Thursday, May 26, 2016

Teacher Training

Here on this spot you have read about my experiences as a teacher stuck in various forms of training. I have spent days in crowded gymnasiums and cafeterias watching countless Power Point slides and eating a predictable series of boxed lunches all in the service of becoming a highly qualified teacher that kids in our schools deserve. My chief complaint has never really been the presentations or the box lunches. There is a sense of "we're all in this together" which makes it easier to live through those days spent in uncomfortable chairs. And every so often we get a kernel of something that will work in our own classrooms as we prepare to head back to our school sites with a renewed sense of purpose, or at least a sense of relief that we have lived through another round of training.
Which is why I have begun to develop this mild fantasy of federally mandated firearms training for all teachers. Rather than being issued a new teachers' edition of math curriculum or handed a list of web sites to do more reading on this or that pedagogy, we will be given eye and ear protection and led to the firing range. Over the course of the next few days, we would be instructed in the care and cleaning of our state-mandated and provided handgun. We would also have plenty of time to discuss center of mass targeting and the use of lethal force. Once basic target proficiency has been reached, then combat tactics can be added in simulated situations both inside and out. Using file cabinets for cover as well as the theory of acceptable losses will be examined as we prepare to greet the new school year locked and loaded. There will be those, of course, who object to the use of handguns in the classroom, preferring something with a little more stopping power. Why should we limit ourselves as educators to simply subduing trouble when we can put it out of its misery for good? I have seen the future and I am afraid.
Now, I don't expect this to happen anymore than I expect Hillary Clinton to be inaugurated and proceed to eliminate all guns everywhere. Donald Trumpler won't be the guy handing out guns to every Kindergarten teacher, either. It's just the fact that it has become a part of the debate. At all. "Good guys with guns" is a pretty tough sell in this day and age of excessive force and wrongful death lawsuits. How bad would things have to get before they start to get better? A call from your kid's teacher saying that he was wounded in the crossfire in the cafeteria, but the good news is that he'll still be able to take that standardized test with his good hand.
Choose carefully, America. Choose wisely.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Stages

Back in the day, I subscribed to the ten stages of drunkenness, which I learned from listening to Jimmy Buffett: Witty and Charming (part 1), Warm Family Man, Patriotic, Clairvoyance, To Hell With Dinner, Patriotic, Witty and Charming (part 2), Break Out The K-Y, Invisible, Bulletproof, God's Own Drunk. On any given night, I was good for six to eight of these, sometimes clearing Bulletproof but never quite settling on God's Own territory. On a good evening, I could hover pleasantly around the second phase of Witty and Charming before English became optional. This was my party persona, and I would love to tell you that I practiced to make each stage separate and distinct, but that would be less than true. I made enough calls on Sunday mornings to check on that moment when the mess started to slide into sloppy, and I know that it is hard work to stay on top of a wave of binge drinking. It has swallowed up lesser men than me.
Which is why I retired. Really. There are plenty of folks whose names I can supply, on demand, who will attest to how much fun I was. For a while. Until I turned invisible.Then it became necessary to extricate me or my conversational hostages. Helicopter evacuation wouldn't be necessary, just a simple bag of Cheetos was enough to distract me, and the offended parties could slip out unnoticed. Nobody misses those days, but I do miss being witty and charming.
I had my chance last weekend at a work function. It was an end-of-year celebration for the tech-types, of which I count myself, held in the back yard of the district's Chief Technologist. My wife and I arrived fashionably late, and I carried in a six pack of assorted beers that were just getting old in our refrigerator. Our host greeted us and pointed us in the direction of the food and the cooler where our beer would nestle with the rest of the adult beverages. Unless I wanted wine, which was also offered. I politely declined, and made my way to the bratwurst.
It was next to the buns and condiments that I found myself in that tricky spot of standing next to other grown ups who were trying to make polite conversation while grazing. The back yard was small enough that my options were limited by the full picnic table and the lack of space to circulate. Soon my wife and I were surrounded by four more individuals who needed to be introduced because even though we worked in the same district, we knew each other primarily by school site. Now it was time to decide: should I shove the rest of my dinner into my mouth and listen politely, or should I engage? I chose the latter, and soon I found myself on familiar ground: Witty and Charming (part 1). All those conversational gambits that had worked so well with a drink in my hand all those years ago were still somewhat reliable and I found myself entertaining this small crowd with the love and support of my wing-wife, who kept the ball bouncing whenever I got stuck and I kicked it loose whenever she lost track herself. I nibbled at salad and felt the absence of a drink in my hand, but I kept going. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I half-expected to descend into invisibility, but it never came. I was funny and pleasant and managed not to offend anyone or their significant others. After a couple hours of this, my witty and charming wife pointed out that we needed to be on our way, since tomorrow was a busy day and all. We walked out of the back yard feeling quietly triumphant. I turned to her and said with mild hesitation, "I think tonight we were 'that couple.'"
She reflected for a moment and agreed. We drove home feeling what I can only assume is a stage of sobriety: Smug and Satisfied.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Disintegration

Afternoons will be measured out
measured out, measured with 
coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot
-Afternoons and Coffeespoons" by Crash Test Dummies
These were the words that poured into my ears on that  rainy Saturday morning. I was running my fifty-three year old body around the neighborhood, feeling that age and then again not. I know that there are guys my age running marathons. I know there are guys my age sitting on the couch, wishing they could get up and out to do anything that resembled exercise. In my twenties, I used to go out for a run and not come back until I was tired. In my fifties, that's how I start.
There was a time when I ran to keep myself busy. Now I try and find those moments when I am not busy squeeze in a run. There are so many other things to do now. This doesn't take into account how many miles I have put on my joints, including the surgically repaired left knee that didn't keep me from running consecutive ten Bolder Boulder ten kilometer races way back then. I had to move away to leave that behind. I found another race to run in my thirties, but that was never the reason I was training. I was running to prove that I could. One more mile. One more weekend waking up and hitting the road. One more evening when I found an hour to pull on my shorts and shoes.
Because as much as I am immersed in this whimsical notion of entropy, I fight it wherever I can, but I know how severe the effects of gravity alone can be on the bones of those past their prime. I am always pleased when I get to the finish line, when I make it back to my driveway. Nobody had to carry me home. I didn't have to call for a ride back to where I started.
I started running because my father encouraged me. I ran those races with him when he was in his fifties. In my wallet I carry a picture of the two of us crossing the finish line together. One of the last things I did with my father was go for a run when he came to California to visit. Maybe if we would have run back to Colorado together instead of getting in that little airplane, we could have slowed the descent.
 I tried to get my son to run with me, but he prefers his solitude. I went with him to the rec center at his college and we ran on the same track, but he wanted to keep his own pace and stride. His dad wasn't going to hook him that easy.
My father built a clock for my wife and I as a wedding present. I have been winding that clock for twenty-three years. It keeps a steady rhythm, but it needs to be wound once a week. With a key. That rainy Saturday morning I opened the door of the Regulator to wind it once again and the key snapped in my hand. I was done with that chore until we could order a new key from Al Gore's Internet. We could keep it running, it would just take a few days for shipping. Meanwhile I hear the ticking and I believe I can hear it winding down. Slowly.
Part of entropy is looking for metaphors to describe it.

Monday, May 23, 2016

By The Book

When I tell people that I am reading Susan Klebold's book, a lot of them look at me in wonder. Some of them are wondering who Susan Klebold is. Once I have explained who she is, the next curiosity is why I would subject myself to such a chore. Ms. Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold. Her son was one half of the deadly force that swept through Columbine High School back in April, 1999. She didn't write a book about the horror of that day, though there is some recounting of the events before, during, and after. That book has been written already. She wrote a book about grief. It's what survivors do.
In a world that searches for someone to blame, Susan and her husband Tom would be prime candidates for a truckload of it. It was their son that was responsible for the deaths of twelve students and a teacher, along with another two dozen wounded and countless hundreds who will be forever traumatized by the terror he wrought. Wasn't it their fault that this monster was unleashed on the world? How could they not have known that they were raising a killer?
As it turns out, it wasn't easy. Raising a child under the best possible circumstances is no walk in the park. Striking that perfect balance between love and respect, authority and permissiveness, and all those tricky maneuvers that create the perfect upbringing. But what happens when all that care and confidence gets replaced by nagging doubts and fears. If you trust your kid, because that means you've done a great job as a parent, then you open yourself up to all the things that could go wrong when those undeveloped brains start making choices that may not be in the best interest of the village. Hopefully these are thoughts that run in the vein of "maybe I can skip that math final," or "I wonder what Mountain Dew tastes like when it's mixed with rum." Those kind of choices have a pretty quick turnaround.
The kind of choices Dylan Klebold made took his mother sixteen years to process. This clever boy who played with Legos and loved to watch old movies with his parents shot up his high school. How could this have happened? Sixteen years hasn't made it any easier to bear, but Susan Klebold, mother of one of the Columbine Killers, has taken it upon herself to try and understand how murder, suicide and all that hate found its way into their "normal home."
It's not a secret, exactly, that mental illness played a part. Or, as Ms. Klebold refers to it, "brain illness." It's not a secret that trying to manage those developing brains and personalities is a challenge in the best of circumstances. When everything is "normal."
Until it isn't. Susan Klebold wrote "A Mother's Reckoning" to try and understand that moment when everything stopped being normal. So much of what I read in the "before" sections made me think about my own son that when things went so terribly wrong, I couldn't help but start to question my own exemplary parenting skills. Ultimately, that was not her goal in writing her book, but she maintains that if any life is saved by asking those tough questions, then sharing her experience will be worthwhile.
One of the first entries into this blog was titled, "Dylan and Eric didn't get it." I wrote it from the lofty view of being a father of an eight year old. What I knew then would fill a page. What I know now would fill a few more. I read the whole book, and I still don't get it, but I want to. That's why I read Susan Klebold's book.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

That's Really Super, Supergirl

There is a reason why they call it "show business." It is as much about making money as it is about making a show. That's the thought I had as I sat on my couch and watched the trailer for the new Ghostbusters. Everything old is new again, and while I can certainly appreciate the idea that there should be more roles for women in Hollywood, but do they need to be the same ones that men had? I remember when Bridesmaids came out, and my wife and I were briefly swept up in the warm-hearted notion that finally girls were getting to be just as foul as the boys.
But with a heart, you know?
Gathering those same Bridesmaids and strapping proton packs on their backs does not constitute a new wave in cinema. It is repackaging. Now with ninety percent more estrogen. Is that a win? I'm sure that's what Gloria Steinem had in mind. And Susan B. Anthony. And Hillary Clinton. Is it a good thing when we end up being entertained/repulsed by men or women in a completely equitable fashion?
The Marvel Cinematic Universe had a bit of its dirty laundry aired by Shane Black, writer and director of Iron Man 3. Apparently there was some concern in the merchandising department, about how nobody was going to by action figures of a female villain. This corresponded roughly to the fuss made over the past couple years about how nearly impossible it is to find a Black Widow action figure. Now, after appearing in half of the studio's super hero movies, it's become a little easier. Does having a poseable six-inch toy version of yourself to show how far we've come in the past fifty years? Probably not.
Meanwhile, I have a friend who recently suggested that his choice for the new James Bond would be nobody. A zero for the role of double zero seven. Just stop making them. But it's a business, after all, and as long as there are dollars in our pockets that can find their way to big studios' bank accounts, there will be more. Always more. So why not "Jane Bond?" I'm not the first to suggest it, of course, but when it becomes a great big hit and the toy sales go through the roof since the nerd-tribe who buys such things would be satisfied on a number of levels, maybe I could get just a sliver of a percentage of that action.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

From The Hip

We are currently living in a world that expresses wonder and, for some, appreciation, for those who "say what's on their minds." No matter how offensive or off-putting, we seem to be finding a new fascination with that whole Free Speech thing. Pointing fingers and shouting "fire" in a crowded movie house is now all a part of "telling it like it is." It is frightening to think that this is the world that seems to care more about saving Ozzy and Sharon's marriage than their own. We are more concerned with rationalizing our own habits than finding new, healthier ones. We are allowing ourselves to be driven by the Twitterverse and the twenty-four hour news cycle. Each new tantrum or tirade has to be louder and harsher than the next, and a War on Christmas seems completely worth our time to discuss while a war against Islam is actually being fought with guns and bombs.
This is also the world where the fifteen minutes of fame set aside for everyone is being stretched in horrible new ways by George Zimmerman. You may remember George. He was the self-appointed neighborhood watchman who killed Trayvon Martin over a bag of Skittles. Or he was keeping his turf safe from possible threats. He was acquitted of second degree murder in Florida three years ago, and has spent the last three years living a life that suggests that even the most competent of Florida juries can get things wrong. Encounters with law enforcement have not been uncommon for George since then. He has been less than a model citizen, but then again, that seems to be that which we hold in high esteem these days. And he was a painter.
So was Adolf Hitler.
You can't pick up any of the Fuhrer's work on E-Bay, but you can put in a bid on a real and true Zimmerman.  Or at least you could. Running dry artistically doesn't seem to have deterred George from finding ways to make his infamy work for him. He recently put another item up for auction: the gun he used to shoot Trayvon Martin. This is not the first time he has tried to make money off the nine millimeter handgun that was used in the commission of a felony. Sorry. Alleged and then acquitted felony. And meanwhile, he has taken to the interwebs to compound his failings as a human being by asserting in an interview that Trayvon's parents parents "didn't raise him right," and nothing about his own upbringing. That which delivered the domestic violence and road rage into our midst, as well as the death of that teenage boy.
Et tu, Georgie?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Broken

And still it makes me wonder: why aren't we getting the attention we deserve? Inside these doors are rooms full of knowledge and intrigue, full of ideas and energy and potential. Why aren't we better protected?
I'm talking about the school where I work. Last night, a window was broken in our atrium. The glassed in area at the end of our upper floor that bears that architectural design name. It could also be described by its function: target. Not unlike the bare facades that surround our playground, these windows stand as lingering temptations to passing bands of ruffians or kids with nothing better to do than to mark, break or defile whatever sits in their path.
Not whatever, since the list is limited to those items that don't bite back. The sides of moving vans that face the curb. The toys and bikes left absently in front yards. Unattended and unguarded, just like our school. There is this great big symbol of authority sitting out there in the dark on most nights with very little in the way of protection. Just a great big "Kick Me" sign posted just inside the vaguely patrolled perimeter fence.
The fence that is meant to keep kids in during the day, and to keep the bad guys out after the sun goes down. I know that it doesn't do much to keep the teenaged basketballers from dropping by after our students have cleared out. Not that the basketballers are the taggers and window breakers. It would be easy enough to make that correlation, since the path they take on their way in is pretty much the same, but I don't think it's in the continued best interest of kids who came to play to break things. That could mean that the fences get fixed. And grow still higher.
Just like the Death Star, however, no fortress is impregnable. After fixing one section week after week, it was decided to leave the one bent opening as it was to defray the expense of coming back week after week to fix the same hole. This is the part that makes us a Public School. We are giving the neighborhood access to the facilities, the play structure and the basketball hoops anyway. If you'd like to stop back by during the day, we're happy to try and find you a desk and a chair and an opportunity to show us what you know, and what you need to learn. If you're between the ages of five and eleven.
It was a pair of ten-year-olds who came rushing into my room to tell me that someone had broken a window with a rock. I thanked them and let them know that the custodian and I had already called it in and there would be someone out in the next day or so to repair it. The sun was just coming up and the glass would be replaced, along with that sense of safety.
Until the next time.