This Morning

This morning I do not have time to think. Sorry: I have seniors who are graduating in two days, and I need to grade their work. I spent part of last night arguing when I should have been grading, and so this morning, I need to spend time grading which I would rather spend writing.

This is a good substitute, though: since I started my gun posts with a discussion of what needs to be done to fix school shootings — but I never got to a practical answer — here is a reasonable and practical answer that actually has very little to do with guns, from a teacher in Colorado. Please do read it.

I’ll try to write again tomorrow.

I am a TEACHER in COLORADO and Here is Why Guns are NOT the Problem or the Solution.

This Morning

This morning — and now, this afternoon — I am sick. Not terribly, just enough so I am uncomfortable and determined to rest so I do not get worse. I have nothing to say that isn’t cranky, unhealthy bitchery. I’m torn between wanting to feel better, and wanting to stay vaguely ill so I don’t have to do anything other than be vaguely ill. It’s a handy excuse for doing nothing productive: not even feeling content.

I suspect that a fair amount of our conflict in life comes from the fact that contentment takes effort.

This Morning

This morning, I am thinking about taking it easy. I’ve been posting every morning for eight weeks, now, and I’m pleased with that, and I don’t want to blow it.

But my brain is pretty numb, this morning. There’s been a lot, between school and life and writing, and I think I could use a day of sloth. And since today is 4/20, which is both an amusing and a horrifying anniversary — since today is also 20 years since the massacre at Columbine — and tomorrow is Easter, and Monday is Earth Day, and since it is Saturday, after all, I think this is a perfect morning for — simplicity. Maybe some reading. Nothing too serious.

Thank you to those who are following this blog now, and to those who read what I write, and to those who have been reading what I write for as long as I’ve been writing it. It is an honor and a privilege to have this opportunity to speak with you. I’d also like to invite any and all to comment, to go to my website www.theodenhumphrey.com and use the Contact form to send me an email, and let me know if there’s anything you’d like to discuss, any subjects you’d like to see in future posts, anything you want to say to me.

 

Here: enjoy this song and this incredibly simple but satisfying video for it.

Piss Whorening

This morning I am thinking about profanity, and auto-correct. (This morning will not be appropriate to read aloud.)

I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday, and it came up how her phone wants to change “fuck” into “duck,” or “Huck,” or “guck.” And I know this is a common complaint — I usually get “ducking” on my phone, as in the well known phrase, “Are you ducking with me?” of “What the duck is wrong with that guy?” — but I said, what if you had a phone that actually changed innocent words into similarly-spelled curse words?

“I went to the fuck pond in Central Park yesterday, but all the fucks were gone. Not a fuck to be seen. It’s too bad: I like feeding the fucks.”

“I like those paper bitch trees, you know? The ones with the top layer you can just peel off?” “Oh, the white bitches? Yeah!” (*Special note: I would include this in the actual blog, but it’s a travesty and an offense against one of my favorite poets, so I’ll just tell you: read Robert Frost’s poem “Birches” and change that R to a T  throughout it. Here.)

“Dammit, I just spilled coffee [cockee?] all over my dress shit! I just ruined my favorite shit!”

 

My two favorites, which came out of the conversation with my friend, are:

“I got my shirt stuck in my belt fuckle!”

and

The Adventures of Fuckleberry Finn. By Mark Twat.

 

As I should always do, I’ll end with the words of the master:

This Morning

This morning I had a blog idea that didn’t work. It was taking too long, and I wasn’t even sure of the point I was trying to make. So I’m scrapping it, and thinking about how you have to be willing to spend time and effort on failure. Not every idea is the best one, is the right one, but if you wait around for the perfect idea to come to you, you’ll be waiting forever, because perfection needs to be built, not discovered. And when you try something that doesn’t lead to perfection, especially if you see the path ahead before it’s finished, then you have to get off that path and try something else.

I’m also thinking about how yesterday I was listening to this song, and making matching friendship bracelets, and I wonder if this year’s Daylight Savings Time adjustment actually set the clock back to 1990.

This Morning

This morning I am thinking about waiting.

Time heals all wounds, we’re told, and it doesn’t. That’s a lie. Not all wounds heal. The implication that we don’t need to do anything actively to heal the wound is often a lie, as well. But it is true that wounds that can heal, will heal with time. I’ve always liked when I see this metaphor taken to completion and the healing described as full medical wound care, because wounds need treatment: once you have cleaned a wound, and applied first aid, and assuming there aren’t deeper complications in the wound and the damage done by the original wound isn’t critical — THEN time heals all wounds.

That doesn’t have the same pithy brevity, though. Too bad: because what could be a valuable piece of advice about patience and waiting and allowing things to happen, rather than going out and forcing them to happen, is somewhat ruined by — well, by impatience, by the need to keep the truism short and to the point. Four words sound good; forty tell the truth; we generally pick the four. It’s faster. Easier.

And, often, false.

Waiting is one of the best things to be good at. One of the hardest things for a new teacher to master is wait time: when you ask a question, you have to stop and give your students time to come up with the answer. It’s hard, because of course you as the teacher already know the answer, so in your brain, the necessary wait time is zero, and there you are, staring out across this room full of blank faces, thinking, “Come on, how do you not know this? It’s hyperbole, for god’s sake! Everyone knows what hyperbole is!” And if no one comes up with it immediately, you turn into that annoying kid who blurts out all the answers. It’s unfair, and it’s not good teaching — but it feels good, because first of all, you know all the answers (Maybe the hardest thing about teaching well is learning to not need to be the smartest person in the room.) and secondly, it’s so awkward, sitting there in a silent room while nobody is saying anything! If you just give the answers right after the questions, then everything moves forward, quick and smooth and easy.

And without learning.

Learning to resist that urge, learning to wait, is extremely difficult. Took me years. It took me enough instances of saying the answer just to have a student say, “I was just going to say that!” and feeling guilty for cutting the student off, and enough instances of recognizing how great it is when they come up with the answer themselves instead of me saying it, to learn to wait for someone to answer. It has made quite a difference in my teaching.

Now, of course, I have also learned to enjoy their (slight) discomfort. I like making them wait in silence. I like making them feel the need to fill that void with something, anything, at least a guess. I like asking hard questions, and watching them have to stop and think. I especially like staggering a smart student, one who is rolling along, doing great, smashing every question out of their way like a marathoner going through those ribbons at the end of the race — and then I ask something that needs more thought, and they have to come to a halt to consider. I like to be the wall the marathoner bounces off of. I love that. (I love it even more when, after a five- or ten- or even twenty-second pause, that same kid comes up with the answer. That’s the best thing.) I might love it too much: I am well known among my students for refusing to give them answers, ever. I’ll ask a difficult question —  why does the author make this choice instead of this other choice — and then they try a few thoughts, and we discuss it and those thoughts don’t work; then a pause, then they try another, and it doesn’t work either. Then somebody says, “Well, will you tell us why?” And my response is generally, “Oh, I’ll never tell you. You’ll figure it out, or you won’t know.” They groan. I grin.

But the point is, the waiting is the key. Time may not heal all wounds, but time is a necessary component of any change: from unprepared to prepared, from sad to happy, from good to great. It is rarely, in my experience, the only component; I think effort is probably equal in almost anything, and also thought — but time is necessary. Patience is necessary.

I’m still learning that. I’m 44, soon to be 45, and I’m still unpublished. (I am traditional enough to think that self-publishing doesn’t count. It does. But it isn’t what I really want, what I really really want, therefore…*) I think my writing has improved, but I haven’t reached my goal. It is not easy to deal with. Ten years ago I blamed everything on callow agents and a heartless publishing industry that just wouldn’t recognize my talent; now I tend to blame myself for not being good enough, for not having the right ideas. But in either case, I still don’t have what I want, and it hurts. It hurts all the time. It bothers me every time I see someone younger than me publishing books. It feels a little better when I see those posts and memes that list the ages of successful artists and authors who were older when they had their first breakthrough; but I’m starting to move into the middle of that pack, too. I saw on Twitter yesterday where someone was trying to give this kind of affirmation, and said, “I didn’t publish my first book until I was 38. Now I’m contracted for my tenth.” And I thought, Shit.

I also don’t always wait and think things through, especially about the effects of my words. I like to just type and go, hit Post, Reply, Send; I like doing that fast. It was a problem when I argued online regularly; now I do that less, but I still have the same problem. And it is a problem, not just  because I often misspeak when I do that; it also means I don’t realize the effect of everything I am about to say before I say it, and so I do things to people that I don’t mean or want to do. I make them angry or I make them sad, or I make them laugh and scoff at me, or I make them feel embarrassed or ashamed. And if I would just stop, and think, before I hit Send, and re-read what I wrote, then I would probably realize, “Oh, no, I shouldn’t say that, I shouldn’t say it that way.” And I’d fix it, and then I would prevent a problem that is caused by my own desire to hurry, my own inability to wait. But I hurry, and so I do harm, to someone else or to myself.

In other words, time may not heal all wounds: but impatience causes them.

Waiting is the key.

 

*Yes, that is a Spice Girls reference. Here, watch this: this will make it better.

This Morning

This morning I am thinking about what makes me a good teacher. I think it is because I would be a terrible boss.

I’ve given an assignment to two of my classes. It’s an evil assignment, in my favorite tradition of assignments that make my students uncomfortable in what I think are productive ways; I like it because they whine and I don’t have to care about their suffering, because it is productive suffering. I just get to laugh at them. This assignment is a group project — that’s the evil part; group projects are the worst thing about school, in my opinion: and this time the group is the entire class. (They’ve handled it admirably, I have to say. They’ve divided the work in a rational way, and they have assigned themselves exactly the roles I would have assigned them: the best writers are writing, the most outgoing and entertaining students are presenting, and so on. My second class has had a rougher time, but largely because the strongest personalities have been out for sickness; they were all present yesterday, and — with a little prompting from me — they came to a good solution.)

I pitched the assignment like a work project. I said they were a department, and I was their boss, and I called them up and said, “I want background on this subject. Get it done.” Then I left everything else to them. But because I don’t want to make this harder on them than it has to be, I told them that I would let them pick the subject they researched — I suggested it relate to the literature in the class, but I didn’t insist; one class is doing the history of India because we’re reading The God of Small Things, and the other class is doing insane and dangerous monarchs throughout history because next month we’ll read Macbeth — and also the due date. I also told them that they could ask me for an extension if they couldn’t hit their due date, and I would give it to them, as sometimes bosses do that.

While we were discussing it Monday, one of my students said, “You’re being much nicer than most bosses.”

And she was right. Because I’d be a terrible boss.

I don’t like forcing my opinions and decisions onto other people. I am happy and flattered to be asked for and to offer my opinion, but I don’t see why mine has to be THE opinion. Especially not with decisions such as due dates. When I do pick them, they’re essentially arbitrary, and based solely on my schedule, my convenience; but since I’m not the one doing the work before the due date, shouldn’t the people who have to complete that work be the ones to decide on a good time frame? Since they know what else they have to accomplish in the same time frame? I do all the work after the due date, but that’s where I don’t let them estimate how long it should take me or when it will be finished: I take as long as I need to grade work, and they can wait until I’m done. Shouldn’t I offer them the same courtesy? I usually estimate how long it would take me to do something (and then I double or triple it, because I’m better at this stuff than my students are) when figuring how far out the deadline should be; but don’t they have a better idea of how long it will take them to do the task? The same for subject matter, or the form of the product; I pick some of that — I told them I wanted both a written product and a presentation — but why should I pick the actual thing that is being researched? Based on what I think they need to know? What I think is interesting?

Yes: that is precisely what bosses do, what people in charge do. We have a staff meeting today in which our bosses, who are not teachers, and 2/3s of whom have never been teachers, have decided what the teachers need to learn; they have picked the materials, and they will be presenting to us in the manner that they think is best. And every one of those decisions, historically, has been wrong. We don’t need to learn what they’re trying to teach us, and both the materials and the delivery are a textbook example of what NOT to do. This year our training sessions have been on pedagogy, and watching an administrator with no classroom experience do everything wrong — PowerPoint slides that are all text, which are then read to us directly; handouts that are the same as the slides; videos that are hard to see and hear, which often feature elementary school teachers (I teach at a 6-12 middle/high school), and which never give clear examples of the concepts being discussed, and by “discussed” I mean very much the opposite as none of the audience ever talk apart from offering short Yes/No type answers to their simple factual question — it’s pretty agonizing. It is wonderful irony, though. If only that were the lesson.

I couldn’t do that to my staff. I ask my students all the time for their input: what they want to work on, what they want to do next, if they have any alternate subjects or suggestions; I ask them how long they need to do work, when they want it due, when they want the test to be, and so on. I just don’t like demanding that people do what I think they should do. I think it is essentially immoral to impose my will on another human being; if I can convince them I am right, then they will agree to my proposal, and I think those outcomes are  always better. I also hate keeping secrets, which is important in many ways for those in charge of information, as information is power and also potentially harmful; and I cannot bear to inflict harm on those under my authority, which means I would be terrible at firing or disciplining employees, just as I am terrible at disciplining students.

I’m a very good facilitator. I am an awful authority. That’s why I’m a good teacher — and why I should never try to run a serious company, nor become a politician.

Or maybe I should be a politician, for exactly that reason?

Nah. I wouldn’t want the job.

 

 

(I should probably start numbering these.)