Goodbye Yellow 107

I’m on the move again, classroom-wise.

Three times in four years, if you are keeping track. I was on a cart my first year at my current school, and the last two years I’ve made mid-year switches.

And, not just here. It’s pretty much become my brand. For a variety of big-picture reasons I was asked to make moves at my former school (yes, mid-year, even once on a work day between trimesters). It’s an occupational hazard. As a result, I travel light. Handful of stuff on the wall, mostly worried about seating arrangements for my students. I’m never gonna be an influencer with an IG-ready classroom all full of cuteness.

Reality is: I’m not special. Due to construction in my building we’ve been playing Whack-a-Mole with teachers for three years. Move a group to renovate a hallway, move them back in. Move another group, reno another hall. Rinse, repeat.

But honestly, sometimes I wonder if they’re trying to tell me something. I feel a little Mark Prior-ish sometimes.

I’m just an employee. The goal now is to go down and help that team win and try to make the AAA All-Star team. Maybe I can get invited to the Futures game or something. I’m still 26. It’s part of the business. That’s the way I look at it. There’s not much I can say. I’m a controlled player. I do what I am told.

It’s worth taking time for discernment – yes, it’s important to know if it’s time to go. But, maybe it’s not about me.

Am I making stuff up in my head? Maybe I just feel picked on.

Like the saying goes, “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me”. Just say you never met me.

But to borrow another idiom: Maybe a cigar is just a cigar. We’re moving, I’ll keep teaching, they’ll keep learning, done.

I spent some time this morning de-escalating the thoughts in my head. Part of it is the fruits of praying the Litany of Humility. It makes me de-center myself. Part of it was the prompting of the Spirit to go to confession.

The parish named for my Patroness offers Saturday morning confession, which was perfect as I had JV football on tap before going in to make my new classroom look lived-in by Monday.

And sometimes a thing just randomly shows up on a Saturday morning to bless my whole day, and it’s hard to break the joy that comes from that.

Rod Dreher and I share a kind of optimistic pessimism so I am a faithful reader of his blog. One of the things I gain from that is a knowledge that while we work towards eternal life and battle the forces in this world it’s important to stop and be very aware of the small beautiful things in this life.

It prevents overreaction to small inconveniences. It was actually a pretty cool afternoon. I bribed my youngest with lunch (his favorite hot wings and a pretty good Italian Beef) to help me out after his football game. We got to laugh together and groove to some ancient tunes.

Plus, PK 102 is gonna be a beautiful room.






It almost kinda makes me anxious for Monday. Let’s go teach.


Summer of me-Learning

Clock Is Ticking GIF
The clock is always ticking. Source

“Father Time Is Undefeated”, as one of my favorite Region sportswriters is fond of saying.

A dozen or so years ago, shortly after we moved back to the area I got an email from my older brother. His career has taken him around the world, and it’s also the kind of career that kept him in really good shape. So he was probably as surprised as anyone to report that he was going to have triple-bypass surgery. He pointed out that our grandfather died of a heart attack at 59, our dad survived a heart attack at 59, and he was having major heart surgery at age 59. He left me with some advice: if you haven’t started taking care of yourself, get going now.

I had just finished training for a marathon, so I was reasonably sure I was good in that regard, but I also had an awareness that you can’t fight genetics. So now, even with six marathons and 10 half-marathons behind me, I recognize the clock is ticking. I have an expiration date.

As we all do.

This was without a doubt my most stressful year of teaching. And, in a related story, I’ve been battling some health issues for most of the year. I’m not sure which came first, to be honest, the illness or the stress.

It’s gonna take a while to get the bad taste of this year out of my mouth. I don’t even want to think about anything that has to do with teaching right now. I’ll eventually start thinking about next year but the plan for now is to just be.

LOL. To steal a line from José Luis Vilson, “God got jokes.”

Hey buddy!” persona aside, I’m a pretty dark person; my default position is to expect the worst. As humans we have a built-in defense system, constantly scanning the horizon for danger. In addition to the heart history my family also has a cancer history so I’ve pretty much made my peace with an endgame of some type of terminal illness. Memento mori, right?

As the year wore on and we couldn’t nail down the source of the problems, I grew more certain of bad news on the doorstep. My doctor has been trying systematically to eliminate causes. I love her strategy. Given my family history I think the plan was to rule out all the things that could kill me fast first, then move on to things that were merely annoying.

That line got a chuckle from the triage nurse at the emergency room when I presented myself there Friday night.

A three-day hospital stay later, we have some answers, which is good. Just need to work through the process of fixing what’s wrong. Nothing life-threatening, just things that need attention.

Stress Test Conclusions
#2 Translated: “Not bad for an old guy.”

Hospitals are humbling places. Plus, I felt like a little bit of a fraud. There were a lot of people way sicker than me on the floor. Aside from the episode that brought me to the ER, I felt fine the rest of the weekend. I had a procedure scheduled for Monday morning, so I had to ride it out regardless. I had just passed a stress test with flying colors Friday morning, and I still have a runner’s resting heart rate, to the point where my prep nurse Monday morning said “wow, you’re really healthy.” That was kind of a running theme every time someone took my vitals. My floor nurse complimented me on my easy-going nature, but internally I was thinking, I don’t have a lot to complain about. I’m not in pain, we know what the problem is and what to do about it, my veins make blood draws a snap. I knew if I was in different shape health-wise my demeanor would probably have been a bit edgier too.

So my summer education continued. The first week of break I attended the South Shore e-Learning Conference in Hammond. Coming off such an ugly year, I was hoping a chance to commiserate with friends would lift my spirits. Instead I ended up empathizing with teacher friends who were facing school closings and job uncertainty. Some of the sessions I attended helped me dial in on the needs of my marginalized students. I left recognizing other folks were dealing with worse situations than me. It was a message I needed to hear: to see and honor other people’s struggles.

Saturday, as word of my hospitalization started to spread, the prayer warriors came out in force. Facebook well-wishers piled on Mrs. Dull’s update posts. Thing is, I knew some of those folks have been dealing with serious health-related issues. And still (or maybe because of), here they were lifting me up. That blew me away.

I had a chance conversation a few weeks ago with a woman who’s been in the cancer fight for a while. She said that she made a habit of praying by name for everyone who had been praying for her.

That’s pure grace. In her place I’m not sure I’d have thought to return the favor.

But now that she set the example for me, I knew what to do. I’ve had a list of intentions in every Rosary I pray for years. Now I had a bunch of people to pray for by name, too. Not to mention plenty of time to name them. And all kinds of time to count blessings:

  • The ER doctor called for a CT scan that revealed the source of the issue, pushing the process forward.
  • Several people pointed out the convenience of being on summer break meant I won’t have to take time off work and make sub plans for my next procedures and recovery.
  • I had family able to visit with me to pass the time in the hospital.
  • I got to see two Cubs/Dodgers games and a couple of really compelling Copa America matches on TV.
  • I have insurance. My portion of the bill is going to be ugly, but the majority of it is covered.
  • And as Dr. King (following St. Paul) said, unearned suffering is redemptive.

If anything is gonna pull me out of my funk, it’s going to be the lessons of the last two weeks.


When things took a bad turn this school year, I was moved to make a daily habit of praying the Litany of Humility. It wasn’t easy. Remembering to make the three minutes in the morning and at bedtime was no problem. Praying the words with true feeling was tougher. Those are hard things to ask for. But it turns out, they were things that I needed.

The Litany helped me put some perspective on the issues at hand, and perhaps more importantly, on my response to them. I get the sense the last couple of weeks are the further opportunities to live out the attitudes I have been praying for.

Call it “continuing education” in the Summer of me-Learning.

One-Man Book Club: Room 24

I kinda stumbled across my latest summer read. Because sometimes the driver don’t pick the car, the car pick the driver.

Mrs. Dull facilitates the middle school youth ministry at our parish. Last weekend I was riffling thru a stack of EDGE curriculum boxes, looking for something else, and there it was.

Room 24
Image via Goodreads.

I was not familiar with the book at all, but I am familiar with the author, Katie Prejean McGrady. I follow her on twitter and think pretty highly of her (which makes me a member of a not-so-exclusive club):

Room 24 Number 4

So in a split-second decision, I added it to my summer reading list. Helps that it’s a quick read at 138 pages. She’s pretty up-front that it’s not a “teacher book” but as the saying goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when you are a teacher, every book is a Teacher Book.

Prejean is that teacher who absolutely loves her subject area. Now before you click away because she’s a theology teacher, her travails apply equally if you teach Algebra or World History or Literature. We fall in love with our subject and then wonder why our kids think we’re weird. And this book hit home because I’m human, not because I’m Catholic.

She relates the story of deciding on a major during a study-abroad semester in Rome (with the help of a trusted advisor)

Room 24 Number 1

She found that doesn’t always mean that her students will instantly love her content. In fact, many times the opposite was true. On the positive, she works hard (with some stumbles along the way) to build a relationship with her students, and she does it by being her authentic self. Teaching at her alma mater (and using the same textbook from her student days), she took a Ditch That Textbook approach to theology class. That allows for some flexibility when her 14-year-olds come to class with a stack of questions – thus the genesis of the days known as “Stump Miss Prejean”.

Room 24 Number 3

That Musical Cue is right up my alley, BTW. And “Stump Miss Prejean” is a brilliant way to honor student voice and curiosity while staying true to the curriculum and schedule.


Litany of Humility, in musical form, via Matt Maher:

Prejean is confident, and quick on her feet, but not every moment in class works out as well as “Stump Miss Prejean”. She relates a moment when she learned a harsh lesson in humility, driving her to resurrect a prayer devotion, the Litany of Humility:

Image via His Mercy Is New


Earlier in her career, in her pride, she drove a student not only out of her class but out of the school altogether. That tale hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a student transfer out of my class after three quarters this year. Her style and my style just didn’t mesh. I felt bad that she wasn’t getting what she needed from me in my class, but privately I thought to myself, “Oh well, her loss. Let her go photomath all her homework in some other teacher’s class, and fail the final.”

Nice, huh? What a condescending, passive-aggressive jerk I am sometimes. She used to like math, get pretty good grades (as her mom told me) for most of her school career, and I probably poisoned math for her for life. When I read this from Room 24, I saw myself:


Room 24 Number 2

Yikes. Like Sully watching himself scare on video.


I’m constantly torn between “My Way Is Best” and “What Could I Have Done Different For Her?

Or is it best that she found a teacher that fit her better? I know intuitively that giving students a chance to discover is the best way for them to learn, and that in the world they will walk into they need critical thinking skills more than ever. I’ve picked up so much awesomeness from the #MTBoS that I can’t imagine teaching any other way.

So how do I stand my ground, doing what I know is best, without being a jerk about it?

I mean, true, we are the content area experts, and the pedagogy experts in the room. That’s why they pay us the big bucks, right?

Two of my classes this school year are Algebra I Lab, a second block of algebra for our struggling freshmen. (My people, by the way). When the class was pitched to me, it was with the expectation that I would break out everything I’ve learned about creating a student-centered classroom, with Desmos Activities and WODB and Three-Act Math and everything.

I’m looking forward to it. But I’m reminded in Room 24 that my students come stamped with an invisible “Handle With Care” instruction. And that going into the year a healthy dose of humility for myself might be a good starting point.

From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver Me Jesus….