Midnight Musings

Routines are important for me. I don’t do well with too much unstructured time. My friends have been a lifeline, but (like everyone) human connection has been less common than I knew I needed. This week we’ve returned to our schools & I’m grateful to be back in my classroom. However, I’m having a lot of thoughts about how my students must be feeling facing months of online learning instead of the more traditional in-class approach.

So many teachers, students, & families are in the same boat—safety versus tradition. Some families are choosing the homeschool route and I hope they are able to build routines that benefit their kids while giving them the skills they need, while helping them be as well-rounded as possible. I hope that families sticking with their public or private schools are also able to embrace routines that benefit their kids & that they get the skills they need from online learning while gaining a well-rounded education. None of it will be easy. We are—teachers, students, & parents—in this together.

Today, in a few of our meetings & later chatting after (an outdoor, socially distanced) dinner with some friends I was reminded if the importance relationships play in our successes. Getting to know my students will be different this year—I’ll need to get to know the students I’m familiar with just as much as the students who are brand new to me. Building a mutual level of politeness, professionalism, sincerity, and trust is going to be important in convincing students who may be frustrated or burned out or struggling with other issues to try or to ask for clarification/help when they need it. Hopefully, it’ll also help build a sense of community so they care about helping each other—sometimes teacher-speak needs to be translated.

The idea of community comes and goes in American society. Keeping the people beyond our friend group or family safe is important. Treating people with basic politeness matters. Standing up for what is right also matters.

Our classes are communities.

Our schools are communities.

Our neighborhoods are communities.

Our towns are communities.

Maybe it’s long past time to let go of “my rights” and embrace “our community”.

Once upon a time…

I skipped my last posting day. No real reason other than the migraine I battled last week—a few days had me in tears. I get migraines a lot and most people don’t believe that they are actual migraines, but I’ve been getting them since I was twelve. They leveled up when I started teaching…teaching is simultaneously my favorite thing to do and a minefield I’m not always the best at wandering through. Every time I get burned out, I decide to stay in the profession because I really can’t think about what else I would do. In six years I’ll hit thirty years of teaching total, in eight I’ll have thirty years in at my current job—but in neither instance will I be ready to retire financially or emotionally.

For so many reason this year, most of them small, I have been toying with the idea of not putting in 40 years of classroom time (which is the first time I’ve had those thoughts in my 20+ years). I haven’t done well with all of this time away from my actual classroom. It has been good for forcing me to realize just how much my students mean to me—even the ones who shudder at my memory or loathe me daily. I can be grating on some nerves because I live happily in a world of metaphor, a higher level of chaos than most teachers, and I bring philosophy & history to the table as much as I can. My approach to literature has become one of alternative interpretations based on years of reading, discussing, rereading, teaching, and formatively assessing students’ understanding of various books. My understanding of books has changed over all these years.

Beowulf is a brilliant man who plays the personal myth, champion, and left hand games to a degree that wins his frienemy, Unferth, from jealous annoyance to solid ally.

Hester Prynne is a rockstar feminist who teaches her daughter strength and compassion. Roger Chillingworth has a true redemptive arc and is more a father to Pearl at the beginning of his life and through his death than her sperm donor ever was. Arthur Dimmesdale is the true villain of the book who spends years setting up his community so they will never believe his ultimate confession and he when does confess it’s without ever truly taking responsibility for his part in Hester’s struggles or taking responsibility for his biological daughter.

Brave New World and 1984 are brilliant yin and yang looks at control through pleasure and deprivation with a heavy emphasis on technology. Both writers are brilliant in seeing where technology is leading us even if the mechanics of their worlds aren’t really comparable to how our tech actually works. And, Ray Bradbury continues to be the voice in the wilderness even if the way technology has dumbed us down isn’t quite how he envisioned it.

Fairy tales still teach us the most important life lessons outside the faith or philosophy our parent lay down as our foundations. Fairy tale imagery has seeped into every corner of our popular culture, looking back and going forward. The journey into adulthood, meeting our special monsters, facing our shadows, embracing new ways of looking at the world & living in it…we owe a great debt to the grandfathers of The Fairy Tale—Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen. We owe a great debt to the keepers of folklore—The Grimms, Schönwerth, d’Aulnoy, Lang, and countless others—for bridging the gap between the illiterate and the literate.

That ridiculous green light that Nick puts so much meaning into in his attempts to understand Gatsby is as imaginary as Jay, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan. They were all curating their lives in a way any Facebook or instagram aficionado should aspire to today. And, those parties are genius for Jay’s true work moving guns & alcohol from Canada to New York—everyone’s is focused on spectacle and no one is looking at the docks or empty party supply trucks.

I love teaching these stories and I’m ready for The House of Cadmus via Antigone rather than Oedipus next year. The final chapter in a legacy cursed by the gods via a poisoned wedding gift that start with the founding of Thebes. It’s taken me years to appreciate Ismene’s quiet, desperate strength in the face of Antigone’s determination to not relive the mistakes of her father no matter the cost.

Our current situation is a global reminder for those of us who live small, safe lives that there is always a cost, even if it’s not one we are personally faced with every day. My cost is nearly daily spikes of pain in my brain; others deal with the long term payments of surviving cancer or the ups & downs of marriage or crippling debts. Teaching is a great, daily reminder to me of how much goes on in the lives of my students and colleagues no matter the face they put on when at the high school. The balance is seeing former students who have grown up and become so much more than I could imagine for them. I don’t know most of their struggles when they are in my classes or long after when I run onto them. I just get to be proud of them for persevering and finding some sort of happiness and success.

My students are also a reminder of what I learned from my own parents, my childhood, my years as an adult. I’m not who I once was as a teacher and I hope to continue to become better. I’m not who I once was as a person—success, failure, hope, pain, friends, and family have helped with that. Both of my parents taught me how to deal with the pain of different types of migraines; my life didn’t used to allow me to deal with that pain in any other way than to suck it up and get through it the best I can. I know I’m blessed or lucky most of the time. My teacup tempests are small; my life is small which brings its own pain and grace.

At least I have stories. My maternal grandfather was the first storyteller to open my mind, but there have been so many more storytellers over the years. I hope I open some of the minds in my care to the beauty of stories, the strangeness of truth, and the skills to look beyond the words. Gramps laid that part of my foundation even though I didn’t have too many years under his tutelage. Papa, his long-term replacement, taught me how important personal anecdotes are to understanding individuals. I am so lucky to have had multi-generational teachers and the time to look back at what my grandfathers, grandmothers, and parents taught me about people and the world.

Once upon a time Gramps would open his tobacco pouch, tamp down the tobacco in his pipe, light a match, and settle in to tell his stories.

Once upon a time Grandma would open up her door, accept a hug, and show us her fierce determination to live her life on her own terms.

Once upon a time Grams showed us the value of risk by opening up her heart and landing two great loves in one lifetime.

Once upon a time my parents battled the ups and down of marriage, poverty, chronic illness, and faith to show their children loyalty, shades of generosity, and the fruits of determination.

Once upon a time I entered my first classroom and found out how different reality is. My next trick will be surfing the changes Covid-19 has brought to my students, my colleagues, and teaching high school…

Educate me, please

As many of my students will remember, I’m big on bringing up current events, history, and moments of major change to inform our understanding of the fiction and nonfiction we address in various classes. I’ve been adding to my Contemporary Era section which has meant reading quite a bit of news and digging up related, interesting information (not all of which makes it into the Miscellany—my 300+ pages document covering everything I think is important for my students to know in order to be well-rounded, critical thinkers).

The news over the last couple of weeks has prompted this latest revision. I try to keep my bias to minimum and I try to be accurate in how I word my notes so that I can be accurate with the information I give my students and the directions I point them toward for finding additional information.

I’m sure there are some errors in this section of notes (typos and facts), so please feel free to let me know where to look or what you know that I might want to include in this document.

Thank you to anyone who takes the time to read through my Contemporary Era notes. Thank you to anyone who drops me a line on WordPress, Instagram, Twitter, or via email.

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For Sixth Period…

A few years ago, I struggle to articulate the fundamental difference between the concepts of niceness and kindness–they are not straight synonyms. This year, my classes keep coming back to equality and individual freedoms. Both my juniors and my seniors have had multiple discussions discussions about equality, reparations for various groups whose ancestors were poorly treated by the US government, privilege, modern racism and prejudice, and class issues.

Equality is the idea that we should all be given the same rights and responsibilities. This generally falls apart in execution due to all of the factors that keep us from being the same. Equality and sameness are not interchangeable, but the way many people discuss equality makes it seem like they are.


“We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe–some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others–some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.”

Atticus Finch’s closing argument: Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (274)


Kurt Vonnegut also discussed equality versus sameness in his 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron” (which I teach every couple of years). If we can all acknowledge what Lee and Vonnegut were getting at, then I hope we can dial down on the inherent idea that we are owed anything for existing. Even hard work, extreme dedication, and a core of steel cannot guarantee us success in school or in life. Bad thing happen to good people and good thing happen to bad people which pulls me to the story of Job (yes, the one from The Bible).

Do my rights matter more than anyone else’s?

Do my needs matter more than anyone else’s?

Living in community requires a give-and-take. Sometimes that mean making reparation for the crimes of our government or our ancestors and sometimes it means working to make sure that the playing field of life is a well maintained as possible. Human nature dictates that we will never be equal in practice. What I take from these stories is that why things are the way they are matters less than how I treat others in the here and now.

Fifteen Minutes

I could come up with a list of excuses, some of them reasonable (most of them not). Anyone who takes the time to look back through my archive can see my spotty history with posting. I’m not sure if I can successfully make a habit out of it, but every time I fail is another chance to try again. After all, I’ll never get better at writing if I don’t do it regularly and push myself to get better at communication.

We are in week two of the new semester and I’m teaching poetry again. I love poetry.

I can admit that last semester was not by best by a wide margin. And, again, I could come up with a list of valid reasons that would just end up being excuses. I don’t want to excuse myself—I just need to do better.

Towards that end has come my challenge to my poetry students. I am asking them to write every day for fifteen minutes outside of school. There are no points for this. However, I know the stability and growth that will come to the ones who do it (and I’m doing it with them). The rules are easy:

  • Find a place to write
  • Try to stick to the same time of day
  • Set a timer for fifteen minutes
  • Write about whatever in whatever format

It’s going to take awhile to get back into a rhythm. Although, that holds true for most of the things I’d like to focus on for the next few months.