sense, ignoring the county-level data in favor of quietly moving to state metrics. I can tell you everything you need to know about our state numbers by pointing out that nothing has changed on our alert level since school restarted despite the fact that we have something like ten times as many daily infections now than we did then. If that can happen without your alert level changing, your metrics are (deliberately) garbage.

All of our neighboring districts have announced in the last few days that they were going virtual. The word from our district– this is a direct quote– was that school closings would be “reactive, not preventative”– in other words, we’d be closing if we got lots of cases or lots of absences due to quarantines in schools, but only individual schools affected by those cases or absences. We would only close because of people being sick, not to prevent people becoming sick. Then they announced two schools would close. Neither of the two schools appeared to be worse than any others on their covid dashboard; indeed, one of them wasn’t even on there.

(The reliability of our district Covid dashboard is, to put it mildly, in dispute.)

Meanwhile, my school has averaged 10 teachers out a day in the last couple of weeks. I don’t know what they think is going on if a quarter of the teachers being out isn’t enough. My kids have been doubled and tripled up in classrooms, which eliminates any benefit of cutting the number of kids in the building.

And today, they abandoned that policy– granted, it was dumb, but still– and sent us all home. In the hour and a half since announcing we were going back to virtual they have already announced that the day we were going back was wrong and changed it– I had to rewrite a paragraph of this because we got new information. Right now they’re still in school Monday and Tuesday and then out indefinitely after that; Wednesday was going to be the first day of Thanksgiving break anyway.

I suspect I will see virtually none of my kids on Monday and Tuesday. I am seriously considering not bothering to assign anything.

God, I’m glad it’s Friday.