In which I’ve done 1/3 of my job, maybe

I love the visual shorthand that has evolved for pictures of teachers; there are literally dozens of variants on this picture of a teacher rubbing her temples at a desk piled with books with vaguely math-looking chalk notes on an obsolete blackboard behind her.

I received some small amount of evidence today that I have, indeed, been teaching at least seventh grade math for the last, oh, five weeks or so; my kids had a test today on adding and subtracting positive and negative integers and they did, on the whole, a bit better than I thought they were going to. I apparently have not been teaching eighth grade math, which makes me wonder just what the hell I’ve been doing with my time four class periods out of every day for that same five weeks. My students certainly do not appear to have learned anything, or at least they have not learned anything about classifying numbers, which is what I’ve been trying to teach them, and spending yesterday telling them exactly what was going to be on the test as well as providing them with an extensive supply of notes, presentations and videos on the subject (in addition to my own actual instruction) appears to have gotten me absolutely nowhere.

I’m blaming them, mostly.

Okay, that’s probably unfair, but I note that the kids who I can generally count on to give a shit appear to have actually learned something; the problem is that in 8th grade the supply of available Give a Shit is somewhat lower than it is in other grades, and, well, my kids have a bit of a shortage situation going on at the moment. This is, it should also be noted, not the most interesting or immediately useful of mathematics, either; even laying my usual cynicism about the world to the side I can’t really pretend that knowing how to distinguish a rational number from an irrational one is a skill that any of them are ever going to actually need. And while I usually bare my teeth and snarl at the when are we gonna use this school of avoiding acquiring new knowledge, there’s still a spectrum to these things, and this isn’t all that high on that spectrum.

Ah well. This was actually a pretty good week once it got started, and don’t tell anyone I said this but it’s possible that I’m starting to make some headway with the gang of hellions in my seventh hour class. I discovered to my bewilderment earlier this week that despite them being my most behavior-impaired class by a wide margin they are also getting the best grades and have the smallest amount of missing work. This fact rendered me unable to even for nearly a full hour. I was curious to see if it would also lead to them getting the highest grades on the test today; they … did not. I made the mistake of praising them and it went to their heads, I think; I’ll not make that mistake in the future.

I really like my seventh grade classes, by the way. They’re both fun groups even when they’re being more buttheady than usual. I like nearly all of my 8th graders as individuals; as classes … well, we’re still working on about half of them. But we’re only a month in. Plenty of time. I’m sure I’ll have everybody beaten into shape by June.

In which something works the way it’s supposed to

My biggest sin as an educator– other than my cynicism, anxiety, various and sundry mental issues, and recent conviction that society will not be around long enough for an education to actually help any of my current students in any meaningful way– is that I am terrible at parent contact. I’m good at email, but a lot of my parents don’t use email and it can be difficult to collect email addresses that work via any method other than brute force. I despise calling parents on the phone to complain to them about their kids. Absolutely hate it, and I’ll do anything to avoid doing it– including just continuing to put up with shitty behavior when it’s possible that calling home might actually help. Does it always? Of course not, and unfortunately the kids with the most issues most frequently come with parents who aren’t going to help me out. Not always, but frequently.

Yesterday was rough as hell. Everybody in the building was in a bad damn mood all day, and every single one of my classes was substantially more poorly-behaved than usual. I sent more kids to the office yesterday alone than I have for the entire first, what, four weeks of the year combined, including three from my seventh hour class, which is far and away my roughest group, to the point where the other five barely even register in comparison.

My principal emailed me and asked me– ha, asked, he says– to contact the parents of the three and let them know what had happened. Which I dutifully did, hating every second of it, but for two of the three I had a decent conversation with a parent and the third I left a detailed message.

Today was a better day across the board, and there was a notable improvement in behavior from all three of yesterday’s miscreants. And I should point out, to be fair, that two of the three are rarely problems, and in fact those two often help to rein in the third, who is more prone to having issues. They just didn’t yesterday, and each of them being dismissed from the room one at a time did not help things. But, point is: today all three gave me no trouble at all. So not only did the two parents I spoke to talk to their kids in a meaningful way, but apparently so did the third, based only on the voicemail message.

I pulled them aside at the end of the day and gave them the option of a second phone call today, one passing on that today featured good behavior, and all three of the boys seemed pretty excited by the idea and said I should do it. Which meant that I got the exquisite and fairly rare pleasure of calling three parents in a row– because this time the voicemail parent answered the phone– and savoring that first moment where they’re pissed off because if I’ve called two days in a row it must be because somebody fucked up and then giving them good news instead.

It’s not something I get to do often, but I enjoy it quite a lot when I do.

In which I do the right thing eventually

87154-fullI’ve been out of my building for a good piece of last week and nearly all of this week, and won’t be around much next week either, as my traveling band of merry People Who Share My Job move around from building to building doing Important Things What Need to Be Done.   Last week we were at a couple of middle schools and I was back at my home school by late afternoon.  The high schools have been this week, and after seeing how yesterday went (at my alma mater, no less) I emailed my boss and told her not to expect to see me at all for the rest of this week.

Well, today’s tasks went by fast, and I was out of the high school by just after noon, and so I had this weird hour and a half or so where I kept going back and forth on well, I told her not to expect me to come in at all, and it’s not like she’s going to be looking for me to the rather more conscientious dammit you know good and well you’re supposed to be at work until four and it’s 1:30.  Take your ass back to work like you know you’re supposed to.

I took a long lunch and the high school is on the other side of town so I threw some drive time in there.  At any rate, I was back in my building for the last couple of hours of the day.

Let me back up.

The next couple of days are going to be interesting.  Tomorrow we are going to be at the high school that most of my kids from my previous school– the one I quit at mid-year– usually end up.  I will know a lot of those kids, or at least will remember their names, but honestly there won’t be many of them who have any particular reason to come see me.  On Friday, I will be at the high school where most of my kids from my first school in this area are at, and I’m probably going to know half of the senior class and a sprinkling of the younger kids.  So I’m kind of looking forward to Friday.

Today I saw exactly two kids who I remembered.  One of them was a young lady who I know I’ve written about once or twice (he said, after spending fifteen minutes looking for the post) who I basically helped out at exactly the right moment once and have received endless and frankly ridiculous levels of gratitude ever since.  She’s a really sweet kid, but she was never actually in my class, and when it comes right down to it I don’t actually know her all that well, but that didn’t stop her from running right over to me and giving me a big hug and saying hi and being really surprised that I remembered her name.  Her first name, at least; I admit I blanked on her last name.

The other kid I saw?  Remember Jihad?  Yeah.  He either didn’t recognize me or pretended not to, and I’m fine with either choice; honestly, I’m amazed that he’s still in school and not, say, in jail, or dead.  He appears to not have changed much other than that he’s covered his hands in gang tattoos (from gangs he does not, I suspect, actually belong to, as he appeared to have tattoos from rival gangs on opposite hands, which is perfectly in line with the shithead poser he was in middle school) and he’s grown a beard.  He managed to be literally the only discipline problem we’ve had at this particular thing we’re doing, and that’s across, so far, four schools and probably somewhere in the neighborhood of four thousand students.  Which is entirely unsurprising.

But!  Let’s stay positive; he hasn’t dropped out yet, no doubt because his parents won’t let him.

Anyway.

I didn’t want to go back to my home school because frankly the place has been stressing me the fuck out lately.   I’ve talked about this a bit, I think: the more knucklehead-inclined among our student body have been taking advantage of the fact that none of the teachers, myself included, really know many of the kids yet, and it’s led to what I will gently refer to as some disciplinary challenges, along with the somewhat expected cohort of, ah, territorial disputes among some of our kids who were previously at other, competing schools.  And parts of town.

I have two choices, and I know what the right one is: I can hide out in my classroom/office and not come out during passing periods and during times when I can tell from inside said classroom/office that some sort of shit is going on, because coming out is guaranteed, fucking guaranteed, to lead to something fucking stressful happening.  Or I can be an adult in my building– my fucking building, whether I like it or not– and go do something about shit and control the kids, despite the fact that a fair proportion of the time that’s gonna lead to me having some shit to worry about that is not specifically within my lane, so to speak.

I walked into the office after dragging myself into the building and within three minutes had six extra things to do, and then hauled a box of stuff up the stairs at the counselor’s request to deliver it to the teacher next to my office.  And then I had the delightful challenge of trying to figure out whether I couldn’t breathe because I am fat and old and have effectively lived a lifestyle completely free of climbing stairs for two years and was therefore slightly out of breath, or if I was having a fucking panic attack.

We are not fucking doing this again, and we are sure as shit not doing it in fucking August.  No.  Not doing it.  Period.  I haven’t had a panic attack in years and we are not. doing. this. shit. again.

I got over it.  I think I was just out of breath.  But I got over it.

The weird thing is, by the end of the day, despite having thrown myself into the shit with every available opportunity, because I made the correct decision and did not hide out in my room like an asshole, I was in a good mood.  And today was a good day.  And did I stay in my lane?  No, I did not.  And did I do my damnedest to make my building a place where one might want to go to receive an education?  Yeah, I did.

I’m gonna focus on the small victories this year, I think.

But maybe my standards are too high

We attended my mother-in-law’s funeral service a couple of weeks ago.  Before we left, I had a quiet word with my five-year-old about my expectations for his behavior at the cemetery, and I reminded him of those expectations once we got there.  He performed admirably.

This sort of behavior– today, at Arlington– would not have gone over well.  We would have had words, and had them quickly.  My son– who is, again, LITERALLY FIVE FUCKING YEARS OLD, is better behaved at solemn events in public than this… person.  So was every single one of the dozens of seventh and eighth grade students I have taken on tours of the place. 

It’s fucking unhealthy how much I hate him.  I thought I hated George W. Bush.  I had a shirt that said so, and I wore it! A lot!  

That was fucking tee-ball, Pampers pull-ups hate compared to this shit.

ADDENDUM: Also, it seems pretty clear that he doesn’t know all the words to the anthem.  Yes, I can be pissed about that too.

#FeministFriday: Advice for #NotAllMen on How to Occasionally be Less of an Asshole

shut_up__listen_and_learn_by_cdckey-d4afs9aA couple of weeks ago I was at the doctor’s office.  They have a receptionist who is, oh, I dunno, in her mid-twenties and generally fairly lovely.

Since the last time I was in there (I’ve been spending my share of time at the doctor’s office lately) she’d dyed her hair grey.  I’ve come to understand that that’s becoming a thing.  If so, I approve.

As I was waiting, an elderly woman emerged from her appointment and engaged this young lady in conversation about her hair.  She was quite complimentary about it.

Damn right, I thought.  The grey hair looked great on her.

And I didn’t say a word about it to anyone.

Why?

Here is a rule for men who want to be either better people or better feminists, and frequently I have found that those two goals overlap:  practice the fine art of keeping your opinion to yourself a bit more often.  You will be surprised at how much it helps!  And, here’s the awesome part: never once will keeping your trap shut about your opinion on a stranger’s appearance be harmful.  Not once!  Not ever!

Is it entirely possible that me telling this young woman (a good fifteen years younger than me, if undeniably an adult, so I think I can get away with that title) would have made her feel good for a few moments?  Sure!  Sometimes people like getting compliments from strangers.  This is true!

It is also possible that at work is not a place where she’s particularly interested in getting opinions from strange men on her decisions about her hair.  Is this gender-specific?  Not necessarily.  While she was gracious to the old lady, she could have been gritting her teeth on the inside.  It’s possible that the old lady was the 44th person that day to tell her she liked her hair and it was getting aggravating.  (True story!  I once snapped at someone for saying Happy Birthday to me, because I’d heard it so many times that day it was starting to sound like an insult.)

Simple fact, dude: She doesn’t need your opinion on her hair.  She didn’t need my opinion on her hair.  She’s at work.  She’s not very much in the be complimented by fat bald married men on her hair zone.  There are literally no circumstances under which I would tell, say, the male nurse, or the dude sitting across from me in the waiting room, that I liked his hair.  So there should also be literally no circumstances under which I tell the female receptionist my opinion on her body.

But I don’t mean to be creepy!  I just want to give her a compliment!

Doesn’t matter, shut up.  A thing I tell my students on a fairly regular basis: your opinion is not necessary here.  Similarly, it is virtually never the case that my opinion is necessary on someone’s appearance, even if that opinion is a positive one.  If there’s even a tiny chance that me talking to her about her appearance is going to make her uncomfortable– and there is way more than a tiny chance of that— then I need to keep my opinion to myself.

But how do I get to know people if I don’t approach them in public, you ask?

Maybe go to places where people meet each other.  I hear good things about parties and clubs and bars.  There are probably other places, too!  But here’s the thing: even in those places, maybe you don’t start with the body talk?  Find something else about the person other than their body to start the conversation with, if you can.  You never know!  It might work out!

She’s at work.  Leave her the hell alone.


16b138fIt is, in fact, rather astonishing how often the “Shut Up” rule works well for men when dealing with feminist issues.  I know, guys: as men, and particularly as white men for those of us who are both, we’re used to society valuing our opinion– to the point where we’ve allowed ourselves to believe a conversation isn’t complete until we’ve weighed in on it.

Here is a thing that every woman alive knows more about than every white man alive: being a woman.  Therefore: if a woman is discussing her experiences and her opinions about her own womanhood with or (especially) near you, it is probably best if you shut the hell up and listen.  This is particularly true if you disagree with her.  If she tells you someone catcalls her every time she leaves the house, and you were with her one time and nobody catcalled, maybe you keep your mouth shut about that.  Because you know what?  Other dudes saw her with a dude.  Which means she was already owned by somebody.  And they kept their mouths shut, because that one was taken.

She. Knows. Better. Than. You. About. Being. A. Woman.

What, you’ve never catcalled a woman?  Have a cookie; hopefully you can bake them on your own.  Shut up anyway.

Are there women who like having things shouted at them by random men?  Sure.  There are also people who think voting for Ben Carson is a good idea.  There’s lots of crazy ideas out there.  But we’re talking about your behavior here, and unless the woman is wearing a sign saying “PLEASE TELL ME HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT MY CLOTHES AND BODY” you probably ought to assume that she’s not interested in what you have to say.  Note that wearing revealing clothing is not the same thing as wearing a sign inviting comment.

Dude, all these goddamn rules.  How the hell do I even talk to women anymore?  Feminists are so fucking touchy!

Pretend she’s a dude.  If you wouldn’t say anything to a dude under that circumstance, chances are you probably shouldn’t say it to her.  You ever walked past a guy on the street and told him he should smile once in a while?  No?

Don’t say it to women.

There’s nothing new in this post at all, by the way.  If you happen to be reading it and nodding your head and thinking shit, this makes some sense, you probably should have been listening to women, because they’ve said this to you before– they’ve said it to all of us— and you didn’t listen.  You’ve never seen my cock, I promise, so I have no idea why it makes the stuff I say more worthy of attention than it would be if someone without one had said it, but unfortunately that’s how it works in American society right now.

So, yeah.  Shut up.