We Cry At Lunch

I had a class last year right before lunch with one table of all athletes – really good at their sports, and super-serious about school. They were a perfect match for each other, helping when needed, asking for help when needed, having each other’s backs always.

During one particularly stressful portion of the year, one of the girls said “I think I’m gonna cry.” and one of her table mates responded: “We don’t cry in math. We cry at lunch after math.” I think she was joking.

I think.

I have a student right now who hates the class after mine so much she spends the last five minutes of my class on the verge of tears, every day. Honestly, I know how she feels sometimes.

And you probably do too.


We’ve talked Friday playlist in this space before. The one that kicks off with 13-year-old Rebecca Black singing about everyone’s favorite day.

You might know the story of the bullying she endured for years after the song’s release. And then maybe lost track of her, because, well, our social feeds are constantly dumping new shiny things at us and today’s news is yesterday’s news before we fall asleep.

Rebecca Black herself addressed the issue online, and has been making the media rounds as of late, nine years later as her singing career continues on the upswing.

Caught her on KROQ not that long ago. Take a few minutes to click through and watch the interview. You don’t have to be around kids 180 days a year to be heartbroken by hearing her tell the stories herself.

Not sure how to fix that, except do my part to not be a jerk just in general, but especially not in school. To kids.

Then former Bulls star Ben Gordon told his story too. You obviously don’t have to look too far to find people who are hurting, even as they hide in plain sight.

Last month I volunteered at our parish’s middle school youth retreat. Since it’s 2020, the theme was “God’s Perfect Vision”. The opening keynote mentioned how our brains fill in for the limited amount of information that our eyes take in. That we literally don’t see the full picture.

Afterwards I led a small group discussion of kids, future students of mine, from our parish’s Hispanic ministry. I asked them, “Think of a time when someone didn’t see the whole you.”

Thats all the prompt they needed.

Oh, the stories. Racial taunting. Bullying. School discipline being unevenly applied. “Oh, you know, they got that money so they got off with a ‘I’m so sorry that happened to you’ while I got suspended for getting called names.”

Our kids deal with some serious stuff on the daily. I mean, we all do, but as grown-ups we’ve developed some coping mechanisms that come with experience and maturity.

I teach 8th grade religious education at my parish, and have for the last 10 years. I’m in my 17th year of teaching high school students math in its various and sundry forms. And I’ve said it all along, you couldn’t pay me enough to go back and be a high school student today. It’s brutal out there. And no amount of training will fix that completely. We just gotta do what we can do to be human and take care of our young humans as best we can.

And take care of ourselves too

But I’m worried that soon even that might not be enough.

If this pandemic goes where some of the models suggest it might, the grades My Type-A kids get for the fourth quarter are gonna be the least of their worries. My state canceled school until at least May 1. Today Virginia became the second state to institute e-learning for the remainder of the year. Italy, with a population one-sixth that of the US, is counting deaths in the hundreds day after day. I’m super-pessimistic about the next few months. I intentionally kept those feelings from my students in the last week of classes. They are mini-adults, but that’s not the kind of news you can just drop on them and leave. What I do know is, whenever we come back, the world is going to be an uglier place than the one we left.

The skills we’re going to need to teach our kids the next time we see them, well, they didn’t teach that stuff in teacher school. A once-in-a-century pandemic is going to leave us with a school mental health challenge the likes of which we’ve never faced before.

We’re all gonna cry at lunch pretty soon.

Put On Some Coffee And Let’s Make A Filter

I’ve said many times I have no desire to be in administration. I have neither the personality nor the temperment for school leadership. Even in the best of times. But when COVID-19 turned the world upside-down, taking the school schedule with it, well you couldn’t pay me enough to be in that job.

I am a basically dark person and I read too much, which can be a bad combination. As I learned more about the spread of the disease in Europe, and the measures governments were taking to slow the spread and ease the crunch on health care systems, it became pretty obvious early on that my district would be moving to online learning for an extended period. I began to mentally prepare for how this would look.

As the day drew closer, and we started to advise our students to take devices and personal belongings home daily, there was precious little guidance from our admin team as to the expectations for us as teachers. I could feel my anxiety spiking. In retrospect, there are a lot of moving parts to the shutdown, of which extended e-Learning lesson planning and delivery is just one.

I was super-concerned about the burnout factor involved with making three weeks of plans, five days a week, not to mention the burnout factor for students trying to complete three weeks of e-lessons, five days a week. The call to suspend in-person teaching came on a Friday. e-Learning was scheduled to begin on the following Monday. My first thought: “I suggest you gentlemen figure out a way to fit a square peg into a round hole. Rapidly“. We had a quick Q & A session after school with a brief outline of the timeline. We would go Monday-Wednesday-Friday with new lessons, using Tuesday and Thursday as teacher work days. Due to the crisis, the state allows us to use waivers for up to 20 days of the 180 instructional and this seemed like an ideal use of those days. That killed about 20% of my stress. Then, the moment that brought clarity to my mind: one of our language teachers spoke up, suggesting we organize thusly: one Canvas module with three assignments, one for each week of the shutdown.

Brilliant.

I eventually settled on hosting each day’s lesson in a Google Form. I can insert my instructional video, ask questions about the notes, link to activites such as Quizizz or Desmos or Flipgrid, and create an exit ticket, all in one place.

Two days in, so far so good. I spent some time thinking about it all Wednesday while keeping an eye on my email inbox during “office hours”, and it struck me.

My journey over the last 10 years of teaching and learning and connecting has led me right to this moment. I’m ready. Not because I’m so brilliant, but because of the people I have been connected with, IRL and online.

My activities during the shutdown won’t be perfect. They won’t be as cool as some of the things I see my online teacher connects doing.

They will meet the requirements for my district for e-learning day activities. And more importantly, they will meet the needs of my students. This isn’t a snow day, or even a three-day shutdown due to the Polar Vortex. We’re going to be out for weeks due to a global pandemic that could kill millions in the US alone. I’m not sure how well I’m handling that possibility as an adult. I imagine for some of my students, it’s frightening.

I owe a lot of people thanks for their writing and thinking and sharing over the years. I’m super-grateful to have been a connected teacher all this time. We had no idea that some of the things we were thinking about and doing would be the solution to the greatest single instructional challenge of our careers.


This is my contribution to the #MTBoS2020 blogging initiative started by Jennifer Fairbanks. That makes 2 out of the 3 months so far (D+). But take a look at the #MTBoS2020 tag for some great thinking about teaching and math from my online PLN.

Never Daunted

In Indiana they feel about basketball the way Texans feel about football or Minnesota folks about hockey. They game wasn’t invented there, just perfected there.

Source.
“In 49 states it’s just basketball.” Nine of the 10 largest high school gyms are located in Indiana.

Which means virtually everyone has played the game, watched the game, maybe coached some 10-year-olds for a winter or two, which makes them an expert.

“I know everything there is to know about the greatest game ever invented.” Source

My side gig has kept me in and out of gyms for a long time. But it’s been probably 30 years since I’ve been in Assembly Hall to see a Hoosiers game. A friend and fellow alum passed along a couple of tickets last weekend, so Mrs. Dull and I drove 3 1/2 hours through the pouring rain see IU square off with Ohio State. The athletic department was putting on an alumni weekend with former players from the Final Four and National Championship teams lining the court. It was a treat to see guys like Damon Bailey and Landon Turner on the floor, but the highlight came when Alan Henderson was given the honor of addressing the crowd. For obvious reasons:

“We know how badly you all wanted us to win. But, trust me, we always wanted to win even just a little bit more than you wanted us to win. One thing I was thinking about coming in here was, if you do lose, the next practice is something you’re not really looking forward to. I remember walking into Assembly Hall, and almost wanting to sneak through like a ninja, so Coach didn’t see me, or anyone else, just get to my locker, tryna make it through, you know? So just keep in mind, these young men are competing as hard as they can, the coaches are doing the best they can do, so through the ups and downs of the seasons, I just want you to know how important it is that you all stay behind the team, stay as positive as you can, and just keep moving the ball.”

I love Alan Henderson. As a young broadcaster I got to call his final high school game, an Indianapolis Brebeuf loss to Glenn Robinson and Gary Roosevelt at the RCA Dome. The rivalry between the state’s two best big men continued as Big Dog went to Purdue, Henderson to IU where he led the Hoosiers to the 1992 Final Four. Henderson got a huge round of applause when he called Assembly Hall the best place to play college basketball in the country. But I think his aim was something else. I had heard that he went “off script” a little bit. The fans are a little down on Archie Miller right now. Like, “ready to help him pack his bags”-level down. You know how they say the most popular man in Chicago is the Bears backup quarterback? In Bloomington it’s the next IU basketball coach. They are all chasing the ghost of Robert Montgomery Knight. Since Knight was fired after the 2000 season, IU has had five coaches who have won about 58% of their games and made the NCAA tourney 10 times in 21 seasons. Despite his brilliance as a coach, Knight is a sad, petty, bully who has consistently refused to attend events at the university honoring his players and teams. But the fans look up and see the championship banners and judge every coach by that (unattainable) standard. Ask UCLA fans what it’s like to see the game pass you by, right?

If Henderson had all this in mind as he wrote his speech, it was the most savage two minutes in that building maybe ever. One of the state’s greatest players, a Mr. Basketball runner-up and NBA mainstay, put a statewide fan base on blast.

Watch a game surrounded by Indiana basketball people, and you’ll notice a few things. They definitely have opinions about the “right way” to play the game. Check what they cheer for – the 25-second defensive stand, the extra pass, the unselfish play, the kid who bypasses an off-balance shot in traffic to pull the ball back out top and reset the offense (“set it up!”). I swear when I heard someone yell “set it up” I wanted to walk down the aisle and ask them “set up what?” Like, diagram a play for me. Where are those guys supposed to be right now?

Source

I thought so.

And yeah, those are all good things. To be honest, the current team stands around a little bit too much on offense for my taste. But that’s not ’70s nostalgia, that’s the inability to be successful playing 1-on-5 every time down against modern-day Big 10 players.

I’ve been thinking about that speech a lot lately, thinking about it while I’m in the classroom and while I plan lessons and while I get ready to host my unannounced evaluation. And yeah, I think about it while I grade papers. Darryl Thomas was a member of the 1987 National Championship Hoosiers team, a Chicago-area guy and genuinely good person who died too young. At 6-foot-7 he was undersized at the position he was asked to play. But he showed up every day and had a hand in the greatest in-person basketball moment of my life, taking a low-post pass, sensing a double-team and kicking to Keith Smart in the corner for the game-winner against Syracuse:

In his book Season On The Brink, John Feinstein wrote that Bob Knight once put feminine protection products in Thomas’ locker as a comment on Darryl’s perceived lack of toughness. Later, Knight sat with Thomas and said, “Darryl, sometimes I think I want you to be a great player more than you want you to be a great player.”

Do I think I want my students to be successful more than they want themselves to be successful? Do my administrators want me to be a good teacher more than I want to be a good teacher?

I feel like sneaking into the building like a ninja some mornings, that is for sure. And if I do, I bet my kids do sometimes too.

During an interview I had an administrator tell me once “our students are the children of doctors and lawyers”. And yeah, they are. But thinking about that conversation later, I thought, yeah but they are also children of single moms who wait tables and work at K-Mart and dads who fix cars and grab their hard hat and steel-toes and work midnights at the mill.

As Alan Henderson might say, hey, these students are doing the best they can do, the teachers are competing as hard as they can, maybe it’s time to stay behind them and be positive.

Because when we do, this is the greatest job in the country. I might even have One Shining Moment before the year is up.

One-Man Book Club: Copyrighteous

N.B – I make no pretense of objectivity in this post. I’ve had the chance to interact with Diana Gill on Twitter and meet with her IRL at the eVillageNWI conference the last couple of summers. She is the real deal. A fabulous human being and absolutely brilliant as a teacher, coach, and presenter. For full disclosure, she gifted me my copy of her book.

We lived in Vegas for a while at the start of my teaching career. It was a huge culture shock for a Region guy whose dad worked in a steel mill for 40 years. My world was What You See Is What You Get. Pick up your lunchbox and hard hat and go to work. Out there I felt like everything was Style over Substance – like I had to learn to see through everybody’s front. Ironically enough, teacher-wise I’m probably a mixture of the two. You can’t wring the blue-collar out of me: one of my colleagues in my first year commented to my department chair, “he’s a bit of a workaholic”. I think she even meant it as a compliment. Meanwhile, I buy what my UNLV methods teacher was selling us back in the day: “As a teacher you put on 900 performances a year. And you have to nail every one of them”.

In her new book Copyrighteous, Diana Gill leads with a recollection of starting her teaching career by being given a scripted curriculum that stifled her creativity. She eventually broke the mold, creating her own classroom experiences tailored to her students’ needs and interests. In the process she learned to remix existing activities, respecting others’ creations while putting her own stamp on them.

When I first heard the basic outline of her book, I was definitely intrigued. To the extent that I have a “brand” it is as “that creative teacher”, ditching the textbook and creating (or at least sourcing and serving) tantalizing learning experiences in my classroom. And from the jump I was sure to share what I had learned with others, and always give credit when I shared online what my students had done that day. We share a philosophy of teaching in that regard.

Things have changed for me from the neck up the last year or so. I’m losing my teaching mojo. Maybe my style just doesn’t play in my building. I’m teaching a new (at least new in the last 8 years or so) prep. As awesome as our LMS is, no textbook means I’m pretty much writing my textbook digitally as I go. Building a plane while I’m flying it. We are “encouraged” to plan together and use common materials, and in my building that means TPT. That’s not really my style. And besides, I had… concerns, based on the experiences of some of my online teacher friends. I reached out to my MTBoS connects, and they came thru with the goods. In the end tho, I bent the knee to the stack of worksheets. I felt like I was letting myself and my PLN down. But wait. Can I do both? Keep pace with and use the same pre-made materials as my teaching colleagues, while staying true to my creative self but more importantly continuing to use the tools and activities freely shared by my PLN to offer my students engaging learning experiences?

I’m trying. I needed an activity this week to give my students a chance to collaborate and get extra practice on proving parallelograms in the coordinate plane. And in like 30 seconds of searching, bam, there it was, via @mathequalslove and @mathymissgrove –> Two Truths & A Lie, Parallelogram Edition. It might be a really good mashup, and remind me again how to combine the two in my classroom – a common curriculum and custom goodness. I was able to make some slight tweaks to meet the needs of my kids, and to use some advice the creator of the activity gave in her recap of the activity on her blog.

I feel like I should do more of that. Copyrighteous shows the way. And it came along just when I needed it.

So here’s my 15 second recap of edtech since it came on my radar screen 10-ish years ago: We’ve moved on from “Hey look at this shiny new toy, what can I do with it?” to “How does this tech or this process support teaching and learning in my classroom?” Now add in, “How can I respect the rights of the creators of the materials I’m using, while still presenting lessons that fit my personality and meet my students interests and needs?”

That’s Copyrighteous in a nutshell.

  • Find the thing that works for you.
  • If it doesn’t quite work for you, remix it until it does.
  • Always give credit.
  • Make something if you can’t find something.
  • Share with your people.
  • Ask for feedback.

It’s been a long time since my days in the College of Education at UNLV. I don’t know if they teach this stuff at teacher school in 2020.

But I know they should.

Light > Darkness

Light Definition
Merriam-Webster’s entry for light. Part of it, anyway.

“Something that makes vision possible”.

“Light” seems like one of those words that is difficult to define without using the word itself. But Webster’s first definition is beautiful in its simplicity. And compelling to me, especially at this time of year.

#confessanunpopularopinion: We’ve discussed in this space my love for melancholy Christmas. To the point of making a whole playlist for the season.

Honestly, I love the mid-December days with the 4:15 sunset and afternoons that are pretty much indistinguishable from evening. Every year has a rhythm. To everything there is a season, right?

But that’s me. Despite outward appearances, I’m basically a very dark person.


That doesn’t mean we don’t all long for light at this time of year. Across civilizations, through the centuries, regardless of faith or lack thereof, late December brings a rage against the darkness and quest for light.

So we seek out light.

We look for it in the darkness, alone, or surrounded by people we love.

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To the point where we’ll drive around in cars to go see other people’s lights.

And maybe, compare ourselves to other folks, a little bit. Because we can.


I’ve always said that Christmas Break comes at precisely the right time for a teacher. Everything around us, the whole world, says “Bundle up. Gather your people close. Take stock. Tell stories. Look back. And: Look ahead”.

So, if you are planning for second semester today, awesome. If that’s on the agenda for the weekend, cool. I’ve got my list sitting on my desk at school that I’m going to tackle in parts over the next few days.

And when I go in, I’ll probably have to take down the string of lights that has outlined my whiteboard for the last month.

Although, a warning. When you wake up on January 6, it’s going to be darker than you remember.

January 6 Sunrise

The sunrise lags the solstice by a couple of weeks, plus, let’s be honest, sleeping in is maybe the greatest perk of Christmas Break for a teacher. We’re gonna pay for that in a week or so. It’s gonna be pitch black when you wake up, and still dark-ish when you leave for school. On the first day back, when there is the slightest glimmer that we’ve turned a corner, when the buzz of seeing friends for the first time in a couple of weeks has burned off, we might have to make our own light.

My geometry students feel a little like they are stumbling through the darkness of a new kind of math. They might feel like they are crashing. They’re gonna need something to “make vision possible“. Or at least someone to thank them for flying Air Penguin.

“Who says a penguin can’t fly?”

Look Good, Play Good, Dance Good

He’s not getting quite the attention of his fellow second-generation big-league phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but 20-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. is drawing notice for his electric style.

Javy Baez, Tim Anderson, these guys are injecting life into a game widely seen by younger generations as slow, stodgy, out-dated, irrelevant. Instead, these guys have decided it’s time to Let The Kids Play.

They’re making it fun to watch baseball.

Javy Baez Youre Out GIF
Source


I’ve been a little apprehensive about the coming school year. Alternately ignoring the calendar and the countdown, and stressing over getting ready to teach a new prep with new materials. Then I read the latest blog post from Allyson Apsey, a school principal in Michigan I first encountered when she suggested making a New Year’s Playlist instead of a New Year’s Resolution.

She relates a story of a sightseeing trip she made while on the West Coast for a conference, riding the famous tram up San Jacinto Mountain.

They had a bit of a tense ride on the way up with the tram equivalent of nervous flyers screaming and holding on for dear life. A very professional operator tried to reassure all the riders as they made the long, bumpy trip. The way down tho?

Our tensions were relieved somewhat as soon as we saw the big smile on the face of our driver. He welcomed us aboard, told us to fill in all the space because it would be a full tram, and reassured us that there was room for everyone if we work together. Before the ride even started, the 60s music was playing again. But this time he told us that it would be a sing-along. We barely noticed that we were moving down the hill and rotating as we all belted out the chorus of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”. Good times never felt so good.

Just before we came to the first tower transfer station, our driver told us to be ready for some rocking and rolling, and then led us in a fun woo hoo as we swayed back and forth. He had another park employee standing next to him and she was singing her heart out and had a smile a mile wide the entire ride. Looking at them, the rest of the fear about the tram and the rocking just melted away. Before we knew it, we were back at the base of the mountain and we were disappointed that the ride was over.

Who would you rather ride with? The second operator, right? His name is Gil Moreno, and not only is he going to make sure you successfully and safely reach your destination, he’s going to anticipate the rough spots and smooth them over for you.

Kinda sounds like the teacher I want to be. The teacher I want my kids to have. The groove I want in my classroom.

Yes. Be like Gil.

Play your music, watch for the ones who need hand-holding, call out the rough spots and bust through them together. Serve their needs.

After I read the blog post I sat back and thought about the student who was so into one activity we did this year she bought a Lake Superior Ice Crew hoodie which she wore to school like once a week the rest of the year. The student who emailed me activity ideas two days after the school year was over, hoping I might roll them out for my students this year. The girls in my Algebra Lab class who asked if I could be their teacher again this year for geometry (surprise!). The former student who is a nursing student at the university in my town and a nurses aide at the hospital where I had my surgery this summer (also, surprise!). The kids who suggested I update my Friday playlist, the students who suggested I grow a beard, the kids who wouldn’t enter my classroom without their daily high-five, the student who hand-made an invitation for me to see her work in the Honors Art Show, the student who caught my eye across the fieldhouse during graduation lineup and said “I did it Mr. Dull!“, and I sat and thought…

Javy Slide GIF
Source

If I can’t be a young, handsome, healthy All-Star stud with Cut4 and SportsCenter posting my highlights every night, teaching is about the best job there is. The kids make it fun.

So I turned a corner a little bit on this rainy Thursday morning. I might be a little more ready to go back to school. And I committed to be more like Gil. More like Fernando Jr. More like TA7. More like Javy.

And be honest, after I pondered the moments of a year gone by, more like me.

 

Getting Gruntled

Gruntle Definition
OK, so there’s a little more to it than that.

If it’s possible to be disgruntled, you should be able to get yourself “gruntled” again, right? (Turns out, originally, no, but….)

I was at an event this week when one of my students’ moms leaned across the table and asked me, “So, are you ready for the school year to be over?”

Kind of an odd question, considering it was mid-February. Although, ’tis the season. My backyard neighbor (a junior at my school) pointed out Thursday we have about 14 weeks of school left. So there’s definitely counting going on. I answered the question in the spirit in which it was intended, but in the back of my mind I was thinking:

Actually, yes. Yes I am.

It was pretty much the day before yesterday, sitting on the back porch in shirtsleeves on a January Saturday afternoon, when we were wondering if winter was gonna skip us altogether.

Not so fast my friend

The first two weeks back from Christmas break went off without a hitch. After that tho? Since mid-January: MLK Day -> early release due to Ice Storm -> Ice Day -> two days of school -> Snow Day – Three Days of Polar Vortex -> then 7 whole days of school in a row before another Ice Storm Day. I mean, that’s winter in the Region. Should be used to it by now. But still.

I’ll be pretty honest. The last three weeks of weather, combined with some other things, have kind of broke me. I feel a little bit like a hockey referee after a brawl near the end of a period. I just want to send both teams to their locker rooms and tack the additional time onto the next period.

Clearly it’s time to Find Your Happy Place. Saturday we scooted up to St. Joseph, Michigan for a late Valentine’s Day celebration. We ended up at Schu’s (with the other 30 humans within a 50 mile radius who weren’t at Silver Beach Pizza) where we had a fantastic Valentine’s weekend dinner.

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At one point I kinda caught myself staring out the window at the shelf ice and the twinkling of the North Pier Lighthouse beacon and realized I was sitting there smiling like a fool. The company, the atmosphere, the Round Barn Kolsch, all of it: perfect.

Tuesday morning seemed very far away.


It Will Hurt the Whole Time
It feels like this sometimes, doesn’t it? (Source)

Not every year can be duckies and bunnies and unicorns and rainbows. Some are definitely better than others. This might be one of those years I just suck it up and put on my teacher face and give myself a pep talk every morning and keep showing up. Even if it kills me a little bit every single day.

As my freshman son wisely pointed out Saturday night, “three months from now we’ll be sitting in this same spot at the same time of night watching a sunset.” I needed to hear that. The Mid-Winter Blues have taken hold. It’s a passing thing, I’m sure. Unless it’s not.

But really, teaching is what I do. Especially if these are the options.

Time to find my happy place. Even if it’s a beach in winter. Maybe especially if it’s a beach in winter. I mean, if “gruntled” and “disgruntled” can mean the same thing except by matter of degree, then by all means, get me by the water. That’s not any weirder. Especially if it keeps my head in the game for three more months.

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Hehehe. “Keep Off”.  Such rebels. A mild winter day, 2017. Weko Beach, Bridgman, MI. Photo cred: me.

Adventures in E-Learning: Polar Vortex Edition

We’ve had plenty of false alarms (Mrs. Dull refers to them as “fake news™”) regarding winter weather this year. But the meteorologists nailed an onslaught of Hoth-level cold right on the button. Polar Vortex arrived, just as predicted.

For real. Like, it’s so cold we postponed basketball tournament games. In Indiana.

Coupled with an overnight/early morning snow on Monday it meant we faced the prospect of 4 days off of school this week. Been there. It wasn’t super-fun. Did I tell you about the year my old district expanded the school day by an hour a day for a month to avoid extra make-up days, and my current district had to create a Saturday make-up day (which happened to be my son’s 18th birthday)?

i survived
We did get a cool travel mug out of the deal tho, which is nice.

We’ve exhausted all our built-in snow makeups. Adding days at the end of the year is a no-go due to the start date for summer school.

That can only mean one thing:

E-Learning Days. Right here, right now, ahead of schedule.

My district is a bit of a late adopter of this trend, but in keeping with our approach to many things, we take our time, research, go to school on other districts’ experiences, then roll out a new initiative.

The plan was to pilot eDays this year with a scheduled trial on Election Day, then make up our snow days on the scheduled makeup days as eDays, then roll them out live next school year.

We make plans, God laughs. You know how that goes. So facing a no-win on adding more make-up days, we jumped right in this week.

Our administrators gave us a heads-up early in the week so no one would be caught scrambling to make eDay plans. Not to worry tho: a quick survey revealed that teachers felt well-prepared to roll out plans for two days this week.

we ready
High school teachers on the ball, y’all.

I split the difference on my two assignments, giving the in-class practice set that I had planned to assign on Monday for Day One, then taking inspiration from the world around me, making a Polar Vortex-themed Desmos activity for Day Two. Set them up in Canvas, scheduled reminder announcements thru Canvas for 7:30 am both days, double-checked my posts, and went to bed.

Dawn broke (pretty much literally; it was -20F and we kept hearing these weird cracking sounds coming from outside the house) with me ready to go.

But according to a source familiar with the sleep patterns of high-school-aged boys on a snow day, I should not have expected my students to jump right out of bed and start working.

waiting for responses
10:55 am. They’ll get around to expanding and condensing logs eventually.

Which is fine. The best feedback I got from students on our pilot eDay back in November was “I love that I could do my work in whatever order I wanted, at whatever time of day I wanted. I wasn’t locked into a schedule”. They’ll get there. I’m confident.

So meanwhile I’ve got my coffee and I’ve got sun streaming thru my frontroom window and I’ve got twitter open on a tab and a summertime playlist running on Spotify.

I’m passing the time making an answer key for my assignment and enjoying videos of folks conducting science experiments.

I’m good.  I’ve been preparing for this day for over a year. But I’ll be pretty honest – I’ll be happy to be back in my classroom and see my kids face to face on Friday.

E-Learning Days are kind of tiring.

One-Man Book Club: The Grace Of Enough

Spring came early. At least for a day, on this weekend before Back-To-School. In January, man.

We hiked, we let the sun shine on our face, we grilled lunch, we sat out on the back porch and ate chips and salsa and shared a drink and toasted the day.

And talked. Kind of Spring Cleaning meets New Years Resolutions.

We’ve been making plans to de-clutter ever since I don’t know when. I do know when, actually. When I got a little lazy about keeping house, and when pretty much every electric appliance in our house died in rapid succession. It’s become a source of frustration within our family. Time to do something about it.

With actions not words. Mrs. Dull’s love language is “show me“.

So I’ve been developing a plan to start getting things squared away. A realistic, manageable, long-term plan. Two hours every weekend. Tackle one room at a time. Make use of Fr. Bruno’s One-Year Rule. In our Vegas days, when virtually everyone kept like a whole ‘nother house worth of stuff in a storage facility, he said in a homily one Sunday morning:

“If you haven’t used it in a year, you need to ask yourself if you really need it.”

But as Mrs. Dull pointed out, sentimentality has its place. It’s OK to hold on to some things just because.

It’s a plan we can agree on.

I told her, “By the end of the year, you’ll have your house back.”

That earned me a smile.


st. basil (2)
St. Basil’s feast day is January 2. So, if you were thinking about turning over a new leaf, his advice is quite timely.

So: How much is “enough”? And what would our lives be like if we chose the things around us intentionally? What if we were really radical in deciding what was important to us? What if we took care of the world around us and loved the people around us authentically?

They are all worthwhile questions. Questions that Catholic blogger Haley Stewart and her husband have pondered. She tells the story of their journey in The Grace Of Enough.

Grace of Enough
Yeah, it’s already a little dog-eared, if that tells you anything. Haley Stewart is also a pretty good follow on Spotify, BTW.

I could relate. I bet you can too. Not to the part where they sell their house, get rid of 80% of their stuff, and move to a nonprofit, sustainable agriculture farm in Texas for a year. Only thing I know about cows is they taste great with sauteed onions, a side of potatoes, and a cold beer.

But the part where she finds that more stuff doesn’t change her life, where her husband finds that working more hours at a job he’s not in love with and has some serious moral misgivings about does not actually make them better off.

That part resonates with me.

The book is divided into three parts: Returning To Our Roots, Reconnecting With What Makes Us Human, and Centering Our Disconnected Lives At Home. As you might have guessed, none of it is exactly new. And maybe that’s the idea – it’s ancient. Also: none of it is easy. But many of us are finding out that taking the cheap, easy way out is leaving us empty in all the ways that matter.

 

nothing new

The chapter on rebuilding broken communities (with the emphasis on community) will stick with me for a while. Despite my people-facing occupations, I’m a bit of an introvert. I’ve never been great at small talk, and the neighborhood we live in has just enough turnover that there is always someone new to meet. I’m pretty stellar at a wave or a chin nod to a neighbor as they drive by or walk their dog, which is a start. I could be better at community-building. Way better.

I’m definitely an action item guy, and helpfully, Haley Stewart has included a list of tips at the end of each chapter. That could also benefit from my “one-room-at-a-time, two-hours-a-weekend” approach.

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.


 

How does that relate to school? The day I left Gavit I packed up 13 years worth of stuff in an afternoon. Some of it had traveled 1800 miles to get here. About 95% of it is still sitting in boxes in my basement.

boxes of stuff

Through the course of last summer we received a shipment of new furniture for our renovated school. We all have less storage space now. A small desk with a couple of integrated shelves. A wardrobe with two file-sized drawers. That’s it. I think the intent is for us to travel light. For my first year at my new school I was on a cart, traveling from room to room. I had a small desk in my fellow PLTW teacher’s room and a couple of boxes of stuff and that was it. I moved into a new space last year and moved again this year. I’ve taught in 16 classrooms in 16 years. In three of those years I made mid-year room changes. Honestly, I’m willing to pare down my teacher stuff considerably.

So a bunch of paper things could live on Google Drive, yeah, but Don Wettrick is in my head right now too. As his dad advised him long ago, “Teach 20 years, fine, just don’t teach one year 20 times”. What am I holding on to that I could let go of? What activities, what handouts, could go? A bunch of stuff in those boxes was awesome when I used it in like 2010, but does it still work now?

It’s part of the ethos of the math department: we want to be on the forefront, the department that leads the way in our school. The first to fully build out Canvas, the best, most user-friendly Canvas pages, the department that plans its curriculum and works that plan, and constantly re-assesses to see that we are doing the best at teaching and learning for our students and our community.

Case in point: Our department chair is planning a day-long in-service this spring semester for our Algebra II PLC to dive into the class and re-build it for a 1:1, de-tracked environment. We may think it’s pretty good as is. But, could it be better? Keep what works and toss the rest, and fill the empty spaces with practices that support our students.

But the three sections of Haley Stewart’s book might make an interesting thought experiment for teachers: Returning To Our Roots, Reconnecting With What Makes Us Human, and Centering Our Disconnected Lives At Home. Like, I’d attend that session at a conference this summer.

Could that look like sharing a love of learning, leading with curiosity, centering our classrooms on our students, developing activities and lessons that encourage taking time to unpack concepts?

Just like in my day-to-day life, The Grace Of Enough has left me with questions to ponder in my teacher life as well. “Pursuing Less And Living More”. Yeah.

 

Christmas. Break.

Christmas Gift
“That’s it? We have one candy cane hanging on our tree?”

It’s that kind of Christmas around here. That without a doubt is our Charlie Brown-iest tree ever. (yeah, you know the one).

We’re not anti-Christmas by any stretch, it’s just that this year the decorating has been…  minimal. And it’s OK. The family seems to be kind of in the mood for a low-key Christmas. Me, I’ve been taking comfort in some little things. My parish has been hosting candlelight vespers on Thursdays during Advent. The peace of the low light and the Real Presence and the incense and the Latin hymns has been a source of joy for me.

We wrapped up final exams yesterday, so today is a half-day Teacher Work Day. It broke with a half-hearted attempt at a White Christmas:

Then on the way in I caught my favorite “melancholy Christmas” tune on WXRT. It set the tone for the day. In a good way.

One of my colleagues stopped off at the bakery on the way in and picked up a huge box of donuts for the department. He’s on Santa’s “Nice List” for sure.

Sad Tree
Even if you’re trying to eat clean these days, that’s a tough offer to turn down. I said “thanks”.

Then it was finishing grading some final projects for my freshmen Algebra Lab class. And a minute to be thankful for my kids and their talents that they share with me every day.

Entered exam scores and final grades, double checked to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Nope, all good. A lot like Ralphie Parker on Christmas, many of my kids got exactly what they wanted, grade-wise. Others, no, but close. “Maybe next year”, as The Old Man would say. So with grades in the books and some time left, I tried to get a bunch of stuff done for after break before I left for break. Made my list, prioritized my tasks, went right down the line, checked them off. I was on a time schedule (wrestling practice, car repair appointment), and when the clock struck, it was time to go.

Two biggest savers of sanity and time on that list, BTW:

  1. I worked a couple of days ahead for the first few days after break. Canvas is updated with new due dates, Desmos activities are set up with class codes and links in Canvas, printed materials are hot off the presses and sorted, ready to go on 1/7/18. And I left a “quick-start-up” note for my desk for my future self, just in case I forget anything in the rush to start a new semester.
  2. I printed two copies of my quarter grades and stuck them in a file in my desk. Come the end of the school year when I need a hard copy of my gradebook to turn in, it’s already done and waiting there for me.

Sometimes “self-care” takes the form of good planning.


MathGirl
So long, YL107. See you next year. #dadjoke

I actually was nowhere near done with my list when it was time to leave. In fact I was half tempted to go back in today after my appointments and keep working, but Kim Strobel is kind of in my head. I’ve seen her speak before, and my district brought her in to present on “The Science Of Happiness” to all our staff and faculty yesterday after finals. It was a bit of a gamble, I thought. The Type-A teachers I know want to get busy grading and closing out the semester on the last day with students, not sitting in an auditorium for two hours of rah-rah.

But to be honest, it was a home run. Time (and money) well spent. She had our teachers, especially the elementary teachers, eating out of her hand. Her message is pretty simple. And timely:

It seems I’ve applied the Minimum Effective Dosage. OK then. Yeah, I’ll buy in. Maybe there’s a ton more to do. There always will be. So: Go home. Be a dad. Take pleasure in the simple moments. Do the things for (and with) your people. Enjoy break. Rest up. Celebrate Christmas.

Ready, break.