Want some, come on and get some!

Some of my parents must think I’m new, I swear.

Just came out of an IEP meeting that went abruptly south when the parent decided to start casting blame far and wide for her kid’s seven current failing grades. Now, here is the thing: I am fully aware of how hard this must be for a lot of our parents. I am keeping track of one child while trying to keep up with my actual students and doing my job to the best of my ability and it is difficult. I am not keeping track of more than one, the extra kids that I don’t have to keep track of aren’t at multiple grade levels, and as things go my actual child tends to be pretty self-sufficient in a lot of ways. And it is still hard.

Now, what that means is that I’m bending over backwards to make sure my students have access to me. They have my phone number, and know they can call or text me basically anytime between 8 AM and 10 PM. I am online in a Google Meet for about four and a half hours a day every single day so that they can come in and ask questions, and I am monitoring my email whenever I am awake. There are no penalties for late work on any of my assignments, and I’ll even allow unlimited retries for anything a student wants to redo. I have posted personally-recorded video lessons for every single piece of new content we’ve done that they can access any time they want through the magic of the Interwebs.

(I am actually at my computer during my lunch break right now, too, because I have kids testing. I’ve left this desk twice in the last three hours– once to pee, and once to get some cold pizza from the fridge.)

This is not for cookies. I don’t want praise. This is because I think what I’m doing is the minimum amount of flexibility teachers should be showing right now. But what this also means is that if you try and come at me for not teaching your child when your child hasn’t taken advantage of any of these opportunities, I may not be entirely sympathetic, and when you try and blame me specifically for your student’s failure I’m going to start bringing out receipts.

Because I have them. I can see every time you’ve logged in to check your kid’s grades, for example, and I see that you’ve done so repeatedly over the last few weeks, so don’t even try and pretend that you didn’t know he was failing. I can also search my own email, so when you claim you’ve emailed and talked to all his teachers? I never delete anything, ma’am. I can assure you that you have not.

Oh, and I see that your email is here on Google Classroom, which means that you’ve been receiving my weekly emails about everything we’re doing in class, all of which contain my phone number and constant reinforcement to contact me if you have any questions or any needs at all that I can be helpful with.

I am not the one, God damn it, so don’t try it. Just don’t.

What a day

giphyI had to be up at what will soon be Regular Time but for today was Two Damn Hours Early this morning, in order to drive across town to drop my son off at day care before driving back across town to go to a conference.  Which had precisely one (1) useful session out of the five that I attended before bailing early with the usual complement of complaints about how these horrible things always go.  Today’s highlight was the first session of the day after the keynote, where the guy began apologizing for having had a “long week” immediately when the first people walked into the room and did not stop apologizing until five minutes after the session was supposed to have begun, at which point he provided us with perhaps fifteen minutes of material in what was supposed to be a 45-minute session and then declared that he was glad that he’d been able to “stretch that out so long.”  The other fucker was an elbow-partner fucker, which is when the presenter for a session decides that the people attending his session to hear him provide his expertise on a topic would rather talk to the people next to them who they don’t know and were presumably also seeking, rather than possessing, said expertise.

Be aware that they could have pointed at me and said “You.  Head this session.” at any exact moment and I would have been able to fill 45 minutes with no preparation at all.  I’m a vet, motherfuckers, and really any teacher ought to be able to fill a time slot that short.  This is Goddamned ridiculous and I was about to type something about how I can’t believe how terrible these always are and how they are always terrible in the exact same way except really by now I shouldn’t be surprised any longer.

The one session that was good was great, though, and provided me with all sorts of useful information for next year.  I will be using stuff that this guy suggested we do.  Lots of it.

Welcome back, I guess.

On a positive note, I had several instances of people saying really kind things to me over the course of the conference, including the principal of the school letting it drop that he had been about to call me for an interview when the principal who ended up actually hiring me actually forbade him to do so, because she wanted me– which I feel like I could justifiably be angry about but I’m going to choose to be entertained by instead.  I randomly ran into the mother of a kid I had in both 6th and 8th grade, a kid who is entering college (yay!) next year, who was all kinds of excited to see me and told me that her entire family generally believes me to be the best teacher her kid ever had.

Which is fucking humbling.

I also ran into two former students today, one who was actually in my class that I ran into at the grocery (and recognized me first, and didn’t run away, and gave me a hug instead) and another who I didn’t actually have but who sat with me at lunch and when I asked him “how high school has been going” (he’s an incoming senior) proceeded to begin with first semester of his freshman year and tell me every class he’s taken and every grade he’s gotten.

On the plus side, he’s doing great, and this is a kid who just kind of makes everyone around him root for him to succeed, and on the negative side, I forgot that you never ask an autistic kid– or at least a kid with his particular stripe of autism– a wide-open question like that unless you’re prepared to get the entire answer.

So, yeah.  Despite the first half of this piece, it was in general a pretty good day.

Both directions, uphill

logoThey say– well, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone say this specifically, but I assume someone has– that you never really understand your parents until you’re a parent yourself.  And I feel like there’s a lot of truth to that, right?  I feel like I understand my mom and dad a lot more now that I’ve got a son of my own, and there are things I have in common with my parents now that only became things in common once I became a dad.  I got raised right, as near as I can tell, or at least as right as my parents were capable, and for the most part I’m trying to raise my son the same way my mom and dad raised me.

Mostly, anyway.

Anyone who is around my age will remember the vaguely patronizing way most if not all of our parents treated video games.  When I was growing up I couldn’t name a single parent of one of my friends who was into games.  I remember my mom playing Pitfall! and Pac-Man on our Atari and that’s it.  My dad, to the absolute best of my recollection, never touched a game controller once.  Nobody’s dad played video games.  Absolutely nobody’s.  And games were treated as something that was For Kids and always would be For Kids; it was assumed we were all going to grow out of gaming eventually and put down the controllers forever sooner or later.  The idea that anyone could ever make a career out of video games was openly laughed at.

That idea may be the single most incorrect thing our parents thought about my generation, right?  Some of us stopped playing eventually, but the idea that I’m 41 and still playing video games isn’t even a little bit odd, and there are tons of careers connected to games.  You can even make good money literally just playing games with the right Twitch stream or YouTube channel.

So I used part of our tax refund to buy a Nintendo Switch.  I came home with the new Zelda game (which turned out to be terrible) and the new Mario game, which … didn’t.  And for the first time, my son is not only allowed to play a video game system that we have (I haven’t let him touch the PS4, for obvious reasons) but he also wants to.  He’s literally playing right now, next to me, while I’m writing this.

And any minute now, he’s going to hit a patch that he has trouble with, and do you know what he’s going to do?  He’s going to hand me the controller and ask me to beat it for him.

And I will ask him if he tried, and I won’t do it unless I feel like he tried hard enough before asking me to jump in for him.

I cannot even imagine what my dad might have done if I’d tried to have him help me beat a stage or a boss in a game.  The entire idea is completely ludicrous.  And for my son, the idea that Daddy is better at video games than he is is perfectly normal, and eventually he’s going to beat me at some fighting game and it’ll be like the first time I beat my dad at basketball.

(I’ve never beaten my dad at basketball.  I don’t play basketball.  Neither does my dad.  We’ve never once played basketball together.  This is not a criticism of my upbringing.  Substitute “beat him at euchre” if you want something more directly salient to my family if you’d like.)

(My uncle David taught me to play chess.  I don’t think I’ve ever beaten him.)

And sooner or later this kid is gonna get mad at me for not wanting to beat something for him, and he’s gonna hear about how when was a kid, we had these things called lives in video games, and passwords, and nobody to help us because not only could nobody older than us play the games, but there wasn’t any Internet to look up clues, unless you had your parents’ permission to call the Nintendo hint line, which cost money, so sometimes you just had to stop playing something basically forever because you couldn’t figure out what to do next.)

Yeah.  Uphill, in the snow, both ways, that’s how I played Nintendo as a kid.

On delayed gratification

My college hair was glorious.

My girlfriend in high school thought I would look better with longer hair, so I started growing it out during my senior year and basically never stopped.  By my senior year of college my hair was mid-back length and, amazingly, wavy as fuck— I was a Jewish Studies major among a couple other things and there was a running joke that I could easily pass for an orthodox Jew if I just tucked a couple of ringlets in front of my ears and put on a properly conservative hat.

I spent a good chunk of the summer after graduation on an archaeological dig in Israel, and decided just before leaving for the trip that heading out to dig in the desert with an extra fifteen pounds of hair on my head was not what I wanted to do.  So I went to a barber and had him trim me down to a “normal” haircut, which lasted about another year until I shaved my head for the first time and I’ve basically been doing that ever since.

But yeah.  That first haircut.  The first thing I had him do was pull my hair into a ponytail and then cut the ponytail off in one fell swoop.  I then, for no good reason other than that I thought it would be funny, mailed the ponytail to my mother, who had spent years occasionally politely hinting that perhaps my hair was a bit too long.

This backfired when my mother received a bundle of my hair in the mail and, despite the handwriting on the envelope being mine, immediately concluded that I had been kidnapped, and, this being pre-cellphone by a few years, wasn’t able to quickly get ahold of me to confirm that I was actually still alive and putting up with Samson joke after Samson joke after Samson joke from all of my fucking Religious Studies-ass friends.

She still has the ponytail.  This happened in 1998.

When I got home from work last night, there was a large envelope in the mail addressed to me.  I thought the handwriting on the envelope was my mom’s, but it was dark outside– we are well into the part of the year where I’m working from cain’t see in the morning to cain’t see at night– and the envelope didn’t appear to have anything in it, and I had just seen my mother the night before and she hadn’t mentioned mailing me anything, so what the fuck is going on here?

I generally open my mail in the garage going into the house, since the recycling bin is right there and I can trash all the junk mail before going inside.  Ten seconds later I was laughing so loud that my wife heard me from inside the house.

This may be a good time to point out that Mom’s going through a course of chemotherapy at the moment.  Don’t panic; she’s gonna be fine.  But this is what was in the envelope:


That, my friends, is the final punchline to a twenty-year-old joke.

Nicely played, Mom.

facepalm emoji

Because shit is too serious right now:  you may or may not be aware that my wife’s mother passed away a couple of weeks ago after a long illness.  I alluded to it here a couple of times but I don’t think I ever actually came out and said it.  Do not bother expressing your well-wishes in the comments as I am about to spend this post making fun of my deceased mother-in-law and your sentiments will feel inappropriate.

My wife spent part of her day today helping her dad clean the house out, and in the process of throwing out a bunch of newspapers and magazines somehow came across this.  I am seriously considering getting in touch with the President’s office over at Purdue on the off chance that the letter this is responding to is still in an archive somewhere, because oh my God how batshit crazy must the letter this is responding to be:


Kudos to President Beering, seriously; this is shade of the highest order and I am very impressed.

(NOTE: This was published, obviously, with my wife’s full knowledge and permission.)