Who’s Counting? Three

One is the loneliest number–so say Three Dog Night. However, three (the pop rock trio must have known), is a magical number. It’s lucky. Good things come in threes. Three Dog Night. Rush. The Police. Three times the charm. Three bears. The father, son, and the holy ghost. Mind, body, spirit. Three is time-tied: beginning, middle, and end, or past, future, and present, or birth, life, and death. You’ve got three guesses and three wishes. Three strikes and you’re out. Three sides of a triangle. The perfect number. And I am three work days away from retirement from 33 years in public education, an entire career teaching English Language Arts in the same school, the school that also happens to be my alma mater, the school where my own son currently finishes up his 10th grade year.

So here we are, counting down the days, keeping a little record of those days in the blogosphere, administering finals to my remaining groups of sophomores, recovering from mild but persistent side-effects of my second booster vax, listening to all the records in my classroom collection backwards alphabetically, and trying to finish up all of the things on my to-do list: grading finals, submitting final grades, and packing up for moving out.

We begin the day at the letter M, spinning the most recent offering from one of the most prolific bands in contemporary rock, The Mountain Goats. Three full studio albums in one year, by my count. This one, the appropriately titled “Dark In Here,” is the soundtrack during the 3rd period final, my preparation period, where I am wrapping up the recording of finals from the previous two days and finding an opportunity, hopefully, to start going through and recycling “the files,” three decades worth of paper things across 9 gigantic and seem-bursting file cabinet drawers.

These file cabinets have been mostly stagnant now going on three years. Teachers are generating less paper. Handouts are often digital or reproduced in miniature for minimum paper waste or for pasting handouts and various literary goodies inside of composition notebooks for annotation and response. And last year, during distance learning, in large part continuing through this year, nearly everything has been delivered in a digital format. I predict soon that we will see a paperless classroom, but for now, here’s three decades worth of paper that now needs to be recycled. Except for this one: the one that contains all the journals and notebooks I have kept through almost an entire career.

Yes, it’s true that when I started teaching, teachers did not have a computer in the classroom. All of my lesson plans were handwritten inside of spiral notebooks. For years I did this, often scripting a lesson word-for-word by hand in what used to be a very neat and legible print. I do not think I want to trash these notebooks. I’m not sure why and I will probably regret it as I cart them home and then attempt to find a place to store them until I die. Generally speaking, I have difficulty getting rid of these kinds of artifacts, things that I have created in words or in art. I’ve got a novel I wrote by hand in the 6th grade. I’ve got fake album covers for fantasy rock bands I created around the same era. What is up with that? I rarely look at them–every once in a long while, mostly, by accident when I am rearranging things inside the basement “scary room.” Why keep them? I have kept most things I have ever written, as I see them as a kind of photo album of my brain in its development over time. And I guess that’s interesting to me. Beyond pure photographic or biological evidence, it is proof of my existence.

Next up moving backwards alphabetically, I’m spinning Mitski, Laurel Hell, in the minutes before another group of 10th graders arrive for their Romeo and Juliet semester final.

And here they are! A music video of a rap that covers the entire story of Romeo and Juliet replete with quotes from the play intermingled with the students’ own clever rhymes and hip-hop moves–clocking in at about seven and a half minutes; a one pager that asserts that Shakespeare’s play romanticizes suicide; a symbolic interpretation using a paper mache rose balancing precariously on a triangular base; an essay that applies Freud’s psychoanalytic approach to the tragic heros, a beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully defended recreation of the death scene, and other meticulously arranged articulations of the learning from Shakespeare’s most famous love story. With regards to the art, in any other year I would be saving the best ones for next year’s classroom decor, using them as examples of great work for the incoming students–but this year, in an almost heartbreaking way, I asked them all to take their projects home. Which brings me to another aspect of the end of my term here in the schoolhouse. What do I do with the projects I have hanging currently on my classroom walls from students through three decades? My hope is that one of my colleagues will want to hang on to some of this brilliant stuff, some of which dates back all the way to the 1990’s. I can’t be taking it home with me, although, I must say, in a couple of cases, I’m seriously thinking about it.

And as the half day ends, the rest of the day is now open for knocking off the items on the to-do list. There are no records in my classroom collection by artists that begin with the letter L, so while I get a little bite to eat and rest up a bit from that last energetic group of 10th grade final projects, I’m heading to Kansas for their most recent studio album, an album I find almost as captivating and engaging as ever I found Leftoverture or Point of No Return: The Absence of Presence. Kind of a dorky title, I know, but it’s a super strong record from the classic prog band. Guitar solos! Odd time signatures! Rock and roll fiddle! and Tom Brislin on keyboards and songwriting–go ahead, look him up. You won’t be sorry.

Fourth period reflections, done. Fourth period Romeo and Juliet projects, done.

Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee, is today’s fourth album to spin on this third day away from retirement. As soon as this last song is over I’ve got to visit the library to swap a bar code or two or three in exchange for my ratty, teacher annotated copies of books I’ve been teaching these last couple of decades. Until I return, here’s some eye candy for the ears, today’s playlist:

Mission accomplished. It’s almost 3 o’clock already. I’ve got a drumming gig tonight at the very wine bar at which I will host my retirement shindig this weekend. A bunch of colleagues are getting together after work for drinks. I won’t have time to join them before I have to head out with my drums, and I’m kind of bummed about that. It’s another one of those things that I don’t want to miss. There’s only so much time in which to do all the things. Some things you gotta skip. But even though I’ve had time today to get started putting things in boxes and recycling the prodigious content of those filing cabinets, I have not even started. Something there is that doesn’t want to start packing. I’m not sure what this means.

That’s all for now, until tomorrow!

Published by michaeljarmer

I'm a public high school English teacher, fiction writer, poet, and musician in Portland, Oregon

2 thoughts on “Who’s Counting? Three

  1. My stepson gave me a CD of the Mountain Goats, Sweden I think. I listened to it once and gave it away. Lately I’ve been hearing them mentioned everywhere. So before I wrote this I streamed a few tracks from Sweden and, hey, why didn’t I like them back then? I certainly got hooked on Neutral Milk Hotel for a time. Now I’m listening to In the Dark while I writer this. Gotta say, I think I like Sweden more. Ironic!

    Please find a place for your teaching journals. Maybe under the settee in your caravan. You can decide later if you want to throw them out. They might become fodder, or compost. You never know.

    I don’t know how you find time to do everything you do.

    1. I have not heard Sweden yet! Goths is my favorite album by the mountain goats. You check out that one, and I will check out Sweden! I will keep my teaching journals!

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