Monthly Archives: August 2017

Diary of an English Teacher in His Penultimate Year: August 29, 2017

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One of my favorite words in the English language is the word “penultimate.” It’s a great word. And this school year I will likely overuse it. Consider yourself forewarned.

Today began the (sort of) first day of the (maybe) penultimate school year of my teaching career. I say “sort of” in light of the fact that this typical first day for teachers (the week before students arrive) was preceded by one full day of staff development the week before, and then almost three days of professional development the week before that. So today was “sort of” my first day back after this exceedingly short summer, shortened by snow day make-ups on the front end and lots of bonus development on the other end. And I say “maybe” penultimate because it probably is but may not be; hence, the ambiguity.

But let me first tell you a little bit about how this day began, and you’ll have to help me to believe that it’s indicative of nothing, because it was, sorry to say, a shitty first day, or at least, a shitty beginning to a first day.

To wit: I have made a personal commitment to bicycle commute as much as I can this year without sacrificing my morning meditation ritual. To facilitate that new commitment I set my alarm clock a whole 20 minutes earlier from where it has been set for as many years as I can remember (2), and I sprung out of bed this morning to enthusiastically meet my new commitment. But when I got downstairs I could first smell and then I saw the horrendous mess our old dog made in the middle of the night–all over the hardwood floors.  Needless to say, I skipped morning meditation. Instead, I cleaned up runny dog shit and mopped floors while cursing.

I made it out the door on time and I did manage to climb on top of the bicycle. I didn’t bike nearly as much this summer as I wanted to. The ride up those two hills was kind of painful. Luckily, and for this reason NOT bicycle commuting is pretty much inexcusable, it’s only about a ten minute ride to work. Mercy of mercies.

I am happy to report that there was no shit to clean up at the school house, so the day could only improve. And mostly, it did. Here’s a list.

  • We met nine new teachers to our building this morning. I think it’s been ten years since we brought on as many new teachers. We had some fun watching one of our administrators play Jimmy Fallon’s Would You Rather game with the newbies.
  • Our principal reviewed for us the various driving forces of our work, namely, the the vision, the mission, the WHY, the HOW, and the WHAT. She told us an interesting story about growing up in Alaska, the point of which, I think, was to illustrate to us how she arrived at her own personal WHY for the work that she does, and how that manifests itself in her commitment to us and to students. It was one of the few times she has ever spoken about her life in this kind of public way. I appreciated that.
  • Another one of our administrators brought us (and all of the new kids) up to speed about why the NIKE corporation is helping us and how. There was the grant. There was the implementation of a thing called AVID. There was a rebranding and new art that turned an ominous armored horseman wielding a lance and charging forward into battle into the more protective metaphor of a simple shield, using the now ubiquitous solidarity slogan of I AM before the abbreviation of our school name. It’s clear now why they preferred the abbreviation to the full deal. As we are named after a dude and not a place, it’s easier perhaps for everyone to identify as RP. I am RP. I am not, necessarily, figuratively or literally, a dude named Rex Putnam.
  • And finally, our Jimmy Fallon administrator came back on to lead us into a deep discussion of what is perceived by our leadership and most of the teachers in the building as one of our biggest problems as a school: student absenteeism. How does it affect us, as teachers? How does it impact student success? Why does it occur? What causes it? What can we do about it? All worthwhile points for discussion and inquiry. No closure possible. No closure expected. All of us are likely frustrated by a general sense about this serious problem that we lack agency to make a difference. Too many variables out of our control. We have our classrooms, our spaces, our attitudes, the way that we express to our charges that we want them there, that we will do our best for them, that we care about their lives.
  • And then back to our rooms for a half day of individual preparation. For me, that meant getting my computer back, getting my speakers hooked up, listening to music, cleaning, moving the tables and chairs into place after getting them unstuck from the freshly and beautifully waxed floors, looking at a syllabus or two, recycling some old crap, having a little lunch with a couple of colleagues, helping my teacher friend across the hall adjust her crazy desk, learning about the Hood to Coast relay race from another teacher friend, uncovering the mysteries of two missing English teachers (one totally explicable and the other totally not), and then finally, getting back on my bicycle for a ride home in 100 degree heat. I’m not joking about that. It was 100 degrees out.

I will call that a day.

The first day. Sort of.

Of the penultimate school year of my teaching career. Maybe.

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T@B Diaries #4: Steens Mountain 

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In my second year of camping inside the t@b, I returned yesterday from my most ambitious solo trip to date. The following images provide evidence of these new experiences:

  • With my brother Dave and his friend Dave (that’s not a joke) in another car, and towing the t@b behind the new Honda Ridgeline, I drove all by myself to the Steens Mountain Wilderness Resort, located right along side a funky little historic town called Frenchglen, Oregon.
  • It was the longest drive I have ever done in my life. About 7 hours from Milwaukie to Frenchglen.
  • It’s the first time in my life I have ever been this far Eastern Oregon.
  • We stopped at a rest area in Brothers, Oregon. I found it so lonely and quaint, I had to take a picture of it.
  • My brother Dave and his friend Dave stayed in a “cabin” and I had my own full hook up rv site. The cabins in this park, while functional and comfortable enough, were really just single wide mobile homes, the kind you’d find in the most low rent trailer parks in America. That’s not a criticism.
  • I took pictures of my brother Dave and his friend Dave. In almost every panoramic shot I took, one or the other of them ended up on one end or the other of the panorama. The one panoramic shot my brother took caught Dave at the very edge of the photo taking a piss.
  • On this trip, in particular around the Steens Mountain loop and around Hart Mountain Wildlife Refuge, there were lots of occasions for panoramic photos.
  • Panoramic pictures are very strange things. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but my panoramas wrap themselves in this bizarre fold, so that rather than seeing a wide scene looked at straight-on, you see a single road, for example, going two directions. Almost impossible to describe in words. Take a look.
  • There’s a strange satellite tower at the peak of Steens Mountain. Alien observation? I don’t know. Communications to the outside world? Doubtful, since most of the time I had no or little phone access, although my brother Dave’s friend Dave seemed to have all kinds. He called his wife from the top of a mountain. I’m told this is the highest accessible peak in the state of Oregon. It was awesome. I mean, really. In the true sense of the word: full of awe, awe inspiring, awful in a good way. And dirty. Very dirty.
  • My brother Dave’s friend Dave’s car was covered in dirt.
  • I’ve never seen so many butterflies.
  • Or Jack Rabbits.
  • Or Owls (1).
  • Or mosquitos.
  • My ankles are a swollen itchy mess.
  • We drank some Scotch in Eastern Oregon.
  • I talked politics with my brother Dave’s friend Dave.
  • On one evening it was cool enough to have a tiny campfire.
  • We visited several towns that had only one or two buildings in them: Frenchglen, Diamond, Plush, Fields, and Denio, Nevada. There’s a town in Oregon called Remote. I challenge Remote to be as remote as these towns were remote.
  • Yes, we went to Nevada. Having driven all the way around Hart Mountain on super rough gravel roads, we decided to drive an extra 150 miles on pavement over to Nevada and back again, rather than return on that gravel washboarding hell.
  • I learned a new word, or, a new use of an old word: washboarding.
  • On the way back to camp, we found cows wandering around on and near the roads.
  • Sometimes we’d drive a half an hour or 45 minutes before seeing another car.
  • We camped for four days. We spent almost half of our time, outside of the time we were sleeping, in a car.
  • The sign on the Hart Mountain Store in Plush said: A small drinking town with a cattle problem.
  • On the early morning of our departure, I left my trailer to get some clean clothes out of the truck. When I came back to the trailer, the door was locked. The keys were inside. Now, it’s impossible to lock the trailer door from the inside unless you use the dead bolt–in which case you would not be able to open the door, walk out the door, and shut the door again. The dead bolt would be sticking out, right? So, my guess is, and this is messed up, that somehow the locking mechanism engaged itself, locking me out of the trailer and the keys inside. After I panicked, I thought, clearly, this door cannot be locked, really. No way. So I went to get my brother to see if he could help solve the mystery. We ended up concluding that the door was, in fact, locked. I panicked. I was sure that the day before, as I set about to fire up the air conditioner in this 100 degree heat, that I had locked all of my windows. My brother Dave said, did you lock all the windows? I said, yes, I locked all the windows. He went around and checked. I had NOT locked all the windows. I climbed back into the trailer through the emergency exit window and happily liberated my keys and my sunken heart.
  • I learned NEVER to be without your trailer key.
  • And then I drove home for seven hours.

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