If there is a bear in your house, you are rich.

Gatsby conversation.

This is the point in The Great Gatsby unit where I pull up Zillow and go “house shopping” on the Gold Coast of Long Island where the novel takes place because my students and I have a spare 45 million to spend. This is meant to illustrate the extravagant wealth of our characters and it’s fun. For 13.8 million we can buy a plot of land on Gatsby Lane, but everyone will have to bring tents. Indoor and outdoor pools were the norm. We found an indoor basketball court. One house had an insane 14 bathrooms which we determined was two weeks worth of pooping.

We were talking about redecorating—because for 9.8 million that plaid carpet had to go!—and bearskin rugs. One student strongly advocated for leaning into the retro carpet and adding a bearskin rug with the head on it. Amazing.

Student (not the redecorator) stating with great authority: “If you have a bear in your house, you’ve gotta be rich,.”

Me joyfully shrieking: ” I HAVE A BEAR IN MY HOUSE! HE’S IN MY KITCHEN. I’M RICH!”

Student clarifying that, no no, I needed more than the head although they agreed that Maury was nice and appreciated that he came with a hat.

Miles knows Maury is a sign of great wealth.

I was going to do so many ridiculous things…

At first this whole school closing thing felt like an impending snow day. The storm was coming, we knew it was going to be serious, but there was still that slightly contained giddiness of “Holy shit! I’m gonna get to sleep in!” There was no way they were going shut us down, maybe we’d get an extra week tagged on to spring break. But shut down? No way.

Then within the space of about 45 minutes from the governor’s decision to the official district email, they shut us down on a Friday the 13th no less.

Briefly, unrealistically, time opened up and I was going to do so many ridiculous things. It was going to be hiking and new restaurants with Bloody Marys.

Unfortunately, it rained 3 inches overnight and created flash flooding, and restaurants are now only allowed to offer carry out or delivery. No sitting and enjoying.

A new tattoo sounded like a good use of time. Maybe some bees around some existing flowers. Nope. On the 18th they shut down all hair and nail salons, and tattoo parlors.

Ok. Cats. What about adopting another cat since I am now going to be home for an extended period? I mean I can’t really take a new cat to the vet because my vet is only doing virtual check ups or hand offs in the parking lot. However all of my favorite shelters have closed to visitors unless there was an adoption already in the works. Probably for the best.

Birdie says that there are more than enough cats on these sheets.

I also have an overwhelming urge to buy toilet paper, but clearly that’s not happening.

Back in the good old days of March 12 when Target still had paper towels at the end of the aisle.

The reality is that time hasn’t really opened up. When I wake up at 3 am to go pee, my brain starts making lists and running what-if scenarios. Which might be part of the explanation for why I-on total going to work auto pilot- backed my car into my garage door as enthusiastically as possible. I self-isolated by trapping myself and my vehicle in the garage.

We got out, but I’ve put in as many hours this week as normal setting up e-Learning and trying to wrap my head around how to move forward in an engaging way when none of my instructional cat videos will load to our online classroom! Our tech people are on it; they’ve had the lion’s share of organizing, building, and teaching the teachers.

I can’t complain that I get to keep working when that is not the case for so many. I’m not sick and I don’t know anyone who is…yet. But I did cancel my normal spring break time when I would have been hanging out with MomBert because I was increasingly paranoid about infecting her as well as the looming possibility of a state wide or national lockdown. These cats won’t feed themselves.

Meanwhile my students are looking at a blackhole for the end of their school year. Spring quarter at a high school is an unending shit show of state testing, awards ceremonies for every group in existence, Senior-itis at its peak, prom, and graduation. Very few of those things are projected to happen now. They may end up with a certificate in the mail and a gathering of 10 people or less to celebrate unless those get outlawed.

At least when the weather changes, I might be able to practice some social distancing with a hike.

******By the way this was supposed to be a light, jokey post about how all my trivial plans were systematically shut down by the government, but that went sideways about as quickly as a quarantine order. Sorry.

I don’t see an expiration date

My extensive artistic works, spanning decades.

While I was home visiting during spring break, MomBert guilted me in to going through two huge tubs of crap which mostly dated from my high school experience. I have no urges to revisit high school, but apparently I don’t rate unlimited storage in her closet. I did make a dent, but only got it down to a crate and a half. Based on the contents of my gigantic scrapbooks, I might have some hoarding tendencies. I saved it all! I think asking why would require a whole other post,and a therapist’s assistance.

However I did discover two amazing things that had me laughing. After graduation, I went on one of those pre-planned educational tours –much like the one several of my students are on this week-with my French teacher and several classmates. In among every brochure I never needed to save from the trip, was the handwritten note from MomBert giving me permission to drink! (It was 1992! This is a no-no today.)

There’s no expiration date so I’m taking this as permission for life! Thanks, Mom. Did that!

I also discovered that as a toddler I had the sight, but only in regards to cheesy 70’s art. There was a small spiral notebook filled with cut out and pasted magazine images that must have appealed to little me. MomBert said we spent a lot of time cutting and pasting. There were plenty of cats and outdoors pictures including a classy cigarette ad of guys smoking while roughhousing with colts. However the page that got me yelling across the house featured an embroidery owl that hangs in my kitchen from our latest antiques road trip last summer.

Do not doubt my powers!

Hell is — high school English

We’re getting ready to read the play No Exit which means establishing a basic understanding of existentialism.

Hell is— trying to explain existentialism to high school seniors. I’ve never done well with philosophy myself. Life has meaning, but is completely pointless. Well, fuck.

I told them that my clearest memory from Philosophy 101 was a T-shirt my professor wore at least once a week. It had a Groucho Marx quote on it: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” Good stuff.

They survived a visual demonstration of the Allegory of the Cave so we could totally tackle Sartre and Camus, right?

One Hank Green Crash Course video on existentialism later, and half the class made the finger gun gesture to their heads. Solid start.

Honestly, I was a little concerned that some of them might immediately latch on to ideas within existentialism. I mean, Hank Green is telling them that only they can create meaning in their lives regardless of what authority figures like teachers and parents want them to do. We just want them to graduate, but that idea sounds like a built in excuse to get high and do nothing. Suddenly they’ve discovered their essence; they’re all existentialists!

I had them holster their finger guns and we tried some guided notes to simplify.

1. Existence before essence. You’re born and then you figure it out. Only YOU can determine your essence/passion/purpose/importance in life and prevent forest fires. This basically sounds like 3/4 of today’s high school curriculum. We spend so much time trying to reflect on you-iest version of you. Find your path. Group hug.

2. We are condemned to be free. Sounds good, right?! Unfortunately, it means that we are free to make millions of minute choices-turn left vs right, set your alarm for 6 am instead of 6:01am, have the chicken instead of the fish- and suffer the consequences of all those choices. No matter what it’s your fault, kids. I am their daily dose of sadness. The finger guns were back.

I accidentally demonstrated the third point through a classroom supply mishap. I gave everyone a half sheet of paper and told them they had 5 minutes to draw me a picture of Hell, knowing that their drawings would lead to a discussion of archetypal imagery: flames, devils and pitchforks, oh my.img_4504

They started digging into the perpetually dried up marker box for just the right shades of Hades. It doesn’t matter that our department orders a few boxes of new markers every year, I think they send us dry, uncapped markers with the colors picked over from the start.

Within a few seconds, a cry went up.

“THERE’S NO RED! IT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT COLOR IN HELL!”

And here concludes our intro to existentialism.

3. Life is absurd. The final downer for the day is that “absurd” means pointless and meaningless. All those choices? Whatevs. Draw Hell with red markers or don’t. Same same.

There are no red markers. Enjoy drawing Hell, Sisyphus. Insert maniacal laugh here.

(I can’t even plan shit like this.)

I’ll leave this here just as my high school French teacher would after reading The Stranger.

Dear Oreo

Dear Oreo,

You’ve never been my favorite cookie. I’m sorry if that’s hard to hear.

You’re no Nutter Butter, but you’re cheap, generally a known entity, and you’ll do in a pinch. When it comes to pumping teenagers full of sugar, your “2 for whatever” pricing is an easy answer. My publication staff can tell when I’ve been grocery shopping because I’ll randomly show up to class with two packs of Oreos. This elevates me to benevolent overlord/ goddess in one bite. Their constant state of overly dramatic starvation is my excuse to try your new and sometimes questionable flavors.

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These flavors were mostly not gag inducing although the salted caramel was a bit fake tasting, and I still have no clue what the Hell cookie butter is supposed to be.

This year, we’ve elevated our Oreo tasting status to something less like a shark feeding frenzy and more like wine tasting.

For the recent Mystery Oreo campaign, I bought a pack without telling them what we were doing. My theory was that outside stimuli or verbalizing would influence the tasting process… and we could really use $50,000.

Everyone got  a post-it note to respond on, I turned out the classroom lights and pulled up a candle with soothing music on the iPad. Technology! We sat in a circle and I talked them through some incredibly dorky yoga breathing, and “mind clearing.” No one was allowed to talk. In fact, there was to be no talking until everyone had thoroughly sampled a mystery Oreo and written down a response. They did amazingly well. This was serious business.

My adult palate registered hints of poison, some type of cough syrup I’ve thrown up before, and fake oranges. They tasted Fruit Loops.

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These are not okay. Do not put them in your mouth.

Now when the 2-for packs show up, they sample them thoughtfully. Taking time to nibble the creamy filling, and sniff the cookies, as they stand around talking about the hints of flavors they’re sensing.

Perhaps this has all become more serious because we vote on our “would you ever purchase this flavor again” choice. Sometimes it’s a case of the lesser evil. For example, they were okay with apple pie even after the initial smell impact, but I voted blueberry pie because, in spite of its disturbing color, it had LESS fake flavor to it. However they did NOT finish either pack which is unusual for them.

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So, my dear Oreo, your tiny audience has concluded two things:

One, we hate the “graham flavored cookie.” Stick with chocolate or vanilla.

Two, you weren’t meant for most fruit flavored fillings. Traditional creme, birthday cake, chocolate, maybe mint or lemon if you’re feeling adventurous.

Until you come to this realization with us, we’ll keep taking the dare that is your current trend.

 

What?

“What?”

(But hear my voice -or Samuel L. Jackson’s– when you come wandering into my classroom with time on your hands while I’m staring at the computer wondering who needs strangled next.)

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His Samuel L. Jackson impersonation.

Tomorrow is the last day of school. It has been a glorious and terrible week of exhaustion, panic (failing students panicking, not me), and universal done-ness. Tomorrow my colleagues will have an adult meeting with adult beverages and ramble on about their own done-ness.

I am not done.

If I can get the publication kids done, that’s a positive step, but that rarely happens in time for attending the adult meeting.

I am never done.

Miles and I will just leave this here. Whoever wrote it didn’t get the quote quite right, but it is my favorite desktop graffiti. Found during yearbook camp– yes, that’s a thing- that I attend and teach at during the summer.

Just another sign of my not done-ness.

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“Say ‘what’ again. I dare you.”

Trending This Week: Imaginary Conversations

On trend this week are imaginary conversations that students have had with me.

I have a lot of imaginary conversations in my head, usually in stressful situations. Often in anticipation of angry; awkward; uncomfortable; or hard, but necessary conversations. My family, students, colleagues, and friends all tear shit up in my head on a regular basis. This crap keeps me up at night.

That and recently this Britney Spears song because of the Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.

I field my fair share of student created lies, but this week just got a little weird.

Disclaimer: The following imaginary conversations are based  on real imaginary conversations that “really” happened on some plain of existence. The contents of these real imaginary conversations have been altered to protect someone, most likely imaginary. Probably not me. “Reasonable deniability.”

Imaginary Conversation 1: (Remember these are altered…mostly.)

Student 1:”OH-MUH-GAWD, Throgdor texted me last period like yelling at me, and she said that she told you she was quitting bunny petting duty and that I had to give her my acorns!”

Me: “Throgdor and I did NOT have  a conversation about her quitting bunny petting duty. I had the same acorn supply conversation with her as I had with you.”

Student 1:”Well, that’s what she said, and the text was really screamy.”

Me: “Please text Throgdor and tell her that the bunny petting/acorn supply schedule has been posted, and that she should see me for further issues. ”

Later that day when she came to see me, Throgdor denied all screamy texting, could not account for the alleged bunny petting conversation she supposedly had with me, was told she would have to deal with her own acorn supply, and said “Ok” a lot while giving me crazy side-eye and edging away.

**Just in case you think I’m Throgdor biased, I’ve known Student 1 longer and Throgdor has been really sketchy as of late. 

***If you are considering reproducing, please keep in mind that it takes  a cold day in Hell for most teens to fully fess up to any bullshit they have pulled.They are psychotically committed to the lie.

Imaginary Conversation 2: 

Student 2: yelling at me during my lunch which should be quiet grown up time, but never is except for Zombie Tuesdays (A colleague and I discuss The Walking Dead on Tuesdays.)

“DID YOU THROW AWAY MY FLASK OF WARM URINE!”

Me: “Yes, I did.”

Student 2: “I specifically told you not to throw that away!”

Me: “We did NOT have a conversation about your flask of warm urine.”

Student 2: grumbling “Well, I told Throgdor not to throw it away!”

Me: “I am not Throgdor.”

Student 2: “Well, I was going to drink that!”

Me: “Well, I’m going to remind you…again…that when I found half drunk flasks of warm urine sitting around the mortuary, I’m going to throw them away. You don’t live here.”

***My work space is often mistaken for students’ homes where yelling at grown ups, walking on furniture, and leaving all manner of partially consumed sustenance laying about is apparently okay. 

Imaginary Conversation 3: 

This one came in the form of an email to all of the student’s teachers- that’s me!- from…let’s say…the student’s “life coach”/keeper.

Dear colleagues,

You are getting this email because Throgdor showed me a work log today that allegedly all of you signed. Oddly enough, all of your signatures are identical and none of you made note of any homework assignments or missing assignments.

Throgdor swears by the Great Sword of Melmack that this is legit, and, really, isn’t the point that Throgdor take care of this record on Throgdor’s own?

I pressed Throgdor to email all of you individually and at that point Throgdor broke, admitting that this was an “old” work log.

Throgdor sorry now.

***Note that Throgdor never copped to badly forging all the signatures. It was just an old log. Damn it, Throgdor.

The Real Conversation:

I know that all the conversations I have with my cats are real. I’m pretty sure I can trust that. Sure they don’t make a ton on sense, but no one is lying about anything so that’s nice.

Cats:”We’re starving!!!”

Me: “I love you bunches.”

Cats:”Mousie? Where’s mousie?

Me: “I want to give you hugs.”

Cats:”OMG! Over there! No over there!”

Me: “You guys are silly.”

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Mousie!

 

 

 

Sometimes Black Outs Work

It’s another day when I’ve walked with one student‘s incredibly STUPID decisions on my mind. One glass of white wine has helped somewhat. Two and I might as well go to bed ASAP.
So I’m now trying to focus more on the student who happily surprised me today.
Every year around this time, the school staff gets a “senior at risk” list. The risks could involve standardized tests that need passed, attendance issues, the absolute need to pass one class, or the absolute need to pass every class ever created. We are asked to “adopt” one or two of the little critters from the color coded list.
I am now the proud mother of a code green-light monitoring– and a code red- holy fucking shit what has this kid been doing for four years?! Green went to OGT tutoring today. Mom is proud. However Red really wowed me.
Red has passed all the standardized tests, but needs to pass every class ever created including mine. I’ve had Red in class for two years. We have an ok relationship; Red is likable, but the kid is NOT academically motivated. Combine ADD with an inability to look away from Twitter, an extremely laid back (practically horizontal) approach to everything, and a whole lot of weed being smoked. This kid, sigh. Somewhere all the citizens of Colorado, Snoop Dogg, and the ghost of Bob Marley are like, “I sense a disturbance in the force!”

However, Red occasionally blacks out and gets shit done. Other teachers don’t believe me, but it’s like the scene in Old School when Will Ferrell’s character blacks out and totally beats the real James Carville in a political debate. It’s a rare and magical event, but I bear witness to it. 

One of the many things on Red’s to-do list towards graduation is the senior project. These projects can be practically anything a student wants to do. The proposal that Red submitted was going to be a food blog about going vegetarian for a certain amount of time. In typical Red fashion, the due date has passed. Also in typical Red fashion, there is lots of swearing that it’s practically done.
I saw Red at the end of the school day today and sat down with her in the cafeteria. She was going to go play basketball. Somehow I managed to segue back around to the senior project. Red promptly whipped out her smart phone complete with WordPress app and started showing me the blog posts. There were even pictures of what she made each day!! Red was two posts away from being done!

Brain:“HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! UNICORN!”
We talked about what food she made, what worked, and the day she cheated. Chipotle steak bowl, damn.

Red: “All I want tonight is some couscous with onions and some asparagus in there.” What teenager says that?

Brain:“Shit, that’s better than what I’m having.”

Me:“You know that needs spicy peanut sauce.”

Then I waxed poetic about my favorite non-gourmet way to make spicy peanut sauce. (Melt a glob of peanut butter in with whatever veg, add in soy sauce, and whatever spicy element is handy. I’ve used chili powder, red pepper flakes, and Sriracha sauce. Stir) Red and I parted ways. I was at school for another two hours accomplishing very little except a self imposed scavenger hunt for empty boxes. I won. But, man, I had couscous, peanut butter, and asparagus on my mind.

One grocery stop later, I had a better dinner than planned. Red needed a tweet.

Had to do a little cropping for privacy. If I loved you more, I would have whited names out in Photoshop.

My class Twitter feed is pretty lame. It’s mostly reminders to do homework and the occasional cat picture. I stear clear of directly tweeting at students unless it’s the most mundane thing ever. I figured food was pretty safe.

Red was out there staring at her phone per usual and came back at me. She hadn’t been able to make her delicious dinner. “You want leftovers?” I jokingly replied.

That would make Red’s life.

A few tweets later, I was negotiating leftover couscous for the incomplete Hamlet study guide that would significantly change Red’s grade in my class.

HOW FUCKED UP IS HIGH SCHOOL THESE DAYS??!! I mean wasn’t it horrifying enough to see or talk to your teachers outside of class or….shudder …the school building? I can’t imagine Mrs. Eddy tweeting at me. Mostly because cell phones didn’t exist, BUT STILL!

Fucked up or not, the Tupperware is packed. I hope to exchange it for class work tomorrow. Fingers crossed that writing this hasn’t jinxed the deal.

The Next Day: Reality Check

Green got a granola bar and encouragement to go to more tutoring; but she and her sibling, who will probably need adopted next year, peaced out mid morning for an “appointment.” Knowing that this child missed a day of school to get her hair done, I assume the appointment translates to “Meh, it’s Friday. Whatevs.” Good supportive parenting here.

Red was ecstatic to get her spicy leftovers and told me so in a number of ways except by giving me the much coveted study guide. In typical Red fashion, there was lots of swearing that it’s practically done.

I have colleagues that get extremely emotionally invested in their special project students. Those student don’t all come from official at-risk lists, but demonstrate many of the at-risk qualities and the teachers recognize a need. However I then find myself trying to talk tearful colleagues off the ledge because despite all the support, the free breakfasts, the time spent, the school supplies, and encouragement, the special project still decided to make really bad decisions.

I have found this to be the pattern any time I have put more than the usual effort or emotional investment in to a student. I don’t have the time or the strength for tears. I’m either really excited- see the first part of the post- or pissed- see reality check.

Obviously, I will keep “mothering” Green and Red until graduation, and they will absolutely get me excited only to disappoint me again.

I am at a loss for how to wrap this post up in a way that isn’t negative. I’m not looking for accolades for my efforts. They are just another of the million expectations piled on to the job “classroom teacher.”

So IDK. I guess this is almost mostly done so…..Peace out.