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?

A brief note about tomorrow’s E-Learning lesson

It is possible that I have lost my shit, to some degree or another.

I am pretty certain that if I record another damn YouTube video about math tonight my organs will shut down out of spite and I will die. And I had another ten kids (about a quarter of the total number of kids who did today’s assignment, which is about a quarter of the total number of students I have) get zeroes on today’s assignment despite carefully going over each problem they were given in today’s video.

And I have no way of knowing– I have my suspicions, of course, but I have no way of knowing– which of those ten or so kids just went through and clicked several answers at random because they didn’t give a shit or whether the way I’m trying to teach them just doesn’t work, and the lack of feedback from the kids that is inherent to “distance learning” is just fucking with my head do a degree that I’m not even sure I can describe. I cannot do my job like this. My job involves people, not computer screens.

I can’t do it tonight. So I’ve declared– officially, on my Google Classroom page, mind you, where I post all of my assignments– that tomorrow is a mental health day and they are to take the 20-30 minutes they are supposed to be spending on my class and do something that they find relaxing instead. Because fuck it, nobody’s paying attention and no one is going to tell me I can’t.

Another short one tonight

It’s weird that taking attendance for e-learning takes longer than doing my grading, right? Because grading is just grading, and because I’m doing everything electronically and I’m a math teacher I’m able to grade almost everything automatically, and attendance is a hideous nightmare involving two different online programs and a spreadsheet as well as backdating everything when kids do assignments from two weeks ago. Which means that every time I do my grading and my attendance I have to check every assignment I have given since this started. And, okay, it’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a teacher or anything, but have you ever had to remember to click something in one place if someone is not clicked in another place? It melts your brain and your eyes after a while, and I was sitting here for probably about 2 1/2 hours tonight getting this done. Attendance in school takes less than a minute per class.

My overall numbers are scary and getting scarier; I’m averaging about a third of my students checking in on any given day, which is … not great, at all, and I expect there to be even more attrition by the end of the year even if it has been shortened. Maybe if I figure out a way to unlock a TikTok video or something every time they do an assignment … ugh. The math team had a meeting today that ended up lasting an hour and a half because we got to talking about what we were going to do this fall if the school year started without the kids in the building, which I am pretty damn convinced it is going to. The long and short of it is none of us have any idea how the hell to handle that, and we’re all terrified of it.

So, yeah, that’s all fun.

8:56 PM, Friday April 24th: 890,524 confirmed infections and 51,017 American deaths. What day next week do we cross over a million infections, do you think? Wednesday?

In which I need to figure this out

Right now this is my new Facebook profile picture, but I felt like it was necessary to share it here too. Sushi hates me so much, it’s adorable.

The kids appear to be having massive difficulties with the assignment I gave them today. I’ve tried to move on a bit from endless review into new material (effectively the entire fourth quarter has been distance learning, so none of the stuff that is supposed to be covered in the last 25% of the year has been taught yet) and something that probably should have occurred to me earlier occurred to me today.

When I’m teaching in a regular classroom setting, if I notice my first couple of groups having trouble with a specific aspect of something or simply not understanding the way I’m teaching it, or a common mistake I wasn’t expecting, I can adjust throughout the day. If kids in 3rd and 4th hour are frequently making the same kind of error, you can bet that 6th and 7th hour are going to hear me specifically address that type of mistake before I turn the kids loose on whatever their assignment was for that day. And in e-learning, not only do I not really have a way to adjust from class to class, but the vast majority of the time I can’t even tell what mistakes they’re making. This could be fixed somewhat if I adjusted how I was instructing– I’ve been defaulting to mostly multiple-choice assignments in a Google form that can grade itself– but it’s difficult to imagine what I could be doing that would let me see their thinking as they’re making mistakes. I mean, sure, I could ask— I could give them a problem, then they answer it, and then maybe explain in a text box how they solved it, but I know my kids well enough to know that that’s not actually going to be as helpful as it sounds like it could be. I’ve only got about 30-40% of my kids even doing the work on a day-to-day basis, it’s tough enough to get them to watch the instructional videos that are showing them how to do the stuff in the first place, and I have no way of telling whether a kid who got a terrible score on an assignment got a terrible score because he doesn’t understand what he’s doing or because he simply logged on and answered “C” for everything– which I suspect at least a couple of my kids are doing.

I need to figure out a way to get this material to teach itself, effectively– because while there’s less than a month of school left, and maybe only 15 days of actual instruction, there is no way that we don’t lose a substantial chunk of next year to this as well, and when that happens I want to be prepared.

If you’re wondering what I mean by “teach itself,” read this excellent article about how– this is not a joke– the first level of Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers teaches you how to play it. That game is a masterclass of tutorial design; I just need to figure out a way to apply that style of learning to math.

It’ll be easy, I’m sure.

6:52 PM, Wednesday (God, is it Wednesday? Is that right?) April 22nd: 837,947 confirmed cases and 46,560 Americans dead. That is a pretty staggering increase in the 31 hours since I last posted.

THREE day WEEK end (clap, clap, clapclapclap)

Pretty sure I’ve used that as a title for a blog post in the past, but whatever.

It was a really long fucking week, and not an especially good one, either professionally or mentally. My principal (who I really like, for the record) sent out a couple of emails at the end of the day regarding some walkthroughs that are going to be conducted next week and some expectations for how instruction should be going, and I read them and reflected on how I had to keep a seventh grader after class earlier today to make sure that he understood that if you have six pencils and you want seven you need one more.

That is not a joke, and the kid wasn’t fucking with me. At one point I literally put six Post-Its on the table in front of him and counted them and asked him how many more he needed to get seven. He said one instantly.

“Okay, what if they were pencils? If you have six pencils and you want seven, how many more do you need?”



This has not been a week where I’ve been able to feel confident about my skills as an educator, let me put it that way. I have three days to get my head back on straight; I’m not sure that’s going to be enough time, and after several months of thinking yeah, it would be okay if I ended up doing this same job again next year, I’m very much in the mode of thinking that a night job at 7-11 might be a better use of my skills right now.

I’m not talking to anyone under twenty who I wasn’t personally responsible for the birth of for at least 48 hours. Hopefully that will improve things.