Monday, December 1, 2014

Rage Days: Life in a Dickens Novel

One of my favorite authors of all time easily has to be Charles Dickens.  Of all of the comedic genres, I consider satire to be probably the best and yet, least understood; Dickens was a master. The ability to create a setting, and characters and to tell a story that went BEYOND a story, a meaning beyond face-value.  Drawing dark humor from an otherwise dry scenario.  But most of all, it was the realism that Dickens created that drew me near.

Dickens’ ability to paint emotion is something I envy, and probably always will about his writing.  You didn’t just read the words, you felt them.  I pick up a novel, and I could feel my lungs weighed down by the fog rolling off the Thames.  Seemingly always gray, always bleak.  And yet, this was an appropriate vision of his social commentary of a 19th century London.  Just a constant fog, perhaps with a subtle glow, illuminated by the sun that you can’t quite see.  You know it’s there, just beyond the thick mist.  But the gray blanket seems to snuff out any possibility of clarity.  What’s left is dull, dark and gray.  Always gray; always bleak.  You long to experience the warmth from beyond the clouds, only to be denied by Earth’s own hydrologic cycle.

Our hands can wipe through a mist, and while they come up empty, it is still arguably tangible;  it is water vapor after all.  Yet the intangible, the psychological toll, of such dreariness can be profound.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is something that millions of people around the world struggle with in their respective winters.  I am one of them.  To describe it to someone in the most basic of terms is like a 19th century Dickens’ London:  there’s light, but seemingly no sun.  The shortened days lend a cerebral tone that I cannot describe other than feeling like there is fog in your brain. Any roadblock or pressure, only seems to compound your sentiments.  In the professional world, the challenge is great.  But in a profession where morale is so crucial, the challenge is indeed daunting.

I am an actor.  All teachers are.  Each day brings a new scene of something new, a role to be played; but your kids could not care less about what you ate for dinner, or whether you argued with your spouse, or whether you sprained an ankle playing football last Friday.  To wear your emotions on your sleeve would otherwise be selfish:  “yeah, hey, I know there’s 28 of you in here that want to know a little bit more about velocity and acceleration, but my wife and I got into an argument last night about how to load the dishwasher.  Here’s a worksheet.  Shut up and do it.”

And maybe that’s why the winter season is so exhausting. It is the culmination of S.A.D. breathing down my neck like a chubby, congested toddler, a job where morale (or the perception of it) is vital, and the rare INFJ personality (INFJ highlights the ability to work with and inspire people, yet the downfalls is that this can be physically exhausting.  As a matter of fact, isolation is often a remedy as a means to “recharge” that social fuel gauge).  I love what I do, but sometimes, at the end of the day, I want to submerge myself into that water-coffin Ben Affleck dives into every night in Daredevil (yes, I know it is a terrible movie).
"Night everyone!"
Consider the physics of the formation of a sand dune. All that is needed is a simple grain to have its’ path blocked by the smallest of impediments.  From there, the formation grows as more grains are trapped.  The larger the structure gets, the more grains it traps.  At times, I feel that it’s these tiny grains can be the most daunting obstacles to overcome, not because of what they are, but because of what they lead to.  In any profession that deals with people, you will have bad days.  Education is no different. The bad days can run rampant.
When you talk about someone’s bad day, maybe its because they have a bad co-worker, a bad client, or perhaps the power grid shut down, leaving the security fences vulnerable, and releasing velociraptors on the island.  You ask a teacher how their day was and, if their response is one of bleakness, you’d best buckle your shit down and put on your water-wings, because a hurricane is coming, and hell is coming with it.  Am I biased?  Hell yes I am.  When you’re equipped with the task of arming a generation of people of not just knowledge, but the skills to seek out and use that knowledge, it sounds pretty daunting.  Maybe that’s just the pressure I put on myself.  But we as human beings are only put on this earth for one life, one “pass” to make it worthwhile, enjoyable, lovely, and content.  And if I were to deny a child of that, and cheat them out of his or her full potential for any selfish alibi of mine, I am the scum of the earth.  Now, multiply that sentiment over 100 times for each of my kids, and you’ll start to feel that artificial gravity that weighs down on me at all times.  No wonder I’m so fucking short.  You’re on Earth, and I’m on Alpha Centauri, son.

Last Monday was terrible;  one of those days where you start to backtrack in your mind where things went wrong.  “I should have majored in something else,” I thought to myself. I could feel the clouds gathering as the day continued on, the low-pressure of sadness patiently approaching.
Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you:  some days you wonder “what the hell is wrong with these kids?”  The likely issue on Monday was that it was only two days prior to their Thanksgiving break.  They had already checked out.  I could tell my initial classes were a little off the hook, as their chatter and general tone was a little bit more blunt than usual.  With my classes, it feels like that as the day goes on, they begin to “wake up” more, resulting in more discipline issues in general.  

The first issue began in 6th period where a particular student, Hal, was completing an online assignment for me during class.  Allow me to elaborate on Hal:  he scares the shit out of me.  Not in the physical sense, but physiologically, in that I do not know what this kid will do.  Hal comes from a family of siblings with criminal records (with charges that I won’t dare mention), and one of his own, as well.  Legally, I cannot and will not tell you what Hal did, but let’s just say he’s under house arrest.  Literally.

Hal isn’t one of those kids who does bad things because they’re funny, he does them to see pain in others.  For destruction.  He has gotten into trouble and has been suspended multiple times this year, and his reactions to them will often tell you his mindset:  he will just sit there, silently.  Not a word said, no argument.  Just a cold visage.  Not an ounce of regret.  When mentioning some of Hal’s acts to my lovely teacher-wife, she would tell me “you be nice to that kid!”  She didn’t say this for Hal’s well being, but for mine, if that tells you anything.

Toward the end of class, I looked over to Hal’s computer and saw a series of events that led to my own reaction.  First, I saw a screenshot of the district firewall blocker.  Then, a Google image return of cats.  I couldn’t see what he had initially searched for, but considering the order of operations that he went through, I could probably venture a guess as to what exact term he had typed into the search engine.
“Hal,” I said, “I don’t think that’s something you’re supposed to be on for this assignment.”
“What?  I can’t be on Google?” he responded in a joking tone.
“If you can show me in the assignment where it tells you to search for cats, I won’t give you a discipline slip.”
“But I wasn’t on anything bad!” he retorted.
“Were you on task?” I questioned, knowing that if a student is “off-task,” they are to receive a discipline slip (if a student accumulates a certain amount of “points,” they receive a consequence, be it detention, etc.), “because it looked to me like you were trying to get to a website that was blocked.”
Hal just kind of chuckled.  Once class was over, he made his way over to the slips, and filled one out, complaining to his cronies how unfair and “stupid” this was.  He denied that he was on anything that was “bad.”  I just said “either way, Hal, you had a Google image page pulled up, which had nothing to do with the assignment.”

Later in the day, Hal approached his Study Hall teacher, Mr. Jones, and asked him “how many points” he would get if he “punched me in the face.”  Mr. Jones jokingly replied “I think Mr. W would probably destroy you.”  After that, Hal apparently just nodded his head as if to say “yeah, you’re probably right.”  As I type these words, my face remains untouched by Hal’s cruel fists of fury.
Getting ready, yo'
Two class periods later, last period, featured my most, er, rambunctious class of the day.  Perhaps it’s the timing of the class, but I think it largely has to do with the chemistry of the group:  a lot of close friends, some of which should not be found breathing the same molecules in the same classroom together.  

As with the previous groups, the students were working on an online assignment in the computer lab.  As students were getting logged in, I was helping a few with some basic tech-things (making sure they were on the correct computer, making sure usernames were correct, etc.).  One particular student, Scott, who has gotten into his fair share of trouble in the year, let his thoughts on the matter known.  Loudly.  

While not malicious, Scott just didn’t know when to shut up.  He was the guy that had a wise comment for everything that anyone said or did.  The kid who never paid a bit of attention in class when you needed him to, but if there was a typo on a worksheet or if you accidentally mispronounce a word in class, he would sure as hell let you and anyone within a 500 foot radius know.

Apparently my instructional speed was not up to Scott’s liking, as he loudly questioned “what are we supposed to do?” Mind you, this was not 3 minutes after I addressed the entire class of the agenda;  I even wrote it on the board for them, albeit with terrible handwriting.

Scott’s neighbor thought his comment was funny, not because of what he said, but because I was right behind Scott as he bellowed out loud.  Laughing, he leaned over to Scott and quietly said, “Scott...Mr. W is right behind you.” Not wanting to appear ignorant and out of touch with the situation, Scott didn’t back down: “I don’t care!  What are we supposed to do?!”

It’s one of those things where, sure, it wasn’t a big deal.  But considering the source and, let’s be honest, the degree of disrespect (scornful or not) perceived by the class, I needed to act.
“Scott, step out in the hall.”
“Scott, step out in the hall.”
“I didn’t even do anything!  This is stupid.”
“Scott...step in the hall.”  
With that, Scott angrily pushed in his chair and groaned “oh my GOD,” and made his way out to the hall.

I’d like to think that my eyes change color as the rage pulsates through my veins.  I suppose that’s better than my chest glowing blue as I accumulate enough pure energy to fire a Hadoken in Scott’s general direction.

Once I got the rest of the class rolling, I stepped in the hall to meet Scott, whose demeanor tends to rival that of a child.  When he’s upset, he just stares and scowls; no words spoken.
I kept my address short and sweet:
“Scott, I don’t appreciate the disrespect you show towards me in class.  I sure don’t talk to you like that, and so I expect you to extend me the same courtesy.  I also expect you to behave appropriately in class when working on an assignment.  Yelling ‘what are we supposed to do?’ is something I expect maybe a first grader to do, but not someone who’s supposed to be ready to be in high school in a few months, especially after I explained exactly what to do on the assignment AND wrote it down on the board.  Now, when you’re ready to step up, I’ll be ready for you in class.”  And with that, I dipped out.  It must have been effective, because Scott was back in working quietly (and angrily).  However, my low patience light began to illuminate.
With ten minutes left in class, I looked over to one particular “social” student’s (let’s call him Marco) computer, only to find that he had already logged off and was loudly talking to his neighbor.  Marco was a student who had done fairly well in class, but his grades had been slipping.  He was failing to turn in work more and more.  Now I look up, and he’s not even working?  I mean, if you’re going to do something wrong, at least do it right. This will not end well.
“Marco, why are you logged off?”
“Because it’s almost time to go!”
“There’s 10 minutes left.  Are you finished with the assignment?  And, did you turn it in?”
“Well, log back in and continue until it’s time to go.”

With that, he mumbled something under his breath and started to log back in.  Meanwhile, I decided to check his online progress to see whether he was “almost” done.”

Not. Even. Close.

Out of a total of 21 problems necessitating a response, Marco had only answered ten of them.  I’m not sure how proficient Marco is at math, or semantics for that matter, but I firmly believe that a 48% completion rate is hardly “almost” finished.
“Marco, come here,” I sternly said.
Marco came over to my computer, where I broke the “unfortunate” news to him. However, rather than accept the fact that I caught him in a lie, he doubled down.
Eyes furrowed, Marco told me “Uh, I’m a slow worker,” in a rather defiant, sarcastic tone, and gave me the ol’ shrug and head-shake, as if to non verbally indicate that I was a moron.  
“Choose your battles.”  This is a creed that was stated from my undergraduate experience, all the way to the current day.  The motive behind it is quite simple: “don’t argue and fight with your kids about everything.”  To do so, will simply make you seem nagging and quarrelsome.  I didn’t choose to fight this battle; it chose me.
“You’re a slow worker?”  I asked him.
“Uh, yeah?”  Again, sarcastically.
“Could you explain to me why then, if you’re such a slow worker, why you are logging off 10 minutes early in class when you don’t even have HALF of the assignment done?”
“I told you, I work slow!”
“Marco, I understand that.  I’m just trying to wrap my brain around the fact why you would then decide to log off early.”
“I’m not that smart, OK?  I need more time to do stuff.  There’s nothing wrong with it.”  Ah yes, now try to hit me with guilt.
“That’s just fine, Marco.  But you are COMPLETELY missing my point.  If you are a slow worker, that means you are going to need MORE TIME to complete the assignment, yes?  So, if that is the case, you are going to need EVERY SINGLE BIT OF TIME in class to work on this assignment.”
“Well...I looked at my phone and it said there was like six minutes left…”  Backtracking.  I have him in my sights.
“Six minutes.  And how long does it take you to log off your computer?  Ten, fifteen seconds?”
“Yeah.”  Target locked.
“So, by your own account, you wasted six minutes of class by logging off early, even though you’re telling me you need more time to work on it.  Marco...that does not make one bit of sense.  Maybe you think you’re a slow worker, but you are not a dumb kid.  And I’m not a dumb teacher, either.  I’m not buying it.  So you have two choices:  you take a discipline slip for being off task, or you come in during lunch tomorrow to finish this up.”
“I’ll come in during lunch tomorrow,” Marco replied, this time, with no expression in his voice.  
Target destroyed.  I’m pretty sure his eyes were welling up, too.  

A few moments later, the bell rang, notifying the adolescents that yet another productive day was complete.  The students loudly filed out of the computer lab.  I tidied up my area, and sauntered back down to my classroom, with a feeling of defeat.
You and me, buddy.
In every profession, there seem to be days like this;  one dong punch after another.  But here is where the professional paths seem to deviate.  My bad day stays with me.  The clouds.  Always present.  Always Gray.  Always Bleak.  What makes it worse, is the emotion I feel is self-directed.  Chances are, in other jobs, you can aim your emotion at something else: traffic, weather, an overcooked Denver omelette from Denny’s;  mine is self-reflective.  I don’t ask “what the hell is wrong with these kids?”  I, more often than not ask “what am I doing wrong?”  I then proceed to rewind my memory and replay the day over and over.

You want to be good at what you do.  In this case, my effectiveness rests in the hands of about one hundred eighth graders.  In a company, if someone doesn’t follow directions, or isn’t good at what they do, they’re fired.  Ineffectiveness affects the bottom line.  The bottom line affects you.  You weed out the weak links.  In education, if a student doesn’t follow directions or isn’t good at what they do, it’s on you.  Kids don’t like you?  They can make your life a living hell.  Parents don’t like you?  That’s even worse.  But the worst feeling is the lack of control.  You can do what you can to salvage the opinions of others, but the ball isn’t in your court.  There is nothing you can do but wait.  You wait for another day to start clean and hopefully, if they can forgive, you can forget.  Until then, the clouds remain. Like a Charles Dickens novel:

Always present. Always gray...
Thanks, guy.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Parent Chronicles Part 1: All the Rage You Can Muster

Everyone has fears:  the fear of flying, the fear of spiders, of heights, of snakes.  The fear of loneliness, the fear of loss, the fear of purpose, the fear of death.  If I were to ask you:  what was your FIRST fear, what would you say?  Psychologists have long believed that often times the first memory you ever create is often one founded in terror, be it something visually graphic like seeing a clown, being left alone in the dark, or walking in on your parents watching E! for the first time.  Mine?  Mine, I firmly believe, was seeing a giant spider in the bathroom and shrieking for help.  My fear and hatred for arachnids has stuck with me ever since.
Our fears aren't always synonymous, as our genetics and upbringing play a strong role, but there is a single entity that we have feared once in our lives in varying degrees:  parents.  Our biological being has allowed us to consider the hierarchy of life, and therefore, we must fear and respect those who are "above" us.  For a decade plus, that is your parents.  As a child, you grow up with an instilled fear for the ones that created you, first you fear losing them, then it becomes fear angering them, then it becomes letting them down.  Later in life, you again fear losing them, but by then you have a firmer grasp on the finality of life.
I've always feared my parents, but in a beneficial way. Growing up, I didn't want to disappoint them, and I still don't.  As life progresses, your desires and fear of disappointment becomes more self-sustaining, in that your fears are more existential, and less dependent on others.  You consider your purpose, your life in the grand scheme of the universe and wonder whether you're doing enough.  You get married, have kids, and you fear letting your wife and family down.  That fear has always been embedded in you.  It will never leave.  It isn't a weakness, it is the causation of our strength, the "fight or flight" mentality.  We owe our parents everything, not just for giving us life, but giving us the psyche to survive.

My fear of parents still lives on, but not of my own.  It is the fear of my students' parents that strikes terror in my every being.

Besides perhaps health professionals or a professional athlete, I cannot think of another profession in which your effectiveness relies so heavily on the production of other people.  You are given the task of building the minds of youth, students that you influence in the classroom on a daily basis, but for all you know, you could have parents that are undermining your every move and action.  To put it plainly, my "effectiveness" as a teacher rests solely on another, dictated by another person...who can be influenced by another person or persons.  In my experience, if you don't have the parents backing, you are pretty much shit out of luck.  An entire year's worth of knowledge could be flushed down the toilet because a parent doesn't like what you teach or how you teach.  Your "effectiveness" could plummet based on the test scores of a student who does a poor job on their state test scores (which I am quite fond of) because they "were having a bad day."  I once had a parent decide to take her daughter off her Ritalin suddenly.  Naturally, she chose testing week.  The only week the Department of Education seems to give a shit about.
Now, I've had some great parents in my initial years, and great support pretty consistently.  But every now and again you will have some that...well, just don't make any goddamn sense.

- I've been cornered by two parents after their respective sons were suspended the last day of school for spitting popcorn all over the floor and into the faces of some classmates.  But the kids didn't do anything wrong. They were "defending themselves."  One even "had to go to the eye doctor" because he "had a piece of popcorn hit him in the eye."

- I had a parent complain about literally every book choice I made for my reading block period:
"Coraline is too dark....Willy Wonka is dark and just flat out silly...Harry Potter is banned from our home; it glorifies witches....there is only one light, and that is through Jesus Christ,"  only to conclude his condescending email with "I thought the word "teach" meant to "enlighten?"
Little did he know that he was dead the moment he hit "Send."  I'm not just a teacher,  I'm also the son of a pastor.
I was raised on The Word, son.
I replied in the only way I knew possible:  to connect the allegories and messages of EVERY SINGLE BOOK he ridiculed to a story in the Bible.  Six years later, I still patiently wait for his response.

- I once emailed a parent because her son was out of his seat several times and kept breaking his pencil on purpose so he could poke his head out in the hall and become a black hole of attention. I simply stated my concern for his behavior.  Nothing more.  It's always good to get these types of behaviors addressed early.
Well,  after discussing the matter with her son, she replied "he was up out of his seat because he couldn't sharpen his pencil.  All you did was sit there.  He couldn't sharpen his pencil.  What kind of teacher just watches a child who cannot get his pencil sharpened?"  It went on for several paragraphs.
I wasn't combative, I just simply stated the facts for her:  "I saw Student do X,Y,Z.  I am concerned that he is wasting a lot of class time goofing around."
Another reply:  "I asked him, and he said he didn't do anything wrong.  He said you were picking on him.  He couldn't sharpen his pencil.  I can't believe you just sat there and did nothing.  If I need to contact the principal, I will, because I want the truth!"
Again, I wasn't combative.  I simply stated what I saw and reiterated that I want her child to be successful.  I then decided I would "beat her to the punch," and informed her that I was cc'ing the principal and assistant principal on the email to "keep them in the loop."  After I hit send, I went on a tirade of expletives that would make Denis Leary blush to my roommate/brother.  I don't remember what exactly I said, but I do remember saying "what kind of parent takes her child's word over an professional adult!?  I've lost.  There's no way I can end up OK in this scenario because the kid is just going to double down, and she will believe him no matter what I say."  I went to bed furious.
Well, a bit of good luck hit my email inbox the next morning.  Apparently, she must have told her son that I included the administrators on the email, and the kid spilled the beans.  It probably took me 10 minutes to read the entire email that was littered with at least 20 instances of "I'm so sorry" in some form or another.  How did I respond?  "I'm glad we can put this behind us!  I knew your son is a great kid, I just want to make sure he's successful!  I hope you all have a great weekend."  Right after I hit "Send," I'll be damned if I didn't get diabetes right then and there.
It felt good.
- One student I had was extremely defiant if you pressed her even just a little bit.  At that particular school, if a student acted up, you were to have them call home, right then and there, from the classroom phone.  As usual, she was verbally defiant, so I had her call home.  After some low key mumbling, the student told me that her mom wanted to talk to me.  I picked up the phone and proceeded to get a lecture about how this was a waste of her time, and she has work to do, and she's tired of hearing about what her daughter is doing, and how much of an inconvenience it was for her.  My reply?  "I don't mean any offense, but these phone calls are not supposed to be convenient..."  But before I could finish what I was saying I heard "WELL FUCK YOU!" followed by the deafening "CLICK."
An upstanding citizen...raising another generation of upstanding citizens.
- Perhaps one of my favorite tales involved a rather troublesome group of three girls.  They were best of friends; always together, and the drama ran deep.  Well, like most middle school girls, it took only a few months until someone said/did something, and isolated herself.  But rather than just shrug it off and move on with life, these girls did whatever in their power to annoy the living shit out of the others.  On a daily basis, there were snippy comments, tattling, and informing me that I needed to "get her" because she apparently did something or was looking at her.  I don't know.  I'm married and I still don't think I know what a girl is.
One morning I got a phone call from one of the girl's (let's call her Ali) father, who claimed that the other girls were bullying her.  All I wanted to say was "I've seen them interact.  This isn't bullying.  They're just being immature girls who had their feelings hurt and are now holding grudges."  But instead, I just said "no problem.  I'll keep an eye out for her in my class."  He informed me that I "had better" or else he would "come to the school and say a thing or two to those girls."  I said that wouldn't be necessary, as long as she was in my classroom, I'd keep an eye on her.
A few hours later I was at the front office making some copies when I received a page over the P.A. System:  "Mr. W, you have a call on line 2."
I strolled up to the front desk and before I could even ask who was on the line, the secretary said "I don't know what you did, but Mr. Ali's-Father is pretty pissed!  You want me to say you're busy?"
"No," I said, "this should be fun."
I went into the back conference room to take the call.  "Hello?" I greeted the caller.  What I heard next is probably just passing the Kuiper Belt as you read this, making its way off to some distant celestial-body-ridden galaxy; his verbiage to eventually convert into thermal energy, and gently warm the surface of some distant extraterrestrial planet:
His rant went on for maybe a minute, before I could retort.  When I did, I informed him that she wasn't in my class and, therefore, I couldn't really control what happened in the other classes.  Based on the schedule, she had likely slipped into the kitchen area adjacent to the gym during P.E., and made the phone call then (the phone was literally eight feet away from the baseline in the gym).  So she likely just waited for any reason to make the call.  Again, I knew this girl.  She was sneaky and conniving.  Was something probably said to her by the other girls?  Sure.  But she was far from innocent by any stretch of the imagination.
And with that, he hung up before what I assumed would be his massive cartoon hand, reaching through the receiver to deny the last molecules of oxygen from reaching my lungs.
I churned my little hobbit feet as much as they could muster and bounded up to the front desk and told the secretary that Mr. Ali's Father was coming and was going to confront the girls.  His chance would never arrive, however, as we decided to quickly gather Ali and her stuff, and sent her on her way when her dad arrived.

About a week later, the girls were best of friends again.
Ok, then.
In any venture in life, most of the people you encounter are decent people.  If nothing else, they are just there like other atomic matter and don't bother you. But you'll always have that 10% population that are just insane.  Teaching is no different.

No wait...yes it is.  It is VERY different.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Picture's Worth A Thousand Deaths

I've never seemed to have much luck when it came to pictures, be it school pictures or even a candid photograph.  In my elementary school years, I was much fatter.  Back in the day, there were two choices for school backgrounds:  neutral pastel blue or gray or TERMINATOR LASERS!  Because it was the early 90's, everyone wanted the "robot genocide" background because it was the best way to compliment their mullet or rat-tail.
"Give me your clothes, and your motorcycle."
And there I was:  fat, surrounded by a boring backdrop.
Fast forward maybe 20 years and my incompatibility with the snapshot is still a legitimate talent.  Don't believe me?  Go on Facebook right now and find a mutual picture of us.

See? Ruined.  Even 200 year old Native American photographs are more illustrious and they refused to smile on account of their firm believe that their souls were being vacuumed away.  The horrifying thing is, I am just as cursed outside the frame.  I don't need to be in the picture for bad things to happen.  It has become an inverse four-leaf clover.  My spirit animal is a deer being hit by a Hummer.


Exactly 1 year ago tomorrow, I was in attendance of the U.S. World Cup qualifier in Columbus, OH.  Ninety minutes later, a cadence of cleats struck the pavement in the tunnel to a 2-0 victory.  In a matter of moments, we would learn that we had secured our berth to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
I was ecstatic. I had witnessed history.  I was also tired and simply wanted to make my way home, wash the sweat and dried beer showered on me from the fits of joy following each goal.  Sure I was only going to get maybe 5 hours of sleep, but in the long run, it would be worth it.

While tickets were close to $50 each, the total investment of the game would be roughly five-times that amount.  Upon returning to my car, I discovered that my driver's side window had divorced the rest of my car.  Like tiny pieces of glitter shimmering in the streetlights, my window had been shattered into hundreds of pieces.  There was no Stone Cold Steve Austin to follow, though.  No Jim Ross screaming about "the Texas rattlesnake."  There was only panic.

I just remember saying "no no no no no!"  and circling the car in a frenzy.  Upon further inspection, my laptop case was gone.  And that explained it.  Some colossal dick saw the case, thought "wooo free laptop," shattered the window, and fled with its contents:  some graded pre-tests from my students, some pens and post-it notes...and my school pictures I literally had just gotten that day.  Obviously I never got the bag back.  Odds are the guy checked out what was inside, saw there was no computer in there, and tossed it in the nearest alley way or dumpster.  But not before cutting out a 3x5 and securing it to his fridge that is likely kept together with 3 rolls of duct tape; watching over an appliance holding expired mayonnaise and a lifetime supply of bologna.  Which brings us to today...

I strolled into the office after school as part of my usual routine:  use the restroom before I left, and check my mailbox for any important documents.  Today, the school pictures arrived.  My box was saturated with no less than 15 envelopes, one of which was my own.  Paging through to the bottom, I glanced at my picture.  However, 85% of my face was being obstructed by the paper surrounding the clear plastic panel used to preview the photo.  So I did what any normal human being would do:  I took my picture out of the envelope.  What transpired next took a mere two seconds, but its effects were everlasting.

As I was holding on the rest of the pictures, I couldn't get a firm grip on my own, and dropped it.  It fluttered in the air like the feather in the opening/closing scene of Forrest Gump as it descended toward the floor.  In one final, gliding motion, it disappeared underneath a door...a bathroom OCCUPIED bathroom door to the LADIES bathroom.

What do you do?  Leave the scene?  It's your PICTURE.  It's not like they can't put it together.  Do you "make the first move," knock on the door and crack a joke to try and cover your tracks:
"So what do you think? You can put that up on the mirror if you want to!"

Or do just simply wait and try and play it off?  Pretend that you have no idea what just happened and then quickly take the evidence once the patron leaves.  More concerning, however:  who was in there?  A teacher?  Secretary?  One of the curriculum directors?  A parent!?  I soon got my answer...

After a flush, 15 seconds of running water, and a few clicks of the paper towel dispenser, the door opened and out walked one of my fellow teachers, Mrs. Elerly.  In her hands was...well, me.  Her look was that of "is this a joke?" combined with "are you serious?"  With a feeling of relief, I gave her a surprised look and said "sorry, I was aiming for Mr. Branson's (the principal) door."
She merely laughed, and gave it back to me.

After a brief moment, I looked at my still-frame self and shook my head, as if to say "what the hell were you thinking?"

Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Boy George: JEAN FRIDAY

Going to the gym is a real treat for me.  That, or just a flat out horror show.  Between the people who basically live there, color-coordinating their shoe and Lisa Frank clothing color scheme, the floating torso bros who have no regard for their lower bodies...
"All day, everyday, BRO."
....and the people who just have flat out terrible, or downright wrong, form...
KILLIN' IT, BRO. regular trips to the gym is just an absolute buffet of judgement.  I could argue with you that judging people is my job...isn’t it?  We just call it “critique” or “feedback.”  But nothing brings me more joy than just people-watching.  Whether it be “slamming-your-weights-is-the-exclamation-point-of-your-set guy” or girl who wears lifting gloves to do crunches.  Also, let me go on record and say “kipping” is dumb.
The ability to take in a scene and point out something in attempt at humor is something I love, be it at a mall or watching college football on TV.  Is it in attempt to cover up my own deficiencies?  Probably.  I will say though, that I am my own biggest critic, and I frequently interject self depreciating humor here and there.  So if you ever wondered “I hope nobody notices (insert noun here),”  my answer is “yes...and it’s awful.”  On the other hand, if you've wondered “I hope everyone notices (insert noun here),” my answer is “yes...and you’re awful.”
Is it cruel or mean?  I guess so. But sometimes you have a moment in which your judgments turn downright hilarious.  Enter:  George…

George burst into the resource/intervention room in the morning as he usually did, weaving through a crowd of adolescents in attempt to place his backpack and coat in the appropriate space, and to inform me of his lunch choice.  I had been in the room for a minute or two, talking to a few teachers about the usual topics.  It was a Friday, and we were decked out in our finest denim slacks.  Now, let me tell you I am not a jean snob whatsoever.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think I have ever paid more than $20 for a pair.  The irony I see is the more ripped, tattered, and weathered the jeans look, the more expensive they are.  Hey!  These jeans look like they were found in a rail-yard!  How much?  $85?  SOLD!  How bout the ones that were run over by a lawnmower?  JUST TAKE MY MONEY!
Jeans:  where less is more!
In contrast, you can find yourself a pair of Bret Favre penis-jeans for like $12.  Made with the finest,1-inch-thick, Kevlar quality denim.  Well, one of our intervention specialists, Mr. Lipton wore one of these pairs of terror-resistant jeans.  They were box-y, high waisted, and wonderful.
As students filed in, I took notice and commented “sweet mom jeans.”  Mr. Lipton just pursed his lips, and shook his head, seemingly calling me an asshole in a non-verbal, teacher friendly way.
Former Governor and registered sex-symbol, Mitt Romney
It didn't take long until George made his daily salutations, in which he greeted every single teacher and aide there...all except one.
“Good morning Miss Knight!”
“Good morning, George,” the intervention specialist responded.
“Good morning Mr. Kluwe!”
“Good morning, George,” said the intervention aide.
“Good morning Mr. W!”
“Good morning, George.”
“What’s for lunch today?”
“Pepperoni pizza.”
“I’m having pepperoni pizza!”
“You got it boss.”
“Did you bring your protein bar?”
“I sure did.”
“Did you bring a protein bar with marshmallows?”
“Not this one. This one is ‘Blueberry Crisp’.”

George then clapped in excitement at the thought of me eating a Blueberry Crisp protein bar, and began to make his way to his work area, leaving the group.  Being the only teacher who was not greeted, Mr. Lipton was left unfulfilled.  Not only had he just been personally insulted by me, he was downright ignored by George.
“George!  You’re not even gonna say good morning to me?!”
“Good morning, Mr. Lipton!” George said, as if he hadn't missed a beat.
“No, I don’t want your good morning,” Mr. Lipton said in a playful, bitter tone.
Again, George was (is) autistic, so he wouldn't get Mr. Lipton’s humorous, faux outrage retort.  Either way, George was willing to bury the proverbial hatchet by paying Mr. Lipton a compliment after a pause:  “I like your mom-jeans!”
Again, Mr. Lipton pursed his lips and nodded his head.  He looked at George for a moment, then to me offering me a hateful gaze, then back to George.  After a moment of silently nodding and considering his reply, Mr. Lipton simply said “thank you, George.”
George, again, clapped in excitement and returned to his work space.  I then had to return to my work space...

But not before needing to change my now urine-soaked jeans.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Answers from the Kids: Year 2014


How are you?  You look good.  Seriously.  Have you lost weight?
Anyway...a few months ago I decided to air my grievances in regards to the 2013-2014 school year.  It was like watching half of a Rocky movie: no happy ending, no uplifting workout montage; only Stallone getting the shit kicked out of him and the credits roll.  
Needless to say, there was a bit of “radio silence” since the last entry, during which I decided to remove the previous chapters from this very blog. In short, it’s easy to burn bridges as soon as you cross them.  In order to give a better representation, I want to distance myself from last year a bit more.  The story is all finished; it will see its due time.  But not yet.
Consider a woman who carries her offspring in her womb for 9 months: completely changing her lifestyle, watching and monitoring her every move; later, spending hours in labor, having her body and special places stretched and wrecked in ways that one may think are physically impossible, only to have her lying in a Long Island Iced Tea of bodily fluids, and you decide to ask her: “hey!  Let’s start planning another!”  
While I've been told childbirth is the most physically exhausting experience to ever endure, I bet she could conjure just enough strength to find the nearest Bio-hazard slot and stab you with it’s contents. Is it a topic worth discussing? Sure. Is it a topic to discuss immediately after producing a living creature via Slip-and-Slide? Not if you value your penis, guy.
Much like our heroic mothers and their children in utero, I’ll need to let this tale sit a bit longer until it is ready to see the world...only my child is black AND white, and I’m not going to post pictures and talk about it every social event.

So...that’s that.  Moral of the story:  wait.  Now let's have some good old fashioned fun on the World Wide Web.

Multi-cultural friends surfing on keyboards in the atmosphere.
Just like they predicted in the Old Testament.
The genesis of another year brought on the typical educational research on my part:  the interest inventory/questionnaire.  It’s really great because it helps me at my job, but also satiates my need to judge others.  It’s a win-win.
This year’s crop was a bit different, in that instead of asking the usual “Mr. W looks like…” question, I asked a broader question in which I had them complete the sentence “My first impression of Mr. W was…”  I found this to be a bit better, since it would widen the scope of responses as well as stop softballing the Zac Efron answers.  And honestly, it’s fascinating to hear a completely neutral party’s first thoughts of some semi-athletic hobbit who claims to know science.  So, who am I in the eyes of an adolescent?
Ok.  I see it now.

“...a guy who looks like a ‘Mario.’”
- Ok.  Interesting start.  Probably the dark facial hair?  Not that I have facial hair, but I will go on record that I could grow a VERY HANDSOME FULL MUSTACHE IF MY ROOMMATE WOULD LET ME.  I also can jump high, collect coins, and murder my enemies with turtle shells.

- Good.

“...he likes food.”
- That one stings.

- No?

“...intelligent and athletic.”
- Scholar of the Year.

“...when I first saw you, I thought you were a crazy person.”
- Ok.

“...serious and sarcastic.”
- Nailed it.

“...he looks nice but strict.”
- As in I look nice, or I’m a nice person?  I did wear a nice shirt that day, I think.

“ and laid back but kinda short and I know his wife.”
- ............

“...this should be good.”
- Ok, this one I legitimately laughed.

“...his eyes are gorgeous not trying to be weird, they just are sorry! LOL!”
- Thanks!! LOL! WTF?! (emoji)

“...his eyes are really pretty.”
- Thanks.

“...he’s young” and/or “...he’s in high school” x 24
- Why do I do this to myself?

Then, two days later, the floodgates burst open:

“Hey Mr. W, we decided…”
“We decided that you look like Zac Efron.”
“Oh wow.  That is very neat.”