On optimism

I am fairly certain that I have described each of the last four years as the worst year of my life. Looking back on it now, 2020 does certainly seem to have won the battle royal– losing my mom is going to do a pretty good job of catapulting the year over the rest of them, even before the global pandemic enters the chat– but if I want to be a bit more specific, April 2019 to April 2020 is probably right about where the break points are. Maybe July 2020, if I want to include losing my cat, who I’d had for 22 years.

All I really want out of 2021 is for it to be better than the last four years. I don’t need it to be great. I don’t even need good. I just need better. My 40s in general have been an utter horror show– recall that I turned 40 in 2016– and I’m more than ready to be done with that.

There have been some vague signs that maybe things are starting to turn. I am, despite the pandemic, happier as a teacher this year than I have been in a very long time. Financially, I’m in the best shape of my life, both personally and jointly with my wife. The vaccine isn’t in ready supply yet, and I haven’t gotten my shots yet, but it exists. My family isn’t experiencing any acute health crises right now; my father-in-law isn’t in great shape, but he’s holding up, and we’re not hugely concerned about anyone else at the moment. And I’ll be an uncle in a few months.

Now all I need is for a couple of elections in a state I’ve never set foot in to go my way today, and to make it through the next fifteen days without a nuclear war starting or some other sort of nightmare scenario being unleashed on the world. I (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this) have gotten very, very gun-shy about anything that feels like good news over the last four years, and I don’t trust anything resembling optimism any longer. I feel like if it seems like things are turning around a little bit that’s just so that when they all go to hell again it will hurt worse.

Hell, I just want to make it through tomorrow without riots. I would like it if the worst people in America manage to make it through the day without killing anyone.

…at this point, I took about a 20-minute break from writing this, because the despair started kicking in again. There are at least a handful of reasons for actual optimism about this upcoming year. There are reasons to set goals for this year, and not just assume that there’s no chance I will achieve any of them.

I haven’t released a new book in forever. Hell, I haven’t written more than a handful of pages of fiction since Click became available to my Patreon subscribers– and that was mostly a rewrite and re-edit, not an actual new book. I’d like to say I want to get another book out this year, but it’s entirely possible that I’m just done with that. I’d like to be more creative in general this year, to make things, and I’m already looking at the whole idea of creativity and just exhausted by it.

I need a reason to be hopeful that doesn’t wash away a day or an hour or a few minutes after I happen upon it.

I need this year to be better.

We’re not all gonna die

positivity.jpgIt’s possible that those of you who have been around for a while have been surprised at how little I’ve been talking about my new job.  And the simple fact is I haven’t talked about it much because one of the things I’ve been trying really hard to work on with this job, for my own mental health, is leave work at work.

My new school has some issues.  Some fucking major issues.  I’m going to leave it at that for right now.


I realized something at my last school, something I know I’ve said here before, but something I need to keep reminding myself of, over and over again, until it sinks the hell in.  When you don’t work in the classroom, and you don’t know any of the kids, there’s gonna be a good chunk of change where the only kids you interact with are the ones who are catching your attention, and the vast majority of the time the way those kids are going to catch your attention is with negative behaviors.  If 400 kids are in a hallway at one time and three of them yell “motherfucker” at the top of their lungs, my takeaway is going to be these fucking kids just swear in the hallways like it doesn’t even matter and the fact that 397 of those 400 kids weren’t cussing in the hall is going to go overlooked.

In a school with 800 kids, if 95% of the kids get through their day doing what they’re supposed to do and don’t get into any trouble, 5% of the kids is forty kids in the office, which in an eight-hour day is five kids an hour, or one kid in trouble every twelve minutes.  And those kids aren’t going to be evenly distributed– 2/3 of them will be after lunch, for example, and it’s really fucking easy to focus on those 40 and not the 760 who didn’t get into any trouble that day.  And that skews your perspective, right?

I know I’ve said it before.  I need to keep saying it to keep my shit together.

Lemme tell a story.

We have both a teacher shortage and an overcrowding issue.  There are some classes in our building that are massively too big as a result, and even just a couple of teacher absences can cause a cascade situation where we’re constantly having to find teachers to cover classrooms, because getting subs is basically impossible.  And we have a couple of classes that more or less haven’t actually had a real teacher yet this year because of that.

I got back from lunch at 12:45.  About five minutes after I walked back into the building I got a buzz on my radio from my boss.  She needed me to cover a class for a period.  Now, I’m literally the last resort for this a lot of the time for various reasons related to my actual job.  They don’t want me doing classroom coverage, so if they’re calling me in it’s because every other available adult has already been pressed into service.

She tells me I’m covering one of those overcrowded classrooms which has never had a real teacher.  It’s basically a study hall at this point because there’s nobody to write daily curriculum for the class, and most of the kids in there at this point have learned that whoever is trying to make them work today isn’t going to be there tomorrow and so it’s, to put it delicately, challenging to motivate them to do anything.  And I admit it, I groaned and rolled my eyes, because I didn’t really want to, but fuck it I’m gonna pitch in.  And then she says to me “It’s 12:30 to 1:11 and then take them to lunch.”

I look at my watch.  It’s 12:50.  

“You mean this class started twenty minutes ago?”

She looks at her watch, and without saying another word turns on her heel and fucking sprints out of the office.


I follow her.  She heads to the classroom at a high rate of speed.

Where 30-some-odd eighth graders were sitting in their seats, quietly having a study hall, and making so little noise that for twenty fucking minutes, no one had noticed that there was no adult in the room with them.  

Now: this is on the grown-ups.  Somebody fucked up somewhere.  And the kids got reminded, somewhat vigorously, that maybe somebody should take the initiative to go to the damn office and let us know if no one is in the room.  But it’s kind of hard to get mad at a group of kids who are sitting and quietly, if not working, at least goofing off in a non-obnoxious manner– and a couple of those kids who had pencils in their hand and were clearly doing homework were not kids I would have expected to make those decisions on their own, so there was absolutely a bit of positive peer pressure going on there.

And I sat in that damn room until lunchtime and not for one second did I have to ask a kid in the room to do a single damn thing.  My presence in the room made no difference whatsoever to anything anybody was doing.  It didn’t have to.

And I’ll tell you what: a minute before they were supposed to go to lunch, I did something  I’ve not done very many times in my career: I flashed the lights in the room a couple of times (still hot as fuck, so the lights were out) and got everyone’s attention– to the point where they were closing their computers and turning volume off, which blew my mind– and I thanked them.  I basically said exactly what was in this post, only I said it in a minute instead of a thousand words.  I thanked them for being part of that chunk of kids who quietly did the right thing instead of god only fucking knows what chaos they might have been getting up to in there.  And I gotta say: my outlook on my fucking job got improved today in a lot of ways.

I’mma bring the little bastards doughnuts on Monday,  I think.

Neither of these people are me

8a202184c338637c55139ba665ce60e1c5ced87cf032df9e1131b7b21b7e31d6.jpgYou may have had a bad day today.

But look on the bright side:

You did not, somehow, while idly tossing your keys over your head and catching them, trying to kill time with fifteen minutes left in your shift, manage to get your keys stuck on a rafter fully fifty feet off the ground when there is no ladder higher than thirty feet on the premises, thus locking yourself out of both your car and your home with absolutely no way to get your keys that anyone can figure out.

You are also not the person responsible for loading out six thousand dollars worth of furniture into a U-Haul and doing it incorrectly, a mistake that the owners of the furniture did not discover until they had unloaded the U-Haul into their new house– in fucking Indianapolis.  

Go ahead, ask if we’ve figured out who the two extra pieces that were put on the U-Haul and weren’t supposed to be there are actually supposed to go to.

In which that went better than I hoped

I won’t be in my classroom tomorrow.  I’m assisting (where “assisting” means “taking primary responsibility for,” because if I do it it’s going to be done right) on a major project in the office, and they’re putting a sub in my room so that I can get everything done.  I have told the boss he is providing me with doughnuts and orange juice and lunch.  He did not argue.

True fact: after spending all summer trying my damnedest to stay out of the classroom, I’m now officially pissed that I’m getting pulled out of the classroom.  Because clearly I am never happy.  Three days in, I’m still over the moon with my homeroom girls, and my afternoon class ain’t half bad either, although there are a few of ’em in there that I know I’m going to end up tangling with and there are a lot of special ed kids who are going to end up challenging in an entirely different way.  Some of them are the same kids.  I like my para, too.  I’ve always had good luck with my paraprofessionals; that streak is apparently continuing this year.

My main goal this weekend needs to be to find some way to get at least a little ahead on next week.  Given that I’m working Saturday night and we’re hosting a birthday party for our son on Sunday, that seems a trifle unlikely.  But I remain optimistic.  I’d also like to– God forbid– get some writing done that isn’t blog-related.

How’s your week going, y’all?

A brief first day report

Odd fact: when going through previous posts for posts about teaching to possibly include in Searching for Malumba, I discovered something interesting:  I have not talked about the first day of school on most of the first days of school since I’ve been blogging.

Possibly because I get home and I am too tired to qualify as a living thing.  So, the short version: my homeroom girls are nice.  Scary nice.  Like, “I don’t believe you, and we’ll see what I think of you in a week” nice.  My afternoon kids… well, let’s just say that class is still in flux, because that’s where my special education kids are going to end up and we’ve not finalized class lists yet.  “In flux” sounds like a fair way to put it.

So… what is that?  Cautiously optimistic?  I’ll go with cautiously optimistic.