Hold the right people accountable, please.

A Sunday morning rant.

Or maybe a sermon, depending on your beliefs.

Every year, I spend about $70 on Kleenex and hand sanitizer for my two classrooms. I do this because I don’t want students to miss instructional time by going to the restroom to blow their noses and wash their hands when sick, but also because I think it’s just kind to offer those basic conveniences. But due to budget cuts, Kleenex and hand sanitizer hasn’t been provided to teachers in my district for years*. I’m not necessarily complaining about that—it’s just part of the reality of my chosen profession.

Since many schools are looking to return at full capacity in two weeks, I keep seeing images of rearranged classrooms with safety measures created by the teacher to allow for as normal a return as possible.

If you’re praising “American ingenuity” because a teacher used shower curtains and pvc pipes and empty milk jugs or whatever to create a “safer” learning environment for their students, I want you to stop for just a minute and think.

Who paid for the plexiglass separators between you and your cashier at the grocery store?

Who paid for the signage imploring its customers to socially distance?

Who paid for the extra masks to hand out in case a patron forgot theirs?

Did the cashiers set up a GoFundMe to pay for all these things? Did the store managers take a trip to Lowe’s and bulk order plexiglass and then spend a weekend cutting them to size in his garage?

Or did corporate spring for it?

If you’re screaming for schools to reopen, are you also screaming at your congressional representatives, state legislators, governors to provide emergency funds to your district to ensure the safety of teachers, students, custodians, secretaries, paras, and administrators?

Or are you looking at these reconfigured classrooms, feeling a sense of satisfaction and maybe even pride that a teacher “figured something out” and then you send it to all your teacher friends suggesting it as something they should spend their own money on creating?

If it’s the latter, stop. If you have suggestions for how to spend money to keep students safe, make sure you’re telling the right people: the people who control how much money school districts receive. Ask the people you elected to govern and have stewardship over your tax dollars to pay for safety measures. Stop expecting teachers to just “figure it out.”

Amen.

*Edit: Since posting this Sunday morning, I’ve been told that there is a stash of Kleenex available to teachers in my building. I was told one year it no longer would be provided, and never checked back to see if things had changed. Apparently it has, though I was not told explicitly and don’t recall receiving any official notification that such supplies were available to staff.

On Boycotts, Resources, and Privilege

In 2014, when the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL initially hedged to take action after the video surfaced of Ray Rice beating his then-fiancée, it took me about three minutes to decide to boycott the NFL.

This had been brewing for a while. I had recently learned of their non-profit status with the U.S. Government, knew of how they saddled communities with taxes to pay for lavish stadiums, was irritated at the apparent lack of interest in creating stronger concussion protocols, was incensed at their continued use of Native American mascots, and was well aware of their “don’t ask don’t tell” approach to handling men who abused their partners.

But it was a little sad for me to stop watching something that had been a part of my life for so long. I loved watching games with friends. I loved playing Fantasy Football. I wrote—and then published in an actual book—a piece about Fantasy Football! I loved coming home from church every Sunday, laying on the couch, watching games, dozing off, waking up, checking stats.

But I couldn’t support it anymore.

I often say that if we really examined how every corporation operated and chose boycotting as a method of speech, no one would shop anywhere or do anything. And I know the NFL doesn’t miss my support; I’m a gnat in a swarm of murder hornets.

But I do think that on a personal enrichment level, boycotts of chosen companies can redirect our resources to better things.

Once my Sundays (and Mondays…and Thursdays) were no longer subject to football games, I suddenly freed up hours of time a week. I’m not saying I’ve always made the best choices about how I use that time, but I have noticed the biggest change with Sundays. I watch movies. I catch up with friends. I explore Ancestry’s website and learn about my forbears. Sometimes I work, sometimes I read books.

My Sunday time doesn’t disappear as fast as it used to, because I’m not spending nine hours watching football.

Which brings me to a weekly conversation I have with myself: boycotting Facebook and Instagram.

How can I reconcile supporting an uneducated megalomaniac who has allowed his innovation to be hijacked by white supremacists and merchants of misinformation?

A quick anecdote: when my selfies or stories about dogs peeing on my leg get more interactions, comments, and likes, than my calls to action, it tells me that maybe my time spent on those platforms is wasteful.

I have a blog. I have email. I have a phone that sends and receives text messages AND makes phone calls. I subscribe to three newspapers and four magazines, all covering a variety of news. I listen to more podcasts than I can handle, and have more streaming services than I can watch.

I was all set to leave, and I realized: wow. What a privilege that must be.

What a privilege that I don’t rely on either platform to affect change.
What a privilege that I’m not fighting for my life and need to cast a wide net for support.
What a privilege that I have the money for a domain name and the “nicer” version of WordPress.

Privilege, privilege, privilege.

So I stopped my exodus plans and starting thinking about how I am using Facebook and Instagram, and how I might use them a little better. A little more focused.

On Instagram, I can make sure I’m curating follows of people whose voices I can learn from and amplify. Seek out people doing work in causes I believe in, donate to, and share their work.

On Facebook, I can take the same action as Instagram, PLUS use the embedded controls to see what I want to see. Sometimes I think we forget that as much power as Zuckerberg’s algorithms have over us, he’s also given us some tools to hack those algorithms, and third-party developers help out too. It might take some pruning, but I can create a feed that righteously motivates and sustains me.

As I went though the initial steps of leaving ZuckLand, I thought of the things that I might miss out on. Some were personal, but most were related to either my profession or how I want to improve the world.

As insidious as I find Facebook and Instagram to be, I can’t argue that the platform can be used for great good when I’m connected to the correct people.

I am going to limit my time, maybe publish more on my website, get more news from the places I subscribe to instead of relying on others’ feeds. But I’m sticking around for now. And if you go through a similar thought process from time to time, I invite you to reflect a bit, and maybe hack your own feed.

Or run your own boycott—you have my support.

Concrete Action

I took a break from poetry for a few days to work on this, something that’s been on my mind lately, and that something is concrete action.

I can dream with the best of ’em, and brainstorm ideas and click “like” on inspiring social media posts, but as I age, I’ve been increasingly drawn to concrete action. What is feasible? Practical? Reasonable? Actionable?

This is an unprecedented time for anyone under the age of 103. And navigating the new landscape is tricky and exhausting. I see platitudes blasted on social media from a cross-section of people, and the one thing many of those responses lack is concrete action.

Example: Telling college and high school students that their #1 priority is their mental health and not school.

I absolutely agree. As someone who works like mad every single day to keep the depression under control, this is true. Keeping your mental health in check is vital right now.

What I see lacking in these posts is feasible, practical, reasonable, and actionable steps to make mental health their #1 priority. And as a high school teacher, I know it’s not enough to just tell kids “make this a priority.” They need some structure, some guidance, some ideas as to what that actually means. So let me throw some things out there.

Many health systems have offered telecounseling. My insurance company uses an app called AmWell that offers mental health services. A local hospital system has a counseling hotline. Boys Town offers emergency intervention via phone, email, or text, even in non-pandemic times.

But what if you aren’t quite at that point? You either feel weak (PLEASE DON’T) or that someone else needs it more (NOT TRUE) so you hesitate to utilize those services? What then?

I am not a mental health professional. I must be clear about that. But if you are feeling like your mental health is teetering, there are less soul-baring resources for you to try.

The National Alliance for Mental Illness has a video library, including stories from people sharing their own experiences, as well as other educational resources on their website. Sometimes just knowing other people have been where you are can help you feel less alone.

The CDC has a list of recommendations, including meditation (Simple Habit and Headspace are my favorite meditation apps), checking your diet, exercising, and connecting with others. These might seem too simple, or some days they might seem like too much. These things alone do not “cure” my depression, but they do help keep it at bay.

I’m currently taking a class from Yale University on Coursera called The Science of Well-Being, and holy buckets is it fantastic. My preferred method to manage my depression is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and this course is all about meta-cognition, looking at how our brains are wired by culture and then trying to challenge that wiring. It’s fantastic, and not for nothing: on the days I do anything with the class, I feel more relaxed.

Something else I’ve done is reach out to people. This is not easy for me. My depression brain tells me that I’m a burden and other people have bigger problems than mine and I shouldn’t add to them. But in the past three weeks, I’ve arranged several virtual meetings to connect with people–a couple whom I haven’t talked to in years. It’s been great to catch up in those cases, and it’s been good to maintain the relationships I never let lapse in the first place. And seeing their faces while we talk has been a thousand percent better than texting.

The platitudes are nice, and I do feel relieved to see them; an acknowledgment that none of *this* is normal does help. But following up those platitudes with how to live by them is equally important.

Football, Teaching, Burnout, and Self-Care.

I’m home with bronchitis today, and let me tell you, getting four hours of uninterrupted sleep for the first time in a week has me feeling like I can do anything. Until I start coughing again, anyway.

But since I’m home and the Tessalon perles are working as they should, I thought I might as write a little bit about Andrew Luck, because not enough people are.

That was a joke, by the way.

Anyway. My favorite coverage of Andrew Luck’s retirement has been Deadspin. This piece is what made me think that Luck’s retirement decision was radical self care, and the fallout since from fans and sports pundits has appalled me, but also not surprised me.

Here’s why. We have this mythos in American culture that working hard–almost working ourselves to death–is the best thing we can do. We wear “busy” as a badge of honor. We conflate professional success with personal happiness. And I see this in my own profession.

We get movies like “Dangerous Minds” and “Freedom Writers” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” where teachers are celebrated for putting students first, for sacrificing their families and their personal lives to inspire and “save” students. We are told that the relationships we develop with students are the primary key to their learning (so I rather enjoyed this clarification on that idea).

Or we judge and shame teachers (and really, anyone who works) for taking time to get well when sick, or heal when hurt–physically or emotionally.

And then we wonder why we all burn out.

I know comparing an NFL quarterback and a public school teacher is a false analogy, and maybe if my mind was clearer I’d be able to make that analogy a bit more solid. But before I take another dose of medicine, two things.

  1. Andrew Luck did what was good for his mental and physical health, and while he’s in a privileged and moneyed position to do so, calling him soft or weak is really just jealousy that we can’t retire at will and build a completely new life.
  2. Teachers, as we start the beginning of the year, follow these steps when you are sick:
  • See a doctor if needed.
  • Write the sub plans.
  • Stay home.
  • Rest. For the love of all that is holy, rest.
  • Your students will be fine without you.
  • Read that last bullet point again.

A Call To Action.

Today after school, a conversation took place in our lab that shook me to the point of speechlessness. I don’t want to give specifics out of respect to those involved, but I feel compelled to call upon all adults as a result.

We must pay closer attention to how we talk about our faces and our bodies to others.

We must pay closer attention to how to how we think about our own faces and our bodies.

We must call out photoshopped faces bodies when we see them, tell the young people in our lives that those images are not real, that people do not look like that.

We must explain the often unsustainable regimens actors endure for superhero films.

We must call attention to the strengths of children and teens in our lives that have nothing to do with their appearance: talents, abilities, personality traits.

We must call attention to what the children and teens in our lives can do with their bodies: dance, help, comfort.

We must explore ways to help children and teens internalize that their faces and bodies have beautiful elements despite what Instagram influencers are subtly telling them. Seek out those challenging beauty norms, like Lindsay and Lexie Kite.

Teach young people how to challenge, challenge, challenge every image they see.

And we need to do this for all young people, regardless of gender.

Young people need us to show up in ways we might not have imagined, because the world they are living in resembles nothing we may have imagined when we were younger. We might think we don’t need to be specific with some of the things we say and do; we might think our young people just “get it.”

But I’m at a point now where I don’t want to assume they do. We should err on the side of being too obvious, rather than risk that assumption.