INCOHERENT SCREAMING

I remembered what the extra thing I wanted to include in yesterday’s “Today’s Nonsense” post was– that I had been teaching my kids about the Pythagorean theorem, and all day the phrase Hypogean Gaol was interfering with it and making the words come out wrong. The Hypogean Gaol is an area in Bloodborne. I am an idiot.


I’ve realized something today, which is that I don’t actually think I would be able to graduate from college if I were to attend today. There is something that happens to my brain each and every time I am forced to access Canvas for any sort of training, and I am completely unable to pay attention to any prerecorded or even live talk through a computer screen for more than fifteen to twenty minutes. I have never in my life shown any other signs of ADHD; it’s not that I can’t focus in general, but something short-circuits in my brain whenever I have to listen to someone talk through a computer screen and I cannot do it. And unfortunately right now I have put myself into three different situations at once that are requiring me to do either or both. Again: I am an idiot.

Featured in the above image: I am currently enrolled in a program to build online courses through Indiana University. That launched this week, with a horrifying two-and-a-half-hour Zoom meeting last night, and is supposed to be 10-15 hours of work a week on my end, with a $2500 reward if I make it through nine weeks and actually manage to collaborate with other humans to build this class. Unfortunately, the first thing we need to do is make it through this week’s work, which is an “eight to ten hour” Canvas class called Responsive Engagement and Virtual Learner Assessment. I did a few early bits of it today, including a request that we read the article above and “socially annotate” it, and, well, you can see my response to the bit I highlighted in purple on the right.

There are around 200 people involved in this thing, we’re all supposed to do this course this week, and as of right now there are no comments whatsoever past the second page of the article, which is 17 pages long. The yellow highlighted comments at the top there are one person writing “test comment” three times.


The other thing that’s driving me nuts is that we have been in a world where we have done everything online for a solid year and there are still people out there on the “I don’t know how to rotate a PDF” level of understanding of technology. How are you a teacher in April of 2021 and you don’t know how Zoom works? Look at this:

Now, part of this is IU’s fault, because I am a tech guy and even I’ve been kind of blindsided by the sheer number of digital tools that they want us using to be able to do this, and there have been some clear “wait, we sorta fucked up the roll-out here” signs from the people running the program, so I imagine people who aren’t as savvy are probably drowning. But how the hell do you log into Canvas, open a course, navigate through a third of the first module of that course, follow the instructions to open and register for another web service, then use that web service to complete your assignment by saying you don’t have access to Canvas?

Aaaaaauuuuugggghhhhhhh. It reminds me of this:


One more thing, and then I’ll draw this embarrassing bout of whining to a close: part of the 2 1/2 hour zoom-a-thon yesterday was a talk by a retired History professor at IU, of tenuous connection to the course, about what he called bottlenecks to understanding class material. A bottleneck is not an especially complicated concept, and in fact it’s something that’s a known problem by every teacher with more than about ten minutes of experience: that sometimes our students have trouble with our material because of other things that are interfering with their ability to learn said material. Now, he seemed to be limiting himself to academic roadblocks, such as, to stick with the Pythagoras example, if you think “squared” means “multiplied by two,” you’re going to have a hard time figuring out the length of a missing hypotenuse. I asked at one point if he considered economic or family or even motivational factors to be bottlenecks and unfortunately didn’t get an answer. And the lecture was over an hour long, which wouldn’t have been an issue in-person, but over Zoom was absolute torture, because I can’t pay attention to people talking at me on Zoom. It was made worse by the competing factors that 1) I thought the material was a classic example of academics thinking they’ve discovered something that is, forgive the pun, elementary to the people doing the work, and 2) no one else seemed to get what he was talking about. Like, he asked us a couple of times to talk about bottlenecks that we’ve seen from our students in our classes and people just started listing topics. Like, “finding a main idea” is not a bottleneck! Not by itself! “Integers” is not a bottleneck, but brain development issues that make the abstract concept of subtracting a negative to be difficult to understand might be!

tl;dr I am tired and quite possibly an asshole.

Sunday odds and ends

DMX hit the scene in 1998, my senior year in college, a time when my musical tastes were probably as far away from hiphop as they’ve been in my life. I can’t pretend I’ve ever really been a fan, although X Gon’ Give It To Ya is an immortal banger, and the guy’s voice was something else. But it’s been amazing to see since he died just how many people have been coming out of the woodwork to tell stories about him just being a great person, or stories about running into a generous stranger that end with “… and then it turned out that guy was DMX.” I’m at the age where more and more people close to my age (he was only about 7 years older than me, which doesn’t feel like much) are passing on, and I can only hope that when I go there are more positive stories told about me than otherwise. Rest in power, man.


Speaking of rap music, and forgive me, because given DMX’s placement on this it’s going to feel like shade, but this dataset investigating the vocabularies of various rappers is really interesting. Especially so when you scroll down and look at when they sort everybody by the era they’re most associated with.


I bought Taylor Swift’s reissue of Fearless, mostly because her last two albums were so (sincerely) fucking good. I’ve talked a lot of shit about her music over the years– and most of it I still stand by, frankly– and buying the reissue was almost more of a political decision than it was a musical one, because I so very much adore the idea of her responding to someone else refusing to sell her the rights to her own music back by shrugging and using her songwriter rights to rerecord every single bit of it. At some point a switch in my head has flipped with her, though, and where I used to have all of her music inadvertently memorized and didn’t like it, now I have all her music inadvertently memorized and fuck it I’m listening to it on purpose because I’m grown and if I wanna be inconsistent I’m going to.

I still think she and Lil Nas X should write a song together, just to see if the entire world wakes up the next day with it memorized.


I go back to work in-person tomorrow, for the first time in, basically, thirteen months. I’m surprisingly sanguine about it– I was expecting to be climbing the walls today, and I’m really just not right now– but I still haven’t resolved some basic issues about what the next few days are going to look like that I’ve been mulling over for the entire break. I still don’t quite know how I’m going to handle my at-home kids; believe it or not, me being at home is easier for doing in-person and at-home at the same time than being at school will be and I don’t know how well all of that is going to work. I know I need to do some grading today one way or another, and I think for at least tomorrow I’m going to more or less give the at-home kids the day off; I’ll do a review assignment of some sort (everything this week is going to be review, since ILEARN starts a week from tomorrow, which is the real reason they’ve brought all the teachers back) while I sit down with the in-person kids and get them sorted out.

I’m going to take a shower– it’s past noon and I’ve had lunch, so I feel like it’s maybe time for that to happen– and then get that grading finished (hopefully somebody did something to catch their grades up this week, but I’m not holding my breath) and then we’ll see how things go.

No, not that way

I ended up accepting $50 from my brother yesterday, enough to pay for a tank of gas and my tolls for the trip, and he bought lunch. When I checked the votes upon arriving at his place yesterday they were pretty overwhelmingly in favor of not charging him, and I apparently phrased the entire thing as more of a fraught decision than it actually was, although I did manage to get him to admit that he didn’t actually expect me to jump at the offer the way I did. I figure we both came out fine; the drive to northern Illinois (what we used to refer to as “north Northytown” when I lived in Actual Chicago all those years ago) is not exciting, but it was definitely nice to get out of the house and it was a fine day to take a long drive one way or another. So all good regardless.

I also got to find out my new nephew’s name, which was surprising but acceptable, which is a nice combination. He’s due in about a month. I’m not sure when we’ll actually get to see the little bugger (although my wife gets her first shot on Tuesday and I get my second one on Thursday, so by the time he’s here we should both be good(*)) but I’m sure it’ll happen soon enough.


I had been tentatively planning on returning to in-person teaching after Spring Break, which is in two weeks. It was “tentative” because me returning means my son also needs to return to in-person instruction at his school, and that’s not a decision I can just cavalierly make on my own, obviously. A week or two ago we got notification from the district that any teachers who were working exclusively from home, all of whom had to provide a doctors’ note to achieve said status, would have to provide a second doctor’s note releasing us to return to work before we’d be allowed back in the buildings.

Okay, cool. Kind of an annoying hoop to have to jump through but my doctor didn’t throw up any roadblocks about the first letter so there’s no reason she’s going to get stubborn about the second one. I mentally filed it away on my List of Adulting To Accomplish and decided to ignore it for the time being.

Then, on Friday, at 4:30– so after everybody would have left the buildings and gone home for the day– we all got a letter from the district informing us that everyone was being “recalled to campuses” after Spring Break, no mention of doctors’ notes made. There was a snotty addendum that if your doctor still doesn’t think you should be on campus to contact Human Resources, but no mention of what had been described to us as a requirement just a couple of weeks before.

And, like, it’s okay to be pissed about this, right? I mean, I was gonna go back that day anyway, but it’s both deeply annoying and entirely in line with the typical way this district operates that we were first told we had to have our doctors clear us to return into a viral hot zone and then in less than two weeks that requirement was summarily tossed out in favor of an affirmative requirement that we return to school. This after not remotely enough time to collect any data about how things are going in the small handful of buildings that are piloting the four-day returns in the first place.

So, which is it? Did the lawyers decide the district didn’t need their butts covered after all? Was the initial requirement just HR deciding to create a minor pain-in-the-ass task for those of us planning to return just because they could? How much fight is the district planning on putting up when teachers who were allowed to stay home when there were fewer students in-building to be exposed to balk at returning with twice as many students in place?

Has anybody thought about any of this? At all? Bueller?

I don’t understand how we’ve cycled through multiple superintendents, multiple HR directors, multiple School Boards, multiple everything in the time I’ve been working for this district and this pervasive sense of poorly-communicated halfassedness continues no matter what else changes.

But yeah. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks regardless. So will my son, I guess.

(*) I am still unclear as to whether the shots confer any degree of noncontagiousness or simply that they keep the effects of the disease from being that big of a deal if it’s contracted. I know to keep wearing masks and such, and that’s not a problem, but I need to look into whether we’re safe to be around a newborn even if all the adults, at least, are properly vaccinated, and I bet there’s not a ton of data available about that. So it could be a while before we see him in any way other than over Zoom, and I’m not about to try and talk the parents into anything they’re not 100% comfortable with.

In which I cannot worry about what I cannot control

Progress reports for 3rd quarter come out today. These are the current grades for my 3rd hour class. They are not unrepresentative of the rest of my classes.

On what passes for good news nowadays

Is this good news? Hell, I don’t know.

We’ve been working on systems of equations in class lately. So, just as a reminder, if I tell you that y = 2x and y = x + 2, you can use those two equations to solve for both X and Y to find out that X is 2 and Y is 4. The process isn’t that important if you don’t remember it. There are three ways my eighth graders are supposed to learn how to do this– graphing, substitution, and elimination, and we’re working on substitution right now and have already covered graphing. I’m going to cover elimination later this week and I’m hellbent on knocking it out in two days because, frankly, it’s just not that damn important by any measure I’m concerned with.

But good news! Today’s assignment is out of 10, with a two-point bonus question that I thought was going to be quite a bit harder, so it’s possible to get up to 10/12 on it. And right now, with twelve minutes of class left in my final period of the day– yes, I’m blogging during school; the kids aren’t talking and if they start I’ll quit doing this– the median score is 12/10 and the average is 10.48, so the average score is actually into the realm of extra credit.

Sounds great, right?

I have 143 students and have only been able to mark 52 present today. But, hey, that’s still a pretty solid average out of the 52 who showed up and did the work!

…Oh, you say only 25 did the assignment? Ah. That’s … well, that’s seventeen and a half percent of my students.

That’s, uh, not as good.

But hey! Out of the third of my kids who bothered to show up to class today, the half who did the assignment did really well!

…except it’s not like the graphing method doesn’t work perfectly well with what are supposed to be substitution equations, and there are websites that they can use that will graph lines for them. I know they know they exist because I’ve used them in class. And that probably explains the bonus question, too … and these two kids in different classes who got this system wrong in the exact same way, which only works if you forget a negative sign on one of the numbers and then graph that

So I really have no evidence of any kind that any but the tiniest handful of my kids who have worked through stuff with their cameras and microphones on have any understanding of how to do this.

But hey! Those three kids! They’ve got it!

I take my wins where I can find them nowadays, I guess.