teaching

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.

Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Part 2

It’s academic time right now.

As I write this, my daughter is sitting next to me, working through a store-bought “Kindergarten skills booklet” that appears to have been written for kindergarten skills back when I was in kindergarten (Which is edible: paste or vegetables?), not what they’re doing now. So she’s burning through these. After all, if she can burn through a Dr. Seuss book, I don’t think having her trace the a at the beginning of apple’s going to vex her much. We’ve limited her to one page a day in some books, but we still have to give her enough busy work to get through the recommended one hour of morning Academic Time before our magical robot overlord, Alexa, tells us it’s time to move on to our next time allotment.

Such is life in what I’ve dubbed Quran-geddon(tm).

Is that how trademarks work? Can I just throw a ™ after something and now I get paid if anyone else uses it? In whatever quid pro-quo replace US Dollars in the sportless future when Alexa finally tells us it’s okay to go outside.

But just bear in mind I occasionally have to help my daughter with some of these things. So if I suddenly write, “no, baby, it’s six, not five,” assume I just gave Daughter instructions that included the “fuck-stain shit sickle” intended for this post.

I haven’t checked in since last Friday, back in the nascence of this Brave New World. I picked up Daughter from daycare and told her that her school and softball and dance class were all canceled, along with that little trip to Disneyland we had planned for this week. Then she and I spent about 72 hours in line at the grocery store in order to buy seven items, because the rest of the world was purchasing the entire store. The only thing they weren’t buying at that time was corned beef. So I figured I’d wait and come back after the weekend to buy that.

Oops.

To be fair to the hoarders, that’s totally on me, and I should know better than to wait until March 16 to buy corned beef. Although usually there’s a shit-ton of it, even on the 18th when I can buy it on sale.

My second foray to the grocery store showed some some through-lines from the previous trip and some anomalies. There seems to be a run on meat, in many ways the most perishable of items. My local store has filled up most of their meat refrigerators with salami packs, spread out so as to appear like there’s variety, in lieu of the normal beef and chicken and pork.

People are fucking horrible at hermitage. Why aren’t they buying the stuff that doesn’t go bad after a few days? They probably think they’re living off the grid by running a VPN while having their Google Maps giving them directions.

Bread and tortillas also seemed to be in shorter supply on Monday than they had been on Friday. Flour was gone, but sugar was there. Thank God there doesn’t seem to be a run on coffee or beer. All the beans were gone, too. Not sure if that’s a great idea for people with limited toilet paper options.

My family made it through the rainy weekend, but only through inertia. You know it’s bad when the parents are begging the child to watch Frozen II just one more time and the child’s not having it.

We broke the not-then-official quarantine both days. In fact, I’ve left the house for something or other pretty much every day. Usually it’s just a visit to a store or to get some take-out, and it’s substantially less than it would’ve been on normal stay-at-home days. Saturday we hit the bookstore to get the aforementioned workbooks. I also found a cool Marvel Comics 1000 dot-to-dot book. That’s for Papa while Baby works on her minuscule 20 dot-to-dots. Holy crap, they take a long time! “Daddy, I’ve already done, like, five and you’re only at, what, three-fifty?”

We also went to a furniture store to finally buy a desk we’ve been eyeing for a while. The vulturous salespeople there are annoying on a regular visit, hovering behind a nearby pillar at all times, ready to pounce with a “Can I help you with anything? Would you like to borrow my tape-measure? Here’s my card. You can call me even though I’ll never be more than six feet away.” They knew social distancing long before social distancing was a thing.

We knew going in that, with both the rain and the Quaran-geddon(tm) diminishing the quantity of customers, the salespeople would be even more omnipresent than usual. We braced ourselves and it still wasn’t enough. We finally glommed onto one just to ward off the other vampires. But their pheromones must not be working, because when she went to go check on something, they descended. Her tape-measure did nothing to ward the hordes off. All is fair in love, war, and commission jobs right before an economic meltdown.

Sunday we went to Michael’s to get more things to occupy Daughter and Best Buy to look at laptops for me. I thought about buying a Nintendo Switch, but they were sold out. I almost bought a PlayStation 4, but I’ve held out this long and the 5 is on the horizon. Fortunately I held firm, although I’m still wavering because “MLB: The Show 20” might be the only sport action I’ll be seeing for a while.

As an aside, I’m worried that MLB is one of the arbiters of when we get to go back to normal. The last time we shut down sports was for 9/11. The NFL canceled its games the following Sunday, and baseball dithered about when it should start up. One week later? Ten days? Then the NFL said they’d return the following Sunday and MLB followed suit the next day. Unfortunately, there is no NFL to act as the leader this time. Maybe the NHL will start up for the playoffs. But if not, it’s all on the MLB, and they aren’t known for being proactive. Last I heard they’re looking at June. That’s totally going to fuck up Mike Trout’s chance to win the all-time WAR title by the end of his career. I know: priorities!

Why isn’t MLB playing? It’s the only sport where players don’t regularly come in contact with each other. Social distancing? Take a look at the real estate between the average right fielder and center fielder. The only time they’re close to each other is when they’re in the dugout, but if there are no fans in attendance, they can just spread out in the first three or four rows of the stands. And they could play all day games because it’s not like any of us are at work. They’d make a killing on TV ratings.

Back to the present, I just had an argument with my daughter about an orange crayon. Because the first orange crayon I gave her to circle all the fucking words that start with an s wasn’t orange enough. It was too yellow. Looked orange enough to me, but that’s coming from a high school history teacher, not a kindergarten teacher. When did World War II start? Kinda sorta 1939, if you’re counting the main European conflict, but it wasn’t until 1941 that all of the major actors came in, with Operation Barbarossa in the summer and Pearl Harbor in December. Of course, the Pacific Theater could have been going on as early as 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

So don’t ask a fucking history teacher what “orange” is.

This has been my life this week. We’re using one of those charts that have been circulating online. One hour of “academic time” followed by one hour of “creative time.” There’s some outside time sprinkled in throughout the day, plus breaks for lunch and chores and quiet or reading time. I usually try to engage in whatever she’s doing, both for solidarity’s sake and to help stick to a routine myself. Of course, I don’t know if what I do counts as academic or creative. Most days, it’s probably neither. But the online time charts don’t put time aside for masturbatory self-flagellation.

It’s not like I can lesson plan during academic time. Well, I could, but by the time the hour was up, it would already be obsolete. The governor says schools are closed for the year and, I shit you not, I received an e-mail from my district the following morning saying, “That’s certainly his opinion.” And now it looks like the AP Test that my students have rightfully been freaking out about is going to change as well. Two separate test dates and they won’t cover anything from the twentieth century. So all of that nineteenth century remote learning I was working on can be stretched out. Plus the AP test will be online now, which means the motivated kids will spend the next six weeks trying to devise ways to cheat instead of studying for the exam. So there goes my pass rate.

I also liked how quickly the e-mails changed over the course of last weekend. Up until Saturday, it seemed like every company wanted to tell me how clean they were. They’ve been scrubbing every surface inside every business. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer might be things of the past, but there’s enough Lemon Pledge for every company, and then some. And when I say “every company,” holy crap! I didn’t even know I had done business with half these guys. How do they have my e-mail address? Has the government just provided every company with everybody’s e-mail address? It’s not like there are civil liberties or privacy anymore, so who cares what the government with our personal information?

Then on Sunday morning, all of the e-mails quickly switched from “look how clean we are” to “hey, we’ll deliver!” My favorite 180 came from Twin Peaks. If you aren’t aware of it, it’s one of those “breastaurants” whose main reason for existence is to see scantily-clad women. Oh, and maybe get some food. Think of Hooters and then take away 60% of each server’s clothing. Although to be fair to Twin Peaks, their food is substantially better than Hooters.

On Friday, Twin Peaks wanted me to know that all of their bikini-wearing servers will be on their hands and knees, polishing knobs during each shift. Wait, that might have come out wrong. They were cleaning everything, is what I meant to say. The message didn’t make me feel much better. In a standard restaurant, I only have to worry about the servers’ hands being clean. At Twin Peaks, ninety percent of their skin is touching everything. Fortunately, they did the economy-wide switch on Sunday. Turns out they deliver. But again, the food’s not their selling point. Customers aren’t missing the french fries, but rather the French maid outfits. And if the Doordash dude shows up wearing bikini bottoms, those fries aren’t going taste very good.

My county wasn’t on stay at home orders until yesterday morning. Then last night, the governor, who thinks he’s the most wonderful specimen of humanity and way smarter than everybody else, put the entire state on lockdown. A dictatorship is okay, after all, if the dictator is dashingly handsome and, let’s face it, better than you. Silly me, thinking we had freedom of assembly.

There seems to be some sort of distinction between “Stay at Home” and “Shelter in Place.” I’m not sure which is which, but the cities and counties have tended to start with one and then go to the other. Maybe one of them is a suggestion and the other is a mandate? I also have no idea which one the state of California is doing. We can still go to get food or medicine. And the good news is that beer is considered food.

I’ve actually taken my growler to my favorite local brewery to be refilled once, and I’m planning to go back. We’re also eating takeout for lunch more often than we need to. Because I’m on salary and I want these places to still be in business if we ever come out the other end of this. What’s the point of the checks that the federal government’s going to send out if there’s noplace left to spend it? Maybe that $1,000 will go to purchasing one roll of toilet paper on eBay.

Can’t wait to see the effect these lockdowns have on things like probable cause. Can a cop pull me over because I’m driving on the freeway? Do I have to make up some “essential” business I’m on my way to? I can’t give him the real answer, which is that that I’ve been stuck teaching academic time to a five-year old and wanted to listen to a grown-up podcast, which I’m way behind on because I don’t have a commute anymore.

We’re also allowed to go out to walk the dog or get exercise. If I don’t have a dog, can the cop arrest me if I don’t seem to be getting my heart into the cardio zone? “Come on, pansy, you call that exercise?”

Scratch that. The cops don’t need to catch you. Sacramento County just came out with an edict to call 311 if we see other people breaking their stay at home orders. Neighbors ratting out their neighbors. Getting more and more Stalin-y by the day.

I’ve got other things to say, but I think I need to flesh out a few thoughts. Better to post it here.

At least the rain isn’t coming back till Monday.

Honest Opinions Elsewhere

The place I take my car for repair has a strange ranking system. They explain it when I’m picking up my car.

“Hey, my pay is dependent upon your reviews. I only get a bonus if you give me all tens and yeses.”

Um, okay. I mean, thanks for telling me that. Because otherwise I might’ve thought of the ranking system as, I don’t know, a way to provide your employer with feedback, instead of just a rubber stamp to give you some extra scratch.

It happened again when I stayed at an airbnb. “The company sees anything other than a 5 out of 5 as a failure and will hurt my search results.”

Do these people and companies not realize the purpose of a ranking system? Do they want my honest feedback on things relating to the service that can be improved, or do they want a guilt-ridden blow job?

Ah shit, man, you quoted me an hour but it ended up taking three. But if I list that as a seven out of ten, then your kid might go hungry. If you have a kid. I don’t know. You didn’t really make a personal connection. Wait, shouldn’t I be the one getting the blow job?

And I don’t necessarily want to fault the employees pleading for my rating. They’ve been put in an awkward position by their employer and/or service provider.They kinda have to give me a heads up that these rating systems don’t work like normal rating systems. I’m a teacher, after all, and in my mind, a 9 out of 10 is an A-. It’s a pretty solid result. Far above average. Almost perfect but not quite. Maybe throw in a blow job next time.

But if the entity that receives the rating is going to consider a 9 the same way they would a 1, then it’s fair to give us graders a warning about that. Because now if I think they gave me a 9, I might as well just give them a 1. Right? Is that the way this is supposed to work?

Although by guilting us into tens, we cease to become graders, right?

And herein lies my problem with this system. If anything other than a 10 is a failure, then why am I even providing a ranking? Don’t make me rank things on a scale of 1-10 if there are only two options.Ask me yes or no questions. Give me a pass/fail option. “Did your support provider offer oral copulation? Yes/No.”

Because what’s the point of a ranking system? One would think it’s a chance for a company to know what things it does well and what things could be improved upon. At the car dealership, I do legitimately get annoyed at the wait times they quote. They always quote on the low side. It’s gotten to the point where I just add 30% to whatever they say. Quote me an hour, I’ll be here eighty minutes. Tell me it’s going to be a couple hours, I might as well go to lunch. Three to four hours? It’ll be ready at the end of the day.

Is this misquoting a deal breaker? Obviously not. I’ve gone there often enough to be able to convert it quickly in my head. So I’ve at least used them more often than I’ve used the metric system. But do they deserve a ten if I brought an hour’s worth of work to do and I’ve now been twiddling my thumbs watching the episode of Maury that’s turned up way too loud in the customer waiting area? No, they don’t. Personally, I’d probably give them a 7 or an 8, but dude’s just told me that anything less than a 10 is seen the same as a 1. So my options are to be a complete dick and take food out of his mouth or else not give them some legitimate feedback that would help improve their experience.

It’s no wonder they keep quoting the wrong times. Nobody’s ever bothered to tell them it’s annoying. Nobody’s ever given them a B with constructive feedback.

After all, isn’t that what reviews are supposed to be for? I used to wait tables and I considered the tip as a dialogue between me and my customers as to how my service was. Unless the customers were Russian or ordered thousand island dressing. Because those people always tip poorly. But everyone else? I sure as shit never had to tell them that if they weren’t able to tip me 20% they might as well tip me zero.

I ran into the same problem with the airbnb. Was the place fine? Yeah, it was fine. Would I stay there again? Probably, depending on what else was available. Was it the Shangri-fucking-la? No, it wasn’t.

The two upstairs bedrooms at this house didn’t have their own bathrooms. Meaning I had to trudge my ass down some rickety stairs, probably waking the entire house, in the middle of the night to take a leak. Sure, I could’ve drank less before going to bed, but what’s the point of vacationing if you’re not going to drink?

Also, while we didn’t use the “fourth bedroom,” the person sleeping there would have to go through the room I was in to get to the stairs to get to the bathroom. We ended up taking the air mattress out of that room and let the kids sleep in the living room downstairs. Because the kids were there with their parents. And the bed in the room next door to the air mattress room upstairs only had a double bed. Not the best arrangement.  Not a 5 out of 5.

I know there’s nothing they can feasibly do about access to bathrooms upstairs. I certainly don’t blame the owners for this fact. But at the same time, it’s a fair thing to mention in a review, right? It’s probably something worth noting in a review so that other people booking it know that whoever’s staying in the two upstairs bedrooms better be okay holding their bladder long enough to trudge down some stairs in the dark.

But the owners seemed very nice. They were super polite in every interaction I had with them. They even told me they gave ME a good review as a tenant. I didn’t even know that was a thing. Not sure what I could’ve done to be a bad tenant. Clearly they aren’t one of those apocryphal airbnb owners who set up video cameras or they would’ve known we moved their air mattress. And they would’ve known what I did to their bathroom after a night of drinking. Or maybe they’re selling that footage to some fetish site, and they’re telling the other airbnb owners that I’m a cash cow.

Cash cow is also the name for what I left in their toilet. Look for me this week on SomeDudeTakingADump.com

So, again, I’m left with a quandry. I don’t think the place is a 5 out of 5. But the owners seemed nice. So now I have to decide if I want to give a heads up to future travelers via a legitimate review or give a fluff job to the owners.

Instead, I do the same thing I do at the car dealership. I don’t give a review at all.

The Libra in me can’t handle the two sides. I’m sure my students wish I would do the same. Give them an A or don’t give them a grade at all. Turn all of education into a pass/fail system. Although it’s not even pass/fail, it’s brilliance/fail. And really, they told you the consequences, so it’s a “they’re brilliant/I’m a dick” scale.

Apps work the same way, especially games. I notice they want you to rank them early, like when you’re still going through the tutorial. When the game still seems fresh and interesting. They don’t want your review after the game’s grown stale. They also say, “If you’re enjoying this, give us a five-star review.” But in my world, if I merely “like” something, it’s a 4-star, not a 5-star review. Maybe even three. Five stars denotes over the top. Exceptional. The difference between an A and a B.

Goodreads has a good system. If you hover over the stars, they list a 3-star review as “liked it,” a 4-star as “really liked it,” and a 5-star as “it was amazing.” They even have 2-star as “it was okay.” That seems a bit nice. I think of two stars as “Meh.” Or maybe three stars is “Meh” and two stars is “I tolerated it.”

I give two stars to a book that I finished, but didn’t really like. One star, what Goodreads classifies as “didn’t like it,” is usually reserved for books I didn’t finish. Although there was one book that was hovering around two stars, but when I finished it, the ending was so bad that I dropped it to a one star. That was probably a book that I should’ve given up on.

So not every book on Goodreads is either a 5 or a 1. But people still seem to treat it that way. I’m amazed at how many five-star reviews  write about all the problems that they had with the book. Others give a three-star review, then gush about how wonderful the book is. I can only assume those people’s ranking systems have been ruined by the likes of car dealerships and airbnb. None of us feel safe giving our honest opinion. Someone, somewhere is liable to get killed if we do.

Either that or the author was giving them a blowjob.

So here’s a ransom note. The Wombat and his entire family have been kidnapped. A gun is pointed at their heads. Anything other than a five-star review of this blog post will result in some pistol-whipping and hari kiri immolation. Oh, did I not mention there was a sword there, too? No? Well tough shit, you can’t mention in the review that the plot kept changing.

What’s that? There aren’t stars to review on this site? Only a like or dislike button? Wait, there’s no dislike button? So you can either like it or don’t do anything? Wow, this is just like every other review system. Either tell me you like me or don’t say shit at all.

Your wait time should be about ten minutes.

No honest opinions, please.

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.

 

 

Teacher’s Anonymous

Hello. My name is the Wombat. And I’m a teacher.

Whew. That felt good. Admission in the first step.

I’ve been teaching for… (let’s see, take off a shoe to keep counting)… thirteen years now.

Why did I start teaching? Boy, that’s a loaded question. I mean, who can ever really remember that last thought of sobriety before your world changed?

But that’s why organizations like Teacher’s Anonymous exist. If any group needs anonymity more than alkies, it’s us, right? Shoot, you see a guy with multiple DUI’s in a bar, you roll your eyes and think, “poor guy can’t beat the sauce, let’s call him a cab.” You see a teacher in that same bar, you wag your finger at him and scold, “Shouldn’t you be setting a better example?”

Hell, even a guy with a sarcastic blog needs to call himself the Writing Wombat.

But I’ve been spending more time around new teachers and future teachers, and it’s got me trying to think back,  to peel back the fifteen rings off of the tree. Or the onion, as the case may be.

  1. Time off.

Next Monday, I won’t have to get my ass out of bed unless I want to. Same with the day after and pretty much every day for the next two weeks. And then I’ll repeat that in March. And did I mention June and July?

Any teacher who says our vacation doesn’t factor into their decision to teach is a liar. After sixteen or more years of getting two weeks off every Christmas and a couple of months free throughout the year, everyone faces that “moment of clarity” when they get a real job.

“What do you mean I have to work Christmas Eve? AND the day after? Oh hell, no. Is there something I can do to get those three months off again? Teach, you say? Yeah, hook me up with some of that.”

Then again, we’re not allowed to take time off when we want to, like normal human beings. So let’s toast to round two.

  1. Autonomy.

My class, my rules. Yeah, I can get used to that really quick.

I still have to teach. I still need to make sure school rules and general decorum are enforced.

But it’s not the cubicle world I had known before taking the plunge. No boss walking by every few minutes because he has nothing better to do than micro-manage.  In my mid-twenties, I had a few jobs that fit the Office Space mold perfectly. Have I worked for some Lumberghs in education, too? Of course. There might be more of those smug, un-self-aware, horrible idea-spouting bastards per capita in education than any other professions. “Hey, I taught one year of PE before becoming an administrator, but I think you should teach World War II before World War I.”

But at a high school, I don’t have to see these yahoos as much. A typical high school has two-thousand students, one hundred teachers, and maybe fifty other staff. Overseeing that is a principal, and maybe two or three assistant or vice principals. Doing the math (damn, I have to take my shoes off again), each administrator has about six hundred people that they are in charge of, five hundred of which have the tendency to pull fire alarms and sneak spliffs in the bathroom from time to time.

So, as long as I am professional, teach my students, and have a track record of success, I don’t have to constantly deal with someone telling me they don’t like the way I wipe my ass.

You’ve never had a boss comment on your defecation technique? Just me? Hmm.

  1. Sage on the stage.

I know we’re not supposed to teach this way anymore, and I usually don’t stand in front of the class and blah, blah, blah for a full 58 minutes. But it cannot be denied that the teacher is the foremost expert on most of the content and skills that are on display in any given classroom. Power is an aphrodisiac, and knowledge is power. String enough pithy clichés together, and you get close to understanding what it’s like to stand in front of the room of students. You’re the medieval noble and clergy all rolled into one. That’s two of the three Estates! But unlike ancien regime France, they ain’t no Robespierre and this ol’ Marie Antoinette ain’t eatin’ no nuthafuckin’ cake.

Did I mention I teach history, not English?

  1. Creation.

Come to think of it, comparing myself to a petty nobleman or medieval Pope is selling what I do short. What I do is nothing less than the creation and maintenance of an entire worldly ecosystem. Yeah, baby! Crush that up and feel it coursing through your veins. If I want to teach the Cuban Missile Crisis as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure wherein three-quarters of my subjects (ahem, “students”) start World War III?  Done. A 20-minute abridgement of The Matrix to convey Plato’s Cave? No problem. A March Madness bracket to determine the most important person in European history? I do it every year. And the minions are always tricked into a debate over economic systems when Karl Marx “happens to” run into Adam Smith in the Elite Eight every year, never knowing that their benevolent dictator had that match-up all along.

Oh, and Class of ’14, who had the audacity to put Otto von Bismarck past Joseph Stalin into the finals? I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger, and you will know I am THE LORD…

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, the scope and sequence of content. Planning the short-term and long-term goals so that they coincide and build together. Looking back over what worked before and what needs to be tweaked. Finding the happy medium between content and delivery.

There are some that don’t seem to enjoy this process. “Yeah, I just have them do a graphic organizer out of the book. I don’t really have anything to add to that.” Really? Then why the hell did you become a teacher? For the grading? Are you one of those alcoholics that only drinks for the hangover?

  1. Entertainment. I’ve got 150 potential sources of hilarity every day. And if I bring some grading home with me, maybe mix in an adult beverage, and I can’t help but guffaw. There will be a forthcoming blog entry with some of the best answers I’ve ever gotten. That post will be why I have to remain anonymous.

Think back to high school. Remember how all-consuming it was? Remember how you had all of the answers to any question life could throw at you? Remember thinking you were pulling one over on your teacher? But when you look back now you realize that he or she was barely holding back incredulous laughter? Yeah, take all of that, but subtract out the drama of teenage angst. And the acne. And the cool kids reminding you of the time you put your pants on backwards in third grade.

That’s teaching. Every year, you get the same kids. They change their names, but they look and act the same. Hell, I’ll have a goofball sit in the exact same seat that his doppelganger sat in two years ago. And he’s shocked, SHOCKED, that I’m always ready with a comeback.

“Hey Mr. Wombat, did you miss me yesterday?”

“You were absent?”

“Yeah, what did we do?”

“Oh, yesterday was the party. Too bad you missed it.”

So there you have it. Five reasons for the twelve step process in my thirteenth year of teaching. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go complain about having to work for four WHOLE more days before having ONLY two weeks off.