Across the water

Last spring, one of our 2014 grads was admitted off the waitlist to his first-choice college, but for January, not for September. January admission is one of many features of the current college-admissions scene that I don’t remember existing back in the eighties when I applied to college.  Anyway, he chose not to focus on being one of the school’s last choices (which I might have had trouble getting past, personally, even knowing how competitive college admissions are and having screened applications for other stuff where you know the line you draw is fairly arbitrary; there’s not likely to be a huge difference between the bottom of the admitted pile and the top of the waitlist, especially when you’re admitting hundreds of people at a time), accepted his place for January, and headed off to do a little low-budget traveling.

He’s on a farmstay in China now and has been blogging about it.  I’m really enjoying his posts, and I’ve been trying to comment regularly.  Although I wince at the occasional error, his posts are generally quite clearly written, with confidence and flair; they reflect well on his education in English.  They also reflect well on his ability to cope with unfamiliar situations.  The accommodations look pretty spartan, and there have been mentions of vermin in the bathroom and so on.  The pictures of the surrounding country are beautiful, though.

I’m thinking that this is one way to measure the success of one’s high school education.  Can you plan a trip to the other side of the planet? (Yes, I know that his parents paid for the ticket.)  Can you communicate with the people you meet there?  Eat the unfamiliar food, make yourself comfortable in simple surroundings?  Work and not complain?  (Urinate next to a giant spider? There wasn’t a class for that one in high school.) And can you write about it in a way that people will want to read?

Night shift

So I’m on this committee that is charged with making certain recommendations that will affect the future of the school.  Sorry to be so vague, but you know.  In no particular order, here are some of the observations I have made so far:

  1. I’m honored to be on this committee, proud to have been chosen for it.  As soon as I heard about it, I thought, “They should put me on that,” and it was a happy surprise when they actually did.  Or not a total surprise, because I did think I should be on it, not just that I would like to.  But great.
  2. It takes a lot of time.  And it doesn’t even have to take that much time to feel like a lot of time.  Of late, it’s been three to six hours a week of meetings, plus another couple of hours communicating and planning.  That doesn’t sound like much to me, but it’s got to come from somewhere.
  3. It’s a really good committee.  People bring different perspectives–faculty, staff, alumni, trustees–and they are good at listening to one another.
  4. At the same time, we have what are to me surprisingly large areas of agreement about what matters, though not necessarily about the exact order of priorities.
  5. Except for a young alum, everyone on the committee is, in addition to other roles, a parent of one or more current or past SA students, which gives a sense about how much parents’ views are being considered. (There’s just one person who is there as “a parent”–someone who has had a leadership role in the parents’ association.)
  6. I’m getting to know better some people I had previously known just in passing, including the parents of some past students and an elementary-grades teacher I didn’t know at all (although I knew this teacher’s children by sight when they were SA students).
  7. Big chunks of what we are doing are confidential, because we’re talking to people who are willing to talk with us only because we promise confidentiality.  This is difficult sometimes, because I have not only thoughts but also feelings about these conversations.  This is partly why #6 is happening.  Aside from the sheer volume of contact, there’s definitely some bonding going on.
  8. Because of #7, there are going to be situations in which we’re not going to be able to explain the committee’s decisions to the community without violating confidentiality.  So we won’t be able to explain some things.  I know I’m not going to enjoy this, but I’ll be able to deal with it.
  9. In some important parts, though, we will able to be pretty direct. People will be giving us feedback, too. I’m looking forward to that.  (I think.)

Frames 2

New Spanish Teacher thanked me for getting Coach to contact him, which was gracious, but he also mumbled something about being busy and not finding time to respond.  I wonder if he has done it yet.

Coach will probably follow up with the student regardless, but it seems to me it would be better if the two adults had a conversation about the kid first.  However, I’m clear that I’ve butted in to the maximum allowable extent, given that nobody seems to be in danger or anything.

But it makes me think about how much I rely on the other adults at school to help me figure out the kids–and how much of my happiness in the school has to do with having good working relationships with everyone with whom I can possibly manage to have a good working relationship.

The kids are SO GREAT, and being with them is an absolute tonic to the soul–most of the time.  They are idealistic, kind, funny.  They look at things with fresh eyes; helping them discover something new is not that unlike watching a baby eat blueberries or feel rain for the first time. Positive adult attention means so much to most of them, no matter how much positive adult attention they get at home.  I see this with the Snork Maiden: some of the high points of her year are the times when an unrelated adult entrusts her with a responsibility, or helps her acquire a new skill, or responds with genuine emotion to something she’s done.  (And I see over and over that different kids “click” with different teachers.  This is her second year with Teacher Z and also with Natasha, who switched from biology to chemistry–but the person whose desk she hangs around is Sebastian, her freshman English teacher, who was new last year–I haven’t written about him except in passing).

So, teenagers are great to spend time with, and goodness knows there are plenty of them, and it seems as though there are teachers who get all their school-related social-emotional needs met through contact with their students.  Which is not necessarily a creepy thing, as long as their more adult social-emotional needs are met elsewhere; for example, you shouldn’t be telling students about your dating problems, obviously.

It goes without saying that there’s always more work to do; if you’re prepared for the next class, you can prepare for the next day; if you’re prepared for the next day, you can prepare for the next week; if you’re prepared for the foreseeable future, you can do more long-range planning.  And there are always students who need more than the standard amount of attention, whatever that is.

And yet. I would say that it’s never a waste of time to get to know your colleagues.  Not just in your department, not just at your grade level; not just other teachers, but any and every staff member.  And maybe especially coaches, because they have so much direct contact with kids.

I hope New Spanish Teacher makes the call.  Or better yet, drops down to the sports office for a chat.


Sometimes I find myself–let’s be frank–butting into someone else’s business.  Not always such a good idea.

Sometimes I decide that something is my problem just because I might be able to solve it.  Also not always such a good idea.

But sometimes I’m not butting in, or borrowing trouble, but practicing work altruism.  I like this concept.  We do spend a fair amount of time at work helping one another out, and I love that it’s an environment in which you can ask for help and people are motivated to give it.

Today I butted in a little bit–a new Spanish teacher had been lamenting that he was having a lot of trouble with a rambunctious junior basketball player.  I said, “Oh, you should talk with Orsino, because he’s had some success with that student.”  And Romola–who played basketball in college–said, “I respectfully disagree!  You should talk with his coach.  Coach will make sure he behaves.”

But Spanish Teacher is new and to him Coach is just one in a sea of unfamiliar faces.  He also comes from a school with a different culture, one that I suspect might be more adversarial between coaches and teachers.  (Not that we don’t have our conflicts.  But there’s also a lot of respect.)  So it didn’t seem like he was going to pick up the phone right away.

And toward the end of the day, I happened to be leaving the building right around the end of basketball practice, and on an impulse I reversed direction and went by the sports office. Had a quick chat with Coach, who was very responsive.  He wanted to talk with the student right away; I asked him to talk with the teacher so that the two of them could have that personal contact.  I said it was OK if he told the teacher that I mentioned suggesting they talk…and I also followed up by emailing the teacher to say I hope he didn’t mind my speaking with Coach.

I don’t absolutely love the dynamic of Coach-as-enforcer, but I don’t mind that this male role model communicates to the boys what behavior he expects of them.  I hope the Spanish Teacher-Coach encounter is a positive one.

The hours

Oh, Sunday night.  This isn’t an especially angsty one, but it’s still not my favorite time.  Nice, though, to reflect that it’s been a good weekend, with some fun, some down time, and some good work.

I mentioned that I brought my second book manuscript to the writers’ group earlier this month and got a very helpful response.  I have managed to carve out some time to revise–again: I completed a draft in 2011, and at various times I’ve thought I was finished; I sent it out many times in 2013, and just a few times in 2014, feeling that something needed my attention.  Now I have the feeling that this thing really is done.  At least I’m ready to get serious about sending it out again.  This weekend I picked four of the upcoming book contest deadlines and submitted it.  I also did some planning for upcoming contests and open reading periods.

This week, I’m going to get two batches of unpublished poems back out there.  Not every unpublished poem in the book works on its own, but there are some that should have magazine publication before the book comes out.  And this should be the year that the book gets taken!

And then I’m going to find some time–maybe next weekend–to look at the handful of finished poems and sheaves of drafts I have for the next book.

Musical chairs

Year two of being department chair has found me worrying less about being department chair, which has been nice. The care and feeding of the new people is a big piece of the job, which makes me wonder what it would be like not to have new faculty to deal with. We have had at least one new faculty member every year since I started working at SA: Dorothea and Viola, Maddie, Romola, Dinah, Orsino and Sebastian, and then the three new people this year.  Of those, Maddie and Viola are the only ones I’ve seen both come and go–I actually saw Viola do it twice, since she came, taught for three years, was home for a year with her baby, taught part-time for one more year, then left. (She had a long commute, which made the part-time work less doable, and she wanted to have a second baby–she’s pregnant now.)  Maddie only stayed a year and then went back to her Ph.D. program; she’s now an assistant professor at a public research university in the South.

The people I’ve seen leave include Elinor (husband’s new job in another state); another really good teacher I never wrote about here (new job closer to her home); the sixth-grade teacher who moved to an administrative position; and Alpha, the only one whose contract wasn’t renewed.  We’ve hired more people than we’ve lost, and the department is larger than it was when I came.  We’ve also had parts of our faculty’s schedules commandeered by different programs; for example, journalism was until quite recently taught by a staff member, and now it’s part of Dinah’s courseload, and another teacher I have never pseudonymed teaches mostly film.  And Lucinda, as I’ve mentioned, is teaching just two courses now.

As I look around this year, and watch the new folks get settled in, I think the most likely source of change for next year is that Romola might get pregnant and have a baby.  That would be a good thing, of course, and depending on whether she leaves altogether or just takes a leave, we might not absolutely have to make a new hire.  I think I would consider myself lucky if that’s the only disruption to our deployment next year!  It will probably be more complicated than that, though.

Why am I thinking about this now, when there is so much to think about that’s more immediate?  (I think I just answered my own question.)


Well, I’ve definitely gotten the Alec/Alex thing down now, yes sirree.  It’s just everything else that has gone to hell.

Okay, it’s not that bad.  Just that I have too many different kinds of things to do and I don’t seem to be able to do them all well on the same day or the same week.

I’m actually getting just a little bit ahead on the prepping, I am basically current with grading, and the teaching in general is going well.  This week it is the department chair stuff that feels like it’s sliding.  I have had a lot of interaction with Orlando, because he is in the faculty workroom at some of the same times, and some with Olivia, who doesn’t have a homeroom and so I see her in the workroom every morning during homeroom.  But I haven’t seen Miranda, the new sixth-grade teacher, last week or this week.  I know she has support over there in the middle school with her grade-level partner and Dorothea, but I did have some suggestions for her after I watched her teach and I should go back into her class and see how things are going for her.  I think I can do it once before the end of the week, if I’m organized.

I also have a big monster email I need to write the whole department about plans for back-to-school night, the annual evaluation cycle, upcoming meetings, funding requests, and two or three other things.  Writing that email is the zombie task that keeps walking from daily list to daily list.

I had a hugely helpful writing-group session on my manuscript last week, and I just haven’t been able to carve out the time to sit with the notes.  I have conference stuff that’s piling up, and various personal emails to write.

Bed, I think. I am not getting anywhere tonight.  If I can get up well rested, I can blow through a lot of this stuff in the morning and schedule the rest for later Thursday and for Friday.  I may not know much, but at this point in my life, I think I know when I’m out of steam.


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