It Didn’t Just Happen

It’s my last year here
My first class moved to portable ‘A’
Under construction since summer
And it’s cold today

I can see my breath and what’s left of the west parking lot
And all the spaces that we fought

Mat Kearney, “Undeniable”

Glorious sunset over the construction zone (one of them, anyway) on a Late Advent Weekday. Photo cred: me.

Last day before Christmas Break. I always feel kind of melancholy at this time of year. It’s hard to put a finger on why. Managing “Christmas Spirit” in my world is a Goldilocks experience. Don’t want to start tuning in to MyFM’s 24-hour Christmas music in mid-November, thus risking burnout. And can’t wait too late to start, lest the joys of the season sneak by unnoticed, and the responsibilities of the season sneak up like a cat.

This is probably part of it. Financially speaking, Christmas in my house is like throwing a boulder to a drowning man.

“Some 45 percent of those polled said the holiday season brings so much financial pressure, they would prefer to skip it altogether. Almost half said their level of stress related to holiday expenses is high or extremely high.

That’s probably because nearly the same amount — some 45 percent — say they do not expect to have enough money set aside to cover holiday expenses.”

That story is from 2012, but I suspect that for a large swath of our country, not much has changed, except maybe for the worse.


So this year, my first at a new school, working my ass off, I just keep plowing forward, Blue Collar Teacher Guy doing my thing. Today that means: Setting up for Finals Review for when we get back on January 4. Making a Jeopardy review, planning Epic Review Olympics, making sure students have enough practice problems to get them ready for Finals. (Family Motto: “Don’t Leave The Building On Friday Til You’re Set Up For Monday.”)

Me, and a handful of my closest friends.

New game, you guys: Let’s count the cars left in the parking lot.

But it’s way more than that. In the classroom next to mine,  a student team was staying late to put in extra work on their final exam project, a Rube Goldberg layout known as Ballandia. It’s not due till mid-January, but long after his teammates headed out, one guy was still there, fine-tuning things.

Burning the midnight oil. Because that track feature worked once, but will it work every time?

In the shop on the other side of me, three guys in jeans, skate shoes, and neo-punk band T-shirts (and one knit beret) standing at a work table were bent over a laptop and a box of VEX parts, building and programming a clawbot.

File photo. Credit: me.

We are in the midst of a $100 million renovation project to expand and upgrade the physical plant of our 70s-era school building. There are two shifts running. Construction guys are here before the admins, teachers, and students set foot in the building, and if you drive by at midnight they will be somewhere inside, still working.

A few days ago that structure on the left was bare steel beams. Until some guys worked all day in sub-freezing temperatures to hang the walls.

I’m already buds with the custodians who work my end of the building. Our guys and ladies take meticulous care of the building, the hallways, the classrooms. They clean stuff I didn’t even know was there.

Our office staff? They deserved a serenade:

Or two:


The Indiana Department of Education released its school grades last week. My high school earned an A. I just got here, so I didn’t have anything to do with that. But from living here for 11 years, through conversations with teachers in the district, on to the interview process, it’s obvious: that level of performance is expected.

It doesn’t just happen. Behind the scenes there is real work. My sons will graduate from this school, and their teachers will have stayed late and agonized over their lessons. Their classmates will be role models because they will have made time to make a project something to be proud of, and not just a pile of paper to turn in for a stupid letter on a piece of paper. Their classrooms and hallways will be welcoming spaces because somebody cared enough to clean things and places nobody else would even think about.

And they’ll battle robots and fly quadcopters in the new two-story arena in our STEM wing because craftsmen spent a school year building a place from the bare walls in, where learning can explode into doing. That’s gonna be my new home, and it’s gonna be awesome.

And it didn’t just happen.


As I write this, it is the Winter Solstice. The shortest day of the year. It is easy to fall into the melancholy of cold grey skies, darkness when leaving school, the morning delays caused by scraping frost off car windows. Or to experience the glorious anticipation of the coming of spring, however far off that may be. But on December 21, the light begins to increase and the darkness shall decrease.

It’s an End and a Beginning.

But the work is never done. Because the things we want, the life we build, the school we as a community offer our kids: It didn’t just happen.



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