In which that’s a new one

Periodically I’ll let my students work on a site called Quizizz. There are three Zs in Quizizz and I think I have them arranged correctly but I can never be sure; I think they change it from time to time. Quizizz is one of those sites where it’s best used with an entire class at once, but doing it asynchronously works just fine as well; the students are asked questions and provided four answers, and points are awarded based on 1) whether the answer was correct and 2) how quickly the answer was provided. You can also set the quizzes so that the kids can take them as many times as they want, which is fun for the more competitive ones. I typically will take it once and offer a small number of extra credit points to anyone who can beat my score, which is definitely a thing that happens, especially if I fuck up and actually miss one.

Quizizz also allows the kids to customize how their names are displayed, which sounds like it’s an opening for XxXMelvinThaRaper420XxX (Melvin does not know how “rapper” is spelled) to show up on your list of students, but they either have robust blocklists in place or my students have been displaying a rare level of self-restraint, because I can only think of a couple of times where it hasn’t been immediately clear who a kid was, and they’ve never used anything even remotely inappropriate. Usually they just use shortened versions of their first names and their real last names and it’s not a problem.

Until the last couple, when “Adam Thompson” showed up. I don’t have an Adam Thompson. I also don’t have an Adam or a Thompson. Adam was getting good scores, too, which made it weird that when I was posting announcements to our classroom stream asking who the hell he was, he wasn’t outing himself– after all, if I don’t know who you are, I can hardly put your attempts at Quizizzery into my gradebook, now, can I?

And yet.

Well, today I got a bug up my ass about it for some reason and I mentioned Adam in every single class I had and my instructional video. And I got this email just after school let out today:

And … well. I should have guessed; it’s my student with selective mutism. I haven’t updated y’all on her in quite a while; as you can tell, she’s perfectly willing and able to communicate in writing, which means that teaching her during a pandemic isn’t really all that different from teaching any of my other students. This is another manifestation of her social anxiety, though, and it’s a new one; she wasn’t doing this earlier in the year. I told her that now that I know who Adam is I’m okay with her continuing to use that name on future assignments if she likes; I see no reason not to allow it, and now that I know who Adam is there’s also no reason to mention that name again in class either.

I did have a trans boy in my class last year who let me know that he wanted to be called Ryan partway through the school year, and I’m intrigued that she (my current student, not my trans student) chose a boy’s name, but I don’t think this is a deadname sort of situation– it’s a pseudonym for her assignments, more or less the exact same thing as me using Luther Siler, which isn’t my name, for my books. That said, it is another knock-on effect for the same social anxieties that have led to her not having said a word since she was in 5th grade, so I’m going back and forth on whether I should pass this up the chain and let the counselor or the psychologist know. I know the last time I mentioned her one or two of you had previous experience with kids who didn’t talk, so if anyone has any suggestions I wouldn’t mind hearing them. I don’t think she’s in danger or anything like that, I’m just trying to decide if this is something that should be alarming at all. I’m leaning toward no, but I’m not done thinking about it yet.

An admission

As an educator, I don’t mind e-learning. Like, at all.

It makes me feel bad that that’s true, but it still is. Make no mistake; most teachers are killing themselves this year, especially those who are in hybrid situations. My personal situation has been helped immeasurably by the fact that I managed to snag a medical exemption to stay home full-time, so I can’t be dragged back and forth from my building, and as it turns out, if some of your kids are home and some are in school, it’s actually a lot more manageable if you’re at home rather than in the building.

But in all seriousness? I’ve always written most of my own assignments. I’m more than technically competent enough that that aspect of distance learning doesn’t bother me at all. And– and this is the kicker– I don’t have to deal with discipline, at all. Now, don’t misunderstand me; my kids are going to learn much more in a face-to-face, non-pandemic set of circumstances than they are in this; when I say I don’t mind e-learning, I mean from a “personal stress level” standpoint, not from a “student learning” standpoint. In person is clearly superior for student learning outcomes, but we can’t have that right now because of the slightly more important “keeping everyone alive” outcomes. But god damn do I like being able to get through a lesson without getting interrupted a hundred times, and I also have a number of students who are undeniably benefiting from the lack of distractions that, well, everyone else provides nearly constantly int he classroom.

I have a number of others who are suffering from the isolation and are simply not good at self-directing their learning, mind you; I’m not trying to minimize the effect they’re having on them. That’s part of the reason I passed everyone. I simply can’t expect a 14-year-old to be able to self-regulate like that in the absence of a parent standing over their shoulder.

But me? Personally? I mean, I”m stressed; everybody’s stressed. But as far as my job? I’m doing fine. I needed winter break this year less than I ever have. I can’t believe that that’s true, but it is.

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?

In which I decompress

It blows my mind– even given that video games have been one of my primary leisure activities for basically my entire life– just how much of my time I have spent sitting in front of my PlayStation in the last several weeks. I continue to be obsessed with Nioh 2, which I’m playing through again on the (new) highest difficulty level and still has one more DLC coming, presumably in December or January. I’m scared to look, but I bet I’ve got 250+ hours into it by now … which if I choose to look at as a return on my $75 investment, is actually a pretty good use of my money, if nothing else.

I downloaded The Surge 2 on Friday; it’s basically Nioh or Dark Souls except with a techno-organic skin over it. I think I’ve put twelve hours into it in the three days, probably, and I imagine I’m going to go right back to it once I’m finished with this post. I’m actually quite enjoying the book I’m reading right now, but lately I’ve not been able to read during the day. If I’m not working or eating or (occasionally) watching TV with my wife, I’ve got a controller in my hand.

(Note that I did spend my traditional 2-3 hours today finishing my grading and pulling together tomorrow’s lesson plans, and it’s only that short of a time now because since everything is online I’m doing all my grading electronically.)

The PS5 comes out on Thursday; I won’t have one on Thursday unless some sort of miracle occurs, which is fine, because I can’t put the PS4 away until I’m done with Nioh. I will likely buy one as soon as I’m able to, but given how these things usually go that could be next week or it could be months from now. Apparently the plan is that they’re not going to be available in stores at all because of concerns about people waiting in line or camping out and the virus– which I’d be fine with, as I’m doing neither of those things, but it seems what is happening instead is resellers are using bots to buy them and then jacking the prices up online. Whatever; it’ll be a few months before I get bored with what I have, and by that time things will have calmed down.

As of yet, I’m not feeling the sense of relief I was hoping for from the election. I feel better, don’t misunderstand me, but better isn’t good. My wife described all the video games as a coping mechanism, and that’s probably what’s going on. I figure so long as she’s not pissed at me and I’m doing my job at work I don’t have anyone else I need to impress.We’ll see how long this lasts.

Assess the new look

I have had two problems with my lifestyle lately. One, I’m spending way too much time sitting in front of the computer– which remains vastly preferable to the alternative, but still an issue. Two, I am bald and for some reason bald this year has been cold in a way that it simply hasn’t in previous years.

Enter the skullcap, which fits nicely (more of a problem than you might believe; it’s nearly impossible to find hats that fit) and which I intend to wear around the house and outdoors on these sorts of days, and the fact that I am back in glasses, sort of, which will sit by the computer and be worn nowhere else, as they are blue light blockers and are supposed to cut down on eyestrain. I have close friends who will be mildly berated if they don’t work.

(This is not true. I have been describing myself as reasonably financially comfortable for a few years now, and my definition of “comfortable” is “can spend $20 pretty much whenever I like.” These glasses were $20. I won’t even bother returning them if I decide they don’t work.)

I sort of like the look of the skullcap (feel free to yell at me if you disagree) but I’m not in love with the Harry Potter style of the glasses. Then again, this picture will be the only time anyone who isn’t married to or genetically related to me sees them, so I don’t much care what they look like. I’ve gotta say, it’s weird having glasses back on my face again.

(Figures eyes are already hurty enough for the day, takes them off, figuring it won’t get worse)

(Questions own logic)

(Does it anyway)


Blah blah blah blah election panic-cakes. Amy Coney Barrett’s successful nomination makes it all the more critical that we take the Senate and then pack the hell out of the Supreme Court, hopefully impeaching Brett Kavanaugh along the way. My position all along has been that Coney’s nomination was legitimate– there wasn’t a “no election years!” rule when Merrick Garland was nominated and there isn’t one now– but that she should nonetheless be opposed with, well, every arrow in our quiver, Ms. Pelosi, and with every procedural trick and lowdown dirty bit of nonsense our parliamentarians can come up with.

Welp.

There are a number of dark and depressing paths my brain could wander down at the moment; I’m doing my best to cling to what little optimism I can find. If the election is won by a large enough margin we don’t have to worry about the electoral college or the Supreme Court stealing it, and if the presidency is won by that large of a margin it should take the Senate with it. We’ll worry about that first, then move on to the other stuff.

The degree to which the last two Supreme Court nominees are poster children for overpromoted white mediocrity is pretty impressive, by the way. I actually brought up Coney Barrett last time around as an example of a nominee they could have picked who wasn’t a drunken, belligerent rapist and would still be a stenographer for whatever the Republicans wanted, but I still feel like there still has to be someone out there who has maybe been a judge for longer than I spent in high school, or, like, actually been a lawyer, maybe. But whatever. It’s fine, she’s white, that’s good enough for them, yeah? Sure.