Saturday, July 30, 2022

An Epilogue of Sorts

After my last entry, we went back to school in person that April in 2021, just barely vaccinated and overextending ourselves into all kinds of shapes to serve a "hybrid" model...I'm usually so clear on details but I think I've intentionally forgotten as much about it as I could. It was hard, but at the time I kept joking "It's only for three months. I can do any kind of shit show for three months." And I did. And it was. And now that unique corner of my life is done.

In the midst of all that vaguely-remembered circus, our school was told we had to displace one teacher from every department, including special ed. So I volunteered to be the one displaced from special ed. And someday I guess I'll write in more detail about how hard it was to give up on that particular dream of that particular school, but how it was absolutely the right move to make and how I feel like I can simply breathe again at the new school where I landed. I'm back in an elementary school at last, in a resource room, in a leadership position, and suddenly it just feels like a tough-but-fun job that I'm really good at instead of anything more epic than that.

I have worked for Seattle Public Schools for ten years now, and I've been writing this blog in some form or another since 2008, when message boards (and blogs, for that matter) were still a thing. I started it as a way to stay connected with the younger self I'd been, to reflect and tell my stories. It became a space for me to sort of figure out my present and future, too...sorting out parenthood, connecting with other parents and teachers, puzzling and pondering the state of the world, finding old friends, fumbling my way into advocacy and ultimately back to teaching. I mentioned at the start of this paragraph, I've now been doing for 10 years somehow.

I started this blog kind of marveling that I'd somehow stumbled into a "mainstream" lifestyle of which I'd never quite felt entirely worthy and couldn't quite place myself within. As I wrote, year by year, I gradually found my footing, and it all just kind of flowed along through thick and thin, from H1N1 to Covid-19, from kindergarten to college. Oh yes. College. My kids are 18 and 15 now, joyful and quirky as ever, and entirely themselves. Mr. Black and I are still married and happy, just a few years shy of donning our matching tracksuits for the next phase of empty-nester couplehood. 

This isn't an ending. But in a lot of ways it feels like the end of the particular narrative I was telling in this space. So I'll think of this final entry as an epilogue of sorts. Felt weird just leaving it here with no closure. So, you know. There it is. Closure. Until the next chapter emerges and comes into focus.  

Monday, February 15, 2021

A Year is a Long Time

One year ago, I looked at the news and briefly considered cancelling a trip to New York City I’d planned for mid-winter break. In the end, I decided to just take my chances and go anyway.  

 Some folks at the airport were wearing masks, but not many. In New York, my mom, sister, niece, and I sat shoulder to shoulder in packed theaters. Hadestown. Beetlejuice. Girl from the North Country. Hamilton. We crowded into diners and shops, gathering up our bubble tea, grilled cheese, souvenirs, and socks. Handmade earrings and grey-blue nail polish for me. A stylish new coat for my niece. I spent my last day dreamy-drifting through the Whitney, shoulder to shoulder again. Humans and humans and art. I walked the Highline with a dear old friend, packed myself into a Lyft to JFK, and flew home to Seattle.

 A few weeks later…Well. You know.

I hold that New York trip close to my heart like a favorite toy carried out of a house on fire. I hold it as a symbol of what we’ve lost. I hold it as a testament to general day-seizing and gathering one’s rosebuds while one may. I take comfort in knowing that we lived our pre-pandemic lives so freely and in robust pursuit of happiness.  

I’ve also taken comfort – maybe weirdly, or maybe not – in the fact that we, all of us, are living out a chapter of history. As someone who teaches history, there’s a certain satisfaction in recognizing that we are living it. We have a front row seat to what will one day be a blip on a timeline; a PBS documentary; someone’s obscure graduate thesis; an introductory textbook paragraph leading up to a century’s worth of whatever-the-heck is going to happen next.   

I talk to my students about it a lot. They lean in and sit up a little taller when I explain it to them that way. (I mean, as best I can tell with all their cameras off. But they do have a lot to say about it.) We are the primary sources now. Our emails, our social media feed, the Chat from this very virtual class – all relics of a history that we are living.

I hold myself up as an example. “Remember that day when [student] was on his phone during class and announced that someone in our state had died from coronavirus? Remember how I got annoyed and told him that was just click-bait, that we’d all be fine, and to put his phone away and focus on the lesson?” They laugh and nod and murmur. “He was right. I was wrong.”

I’ve been wrong about a lot of things as I’ve grappled my way through pandemic teaching. Hard not to be when everything around us is so shaken and turned upside down. Almost a year later, I find myself wary of doubling down on any particular conviction as we hurtle and tumble our way through real-time history, holding on to what I know that still works and desperately scrambling to learn what I don’t know yet.

I have moments of feeling peevish, resenting the ever-increasing distance between ourselves and the return to so-called “normal.” Then I think about what school was like back in the so-called “normal” times and remember how brutal an experience school was for way too many of our students. Why are we in such a hurry to get back to that?

I have moments of something even deeper than fear – not fear of the virus itself, but fear of my own community that wants to march us teachers back to school, vaccines or no vaccines, because they’re feeling done and fed-up with being so far from “normal,” too. The crops are dying and they’re ready to drown the nearest witch.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with school in the near future, and I don’t know what my next moves are going to be. All I know right now is this:

Someday – maybe sooner than we want, maybe a painfully long time from now – we’ll go back. I’ll wake up early, get my coffee and oatmeal, drive my car up Aurora Avenue in the dark, walk into that school building and up those stairs, and let myself into my classroom. I’ll check my email and put the finishing touches on the day’s lessons as I hear the roar of children downstairs pouring out of their busses and into the cafeteria for breakfast. I’ll welcome my own students into my classroom. The bell will ring. I’ll close the door. I’ll take attendance and start our day.

And NONE of it will be normal.


Because we will have survived something. We will have endured tremendous loss. We will have been tossed and turned and tumbled through a rocky passage of raw, unfiltered, pre-textbook history.

My students have witnessed crowds of white adults screaming in the streets that our lives don’t matter, trashing everything from a mask-mandating grocery store to the United States Capitol building 9/11-style just to prove it. My students have witnessed a would-be coup incited by the despot we never trusted – a man who mocked their disabilities, criminalized their religions, brutally caged children just like them for attempting the same journey to safety they themselves might have made years ago.

We were broken before. We are broken now. We will be broken when things go back to so-called normal.

But....we are also resilient. My old friend Teacher Tom wrote a piece today that reminds me of that true, simple fact and gives me tremendous hope. He says:

These aren’t the same people we sent home last spring. They have survived a terrible loss by becoming new people. It hasn’t been easy. As schools re-open, let’s begin by celebrating who they have become, then make it our business to understand them as they are right now. We can’t let the hyperventilating over how far our children have “fallen behind” cause us to plow ahead as if a return to normal is even possible. Because everything has changed and the children we teach have changed as well.

And I couldn’t have said it any better myself. Whatever happens next, the skills and convictions we’ll need to meet it will be the ones we’ve always known and practiced all along: Honor their brilliance. Meet them where they’re at. Help them lead. Let them heal. Find joy in their joy. Have hope.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

A Merry Little Christmas Now

Oh, my love
We live in troubled days
Oh, my friend
We have the strangest ways
All my friends
On this one day of days
Thank God it's Christmas

For a fifty-something Gen X agnostic lady, I love Christmas remarkably hard. It’s a childhood nostalgia thing, I suppose. I was an introverted little quirky-pants with a rich imagination and deep capacity for joy. Two weeks off from school to immerse myself in a twinkling-lighted wonderland of songs and cookies and stories with warm-n-cozy tropes, not to mention presents….I mean, my goodness. What’s not to love remarkably hard?

Christmas was when the cast list for the high school musical would be announced. Christmas was when the college crunch-time of finals and papers would suddenly just end and you’d get whisked home to soft beds, childhood pets, and free laundry. Christmas was holiday parties – candle-lit apartments, or corporate hotel ballrooms, or married couples’ mulled-cider beneath the Ikea tree, or shoulder-to-shoulder ironic Santa hats in beer-splattered bars.

Christmas was a deliriously joyful visit to my long-distance boyfriend in Seattle that turned into an apartment hunt through the drizzly streets of the post-grunge / pre-Amazon$$$ Capitol Hill neighborhood. Christmas was epic airplane journeys home to my parents’ Pennsylvania farm to curl up in one’s old bedroom and be a kid again. Christmas was the arrival of our baby grrrl and, a few years later, the miraculous healing of my beloved elderly cat. Christmas was…and is…a desperately welcome break from my relentlessly busy job.

And this year?

This year, my friends, I love it even more.

We need it even more. The ritual of celebration. The ritual of gathering – no wild dashes through crowded airports this year, no big families dinners, no vacations, no parties, but still…we gather. We speak to each other with intention. With deeper appreciation. Within this eerie context that the world as we know it kind of ended this year, and yet we all hang on, through space, through Zoom, through texts, through social media.

What an incredible testament to human connection, that we hang the heck on like we do, through changes we never would have imagined last year at this time. We literally can’t be “there” for each other. And yet. We are here for each other.

This is the first Christmas I’ve had in a while that bore so much uncertainty. Next year…will all our troubles be out of sight?  A new president. A new vaccine. A renewed commitment to anti-racism. Living to fight another day, with no shortage of peril and injustice to fight against.  

We’ll have to muddle through somehow.

So, have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Cameras-Off Connection

 I don’t mind teaching into an empty computer screen. I know my kids are there.

“But if they keep their cameras off, how do you know if they’re engaging?” asks Everybody.

As if a teacher can ever truly know that. As if our kids aren’t in figurative “cameras off” mode when they’re sitting right there in our classrooms. The best answer I can offer is….I just know.

I know because they type their answers in the Chat, or their little mic icons flicker on for a moment and flicker back off. They forget to mute, and I can hear a younger sibling’s virtual kindergarten class from another laptop at the same kitchen table, or a parent on a work phone call, or a crying baby cousin, or a whispered argument (“I know, Mom! I’m in school right now!)

I know because I’ll post a form to rate each Word History icon on a five-star rating scale, and the grrrl I just knew would love Empress Wu sure enough ranks Empress Wu the highest. They even do the writing assignments – some of them with obvious help from a family member, some of them with obvious help from Google-copy-paste, some of them barely at all, and some of them with heart warming stylistic evidence that they’ve been reading independently or that they’ve learned something from me.

 I know because they stay when “live” class is over and ask for help. Except for my Empress Wu grrrl, who stays and doesn’t ask for help or respond to my offers or questions. I do other work in the background, checking in occasionally. “I’m still here to help if you need help. Just let me know.” Thirty minutes go by. And in the thirty-first minute…she does ask for help.

I know to the extent I’m ever able to know. I know because I trust – not in their unwavering obedience, but in our very human ability to ebb and flow, connect and disconnect, mute and un-mute. Sometimes our hearts and minds need to be elsewhere. But we come back. We always come back.

 And finally (as those of you who follow me on social media may have already heard)… I know because my Life Skills class had the BEST. FLIPPING. HOLIDAY. CLASS. PARTY. EVER.

I wasn’t sure how a virtual class party with no snacks was going to turn out. But I knew we had to try.

 Each student chose one guest from another class to invite, plus a few favorite teachers. We practiced our social conversation skills. We made connections. We danced to Go Noodle. Then one of the 8th grade boys started grumbling about the music.

“I like Slayer and Metallica,” he explained.

“I know how to sing 'Enter Sandman,'” volunteered a shy 6th grade grrrl, and the next thing you know we're all virtually rocking out to Metallica karaoke. Little grrrl has PIPES. We even got a noise complaint....from The Boy (now 16, btw), slogging through his own virtual schoolwork.

We wrapped it up with another impromptu lesson -- I modeled how to politely lie to the hostess if you didn't actually have a good time at the party. Luckily, most of them truly did enjoy themselves.

It wasn’t even noon. I hadn’t left my desk. But I was elated for the rest of the day, as if I’d been to a real, live holiday party with eggnog and lampshades and mistletoe and a conga line. Very few of our kids had turned their cameras on. But we were connected. Truly connected.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Don’t Wait for February

My fellow Well-Meaning White Lady teachers out there…there are so damn many of us, it’s downright embarrassing. Isn’t it? The best of us recognize how marinated in white privilege we are, no matter who we voted for, no matter what the percentage of pesticide-free organic produce filling up our reusable shopping bags.

That’s…a start, I guess. But even in our awkward state of alliance, we kind of suck. The high-achieving Hermiones among us miss the point completely, tripping over each other to earn the most house points for woke-ness. And don’t even get me started on the Mean Girls among us who’ve managed to weaponize anti-racism against each other – couching pettiness in equity jargon to get the edge in an argument, looking for weakness everywhere but the mirror.

We speak in terms of “gaps,” and how to “close” them, rarely if ever acknowledging that the so-called achievement gap itself is a cultural construction. It’s not random. Somebody had to decide what counts as “achievement” in the first place. Somebody had to decide what tools we were going to use to measure said achievement. Somebody – despite piles of research that quantifies teacher-student relationships and student voice as crucial for equitable success – somebody helps us teachers feel justified in pushing those things aside because “There’s just so much to cover!” to get our students ready for those achievement-measuring tests.

And somebody – in the name of providing The Best educators for public school students – decided that you can’t get through the door without a battery of expensive degrees, internships, and piles of standardized tests. Somebody put up locked gates instead of windows. Those of us who got in are smart, talented, and passionate…but those qualities alone wouldn’t have gotten us anywhere. We needed money and time and more money – we needed privilege, in other words – to truly unlock those gates. And here we are, disproportionately white.

Many of us are grappling with how to be anti-racist while knowing that we got here in the first place through a labyrinth of racist systems – and we continue to run through the hamster wheels of inherently racist systems that built our city and our state and our entire nation and the demographics of every Seattle school. Folks…it’s messed up. And I won’t attempt to resolve it here beyond acknowledging the stark, messed-up, racist reality of it all. There’s no way to reconcile or justify the cognitive dissonance and inequities that got us here.

But…here we are anyway. And what now?

I don’t know, man. I’m no expert. But here are a few little baby steps toward anti-racist practice that I think we white teachers can take:

Let’s stop telling our students of color how to feel about…anything. If they want to exclaim that George Washington was racist, let’s engage that, or at least give them room to rant it.

Let’s lean in to tangents and off-topic questions. If we don’t know, let’s be honest about that and maybe model how to find an answer, or have an answer ready for them the next day.

Let’s make a point of speaking respectfully to and about their parents and grandparents – to the students and when we’re talking with colleagues.

Let’s own our mistakes and apologize to our students with sincerity and grace.

Let’s acknowledge when things are terrible, and that we care. “Yes, I did hear about that lady with the dog in Central Park. Isn’t in awful?”

Let’s really work as hard as we can to NEVER flipping be that lady with the dog in Central Park. I’m looking at you, Nextdoor.

And speaking of Nextdoor, let’s also work hard to not be NIMBYs. Our ancestors either stole this land from indigenous people or benefitted from the co-option of that land. I think we can all put on our big girl pants and be okay with some new building that’s going to block our view of downtown and bring in more renters.

Let’s spend a lot of careful, intentional time planning our lessons for Black Lives Matter at School: Week of Action. And if our school doesn’t participate in that…let’s advocate for participating in it next year.  
Let’s not wait for MLK’s birthday and Black History Month to put this stuff at the forefront. The resources are there. It is completely possible to put intentional anti-racist focus into all subjects, all lessons. Because we can’t afford to wait until February. 

Please don’t wait for February.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Pedagogy of a Plague

Me, kind of not sucking at distance-teaching...
I’ve been wanting to write about this for weeks, but it’s been impossible to settle on one particular way to feel about teaching in the midst of a pandemic. Ultimately, I guess, I don’t have any one particular way to feel about it.

There are moments of success, connecting in real ways with families and students over the phone or video chat or whatever. I kind of LOVE creating video lessons, like to the point where I’m tweaking out on it a little. I’m not saying they’re any good. I’m just saying I love this shiny new tool in my toolbox and I will now build 50 different dilapidated birdhouses in a variety of shapes and colors because TEACHING!

And there are moments of struggle and fail. Many of them. Trying to teach myself how to schedule a video IEP meeting on Microsoft Teams had me flat on my back in grown-ass-lady tantrum mode a few weeks ago. And, as much as I love making video lessons, I dread doing “live” shit. My “live” shit  is weak, sparse, redundant, and not super-well attended. I hope to balls it’s not part of our performance evaluation this year, because holy moly, is all.

But the sharpest and most persistent stick in my side is this: I still can’t seem to find the cognitive balance between the voices that want so much more teachy-teaching from us (administrators, mayors, state officials, newspaper columnists, lawyers, tiger parents, etc.) and the voices that want so much less (parents, generally). The closest consensus between all of these voices seems to be “NO NOT LIKE THAT!”

Last week I got super salty about a McSweeney’s article, of all things, that mercilessly exposed the sad fact that we classroom teachers kind of suck at digital marketing distance learning. It’s almost as if most of us have had no training or practice in the field. It’s almost as if we’re using clunky technology that makes a grrrl really lean in to those tech skills she acquired growing up on the farm in the 80’s, twisting the TV’s rabbit-ear antennae to hear and see MASH through the static. We’re doing the best we can with the flimsy-ass tools we’ve got, trying to calibrate our skill set to parameters that just don’t fit.

The crankiest part of me wants to ask…. “And for what?”

Because is any of this actually helping? Or is our hard work and Apollo-13ing basically just…performative? Expected of us? Defensive, even, against the many, many detractors of public education and its teachers? Does anyone who might truly benefit from our work even want us jumping through all these flaming hoops?

We’ve done a lot of good, meaningful work, too. I’m proud of us for keeping our students fed, and for how we’re providing families with books and laptops and various and sundry gap-narrowing devices. That’s essential work.

But this so-called “continuous learning” rollout…I mean…What even was school in the first place that we’re scrambling so hard to maintain its status quo? What do “grade level standards” even mean when people are dying of plague-on-crack and class inequities are blazingly exposed like never before? What am I even doing when I reach out to a family that I know has been hit hard by all this COVID mess and I'm all like “Good news, dude. Phonics lessons!”

So, yeah. I get it. I’m disappointed in us, too. I wish I could do more. When the schools first closed I saw it as this tremendous opportunity to revitalize what public education even means. We were free! We could keep what was working and toss the rest; help our students follow their passions and start a whole new public education revolution!

The thing is…I was tired. So were my students. Any attempt at psyching them up for the revolution left them kind of shrugging and asking for a nice, safe, predictable worksheet. I’d be lying to say I wasn’t relieved. I’m too weary for revolution right now, folks. Maybe another day.

So, for now, I wake up every morning, down a pot of coffee, and twitch and tweak my way through this brave new world of digitizing the status quo. It’s not good, and it’s not bad. But, you know. What is? All of us have strengths and weaknesses, and now we get to see them play out through the filter of a global pandemic, hopefully learning some new skills along the way.

No easy answers. But I guess I can think of worse ways to spend a plague.

Friday, April 3, 2020


Art by Gregg Chadwick

This might be a shameful thing to admit, but I will say it: I’m glad to be safe. I feel guilty. And I feel sorry. But I also feel safe and glad.

There was so much about teaching middle school that was hurting, it’s hard to even know where to begin. So I guess I’ll begin with the parts that have been good: my students, their spirit, our spirit, the pure thrill of innovation and bursts of success where you least expect it. Their joy and humor. Their sharp, incisive wit. Their love. How we all come together around whatever obstacles are in our path that particular day. Just how they come into the room and everything falls into perfect, chaotic sense.

But there’s a fair amount of fear there, too. And anger. And powerlessness.

Outside of my own classroom, there is no room for all the space I take up…even when I make myself small, squeezing my too-large body through the tightly packed chairs at staff meetings in the library, squeezing my too-large voice back into my throat. There are facial expressions I’ve learned not to make, empathy I’ve learned not to feel, and a bottomless well of words I can’t say without the grown-ups side-eyeing each other, glancing anxiously at the clock.

There are broken things everywhere that I am not supposed to notice or try to fix. There is a piece of my voice that no longer makes any sound. Counterintuition is the new intuition. There are families who would have loved me and stood by my side back in the early Floor Pie days who hate me now, scolding and shaming across IEP meeting tables. There are speeding buses everywhere, ready for someone to throw you under. And there is always someone to throw you under. Bonus points if you trusted them enough to be within those throwing arms’ reach.

There is sexism so baked-in that I buy into it myself. “We need more male teachers.” There is rape culture that I haven’t been allowed to call rape culture. “The teacher creates the culture in the classroom.” There have been braying jokes about girls and female colleagues and myself that I wasn’t allowed to take seriously. “He’s just a baby.”

That summer, five years ago, the school district HR person had laughed patronizingly when I’d called in the midst of a disappointing job search. He’d all but patted my head when I said “I want to work in an elementary school” as if I’d said “I want to be a princess.” He steered me toward middle school instead.

I tried so hard to be happy about it. I worked so hard to bring the spirit and joy I found in working with younger students to this darker, scarier space. I searched for the good, and I truly did find a wealth of good. I’ve connected with so many students and families. I’ve learned so much from incredibly talented colleagues. I’ve even been able to make significant positive differences now and again.

Still…there’s fear. There’s anger. There’s defeat and a sense of powerlessness. There are ruthless, narrow cracks and corridors to navigate. Even before the quarantine, I knew it was starting to break me.

Working from home is not a vacation. It’s a whole new job – new technology, new challenges to calibrate for social equity, the pedagogy of distance learning, and plenty of raised angry voices telling us (1) how much we’re failing our students by not providing enough lessons, and/or (2) how unfairly we are overwhelming our families with all these relentless lessons. I’m plenty busy. I’m just a lot less broken than I used to feel. I’m safe, surrounded by my kids and cats and husband, and even though this plague might kill us all before next year, these last few weeks have felt like the strangest of blessings.

Honestly, I don’t feel as guilty about that as people probably want me to feel.

We public school teachers were supposed to be rushing into the burning buildings next week, saving the city by providing childcare for the folks who are actually saving the city. First they asked for volunteers. Then they made it mandatory. Then the union stepped in, and now they’re at least trying to make some sense of it – working out safety measures, hazard pay, a generally less behind-the-scenes shady approach to the whole endeavor.

Providing childcare won’t be mandatory for us teachers now. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who hate us for that, but honestly, it shouldn’t be. You don’t want your child in the care of someone who’s being forced to be there under duress. Just trust me on that. You don’t. Honestly, you don’t even want your child in the care of some well-meaning non-ECE professional. But I know most of the world just can’t see it that way.

For example, in a letter to our school superintendent last week, our mayor said this:

[T]his is an emergency where our community needs help now. No one can stand on the sidelines. Every organization and every person has a new job description: do what is needed. The well-being of our children is the responsibility of us all, but it is the core mission of our public schools.

And, okay. She’s not wrong. These are unprecedented times and each of us has a duty to bring our best to the situation.

But I don’t consider any of what I’ve done these past five years – or now, or ever – equivalent to standing on the sidelines. It feels so fundamentally hateful to even suggest it; so irresponsible and so uniquely Seattle to guilt-trip vulnerable people – who are, let’s face it, super-easy targets for this brand of shaming – into harm’s way without so much as a mask or a thank-you.

How I wish that, instead of shaming us tired and broken and PTSD’d teachers, that our city could find a way to recruit an army of talented, dedicated, willing early childhood ed professionals to take this on, and (for the first time in the history of education) pay them what they’re worth.

The city may have just realized that teachers and childcare providers are “essential,” too, but we’ve known it all along. We’ve been fighting and hurting and holding everything up with every last shred of our strength all along. Maybe I’ll offer my childcare services once things make a little more sense and the details have been sorted out. For now, though, I need the littlest breath of peace and space to heal while I figure out how to do my actual job under these extraordinary circumstances.

I hope that’s enough. I’m sorry if it isn’t.

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