Sunday, May 20, 2018

Post-Parkland

This semester, one of my students took his own life. He was in my 1st period, a class with 35 students.

I only had him for four weeks before he committed suicide. After such a short time, I couldn't have known him well enough to recognize what was going through his mind. But I've still struggled with an insistent nagging that I should have known, and I've spent the rest of this semester in a state of analytical paranoia, scouring the journals and essays of my remaining 92 students for signs of suicide and depression.

A couple of weeks ago, a mother of one of the girls in that same class called to yell at me. My daughter is struggling with depression. Why didn't you notice? Why didn't you do something? How could you be so insensitive?

Missed it again.

Last night, I dreamed that I was shot by a school shooter.

That probably feels like a cruel non sequitur, but I don't mean it to be. I have spent the past four years of my teaching career pretending that I live in a world where school shootings are not a thing. How else could you go to work every day? But the week my student took his own life and the week a troubled teen in Parkland, FL took the lives of seventeen innocent students? That was the same week.

I can't get it out of my mind, those two intertwining tragedies.

As much as we wish for a magic formula to identify potential school shooters, researchers who study these incidents say that shooters do not follow a consistent profile. Despite the impassioned anti-bullying pleas on social media, the truth is that bullying has been a factor in some cases, but not all. Diagnosable mental health issues like schizophrenia have been a factor in some cases, but not all. Loners...some but not all. Prior criminal records...some but not all.

So what can we say about the profile of a school shooter? In nearly every case: White. Male. Has displayed signs of suicide and/or depression. Has hinted at his plans to friends, on social media, or in class assignments.

Post-Parkland, the pressure as a teacher to identify and rescue feels so much heavier. Meanwhile, my class sizes keep getting bigger and bigger. Does 35 sound like a reasonable class size to you? Good, because next year you should expect 36. And you might be asked to carry a gun.

North Carolina teacher to student allotment 1:29.
NC counselor to student ratio 1:400
NC school psychologist to student ratio 1: 2100.

When you choose to be a teacher, you go into it knowing the job is more than just teaching lessons and grading papers, but how many balls can one person keep in the air at one time?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Life Lessons

I've been experimenting with having my students play around with different writing structures (beyond the five-paragraph essay). My guinea pig children tested out this writing structure tonight:

I BELIEVED THIS...
SO I DID THIS...
WHICH MADE ME REALIZE...
SO HERE’S THE TRUTH...


RYLAN: I used to believe that all life should be fair because everyone is equal. Earlier, I had to walk the dog, but my brothers before me didn't do their job. When everyone takes turns doing something but the people before you don't do it, you still have to do it. So here's the truth: Life isn't fair.

ELI (wants to make clear that this essay is not based on a true story): I didn’t think I needed to wear deodorant. But then I took a whiff of my armpits. I said, “Ewww.” I was pretty stinky. So here's the truth: You should always wear deodorant.

COLE: Listen, here’s what you need to know about life. I always believed that if it’s easier for someone else to stop than for you to stop, they should be the one to stop. For example, my brother Eli annoyed me constantly, so I always yelled at him to stop. He never would. My parents told me that the only way I could solve the issue was to stop being annoyed. This helped me to realize that no matter how many times I yelled at Eli, it wouldn’t change anything. So here’s the truth: You can’t control what other people do.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Rylan at 10 Years Old

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Rylan at Ten Years Old
  • favorite color: blue
  • favorite food: shrimp alfredo
  • favorite dessert: buckeyes
  • favorite thing to do: play video games
  • favorite video game: Pokemon Ultra Moon
  • favorite subject in school: science
  • favorite book series: Percy Jackson

What is the meaning of life?
  • to live with Heavenly Father again

What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • an astronomer

What makes you happy?
  • family

What are you afraid of?
  • creepy clown killers creeping in your closet with creepy chainsaws

If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
  • I would say unlimited money, but now that I think of it...world peace

What is the funniest word?
  • purple

What is the hardest thing to do?
  • go to a planet that's really far away

What is the easiest thing to do?
  • breathe

What is the best thing in the world?
  • Breathing! No, no, family.

What is the worst thing in the world?
  • Don't write this down, but I say it's Eli's face.

What makes you mad?
  • Eli's face. Um, um, let's see...Cole and Eli annoying me.

What is the meaning of love?
  • red (This is how Robbie answers all questions.)

If you had all the money in the world, what would you do with it?
  • I would split it into three halves. One for me. One for charity. One for me.

Cole at 14 Years Old

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Cole at Fourteen Years Old
  • favorite color: green
  • favorite food: I don't have one. (Eli says, "You're turning into your father...")
  • favorite dessert: cheesecake
  • favorite thing to do: play basketball
  • favorite video game: I don't have one
  • favorite subject in school: Social Studies. The teacher is the best.
  • favorite book you read this year: The Light Fantastic 
  • favorite music: the music he wrote himself

What is the meaning of life?
  • 42

What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • a music engineer

What makes you happy?
  • No Eli. No, don't put that. Lots of things make me happy...Like spending time with my family and seeing a movie or something.

What are you afraid of?
  • Having appendicitis. I get scared of that all the time. Every time I get gas, I assume it's appendicitis.

If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
  • To be immune to appendicitis. To have my career made out for me. And world peace.

What is the funniest word?

What is the hardest thing to do?
  • stopping eating when I need to stop because otherwise I'm going to get sick

What is the easiest thing to do?
  • stub your toe

What is the best thing in the world?
  • love

What is the worst thing in the world?
  • non-love

What makes you mad?
  • non-love

What is the meaning of love?
  • to be happy

If you had all the money in the world, what would you do with it?
  • I don't have any particular interest in spending money on anything in the world except when I'm at the grocery store check out line. (This is an answer that he stole from Eli. The real answer is that he would buy lots and lots of name brand clothing.)

Eli at Twelve Years Old

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Eli at Twelve Years Old
  • favorite color: red
  • favorite food: burritos
  • favorite dessert: cheesecake
  • favorite thing to do: sleep in
  • favorite video game: Star Wars Battle Front (PS4)
  • favorite subject in school: language arts
  • favorite book you read this year: The Outsiders
  • favorite music this year: Ed Sheeran

What is the meaning of life?
  • to return to Heavenly Father

What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • an architect guy

What makes you happy?
  • When I don't have to wake up early in the morning to go to school. And elephant jokes.

What are you afraid of?
  • Crabs. And bad elephant jokes.

If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
  • Cole to get appendicitis.

What is the funniest word?

What is the hardest thing to do?
  • whistle

What is the easiest thing to do?
  • eat

What is the best thing in the world?
  • food

What is the worst thing in the world?
  • Rylan. Wait, probably the hour and a half on the school bus.

What makes you mad?
  • When the school bus is late. (What makes his mom mad is when the school bus is early...)

What is the meaning of love?
  • personal space

If you had all the money in the world, what would you do with it?
  • make it rain


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A Hard Day for Dreaming

This is a novel I wrote once upon a time. It's been gathering dust in a google drive for a few years. If you're not doing anything with the rest of your Christmas break, you could read it. I'm pretty proud of it.
...

A HARD DAY FOR DREAMING

In her last semester of college, Emma Whitacker is torn between two men. She feels a connection with steady but stoic Thomas thanks to their shared love of indie bands, and when he tells her that he loves her, she believes she has found true love. But when her friend Will impulsively kisses her, her confused feelings leave her questioning how you know when you've found The One. Ten years later, married to one man but dreaming about the other, she can’t help but wonder, “Did I make the right choice?” Pulled between the past and the present, Emma contemplates what it means to fall in love, to be married, and to become a mother.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Mom, Dad, and Kellie (and family) came to our house for Thanksgiving this year. Michael made his traditional pulled pork and cranberry stuffing. I made some pies.

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Kellie's husband Alex is an ice hockey fiend, so we took him and our own ice hockey boys to a skating rink. This was my second time ice skating in my 40 years. I actually think I'd enjoy ice skating if I could do it more often. Too bad it's so expensive.

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While they were at our house, I put my mom to work making me a work of art to hang over my table. I don't know if you'd call it a painting or what - it's just a quote from my favorite book ever. I can't decide yet if I want to frame it, but currently it is unframed. Either way, I love it.

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