education

COVID Scoreboard

Am I the only one this happens to? 

I return home from  some socially-distant walkabout, or perhaps I put on my HazMat suit to buy a dozen eggs, and immediately go wash my hands, as I was told might be important back in March, but I haven’t heard one medical or political leader mention since then. But the running water makes me have to go pee. Then I have to wash my hands again. I’m starting to think Bath, Body Works, and Zoom is behind this whole COVID thing. 

Yes, I list Bath and Body Works as two different entities, which I assume merged in the late Middle Ages, like Buda and Pest.

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in. In that time, the world seemingly ended and then started to come back before deciding that, meh, maybe it needs to hit the snooze button for another six months or so. 

I blogged a fair amount back when it all came crashing down. But then I stopped because every post ended up being the same. Even when I went beyond the COVID stuff, what the hell else was I supposed to write about? A fancy new restaurant I discovered? That new movie that’s become water cooler scuttlebutt? Try as I might, I can’t milk 1000+ words out of washing my hands and then peeing. 

At least not on a weekly basis.

But here on the cusp of a the second full decade of COVID, it’s worth another check in. 

What’s that? It’s only been five months? Regardless, Daughter and I are both heading back to school this coming week, so I guess now is as good a time as any to take the rectal temperature.

Of course, “heading back to school” might not be 100% accurate. We’ve started education via shiny screen, at any rate. In my last post I mentioned my district was bloviating about sending all the kids back to schools and starting teacher death pools as a new fundraising apparatus. Then they said the students didn’t have to show up at school but the teachers still did, because only one of those two variables are important to the educational process and their bottom line. After that, the teachers agreed to let them blame pushing back the start of the school year by a week on us to the parents. As a result, we’re allowed to teach from home. So now I’m live-streaming 12th grade AP right next to Daughter, who is live-streaming first grade. My students are very jealous that we can’t spend a whole day on “how to use crayons” like the other talking head in the room.

I called it, of course. I knew that no school district was actually going to go through with the whole “no social distancing, everybody come back” threat. Wait, what’s that? Georgia, you say? Too bad they suspend people for taking pictures, so we’ll never see what that looks like…

Looking back on my earlier posts,  I was right more often than I was wrong. I thought we were overreacting and, I know this is an unpopular position, but I still think we’re overreacting. Or maybe not overreacting, but focusing on the wrong things. Much like the TSA, half the crap we’re doing is designed to look like we’re trying instead of actually keeping us safe. If there was really virtually no spread at BLM rallies, then half the stuff we shut down didn’t need to be shut down. As another example, in baseball, they have to sanitize the bullpen phone after each usage, even though the bullpen phone is answered by the same person every single time.

And no, I don’t think that’s where the entire Marlins team caught the ‘Rona. Unless there’s a bullpen phone in South Beach night clubs. 

Speaking of sports, I was also right that baseball is a relatively easy game to socially distance. What I forgot was that the owners and the players would rather stick their heads up their collective asses than to take advantage of months where everybody is stuck at home watching Frozen II for the seventy-fifth time. The owners were convinced they were going to lose ALL of their money and then, lo and behold, opening night was the highest rated in years. Imagine if it had happened back in May. Or April, if we’d never shut it down in the first place.

Of course, two teams have gone full COVID. Double digit cases on both the Marlins and Cardinals, which is made even worse by the fact that those two teams don’t play each other. Had they caught it from each other, we might have a good test study. But they’re in different time zones. Again, it probably would’ve been better for MLB to start up in April or May, when the players couldn’t go to bars after the games. But when you hold off for three months because it’s “unsafe,” then say, “Okay, things are safe enough to return now,” then people are going to act as if they’re safe. It’s the lesson that the entire United States learned during July.

That’s why the recent cancellations of most of college football was obvious from a mile away. And the conferences that are still “contemplating it” are only doing it for the optics. College football is a fucking pipe dream. Take all of the problems MLB has had and add in teenagers without millions of dollars on the line. Or proper health care beyond a team doctor who gets paid to say, “Yep, he can play.”

Closer to home, the recreational soccer league we signed Daughter up for back around the time her softball season was canceled after one game seem intent to go on with soccer this fall. With only “slight modifications.” Such as there won’t be any actual games. Only practices. And parents can’t hang out at the practice. But we can’t leave practice. We have to sit in our cars the whole time. How quickly can I opt out?

Here’s what I don’t get: how would putting my daughter on a field with 10 other six-year-olds and a couple of parent coaches be fine, but putting her on a field with 20 others be where the problems come? Yes, I understand the law of averages, but if the implication is that at least one team will get COVID and they don’t want to spread it to others, then maybe they shouldn’t be having team practices in the first place. 

The soccer league is just taking a cue from the general sense of “othering” tied up with COVID. My team is okay, it’s those other teams that we have to fear. I know all of my friends are clean and safe, it’s those OTHER people who are disgusting and COVID-y. Right before my curling league shut down, somebody proposed that we keep our leagues running, because we know all those people, but maybe stop doing Learn-to-Curls, because the GENERAL PUBLIC can come to those. I responded that the members were just as likely to have it as non-members, so we shut the whole thing down.

Conversation with my father-in-law: “The mask is not just to protect you, but other people.” “But I don’t have it.” “How do you know?” “Because I’m healthy.”

Which is not to say I’m immune to this othering. Whenever I hear of someone catching it, I ask, “where did they go? What did they do? In what way did they bring this on themselves?” And when they caught it at church, I breathe a sigh of relief. 

Somebody at my wife’s work caught it. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the guy who frequented every bar in the greater Sacramento area the day they re-opened. It’s one of the conscientious ones, my wife claimed. He’s got three kids at home! It’s totally random!

Turns out he went to Tahoe, which is pretty much the hottest of hotbeds in our state. “Don’t have COVID? Well, come on down and we’ll fix that right up!”

Back in March and April, I thought we forced shut down too quickly, before we could see if the distancing and hand washing would help. And masks, although back then they lied to us by telling us masks didn’t help. In fact, masks were probably bad for us. The lie was totally reasonable. One look at the toilet paper aisle was enough to realize that if we thought we needed masks, no doctor would be able to cover his or her face until 2025. 

But the short-term gain from that little white lie came back to haunt the CDC, didn’t it? Might be a teachable moment in there. If we were allowed to teach anymore. Most people (certainly not all, but most) are willing to go along with scientists changing their minds as new evidence comes in. What we’re less thrilled with is the “Oh yeah, we knew all along that you should be doing this, but we didn’t think you could handle it. This time we’ll keep the football down, Charlie Brown.”

So yeah, I still don’t understand why we shut down camping and miniature golf and contactless car washes. Perhaps if we had taken a measured response at the beginning, told people that if they wash hands and wear masks and be careful about how close they are to people, that we can do certain things. Instead they told us we couldn’t do a goddamn thing for two months and then were shocked that we crammed the beach so closely that we were cupping the balls of the dude three blankets away.

Most of us have figured out the measured approach on this second go around, yes? We wash our hands and wear our masks. We let people take out temperature when we go inside. I don’t understand what good that does if the main problem with COVID is how many people we spread it to before we have any symptoms. Once your temperature hits 100 degrees, it’s game fucking over. Last time I went to Kaiser, they didn’t stop me to take my temperature, so I figured they were acknowledging it as pointless. Nope, the nurse informed me, they’ve just gone all Big Brother and are surreptitiously scanning us from afar.

I hate going into Kaiser, because they make me lie. “Have you been experiencing any shortness of breath?” Um, I’m here to get allergy shots, meaning it’s been many weeks since my last allergy shots. And I have allergy-induced asthma that gets worse the longer I’ve gone without shots. So have I been experiencing any shortness of breath? I just assume they mean “more than usual” and say no. 

The mask companies finally caught up and made fancy, fashionable masks so we can accessorize with our favorite sports teams or pop culture references or works of art. We carry our hand sanitizer with us, even if it smells like a noontime drunk. Seriously, I’ve got some alcohol-based hand sanitizer in my car and, let me tell you, if I ever get pulled over after using that shit, I’m going to jail. Granted, it’s 100 degrees on the average day in Sacramento, but that stuff is straight rum coming out of there. Is that how we fixed the supply problem? Hand sanitizer: all gone, Restaurant alcohol: wasting away undrunk. Get me that Bicardi, stat!

I think the biggest failed lesson from the first lockdown was that the lockdowns had fuck-all to do with people’s actions. Herr Kommandant Newsom told us all to stay home and, lo and behold, we all stayed home! He hath spoken and we hath listened! Except that’s not really how it happened. What actually happened was people started hoarding and staying at home and started freaking out about whether or not they were going to go to work. On March 12, for instance, March Madness was canceled and Disneyland closed. And seriously, if those two organizations that put profit ahead of their very souls, are shutting down, then why the fuck am I going to work in my cubicle? 

Seven days later, after we had all purchased enough toilet paper to survive a nuclear shitstorm, Herr Kommandant told us, “Hey, why don’t you stay home? Go ahead. It’s on me.” Then, instead of trying to figure out how it spreads or if masks work or if a bear shits in the woods, he spent the next two months patting himself on the back that EVERYBODY in his state was listening to him and his fancy hair.

I assume they’re separate entities, Newsom and his hair. I only wonder who is the one that’s truly in charge of the symbiotic relationship.

Then people got tired of being trapped at home, so they started going out. And the Governor, not willing to admit people weren’t following his directions, came up with some bullshit about Phases and  R-1s and how if we do our best to watch all of his press conferences and maybe get our Senator put on the national ticket so that next year he can pull a Blegojevich next year, then maybe he’ll let us go to bars, but only if they serve us fatty foods with each drink.

Seriously, at one point everybody went to the beach and he said if we kept going to the beach, he wasn’t going to open anything. Then there was one windy day in SoCal where people didn’t go to the beach and he said, “Since everyone listened to me, you can go to the beaches now. And movie theaters, too.” 

But still no camping. And still, in late May, nothing about masks.

Remember when Georgia had a “Partial re-opening” and it was lambasted as short-sighted and dangerous, while at the same time California had a “phased rollback of restrictions,” which included about 90% the same things, but was somehow lauded as a studious approach based on evidence? Of course, nobody’s saying that about California now as we’ve surged past all the models.

So yeah, I still think I was right about a fair amount. About toilet paper and social distancing and the likelihood that schools would never have on-location education ever again. At one point I said that if we all hunkered down for two months then all returned to the wild, we weren’t really “flattening the curve” so much as “delaying the curve.” I think I get a fucking gold star and a cookie for that prediction, yeah?

But there were definitely some things I could not have been more wrong about. Top of that list is how many people want to burn the whole thing down. I mean, I assume they want to stay in lockdown forever, or else they’d wear some fucking masks, right? 

Seriously people, if y’all put on your masks and stopped practicing fully-clothed sodomy with each other, we could be out of this in a manner of weeks. But today I had some 80-year-old lady crawling up my backside at the checkout counter at the grocery store. Y’know, those carts are almost six feet long, so all you have to do is stand behind your fucking cart and we’re good. And yeah, I know you have to take stuff out of your cart, but this lady stood right behind me and pulled her empty cart in behind her. Then she LEANED TOWARD ME!!!

And now everybody’s trying to follow the letter of the rules without following the intent. Bars are selling a single french fry to go with your drink. Restaurants can serve outdoors, so they’re throwing up giant tents to keep all the COVID trapped around you in a nice moist environment. Others aren’t even pretending to follow the rules. A waterslide park outside of Sacramento recently reopened in violation of a state mandate. They’re being fined $500 a day. 

Five hundred bucks a day. They run a water park in a Trump-voting county where the average temperature is over 100 degrees. I think they make back that $500 in the first twenty minutes they’re open. That’s kinda like making me pay the extra five-cent sin tax on my beer. It’s not really doing jackshit to dissuade me from drinking.

Oh wait, it’s not a sin tax, it’s a recycling tax. I’m supposed to get it back if I recycle. Except all the recycling centers have closed, and that was long before COVID. Probably a topic for another time.

I’ve got plenty of time, after all. With tent dining and opened water parks and a bunch of Anti- Masxxers, to say nothing of the 100 students waiting patiently on a Zoom call to turn a freeze-frame screencapture of my nosehair into a Tik Tok, we’re going to be here for a while.

Back to School, Sort Of

 My school district is threatening to start school up again in a few weeks.

Yes, I used the word threaten. I don’t think they intend to go through with it. I think it’s a negotiating strategy, an “I WILL turn this car back around” opening gambit. I don’t know who, exactly, they think they’re negotiating with. The teachers union, the parents, the media. Probably a mixture of all three and more besides, considering their scorched earth approach.

IF Y’ALL WON’T SIGN UP FOR DISTANCE LEARNING, WE’LL INFECT ONE STUDENT PER DAY UNTIL OUR DEMANDS ARE MET!!!

I’ve been involved with many school districts in my life. Between the districts I’ve worked for and the ones teachers and admin I know have moved on to, plus throw in the fact that my daughter is (allegedly) starting first grade in less than a month, I have understanding of the inner workings of upwards of ten different school districts. 

This might shock y’all, but school districts are a fucking mess.

The average district office is an awkward mishmash of former teachers who couldn’t wait to get out of the classroom and lifelong bureaucrats who are most comfortable when articulating the subtle differences between form 47(f) and 72(q), and don’t forget to write hard enough for the goldenrod triplicate and page twelve requires two initials and a signature. Add into that mix the Board of Education, a group of would-be politicians who aren’t savvy enough to win a competitive election like, say, dogcatcher.

So it’s no surprise the the average response of the average district is to put their heads in the sand and hope that the issue de jour blows over before there’s any blow back. Which isn’t to say they don’t spend money. They spend shit-tons. We get guest speakers for some fancy new fix that’s going to have all third graders solving differential calculus. Then we move onto another fix the following year, long before we get any data about if those now-fourth graders can do any third-grade math, let alone z-axis graphing. 

Most districts think that REAL education occurs far, far away from the classroom. If you’ve never encountered a child, you’re probably the best educator in the world. After all, those fucking students fuck up all of our well-laid plans. During the budget crisis a decade ago (returning soon to a school district near you!), my district laid off close to fifteen percent of the teachers along with about five percent of the district staff. After all, a teacher with a class size of forty is a minor issue compared to an assistant superintendent cutting down to ONLY two secretaries. How the hell can she get ANYTHING done?

Here a good example of how my district meanders its way through the average “catastrophe”. After Sandy Hook, the federal government sent a bunch of money out for security improvements. My school wrote out a proposal for keyless (badge) entry to our buildings. The proposal was approved. Everything was set to be installed over summer. When we came back, we had the same shitty doors. The district decided they would “test run” the keyless entry at the district office. Because, you know, it’s EVERY DAY we’re bombarded with horrific stories of school (district office) shootings. We all know those horrific stories of the admin assistant who quietly ushers all of the NCR paper into a closet seconds before…

Even better, they only gave badges to district office employees. Why the fuck would teachers want into the district office? We are inconsequential in the business of running a school district. We have to check in through the front door like the rest of the riffraff.

The badge system worked so well that they added a second one to the elevator. Personnel and Benefits are on the bottom floor, they argue, why should any teacher need to know what’s going on up there on the second and third floor? If we really have legitimate business there, we can (I shit you not) call whomever we’re supposed to meet and they can go send the elevator down to us.

Here’s another example: During that budget crisis, we negotiated a reduction in the school year. We got rid of the two bullshit “teacher development” days plus five student days. That way, we could say we agreed to a two percent pay cut while actually taking an eight percent pay cut. When the recession was over, they gave us back the seven days and added three more bullshit days. But not the two percent pay cut.

The bullshit days don’t have to be bullshit days. But they’re always bullshit days. You see, the year we negotiated the days back, the school year calendar was already set. So we just threw the now five extra non-student days on at the beginning of the school year with the idea that we’d move them around the following year. That was back in 2013. Want to guess where the bullshit days fall on the current calendar?

If we were serious about using these days as development days, which is what they’re called, or if we were interested in legitimately following through on whatever we’re working on the first day, we’d spread them out throughout the year. Have two of them at the beginning, then check in at the beginning of each quarter to check progress and reassess. Instead, we go to six hours of meetings for five straight days. By the time we see a student, we’re fucking exhausted. And any bright a-ha moment we had on day one has been lost behind a fog of tardy policies and dress codes. Come mid-October, somebody in the lunch room will throw out a, “Hey, weren’t we supposed to be doing something with vocabulary this year?” and none of us will the slightest idea what the fuck he’s talking about. 

So remember that these institutions are the ones responsible for reinventing their entire industry in the span of a few weeks.

I hear you saying, “a few weeks? Haven’t we been shut down since March? What the hell have they been doing since then?”

And the answer is, mostly, twiddling their thumbs and hoping everything was going to be better. 

My district ran fourth quarter in a “no-harm/no-foul” mode. If you liked the grade you had when we shut down, you can keep it without doing a fucking thing! Distance learning where everybody gets a trophy. The result was predictable. The A students continued to do work, because they’re A students. Some B students did, if they were bored. C and D students didn’t do a fucking thing, because what if they do an assignment and it lowers their grade? Even though we set the rules that, not only could your end grade not be lower than it was in mid-March, no SINGLE ASSIGNMENT could lower your percentage at all. So if you had a 76% in my class and you sent me a picture of feces, congratulations, you just got 16 out of 20 on that assignment. A few F students did enough work to get up to a 60%.

But it’s okay, because by August, we’ll have licked COVID and everybody will be excellent at social distancing and wearing masks and washing our hands. Movie theaters and sporting events and restaurants would be alive and well, right?

Oops.

To be fair, we’ve had a whole bunch of meetings over the summer. My department chair is part of the “High School Task Force,” so he’s regularly come to the rest of us with updates and to ask for suggestions. We’ve come up with alternative schedules whereby only 25% of the students are on campus at any given time. One batch comes Monday AM, another on Monday PM, then two more on Tuesday before we cycle back to the Monday peeps on Wednesday. Friday’s an “all distance learning” day, which is also a teacher catch-up day, because if I only have my students in my class one hour a week instead of one hour a day, I’m going to be spending most of my time in front of the classroom. I can’t exactly give them seat work so I can update my blog like usual.

Of course, this schedule wouldn’t work for younger students. High schoolers can legally stay home by themselves on the three days they’re not at school. I don’t see that working for elementary school kids. I’ve been faced with that option for my daughter. We could send her back full time or two days a week. But what will we do with her the other three days? Send her to daycare? Isn’t that pretty much the same as sending her to school, only without the education? Her school is also offering a full distance learning option. But again, where would that distance learning happen? She’d probably be sitting in my classroom with teenagers getting a whole DIFFERENT type of education. Daddy, what’s a fucktard?

But it doesn’t really matter what our task force or the middle school or elementary versions thereof came up with, because the district replied with a nice, resounding hell-to-the-no. Comically, the Board of Education isn’t even involved with the negotiation, and they weren’t there when we negotiated the shutdown back in March. They just told the superintendent to figure out the minor stuff while they focus on the important educational stuff like, I shit you not, spending millions of dollars on a fence around the district office because one time there was a homeless person nearby. The fence would only be passable by people with badges, which the teachers don’t have. Not sure how we’ll get to personnel or benefits now.

Oh, and on the same board agenda as the gate was starting to look into pay cuts for teachers next year.

What the district did decide on was a two-fold approach. Parents have the option to sign up for 100% distance learning for the entire school year or 100% live instruction for the entire school year. No switching from one to the other after you’ve made the decision, which they gave parents one week to ruminate. Who needs more time than that to decide such a minor thing?

Now the numbers are in. Clearly I’m not the only parent who went with the “what the fuck am I supposed to do with my kids when I’m at school?” option. Not that my district offered a hybrid option. Still, the results are informative. In my largely low-income, two-worker family district, only six percent of parents opted for distance learning. In my daughter’s district, where there are a shit-ton of stay-at-home parents and lots of personal computing devices, not to mention a hybrid option, only ten percent opted for some sort of distance learning.

So yay! Only 94% of my students will be in my class on a typical day. So now my class of 40 students will have… 38.4? Super easy to socially distance those 38!

And all of that was before the COVID spike. Now districts are scrambling.

Last week, Daughter’s district blanketed us with phone calls and emails about our county potentially being put on Herr Kommandant Newsom’s “watch list.” Great name, Gavin. You know we were already putting your face on the principal from The Breakfast Club, right? Like you can keep this up all weekend? And your response is to come up with a “Watch List.” Only it’s not a watch list. Because once you’re on the watch list, you’re already shutting down. If you’re saying, “this county will probably go on the watch list the day after tomorrow if x, y, z doesn’t change,” isn’t that county already being watched? 

Anyway, when it was reported that my county might go on the watch list, Daughter’s district alerted us that, even if we opted for in-school instruction, we might still be starting the school year at home. Be prepared, they told us, for a kooky, crazy school year where we oscillate between in-school and at-home based on how many COVID cases we have and how many of Herr Kommandant’s hairs are out of place. Just kidding, none of his hairs are ever out of place. Have you seen that guy? Only person in America who stayed groomed during the entire shut-down.

Meanwhile, my district, which is in a county that’s already on the watch list and has been surging like a motherfucker, shrugs and says, “what’re you gonna do?” Even on their FAQ, they claim that social distancing is only a suggestion, not a requirement. Kinda like flossing twice a day. So they’re going to jam us in like sardines and just give a vague answer to the dentist. The good news is some of us will start dying off, which should relieve the overcrowding issue. Unless it’s the teachers, which’ll cause the classes to become even more crowded. Because if I die, they’ll need to combine my students with somebody else’s. I doubt they’re going to have a ton of success hiring a sub to go into the classroom where the last teacher caught COVID and died.

Speaking of catching COVID, we’ve been told that if any of our students test positive, we need to quarantine ourselves for two weeks. If that happens, we have to use our own sick leave. We get ten sick days a year. So after we burn all of our sick leave on the first quarantine… 

But as I said at the beginning, I think this is just a negotiating tactic. The district broke off talks with my union saying they couldn’t meet again until the week before we report for the five bullshit days. My inner Nostradamus can predict exactly how that conversation will go”

“We can’t open. Our teachers will die!”

“We’ll give you distance learning for a five-percent pay cut. After all, you won’t need to buy as many school supplies, etc, if you’re teaching from home.”

Or not teaching from home. The latest I heard was they didn’t like giving us that much autonomy. If there is any distance learning this year, they want us doing it from the classroom. 

And that’s pretty much the only thing that’s been “fixed” about distance learning. All that stuff you’ve heard about teachers being trained to do it better this year? Ain’t happening. It’s going to be another big shrug and “figure it out.” 

So my union will probably agree to the pay cut in order to not have any students. Which is great, because then my district can finally build that moat around their fortress.

Who Knew Bruin Coo

The English language is stupid.

I know I’m not the first person to make this groundbreaking observation. Every rule in the English language is broken at least ten times. I before e except after c, or in pretty much every other word where you stop yourself, sure you’re about to spell it wrong, and then you repeat that adage and end up writing, “the horse nieghed.”

We’ve got some words pronounced in a Germanic fashion, others in the Latin manner, and probably some Scandinavian. England’s been invaded so often that they can’t even make their mind up on the correct words for various objects. Theater is a German word, cinema is French, so English uses them interchangeably.

Quick, what’s the difference between purple and violet? Nothing, aside from their language of origin.

And then there are the silent letters. I assume those are coming from French, because those bastards put an eaux at the end of every damn word. And really? Hors d’ouevres? It should be spelled ordurves. But I don’t think there are any gh’s in French, so WTF?

But we all just sit here and accept it all, as silently as half the fucking letters in our language, like victims of Stockholm Syndrome. Come to think of it, the vikings came from Stockholm, and they’re just one group that conquered England and fucked up the way they speak. So much for an island being easy to defend. The Danes were doing island hopping long before Douglas MacArthur made it hip and fashionable.

My current agitation with the only language I can read more than a sentence of is because I’m trying to teach it to my daughter. Not the spoken part. She’s got that part nailed down. Mostly. I mean, she still can’t seem to distinguish between hearing directions and following directions, but I teach high schoolers, and I know that subtle distinction is still a long way coming.

But she’s ready to learn how to read. And we’re ready for her to learn how to read. Because I swear, if I have to read about giving a mouse a fucking muffin one more goddamned time, I’m going to shove that muffin right up his rodent ass.

She’s been doing phonics at daycare for the better part of two years, so she knows all the sounds. She’s been taking swimming lessons for the same amount of time, and her swimming ability is about the same as her reading skills. She knows the motions, but if she were try to put them all together on her own, she’d end up at the bottom of the picture book, struggling to breathe.

So instead of throwing her into the deep end, we’ve been trying to sound things out together. And right off the bat, I’m questioning how much money we’ve wasted on phonics. She’s very lazy at reading beyond the first letter. After two years of “B is for bird,” she now sees box and goes, “buh, buh, big?” I’ll then have her sound it out. And she can do it.

“Buh, ah, ks.”

“Okay, put them all together.”

“Buh, buh, bamboozle.”

Where the fuck did you get boozle out of an x, kid?

But we’re trying, and she’s getting closer when she actually focuses. So we started out with everyone’s first reading adventure: Dr. Seuss. More specifically, “Hop on Pop.”

And it starts out great. Pup. Cup. Pup in Cup. Cup. Pup. Cup on Pup. All words she can sound out. Rhyming words. Once she’s figured out the ending sound, she can substitute the beginning sound, which she’s great at from phonics.

Then it gets a little tougher. Day. Play. We play all day.

At this point, I question whether or not I should explain to her why she’s not pronouncing a “yuh” at the end of play and day. That the vowel following the other vowel turns the former into a long sound, even if Y is a little bitch that can’t decide if it’s a vowel or not. Or do I just tell her that this is one of those cases where A says it’s name and hope she’ll just ignore the extra letter there? And all of a sudden, I’m the phonics teacher telling her the end of the word doesn’t matter and she should just sound out the beginning of the word and then make a wild stab at what form the vowel is taking in this particular word.

Then comes the next page. Night. Fight. We fight all night.

What the fuck? I give up.

First of all, Dr. Seuss, what the hell are silent “gh”es doing on page five of a book that is listed as “Easy reading. For the beginning readers”?

Secondly, what the hell am I supposed to do now? It’s one thing to tell her to ignore the y in day, when the y is silent but is in fact serving a purpose there, and if you were to pronounce “da-yuh,” you wouldn’t be kicked out of polite society. People would probably just think you’re singing a Harry Belafonte song.

But now I’m faced with a silent gh. If you pronounce it “niguhut,” people will have you committed. And now that I look at it in the “liguhut” of day, what the hell are those letters doing there in the first place? Are they acting as vowels to lengthen the i? So now I have to tell my daughter that the vowels are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y, and sometimes w, and sometimes gh. But the last three sets of “vowels” only act as vowels when they completely give up their will to live, don’t say their name and just sit there, aiding and abetting their “more important” brethren like a goddamned politician’s spouse?
Just sit there and look pretty, dears, and if anyone asks you what you really think about guhu-gate, stay quiet.

So with these words, I didn’t tell Daughter to do anything with the middle portion of the word. I just told her, “That word is night. That word is fight.”

And just like that, I’ve crossed over the great debate line in the world of reading. Because if you’re not on the side of phonics, then you must be with those rat bastards in the whole language camp. Whole languagers say, “Fuck sounding it out. Just memorize what each word is and use context clues.”

And really, isn’t that how we read? Even those of us who read via internal vocalization (and yes, I know that every goddamn speed reading course tells me to knock that shit off and I totally know I don’t need to do it and it’s frustrating as shit that it’s slowing me down, but gaddammit, I just can’t stop), don’t sound out the words. I know what “fucking goddammit” says, so I just say “fucking goddammit,” instead of “fuh, uh, sss, kuh, ih, nuh, guh” in my mind. Whole Language!

Whole Language basically tells us to learn all of the words and voila! you’re reading. Seems rather daunting for a language that has hundreds of thousands of words. But that’s probably also the number of different ways you can pronounce the letter c. So maybe instead of telling her the difference between the sss sound and the ck sound and the ch sound, I can just tell her the cisgendered cock has a chub. By the time I’m done explaining all of the rules of the language, those words will be totally appropriate for her.

And if Whole Language is just memorizing, then my five year-old should be a pro. She can recite the whole goddamned “Hop on Pop” without even looking at the page. Which is annoying when I’m trying to figure out if she’s actually learning how to read.

“Dad had a bad day. What a day dad had.”

“Wow, good job, Love… Wait, why are you staring out the window?”

But if we’re going to go the Whole Language route, then why the fuck have we spent the last two years teaching her the sounds of all the letters? And I don’t just mean that as a parent who has wasted time and money and brain cells listening to “A is for Apple, Apple, Apple” fifteen thousand times.

Why do we spend time telling out kids that e is for elephant when ninety percent of the time you encounter the letter e, it isn’t going to sound like that? We should instead say “e is for evil and elephant, but most of the time it’s silent just to fuck with the other vowel, vowel, vowel.”

And even when all that is done, can anyone, anywhere tell me what the fuck is with the whole silent gh thing?

Substitute for Love

“I couldn’t find the worksheets you wanted me to hand out-,” the note back from the substitute teacher began.

Oh, you mean this pile right next to the note? The one that has a post-it reading “Third period handout” on it? You couldn’t find that one? Okay, cool cool.

“I saw Ferris Bueller in your cabinet,” the letter continues. “So I showed the class that. We made it to the parade scene.”

Thanks. Good to know from which point I’m won’t be continuing the movie that they weren’t supposed to be watching.

Ah, substitute teachers. The educational suppositories. If only I could just give my students the day off, like in college. Chances are they’d be less-far behind.

We had an incident with a sub recently that got me thinking back on some of the best sub stories.

And of course, all of these stories are “alleged.” Probably didn’t happen. For entertainment purposes only, as my bookie used to say.

First of all, I understand the thankless nature of being a substitute teacher. I’ve done it a few times. When I do it during my prep period, it’s not too bad. There’s a good chance I’ll know one or two of the students. It might even be a non-shithead! We can all dream, can’t we?

I’ve been the other kind of sub, too. The poor, poor paragon of power amidst a sea of hormonal wannabe Che Gueveras. No rapport, and even though you’re pretty sure the offensive lineman sitting in the seat that belongs to Jocelyn Nguyen, you can’t really prove it.

Some subs go the intolerant dickhead routine, writing everyone up, including poor Jocelyn for letting the quarterback be sacked last Friday. I heard about one sub that walked the entire class to the admin office. And I’m sure every single one of those students stuck around en route.

Other subs go the disinterested route. Look, I’m just here to read my book and if y’all could just create the illusion of decorum, then we can all make it through the day.

Allegedly there are substitutes who are approachable and nice and enjoyable to the students, but I’ve never seen one. But hey, if a woman can sue the state of California that Bigfoot exists, then I maybe there’s a mythical, quality substitute teacher, too. Living with Elvis and Hitler in an airplane on the moon.

There’s a reason that most teachers are loathe to take days off. Its a pain in the ass. You have to write a lesson plan that is way more detailed than a regular-day lesson plan. If I didn’t tell the kids yesterday to bring their textbooks tomorrow, then I’m going to have to find something in the nether regions of my filing cabinet, which means I have to go in or hope that the teacher next door to me can figure out my filing system in time to get something off to the copy center all while getting their own shit in order. There can’t be any direct instruction or anything beyond basic comprehension questions, and the basic comprehension questions aren’t going to take the students very long, anyway.

Plus, as noted again, it’s not like the sub is going to follow the lesson plan anyway, unless the most difficult thing they have to do is push play. Hell, pushing play ain’t as easy as it used to be with LCD projectors and external speakers and SMART Boards. So here I am, two o’clock in the morning, hoping to stave off the squirts long enough to e-mail off an exercise in futility. I might as well go into work. My usual genuflection at the altar of the porcelain god goes something like this: “It’s two a.m. If I can make it the next three hours without puking, I’m going in.”

And did I mention that unused sick days roll over and if I can bank more than 180, I can retire a year early? I’m sixteen years in with over 120 banked, so shit, howdy, guess whose students are going to be catching his Spanish flu in the morning?

Of course, sometimes a sub-plan isn’t left, or the worksheets truly are missing, and then you really do have to put on the Ferris Bueller. Having subbed, I know that the third-worst thing is having no lesson plan. Actually, I take that back.  No lesson plan is the second-worst thing a sub can encounter. The second-worst is a lesson plan that I can tell is only going to take fifteen minutes to complete. Have students do the first five vocab terms, then right in their journal about their last bowel movement. 

The worst substitute lesson plan?

“The students are working on a project. They know what to do.”

We, who are about to die, salute you.

At my school, we seem to have a new batch of subs this year that have been interesting, to say the least. There’s a new variation on the “tough ass” guy, and that’s the “I know you’re trying to get over on me.” Dude, you can’t let the kids know you fear them. It’s blood in the water and they’re one sniff away from a feeding frenzy. Add to that a little wrinkle of technophobe, and you have the hilarious recent substitute in my department, who kept screaming for the students to put their phones away because she knew they were filming her and putting her on the YouTube. The students were not doing anything of the sort. Prior to her meltdown, the substitute hadn’t been doing anything worthy of taping.

And yeah, there’s use for technology in the classroom. I can now put my assignments on Google Classroom and cut out the substitute middle man. If I were a sub, I’d love showing up and seeing “the assignment’s on Google Classroom.” As long as the first slide on Google Classroom doesn’t say “Work on Project.”

But you know what? At least, if the students have a laptop out to be on Classroom, they shouldn’t be a nuisance. If they’re occupying themselves trying to get around the district’s porn filter, the substitute is in the clear.

Hey, speaking of porn and substitutes…

And again, let me say this is all alleged and probably never even happened. I’m a wannabe fiction writer, after all. This is surely all made up.

One of the teachers in my department needed a sub last week. None of the rest of us got a good look at him, but by most accounts, he was a well-mannered twenty- or thirty-something who followed the instructions on the lesson plan. The day went off without a hitch.

Then the teacher came back.

The next morning, she was futzing around on her laptop, doing the usual e-mail checking and whatnot. When she minimized the browser, guess what was hiding behind it?

I bet you can’t guess.

Want a hint?

It starts with porn- and ends with -ography.

I was the first teacher she came to. Just kind of casually, while I’m teaching my class, she pops her head in and wants a little advice about the naked lady on her computer.

Hmm. That’s a tough one. Give her some clothes, maybe?

“Should I mention it to the principal or do you think I’ll get in trouble for it?”

Not really sure how the reporter of this particular incident would get in trouble. Would the principal think that, after working for the school for five years, she randomly decided to download a pornographic picture to her work computer and then, rather than just delete it, she reports it so nobody would suspect her? And how conveeeenient that she just happened to download said porn right after a sub day. The perfect cover! What level of inception is this?

By lunchtime, everybody knew about it. The principal told her to alert IT, but more importantly, every other teacher in my department knew about it. Of course, the rest of us are all men, and we were rather upset that she hadn’t bothered to “run it by us” before shipping it off to IT. I mean, how can we make a bona fide recommendation on a course of action without seeing the evidence? We strive to be professional and thorough!

But alas.

A few things to get out of the way first. It hadn’t been set as her wallpaper, which was my first thought of when she said it was behind her web browser. Had it been wallpaper, I would guess virus. But shit, I can’t even read fivethirtyeight.com through our web filter or update Microsoft Word without consent, so it’s hard to believe some random porn virus is making it onto her hard drive.

It also wasn’t a website. It was just a jpeg, or maybe a bitmap. I don’t know what type of file, because she didn’t show me. Or any of us. We don’t know if the model was blonde or brunette, and let’s be honest, that’s the truly lacking bit of info.

We debated if it came from a student or the substitute. Neither option looks good for the sub, by the way. He’s either walking around with a porn flash drive, or else he’s giving students unsupervised access to the teacher’s laptop. As a teacher, I’m almost more comfortable with the former.

We’re now pretty sure it was the sub. The logistics make more sense, particularly with what IT found out. The picture came from an external device at 2:06 PM. Woo-hoo! That was my guess! Looks like I know the mindset of pervs!

Also, my co-worker wasn’t off-campus that day. She was at a “leadership meeting.” I know, I know. We mock our students for ditching class but staying on campus and then we do the same thing. They don’t even serve beer at these leadership meetings! So shortly after school ended, she went back to her room. She said the substitute was fumbling around with something around her computer. In retrospect, probably taking the flash drive out and putting up the web browser to cover up the incriminating photo. This might also explain why the dumbshit didn’t REMOVE the incriminating photo. Because, let’s be honest, this wasn’t the first time he’d climbed upon this particular horse.

Come to think of it, I bet he has a picture that fits that description.

At first I found it funny. I mean, who hasn’t been in a situation where you’ve got ten minutes to spare and are pissed that there’s no porn within reaching distance? I can’t tell you how often a flash drive o’ porn would come in handy. You know, you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. Or you’re at the farmer’s market and those melons just look so scrumptious. Everyone says long walks on the beach are romantic, but what if you’re having a long walk by yourself?

Maybe this guy was just exercising his right to take a break at work. Remember back in the good old days when we had cigarette breaks? Now nobody smokes, and all of a sudden we’re tied to our cubicle until lunchtime. Those rat-bastard business owners were the culprits behind the anti-smoking campaign, because now we have no excuse to stop working once every ninety minutes to feed an addiction.

Maybe it’s time to institute the mid-morning and mid-afternoon masturbation break! Come on, you know all of those people who work from home get them, why not the rest of us? We need we get the CDC to classify porn as an addiction! Who’s with me? Show of hands! Wait, where are your hands?

The CDC classifies addictions, right? That’s why The Walking Dead started in Atlanta. The zombies are just junkies shuffling toward their next hit. I make that same groaning noise most Saturday mornings.

The more we heard about this particular story, however, the less funny it became. As the layers peeled of the onion, or the clothes of the porn star, the substitute came out like a less-polished knob.

As I mentioned, the picture appeared on the computer at 2:06 PM. What I didn’t mention was that school is over at 2:20 PM. So there were students in the room when he whipped it out of his pants. The flash drive, that is. I hope.

Maybe he was just getting it ready, hiding it behind a browser so that he could be ready to reward himself for a (hand-) job well done as soon as the students left the room. Nothing’s worse than having to wait to open windows when the urge to wank is upon you, right? I’ve heard tell of some teachers doing the same with a flask in the desk, so who am I to pick one vice over the next?

After lunch, my co-worker asked her final-period TA about the substitute the day before. “What was going on the last fifteen minutes of class? Were the students up and walking around? Was the sub out talking to them?”

“No, he was behind the desk.”

Woo hoo, I win the prize again!

“What was the substitute like?”

“He was really nice.”

So far, so good.

“He talked with me a lot. Joking around with me about stuff.”

I warned you it was going to go south, right? Because this is when it became not as funny for me.

Because what, precisely, made this guy think he absolutely could not delay seeing a naked woman while in a classroom of thirty teenagers? Was it just a rough end-of-day? Or was it one particular conversation with one underage girl? When I was thinking of it as a simple “wank at work,” it was funny. A victimless crime. But if it’s a more focused action… well, I don’t know. Huzzah for not following through on your urges, I suppose. But there are plenty of temp jobs where I’m sure he could wank away till he’s chafed raw. Then why would you become a substitute teacher, where there are always other people in the room?

Oh course, we all know the answer to that one, right?

Look, I like porn as much as the next guy. Or at least, that’s what I thought. But I’ve never carried it around on a flash drive, a twenty-first century version of pocket pool. I’ve never been so consumed to see nudity that I use another person’s computer in a room occupied by thirty teenagers. I’ve also never forgotten to take down said picture on said other-person’s computer. I mean didn’t he see the “Danger, you’re pulling out” warning when he removed the flash drive?

Or did he just think the pull-out warning was for the picture? Hey-ho! I’ll take “The Obvious Joke” for $500, Alex!

Most importantly, I’ve never spoken to a seventeen year-old girl and then felt the overwhelming urge to see a naked woman right then and right there. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. So maybe I don’t like porn as much as the next guy. And you know what? I’m perfectly fine with that.