Wanted:

 


(Couldn’t resist)

I want to say that I want everything back that I’ve wasted. All the money, all the time, all the opportunities.

The money I spent on things that would have been cheaper if I had waited, or if I had gone to another store. The money I wasted on things that I thought would be better than they were. The money I threw away  on things that broke as soon as I bought them: things that I threw away almost before the money for them left my hand. I want back the money I spent on the ten bikes I lost between the ages of 8 and 18. One a year. I want back the money for all the food I have bought and dropped, all the expensive coffee I have spilled, everything I’ve bought that went bad before I got a chance to eat it.  My God, I want back all the money I spent on cigarettes.

I want back the time I’ve lost being bored. Being depressed. Thinking that I just didn’t feel like doing anything useful or important, or even anything fun. Just doing something I enjoyed would have made me feel better; why couldn’t I just do that? Just start? All the time I have spent changing channels instead of turning off the TV, and turning pages of bad books rather than putting them down and picking up better ones, and all the mindless video game levels I have played, and replayed, and played again. I can’t even remember the video games I’ve finished: but I remember  how anticlimactic it has always been to reach that final screen. I have never had a less satisfying “win.”

I want back the time I gave to people who didn’t deserve it, and I want to spend that time with people who deserved more than I gave them. I want to tell Rocco that I made it. I want to talk to my uncle Rob and my cousin Chelsea more. I want my Nonna to read my book.

I want another chance at all the opportunities I’ve missed: because I was too slow, because I was too lazy, because I was too afraid. I should have written twice as many books, and I should have sent ten times as many query letters; maybe if I had, I wouldn’t be writing this: because I wouldn’t be teaching any more. I want the opportunity not to do this any more, and if I’ve had it and missed it, I want it back again.

I want it all back again. That’s what I want to say.

But as I was thinking about this, I realized: those things I wasted were only wasted for me — and not always that. Every opportunity that I missed, gave someone else their chance, or gave me something that I wanted even more. Every dollar that I wasted taught me something, or gave me a laugh, or a story to tell: and those laughs and lessons and stories were worth more than the dollars they cost.

Well. Maybe not the cigarettes. That really was a lot of money. A pack a day for almost 17 years, and the average price of those packs was at least $4.00. It’s about $25,000. I don’t have any stories worth that.

But maybe I do: and maybe I have missed opportunities to write them, or to publish them; but every time an agent said no to me, that agent looked at the next query, and liked it more: and someone else got their dreams to come true. If the agent picked my book, then they would have had one less space to take on someone else; the opportunity only missed me. And my turn will come. In the meantime, I’ve become someone I am proud of. I don’t know if that would have happened if I had gone straight into professional writing; a lot of literary people are not people I want to be. Or if I had stayed a janitor, a job I could do in my sleep; maybe that would have been easier, but I was never proud of how well I scraped gum off the bottom of the seats.

Okay. I was a little proud of that.

Time is never wasted, because no matter what, you keep moving forward: and sometimes the path, even when it’s rocky and difficult, leads places you don’t expect. When I was a teenager, I hated high school. Partly because my father moved to California when I was in 8th grade, and without him around, I lacked structure and discipline,  and my native laziness and idiocy took over. But mainly, I felt like high school wasn’t for me, wasn’t good for me; it didn’t teach me anything I wanted or needed to know. So I never put any effort into it, and I got back pretty much the same nothing. A few teachers mattered, a few classes; a few friends. Not a whole lot. For the most part I was a failure at high school.

But because my father moved to California, that’s where I went to go to college. And because I was a failure, I went to a community college, because I couldn’t get into the university I wanted to attend, with my nothing grades.

And that’s where I met my wife.

If I had been a success in high school, I never would have met her. And that would be the biggest loss of them all. She also helped me become and stay a teacher, where I got the second advantage of my failure: being a teenaged idiot made me a better teacher, because I understand my teenaged idiots better than most of their teachers do, because their other teachers were not idiots.

If I hadn’t wasted time reading bad books, watching bad TV, and playing bad video games, I wouldn’t have the sense of humor I have now, nor the ability to draw something useful from almost any pile of crud you put in front of me. I can do things that matter to me more efficiently now because I’ve wasted so much time in the past. (I wrote this in about 45 minutes.)

The money I’ve wasted, which has gone to make good stories and funny experiences, for the most part, has paid for other people to do things that might have been great. Not many, because I’ve never had much money to waste; but every little bit helps, and it hasn’t hurt me very much. Except for the cigarettes. That one still hurts.

So you know what I want? I don’t want that money back: I spent it, and even if I didn’t get my money’s worth, somebody else did. I don’t want that time back: regretting the choices I’ve made would mean regretting all the wonderful things that I have now because I’ve taken the particular path that led me here. I don’t want those opportunities back: I want to make new ones, better ones, and while I still want to be better about seizing those opportunities, I know that every one I let slip by makes me stronger and faster and better at grabbing the next one: and there’s always another opportunity.

No, what I want is this: I want to take back all the terrible things I have thought and said about myself, all the times I called myself lazy, or a coward, or a failure. I want to see myself as positively and as optimistically and as admiringly as I see almost everyone else: because humans amaze me, yet somehow, I’ve always thought that I came up short of the mark. I don’t. I surpass all expectations. At least some of the time.

I want to be proud of myself for who I am, and never regret the things that made me, me.

Even the cigarettes.

Mind the Gap

Last one. The student who suggested this was definitely on the side of “The wage gap is only because men work harder and have better jobs!” That is, not because of discrimination, but because men go into STEM fields more often, and are more aggressive in seeking promotion and wage increases. But then the question becomes, “Why do men go into STEM fields more often? Why are men more aggressive in seeking promotion and wage increases?”

Here’s my answer.

 

QUESTION:  Is there a gender wage gap? What explains the gender wage gap, if there is one?

There are simple answers to these questions, but there’s a problem: these questions come at the topic from the wrong side. 

Oh – the simple answers are, respectively: “Yes;” and, “Sexism.” 

But when we focus on questioning the existence of the gap, when we try to examine the truth value of a simple truth, the only way to have the argument is to keep breaking the wage gap down into smaller and smaller pieces, because that response values the position that the truth is not true: there must be a reason why my opponent questions the existence of the wage gap. Let’s consider his argument. Is there maybe a flaw in how we describe the wage gap? How we measure it? Is it only a rumor, or propaganda? 

So then we look for explanations that could cast doubt on the existence and extent of the wage gap: is the wage gap because women work fewer hours than men? Because women are less likely to go into high-paying careers? Because men have more education? Because women leave work to have children? Because women are less assertive in demanding more money or greater pay increases? Because men are smarter than women? 

Other than the last one (which, again, has a simple answer: #NOPE), each of these can be adjusted for when examining the data; if you look only at hourly wages, it removes the difference in hours worked and resulting total salary; if you look side-by-side at only specific careers, it removes the question about men going into more highly paid careers than women, and so on. 

Two things result from this: one, with each adjustment, the wage gap goes down; but two, the wage gap never disappears. Since it goes down, however, someone with a specific bias in this argument could extrapolate from the adjusted data and say there is no real gap, or it doesn’t matter; or someone could intentionally skew the data or make unfounded claims to support a different argument.

Here’s an example, from the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington thinktank which has a left-center bias, but is highly rated for its truthiness, according to mediabiasfactcheck.com (Source: https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/economic-policy-institute/). The EPI did a meta-study of several wage gap studies, and then adjusted for different factors, and reported this:

 

Models that control for a much larger set of variables—such as occupation, industry, or work hours—are sometimes used to isolate the role of discrimination in setting wages for specific jobs and workers. The notion is that if we can control for these factors, the wage gap will shrink, and what is left can be attributed to discrimination. Think of a man and woman with identical education and years of experience working side-by-side in cubicles but who are paid different wages because of discriminatory pay-setting practices. We also run a model with more of these controls, and find that the wage gap shrinks slightly from the unadjusted measure, from 17.9 percent to 13.5 percent.9 Researchers have used more extensive datasets to examine these differences. For instance, Blau and Kahn (2016) find an unadjusted penalty of 20.7 percent, a partially adjusted penalty of 17.9 percent, and a fully adjusted penalty of 8.4 percent.

Source: https://www.epi.org/publication/what-is-the-gender-pay-gap-and-is-it-real/

 

What matters is that second fact. The wage gap doesn’t disappear. It is always there. And just as an overall analysis of all workers will have some extraneous data and some uncontrolled influences and therefore exaggerate the problem (Regionalisms, for instance. Is it likely true that in some areas women are less educated than men because a strong religious influence makes it taboo to teach women, or because the teachers are traditionally men who do a better job of teaching young men than they do teaching young women, and therefore women have fewer high-paying jobs or are paid less because they have less education? Of course it is. So these factors may make the wage gap seem larger than it might be in some other locale, while not reflecting a “true” national wage gap. This is why statisticians have margins of error and confidence indices. But I don’t even understand the sentence I just wrote, so I just use lots of words and examples.), so too will generic adjustments remove some important data (Such as a part-time worker, who was told straight up by a supervisor, “I’m paying you less because you’re a woman, and for no other reason,” but the data vanishes because we only look at full-time workers. And so on.), so the adjusted rates aren’t any more objectively true than the unadjusted rates. All of it is skewed, all of it is complicated.

But what matters is that second fact. The wage gap doesn’t disappear. It would take some genuine statistical skullduggery to actually make it disappear. Which tells us that we shouldn’t be questioning the existence of the wage gap, we should be using it as evidence. The question that matters isn’t: Does the gender wage gap exist? The question that matters is: Is our society still sexist?

And the answer is yes. As proven by countless individual anecdotal experiences, and by a hundred objective facts. Among them: the wage gap. 

There is a thing my students do when I assign them difficult essays; in fact, it is such a common thing that it shows up on rubrics as a possible reason to lower a grade: they “substitute an easier task.” Rather than analyzing the plot, they summarize the plot. Rather than evaluate the characters, they describe first one character, and then another. This is what we have done in our society: we see that sexism still exists, we see that there is a gender wage gap; and rather than deal with sexism, we substitute the easier task, and pass laws that say women can’t be paid less than men for performing the same job. The first one was passed in this country in 1963: President John Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, which attempted to “prohibit discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers.” (Wikipedia.org) 

And that’s when the problem was solved. 

Yeah. Right. Because laws like that are the perfect way to eliminate sexism. 

It’s not that it’s a bad idea to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex; there are those people who openly do it, and they shouldn’t be allowed to. But the real problem is sexism. Because even if the wage gap did disappear, even if we did find the perfect legal remedy for it, our society would still be sexist: and people would suffer in other ways. 

It’s time we dealt with the real problem, instead of substitute an easier task – and then fail to solve that one, too.

This Is Inappropriate

(Okay, the title’s a little clickbait-y. This is entirely appropriate. Promise.) This was a sample I wrote from a student’s suggestion of topic.

 

Why should the school care about what students wear? 

I’ve heard students argue about dress codes for as long as I’ve been a teacher. Honestly, they have terrible arguments: but not because they’re wrong. They have terrible arguments because they’re young and inexperienced with argument, and because their emotions often tend to overwhelm their reason – they get busted for wearing clothes they like, told the clothes they like and feel comfortable in are bad or inappropriate or in poor taste (And all too often, the arguments leveled against them by adults are direct insults – “Why would you wear that? Why would you think it was a good idea to wear that to school?”); of course they get upset, and of course that makes it hard to think clearly of logical reasons why the dress code is bad. That’s without even talking about the deeply troubling message of the dress code, especially when it is enforced against young women: your clothing is incorrect because it shows your body, and your body is inappropriate. Is unacceptable. Is wrong.

Enough is enough. I have been asked to take up this argument, and though I don’t necessarily have personal insight into the dress code – I myself was never busted for a dress code violation in school, even when I wore clothes with offensive messages on them, which I did for years; I have never been told as an adult that my clothing is inappropriate (other than when my friend laughed at me for wearing a white suit, saying I looked like Colonel Sanders. She wasn’t wrong, though.) – I do have logical reasons why the dress code is wrong. The first and most important is: because it upsets the students so much that they can’t think straight. 

Because it does that. That is not to say that students being upset is reason to let them break the rules, which I know is the immediate thought of those who believe in dress codes – probably including the words “snowflake” and “safe space” and maybe some aggressively angry references to people in the past being tougher and stronger and whatnot than kids today, and maybe even a muttered “Avocado toast!” – but it is something that should be considered: because this is a school, and these children are our students. The first (ostensible) reason for a dress code is to ensure that students can focus on their education; but if students are so upset by the dress code and the methods of its enforcement that they can’t, as I’ve said, think logically enough to argue against that dress code, can those students be expected to think clearly enough to learn? And if not, what exactly is the dress code supposed to accomplish? Are those reasons enough to ruin a child’s education, even for one day? Enough to harm that child’s self-image, to teach that child that she herself is inappropriate? 

First, let’s examine the idea that a dress code reduces distraction based on sexuality. That is, when girls wear revealing clothing to school, the boys are incapable of thinking about schoolwork, because all they will be capable of doing is ogling the girls in their revealing clothing. (To a far lesser extent the argument goes both ways: but dress codes are overwhelmingly focused, both in the specific restrictions and the enforcement, on female students post-puberty, because of the distraction of male students post-puberty. LGBTQ students are twice as likely to be the victims of sexual assault or harassment, but I don’t hear that in the arguments for the dress code.) I’ve heard the argument made that revealing clothing invites harassment from teenaged boys, as well, from which girls need to be protected. By disallowing the girls from wearing revealing clothing, thus keeping them safe from boys. (Which is why, currently, 58% of high school girls experience some form of sexual harassment [That number varies by study. A Harvard school of education study found that 87% of teenage girls suffer sexual harassment. Check the link.], and over 10% say they have been forced to have sex: because the dress code is working!)

The obvious answer to this problem – and it is so obvious that it has become a meme, an online trope – is to teach the boys not to harass the girls (Again, this goes both ways, as well, but people rarely focus on sexual harassment of male students. Assume I’m including that issue, as well. I am.), and to redirect the boys to their schoolwork, to train them to overcome their urges and focus on the task at hand. If school can’t even do that, what are we even doing? And if we can’t do that because it can’t be done, if teenaged boys are so inevitably focused on sexual thoughts that no power on this Earth could stop them from staring at girls and fantasizing, why would you ever think that a loose polo shirt and ill-fitting dress pants would do the trick? I’m not going to pretend that this argument is reasonable, because I refuse to accept the underlying claim that males cannot possibly overcome our urges, that we are all rapists at heart, barely held in check by terror of punishment; but the same clichés that give this argument its power contradict the idea of a dress code: if teenaged boys are so horny, thinking about sex every seven seconds, willing to do literally anything for the chance at sexual release, if, as movies describe it, “linoleum” or “a stiff breeze” are sufficient to put teenaged boys in the mood – what clothing choice could possibly stop that?

Is it possible that, instead, we should deal with the actual issue head on? Teach students, especially male students, about consent? About rape? About sexual harassment? Teach our students the truth about their pubescent hormones and their bodies?  Stop pretending that sexual urges are bad, but teach them that unwelcome sexual advances are bad, and are not excused by clothing choices? Is it possible that we should teach young people to control themselves, and to redirect their thoughts when they become problematic? Talk about it all honestly, so that we can address actual concerns, answer their questions, rather than try to shamefully cover up? As awkward as those conversations might be, I would have that conversation a thousand times before I would tell a female student to cover up because I can see her breasts.

Once we get past the question of sex-based distraction, the second most common argument for a dress code is even sillier: not because those who create and enforce dress codes have terrible goals, but entirely because the benefits are not worth the costs. The argument is that the dress code reflects a professional work environment; students will not be allowed to wear tank tops and miniskirts (or sagged jeans and wifebeaters) to work. Which I suppose is true (Except for my former student who wore a bikini to work, because she was Miss Teen California; and let’s not pretend that none of our students become models, or strippers, or dancers, or Hooters waitresses – or simply work at home, a trend that has grown enormously as telecommuting and gig work have become more popular; and working at home means you can wear literally nothing to work, every single day. Even if you have to teleconference, nobody sees if you’re not wearing any pants.) but here’s the thing: students aren’t at work. School is not work. You can tell because we don’t pay them. I am a firm believer in the idea that students work as hard at school as most people do at their jobs, and their compensation is the education and the opportunities they gain; but nonetheless, they are not professionals, and should not be held to professional standards. Simply because any professional can quit: and students cannot. Since we compel them to attend, they should be allowed more freedom than a professional would be – and letting them wear what they want seems a reasonable concession.

In terms of preparing them for their future: how much preparation does this habit actually require? Is it hard to figure out how to dress for a professional office? If it is, then kids are in trouble: because it’s not actually how they are required to dress for school. I’ve never been required to wear a uniform polo shirt – and I work in a high school. One with a uniform code: for students. But on the other hand, I never thought it would be okay to wear booty shorts and a mesh crop-top to work, so practice not wearing booty shorts and a mesh crop-top to school doesn’t seem necessary. If someone is confused about the appropriateness of their attire, then what is required is a conversation: not years and years at a school with a dress code. If we’re going to all this effort, and causing all of this discomfort to our students, in order to spare their future supervisors from having one potentially awkward conversation, we need to straighten out our priorities. Because school staff have years of awkward conversations, which can have serious effects on the students’ self-image, in order to spare one adult conversation. It’s simply not worth it. Thinking that it is, is silly.

We can ratchet the silliness up another notch with this next one: uniforms make the student body look and feel like they belong, like they are part of a unified team. It’s difficult to believe that actually works; I’ve worn the same outfit as another person before and somehow never thought of the close bond that was thus created. I’ve never hugged the other people wearing Doc Martens just because what they have on their feet resembles what I have on my feet. (If that worked, wouldn’t we all be bonding over the simple existence of socks? WOO! SOCKS! HUG IT OUT FOR SOCKS!) Maybe it’s because I never played a lot of sports, and it’s the sports uniform that makes a team come together; but I did play some sports, and I did have a team uniform: it didn’t make me feel like I belonged. Probably because the other kids on the team made fun of me. Even though we were all wearing the same uniform. Because I was bad at sports.

Which brings us to another potential reason for a dress code, or more specifically for a uniform code: if students wear uniforms, then none of them can make fun of other students for what they are wearing. There is, I admit, some truth to that; because students do mock each other for their dress, particularly along socioeconomic class lines. But I cannot imagine that identical uniforms will overcome those class distinctions: the rich kids will still have, and will notice and comment on, their better hair and skin and makeup and accessories; even if every kid had a bag over their head, kids would still know who was rich and who was poor, and there would still be conflict.

This is what is wrong with all of the arguments for a dress code, or for a uniform code: they all treat the symptoms, and not the actual problem. If students are being distracted by sexy thoughts about their peers, the issue is the distraction and the sexy thoughts; not what the peers are wearing. If students mock each other for their clothes, the answer is not to change their clothes; it is to change their attitudes and their behavior. If we want students to feel like they are part of a team, that they are in a place where they belong, then by God let us make them feel like they are a part of the school community: let us treat them as equals, not as underlings. If we want them to feel like they belong, then please, let us treat them as if they have a right to be on the school campus, as if this is a place that they can feel comfortable: let them wear whatever they want to wear. 

Then if one of them shows up in a Speedo, we can have that one awkward conversation. 

I was going to do it anyway…

Here we go: time for teaching argument again. I had my students write a sample essay, so I could see how well they argue already and what they need to learn; while they were writing, I was writing.

This one was my choice of topic.

 

Is there any value in teaching argument?

The cynical part of me says no, because my students either know how to argue or they don’t, and going through my class doesn’t seem a terribly good way to get them to understand what argument is or how to craft a good argument. I’ve taught argument for twenty years now, and still people make the same mistakes and have the same wrong conceptions of what argument is. They still yell at each other; they still try for insults, mockery, and Gotchas as a way to “win” an argument. They still think that everyone has the right to their opinion, no matter how absurd, unfounded, or even dangerous that opinion may be; and they don’t think that a person should have to support their opinion, because they don’t think people should question each others’ opinions. Mainly because they don’t want me or someone like me to question their opinion, because they can’t support their opinions: they can yell about them.

But if I judged what topics should be taught by how well my students absorb them, then honestly, I wouldn’t teach anything; because no matter what I teach, or how I teach it, some of my students don’t get it. I could give the same description, or a similar one, for any topic I present to my class, any skill I try to instill in them. Sometimes they go out knowing only as much as they knew coming in. 

But that’s not entirely true. First because the topics in English class (and probably every class, but this is the one I know) are not discrete and mutually exclusive; reading narratives and writing essays and analyzing setting and character and especially plot are all skills that will serve the students well if they ever decide to participate in a serious argument. Speaking and listening, and writing and reading, are generally useful skills, and they all encourage growth in each other; and while my students may not all master argument, they do all improve in some way in my class, and any area of improvement is at least somewhat valuable in every other area. (This is also why I don’t like standards based grading, but that’s a different argument.)

Secondly, it is impossible to say what effect I have on my students in the long term. I know for a fact, because I have been told this by former students, that my class, for any of a myriad reasons, had a significant impact on them, often in ways they did not expect and I could not predict, often years after they moved on to another teacher or another school. So do my students learn better argument from me even if they don’t show tangible improvement while we are working on the unit? I hope, and think, yes. 

So my answer would be: yes. There is value in teaching argument. The impacts may be invisible, they may be far in the future; they may even be tangential, as argument skills may be improved by some other part of the class, or other skills may be improved by the work on argument. The important factor is this: argument itself is important. People in our world need to know how to argue. They need to know how to clearly define their subject and their claim, they need to know how to find and build support for their opinions, they need to know how to listen to, analyze, question, and address alternative viewpoints. They need to know that opinions are not inherently equal in value, nor sacrosanct, just because an individual (who is equal in value to all other individuals) holds that opinion, and they need to know how to dislodge someone from a dangerous or wrong opinion, both for their own convenience and for the greater good. They need to know how to recognize when an argument is lost and should be given up. They need to know how to deal with being wrong, and having someone else prove it to you.

We need these skills in our society. I don’t know for sure that our country is falling apart, or rather being blasted apart, by partisan intransigence and rancor; but I know, for sure, that our inability to argue rationally is making everything in our democracy worse: less sure, more troubled, more irrational and therefore dangerous. And when democracy fails, then some form of tyranny is the inevitable result. And we don’t want that: not even if the tyrant is on our side.

Don’t believe me? Then let’s argue about it.

 

I HAVE FOUND THE PERFECT RUBRIC!

I don’t want to ask you to go to Twitter — but if you could go there and Like and maybe Retweet this, that would be swell.

Because this? This is the best thing in education. Ever.

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I’m now officially done with grading, forever. Thank you, Typical EduCelebrity!

This Morning

This morning, I am done with grades. This morning is the last of my school year.

This morning I received notification that California has approved my application for a teaching license. This doesn’t change my immediate plans, I will still be staying in Tucson for the next academic year; but it gives us more options for the year after that. It also shows, I think, that my sordid past is now behind me, because if even the champion nanny state approved me, I don’t think anyone will say nay because I was mean on a blog almost ten years ago.

More importantly, this morning is the last of my wife’s career as a teacher. She returns now to doing what she always should have been doing: making art full time. She has been a wonderful teacher, who has helped many students to improve their skills, gain confidence and interest in art, and especially to see the world in a different way; she will be sorely missed at school. But this is the best thing for her, and this is what is right: because look. Just look.

 

 

 

So congratulations, Toni. You have more than earned this. I am so proud of you for what you have done as a teacher, and I’m even more proud that you are walking away from it to dedicate yourself to art. You amaze me every day.

Especially this morning.

This Last Morning

This morning I’m thinking about endings, about finales.

Oh right, I hear some TV show ended last night, didn’t it? Sure hope that lived up to everyone’s expectations.

But that’s not what I’m thinking about this morning.

This morning I turned off my alarm clock for what may be the last time for the next two and a half months. That is a lovely thought.

But that’s not what I’m thinking about this morning.

This morning I am thinking about my friends who are leaving my school. Because today is their last day of teaching.

My friend Veronica, who came to Tucson and to this school from out of state, and was thrown right into the deep end, teaching high school students who have, many of them, gone to the same charter school for five, ten, or even twelve or more years (We had a graduate last year who went to pre-school with this charter, so, fourteen years in one school. It’s like Little House on the Prairie or something.), and who were used to their friends and their teachers, and who DON’T LIKE CHANGE. Then a year later, and for no valid reason, she was switched entirely to middle school students — who are, of course, demons. Turns out, Veronica is a splendid demon wrangler, and she spent the next two years lashing them into submission, mostly with her height, which is remarkable; her voice, which can be both piercing and booming as she wishes; and her humor, which is far more biting than her students knew.

But I knew, and that’s what I’ll miss: her humor. The evil little chuckle, the manic smile, the way she says “YEAH!” when I make some joke about making students suffer. I’ll miss the dedication and effort she put into helping children, too.

My friend Kellie had a similar experience with coming from out of state to teach high school and then ending up with middle school, except Kellie’s was even faster: she never even got to teach high school. And it’s an absolute crime, because she is exactly what a high school teacher should be: she has deep knowledge of and love for her subject; she’s cool and relaxed; she can relate to teenagers and speak to them like human beings. The school found a great science teacher — and then they threw her into the demon pit of middle school, where she suffered all year, without support, without any consideration for her needs or wishes. Since she had taught before, she knew exactly what she was missing, and she is leaving this school to go where she belongs: to a high school.

I’m going to miss her humor, her style, her passion for science, and her companionship. It’s been great to have her on my end of the hall, and it’s going to be far less interesting next year without her.

Adriana, my fellow English teacher, came in specifically to teach middle school, because clearly she’s insane. But what’s really insane is this: she taught them. She taught the hell out of them. She took students who were absolute hellions, and she not only controlled them, not only taught them to follow her rules and expectations — she taught them English. Whoever ends up teaching those kids when they get to high school is going to have a far easier time, with far more capable students; and it will be because of Adriana. I am personally grateful to her because her willingness to teach those tiny hyperactive, hypersonic imps meant that I didn’t have to do it: she spent three years jumping on grenades for me, and I can’t thank her enough.

I’m going to miss having her in the department, having her in meetings, hearing her infectious laugh, and knowing that the students were being mashed into some kind of shape by her incredible efforts. She’s been an inspiration to me, and I’m grateful for it.

The last one is both the hardest and the easiest to deal with: because it’s my wife, Toni DeBiasi. She’s been in the classroom next to me for the last three years, which has made them the best and most enjoyable three years of my two decades in teaching. She’s been utterly incredible: she came in with not much experience teaching, certainly nothing like multiple classes for an entire year, and she mastered it, entirely and completely. She’s so smart, and so capable, that she has been able to build a successful fine art program, in a STEM school, while also becoming a vital emotional and mental support for her students, who love her almost as much as I do. She came in to an empty room, almost — except it wasn’t, it was chock full of crap — because the previous teacher took out all of her teaching materials and lesson plans, and left Toni with a small, cramped room filled with shelves, filled with old paint and old paper, old clay and ceramics, old tools and materials that she had no idea what to do with. It took months to clean it all out, even while she was trying desperately to come up with material to teach her five classes, covering every ability level from elementary to college. May I also note, since I saw it first hand (Though I’m sure that the other three did the same in their own lives), that she managed to help me keep our household together and running, if not smoothly, at least consistently.

I’ll miss her at school, but at least I have the consolation of coming home to her every day.

 

I want this post to be more about recognition than making a point, but there is a very clear point here: all four of these women are excellent teachers, and all four of them are leaving the school within three years of being hired. That’s an issue. All four of them taught middle school, and for three of them, that’s the main reason they’re leaving (Veronica can’t stand the Tucson climate, which is also fully understandable.); that and the near-complete abandonment of them all by the institution. This is a problem that needs to be dealt with, or it will only get worse. Though all of them have gotten support from fellow teachers, friends, and loved ones, still, the school has not been able to give them what they need, and so the school has lost them — but the loss will be felt most keenly by the students. And by me and the rest of the faculty, of course, because these four women are lively and fun and intelligent and splendid to be around, and we’ll miss their spirit.

I will also note that three of the four are leaving teaching, two — Adriana and my wife, Toni — leaving forever. This is, again, a problem that needs to be dealt with, and it is a problem for this entire country. Twenty years ago, nearly, I wrote an essay about being a teacher, and in it I pointed out that the lack of structure and support, and the lack of respect and interest from students, was the main reason (along with money, of course) that 40% of teachers left the profession in the first two to five years. That has not gotten better: if the trend at my school is any indication, it’s gotten worse.  We need to fix it before we lose everything.

But any fix will be too late to save this loss.

Thank you all for your friendship, and for your wonderful gift of teaching. I appreciate you all, and I will miss you all in the hallway.  May the best of your past be the worst of your future, and may the road ever rise up to meet your feet.