I’m Thinking Tonight.

I’m thinking tonight about a lot of things.

How last year I was looking into teaching overseas. How people would ask where I’d want to teach.

Anywhere, really, I’d say.

Anywhere? Even the Middle East? They’d say.

Sure, why not? I’d say.

It’s just so…dangerous there. They’d say.

I’m thinking about how I teach in a public school and how we do lockdown drills where I lock the doors, turn off the lights, stuff kids in the safest spots in my classrooms, put desks in front of the door (because three desks deep, tipped forward, might be enough to stop bullets).

I’m thinking about a day in December when the power went out and no fewer than three kids looked at me in fear, begged me to lock the door and move desks in front of the door because their first—their FIRST THOUGHT—was that cutting the power would be an initial move in an active shooter situation.

I’m thinking about 18 families in Texas and 17 families in Florida and 26 families in Connecticut and thousands upon thousands of families across the country with empty chairs at the dinner table, empty seats in the car.

It’s just so…dangerous there, someone told me when I mentioned I was offered a job in Kuwait. 

Any more dangerous than when I go to school, or the grocery store, or the movie theater here? 

I’m thinking about the whispered conversations I’ve had with colleagues over the course of my 22-year teaching career: Not if, but when.

I’m thinking about a room full of men in the late 1700s who helped throw off the most powerful army in the world, men who wanted to make sure they could protect themselves from tyranny forever, so they codified the idea of a “well-regulated militia.”

I’m thinking about a room of 76 men and 24 women who have been sitting on a bill since March 3, 2021 that could be a first step to change. 

I’m thinking about grief so heavy that every American should be feeling tonight, including a grief at the realization that perhaps some Americans aren’t feeling a collective grief, at least not one that compels to action. 

I’m thinking about going back into my classroom tomorrow, on the last day of school, of seeing students who’ve allowed me to feel the full range of human emotions this semester, and how will I look at them and not burst into tears? 

I’m thinking about how this post is just more static noise, how I have no hope that anything will change in my lifetime. 

I’m thinking tonight about a lot of things.

The Not-Lost Year.

I keep waiting for journalists to write the stories I’ve seen and lived this past year—teachers, students, secretaries, administrators, custodians, cafeteria workers, parents, and anyone else who supports a functioning school—the stories about all these people who have performed the Sisyphean task of keeping schools open during a pandemic.

I keep waiting for journalists to write the stories of kids who showed up in the face of fear of a virus and wrote papers, solved math problems, prepared for AP tests, took college classes, worked jobs, played sports, put on musicals and concerts.

Yet here we are, at the end of the 2020-2021 school year and I see story after story of learning loss.

And while this year has been anything but normal, there are thousands of stories of students and teachers who saw success.

Was it traditional success? Sometimes.

Did some of us redefine what success looked like? Sometimes.

Did every student succeed? Depends on the metric being used.

Here’s what I know: from teaching in person since August 13, every day I saw some success. A kid took a great photo, or wrote a perfect caption. A kid asked a compelling question. A kid created something beautiful. A kid wrote a story that mattered. A kid took a risk and soared.

My classes were smaller than they’ve ever been my entire career, but every single kid succeeded at something—even if some days it was just getting out of bed and hauling themselves through a too-long school day.

Was this a lost year? For some, perhaps. But what truly mattered in my teaching and in my students’ learning was crystallized. What I needed them to know came into sharper focus. I wouldn’t count that as a loss.

Maybe instead of feeding a narrative about a lost year, a stolen year, we can reexamine the metric that shifts the narrative: we survived a pandemic, and kids still learned. We survived a pandemic, and teachers still taught. We survived a pandemic, and teams still won championships.

We survived a pandemic, and my newspaper staff still published a damn paper.

We survived a pandemic, and Stueve’s yearbook staff still published a book.

We survived a pandemic, and our tiny staff still broadcast over 30 live events.

It wasn’t a normal year, not by a long shot. But success stories are out there.

Go find them.

Thinking: A Dangerous Habit.

I saw the tweet and it woke up the central cynic system of my brain: “Find three good things to look forward to this year.”

Don’t get me wrong–I am usually a fan of the Action for Happiness group. The work they do is important and helpful. I have their app and every afternoon my watch buzzes with a reminder to be gentler with myself, with others, to look for good instead of dwelling on the awful.

But the call to action on January 1, 2021 was too much. And yet, I stewed over it all morning.

“Three good things,” I muttered to myself. “I’m not a fortune teller. I have no trips planned. I have no life planned. And so little changes in my life from year to year anyway. Look forward to…what the hell.”

Last year? I had tons to look forward to. Trips, musicals, dinners, time with friends all over the country. It still hurts to think about the lost trips sometimes–there was about a 70% chance I was going to ride along in an RV with my sister and niece from Alaska to the lower 48. I actually mustered up the radical self-care to use two personal days and planned a trip to New York to see friends and museums. Two months into 2020, another friend snagged tickets for “Hamilton” at the Kennedy Center, and I started planning a summer DC/New York trip.

Three things I looked forward to in 2020. Three things that never happened.

So I hope it’s understandable that my initial reaction to AFH’s initial 2021 task sent me into a bit of cynical rage. Why look forward to things that probably won’t even happen? Isn’t that a recipe for disappointment and depression? But the longer I stewed, something changed.

(As Stueve says, thinking is a dangerous habit.)

What if the three things I look forward to in 2021 aren’t exactly…things? Or events? What if the things to look forward to are more ethereal, more abstract?

Can I look forward to a deeper practice of grace–not only toward other people, but also toward myself?

Can I look forward to a continued minimizing and organizing of my life–possessions, apps–toward a maximizing of spending my time and resources purposefully?

Can I look forward to my to-read pile of books, my to-see list of films, my to-listen-to Friday Morning Soundtracks?

For many, January 1, 2021 is fraught for a variety of reasons. The panic from facing a blank slate of the coming year. The collective trauma from what we, humanity, have witnessed the past year. The pressure to change and mold ourselves into someone that–let’s be real–might only serve the people profiting off what we purchase to make those changes.

If you are feeling any of that, I understand and am holding space for you to feel and process as you need. And if and when you are ready to consider finding even one thing to look forward to this year, maybe move from the concrete to the abstract and see if that helps.

It’s worth a try. You are worth the try.

Happy New Year.

Thoughts on a Facebook-less week.

It’s been a week without Facebook, and I’ve only missed it twice.

I’m not feeling the FOMO I thought I would, perhaps because whenever I spent more than 10 minutes there, I started to feel a little sick, like when you stay up until 3 a.m. watching TV and eating junk food. You know it’s awful for you, you know it’s making you feel bad, but you also can’t figure out how to stop yourself.

I never felt happier after spending time on Facebook. To be fair, I don’t feel happier after spending time on Twitter, but I spent less time there this past week. I am pretty sure I spent more time on Instagram, but some of that was for The Thunderbeat, and some of it was actually taking the time to watch more stories. (Stories are fun!)

This morning I watched the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” and while I approach any documentary with a critical eye, it was hard for me to be hyper-critical of this one. I don’t want to give too much information here, lest I sway an opinion about the documentary’s merits. But through interviews with former tech executives and employees, it does give context to these platforms that have figured out how to monetize public division and control how we spend our time.

For me, the question I’ve yet to fully answer is this: how do I maintain relationships with people who no longer live nearby? How do I maintain relationships with people I actually *met* on these platforms?

I moved around a lot as a kid, and the friends I left behind would send a letter, maybe two, in the months right after my departure. And I’d write back, but eventually we would all move on with new friends and new lives, and drop from each others’ existence. I have often thought of military kids today, and how envious I am of their online social structures that help them maintain those relationships.

I guess the answer to my question is that I have to decide which relationships are worth maintaining. And then I have to choose to do the work to maintain them. Emails, postcards, *gasp* phone calls, text messages–it’s not like I actually need any given platform to help me maintain and strengthen any friendship. If anything, Facebook especially has given us the illusion we are maintaining relationships by giving us curated peeks into our friends’ and families’ lives.

But really, it’s just made us disengaged voyeurs.

Taking a break.

Last night, with no grand announcement, I deactivated my Facebook account.

Deleting seemed too extreme for the moment, so I decided on at least one month of deactivation, just to see how it goes.

The catalyst this time was reading some comments on a “community” page (community in air quotes because those pages are anything BUT my definition of a community) about our football broadcast. Something in me broke.

I thought about what I wrote earlier in the summer about quitting social media and what a privilege it is, but then realized that all the activism and educational accounts that mean anything to me are on Twitter or Instagram.

Facebook has become a time suck, a tool to stoke hatred, and a place for locals to criticize an amateur sports broadcast (which we broadcast for free for the first time, mind you) for a game they can’t get into anyway because of covid-19 restrictions.

When I realized a very petty part of me almost responded “Thanks for the feedback—we won’t broadcast any more football games,” I realized I needed drastic measures.

Hence the deactivation.

I’m 24 hours into it, and I am a little impressed with the time I feel I’ve had today. I had a long list of things to do, all are done. I colored. I read some of a book. I watched the entire first season of Cobra Kai on Netflix.

I’m writing.

All because at some point today, I looked around and said to myself, “Huh. What should I do next?” Because I was only doom scrolling through Twitter and for some reason, my stamina there has never equaled doom scrolling on Facebook. Curious.

I’m still on Instagram. And yes, I know that Facebook owns Instagram, but it’s a different platform. Maybe I’ve curated it more carefully than my Facebook feed, maybe the medium of photos lends itself to a different ambience, maybe the interface is such that utter nonsense doesn’t arbitrarily show up in my feed to derail me or make me angry. I get the irony of quitting Facebook and not Instagram, so no need to come at me. I’m already at myself with that one.

Anyway, I’ll see how the next month goes, but if today is any indication, my best guess is that Facebook account deletion is imminent.

We had a run. Not always a nice run, but a run nonetheless.