On silence

At some point during the school day yesterday, some young-dumb-full-of-cum dipshit (or, hell, maybe it was a girl, so just young and dumb) decided that it would be a good idea to scrawl an unspecified (as in I don’t know details, and frankly wouldn’t share them) “threat” against the building in one of the bathrooms. Whatever the threat was, it was apparently going to happen today. A letter went out to all the parents and, unsurprisingly, attendance was abysmal today.

Did I take it seriously? Not really. School shooters and teenage bombmakers (and, again, I have no idea what the details of the threat are) are wealthy white boys whose parents don’t secure their guns, and that’s not the demographics of my building. My wife asked why they didn’t simply switch to e-learning for the day, and the answer is frankly that if we were to do that we’d start seeing these things weekly, and that’s not a thing anyone is interested in. I remember when I was in high school a neighboring district that did quite nicely match the “we have school shootings” demographic went through a similar thing– their kids learned that bomb threats meant they got to go home, and they were averaging a couple a week for a while there.

At any rate, nothing happened. If they know who made the threat (and they probably have a good idea, as there are cameras near every bathroom entrance in the building) I haven’t heard about it yet, but nothing happened. No real surprise.

I have to say, I could get used to the idea that my classes are only nine or ten kids. One of my students commented to me on my second day back that he thought I must hate him, and when I asked him why he said that he was so squirrelly and talking all the time and had such a hard time focusing. And, like, first of all, no, I’m not even remotely close to “hate” for any of my current students and I think there’s only maybe three or four in my entire career that I’d apply that word to, and second of all: dude, yeah, you’re a handful, but there’s only one of you. The rest of the kids in that class are fine, and I can deal with one kid bouncing off the walls if he’s not one of half a dozen. That’s no problem at all.

(Truth be told, I genuinely like all of my kids this year, or at least the ones I know. That doesn’t happen terribly often, but I can manage a kid I just don’t click with just fine.)

At any rate, I didn’t get the impression that the kids today were especially scared or nervous, although I did send an email to the boss before school started suggesting that maybe they think about rescheduling the planned fire drill to next week sometime, a piece of advice that was followed. What I got was six class periods of silence. Maybe not the entire period, but definitely once they got settled down, each of my classes today had at least 10-15 minutes of complete and utter quiet. Which would make most teachers happy. Not me. I actually really don’t like quiet from kids that are working, although I need it during instruction. I prefer a low buzz, where I can keep half an ear open at all times and have an idea what everyone’s doing. It was too quiet today, spooky-quiet, and it’s interesting to think that this year might be the last time I have in my career where something like that happening again is likely.

And now, having dodged spoilers all day successfully, I’m off to watch The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. See y’all tomorrow.

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.

Today’s nonsense

I thought I had a Zoom meeting tomorrow from 5:00-7:30 for this course design thing I’m doing with IU. NO! It was today.

They apparently think I’m going to be going to meetings for this thing at 6:30 PM every Friday night for the next nine weeks, and I am discovering that while, as a teacher, I am more than used to working outside contract hours, and more than willing to pull additional duties for extra money, you cannot have my Friday nights, and I’m ready to walk based on that alone. It’s a $2500 stipend for this thing, and my Friday nights may be worth more than that to me. You can have Saturday 9-5, Sunday 9-5, and 5-8 Monday through Thursday if you like. You do not get Friday night.

I just got an email from a student– an in-person student, mind you– asking if she was in class today. Lemme say that again, in case you think it was a typo: she was asking me if she was in class today.

There’s a story here.

There was another one, but fuck, I’m tired. Today was easier than yesterday, but this is effectively First Week of School brutal, and it’s with a Goddamn mask on, so my memory is not what it should be right now.

I’m so tired

There is a real good chance that this is going to be a quiet week. Other than griping about how much I hate having to wear a mask all day, which is true of absolutely everyone, I have no complaints about today (which, as a reminder, was my first day back in-person in thirteen months) at all. I knew it was going to go fine and it went fine. I still have some things to think about (I was not expecting working with the at-home kids to go well, and it went worse than I thought it would) but the main thing today was to survive it, and it went fine.

My neck hurts (and I know why, it’s because I’m stupid) and I am tired in my bones. I expect that condition to continue through the end of the week, at least. I’m going to pull tomorrow’s assignment together and try to stay out of bed until 9. No guarantees after that.

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.