The new EPA ain’t protecting anything

I had a conversation with my students today about the “politicization” of science. Specifically, we spoke about the EPA. The current U.S. administration has no respect for science and has made no secret of that fact. Scott Pruitt’s appointment as the head of the EPA is pathetic and would be laughable, if it weren’t so dangerous. The deletion of much of the climate change info from the EPA website is only the tip of the iceberg. EPA scientists getting fired or leaving out of disgust speaks volumes about what’s going on there. Pruitt’s just getting started, too.

If my 12-year old students can see through the lack of integrity and vile agenda of appointing someone like Pruitt to head an agency charged with protecting the environment, surely adults can figure it out, too. Even kids see how money and politics drives so much hypocrisy and corruption. It’s pretty sad that as adults, we can’t protect the next generation from the stupidity of people in power. All Trump has to lose is Mar-a-Lago. All these kids have to lose can’t even be calculated.

There’s little doubt in my mind that I will receive at least one email from a parent, telling me to keep my “liberal agenda” out of the classroom. Never mind that scientists overwhelmingly agree that climate change is being driven primarily by human activity. For people like these parents, science is “good” when it helps create shiny objects like cell phones and flat-screen TVs to distract them from reality. Science is “bad” when it tells them something they don’t want to hear, like the climate is changing, or that not vaccinating their kids is dangerous. These are people who never learned about or experienced terrible diseases like smallpox and polio, or breathed a sigh of relief when vaccines were developed. These are people who will continue to deny whatever they don’t want to believe, regardless of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Fortunately, most of my students’ parents are more intelligent than these unfortunate souls. I don’t need my own version of the Scopes Monkey Trial, believe me!

Denial is frightening. I wish climate change was a hoax. I’d jump for joy. But I’m not going to lie to my students. I just wish speaking the truth didn’t make me wonder what kind of nasty bullshit is going to wind up in my inbox.

My first day of teaching

September of 1998. First teaching job. First day of school.

In the middle of one period or another, a student brought me a strand of hair with something attached to the shaft. She wanted to know what it was. One look and I realized it was a nit, meaning that someone in the room had lice.

I had lice in 5th grade, and I remember the shame of the entire class watching you being sent home early from school.

This was a rare situation in which my inexperience working in public education was a plus. Had I gone to the administration about the issue, they might have fumigated the school or combed everybody’s hair or something.

Instead, I put the nit under a microscope , and we watched the larva squirm within its egg. By the end of the day, the heat from the microscope’s lamp had fried it.

That was my first real-life experience with what my education professors referred to as a “teachable moment.” However, lice were probably not what they had in mind…

Fidget spinners and container-flipping

I have heard it said that fidget spinners help kids concentrate on a lesson during class. Instead of fidgeting in their seats, they play with the spinners. Bullshit.┬áNothing is further from the truth. Not only do fidget spinners distract the user, they also distract everyone near the user, especially when the user is performing tricks. The ones with flashing lights are enough to induce a seizure, and some of the metal spinners have blades sharp enough to rival Freddy’s finger-knives in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Kids drop the spinners on the floor constantly, where they make a lovely clang on my concrete lab floor.

What’s worse, certain adults have promoted these spinners as “classroom accommodations” for students with “special needs.” Well, guess what? Pretty soon the “regular” kids claim to have special needs too, so that they can play with the damn things during class without consequence. In fact, if a teacher tries to confiscate one, the kid is ready to get a lawyer.

Fortunately, as with all things kid-oriented, the interest in stuff like this tends to be a flash in the pan, not lasting more than a few months. Same thing with the flipping of cups and bottles, or so I devoutly hope.

Seriously, how exciting can flipping a container over and over be? It’s not just the mouth-breathers that dig it, either. Many students think this is a skill worth mastering and that the classroom is an awesome place to practice. Again, I call bullshit. Flipping containers is like a classroom version of beer pong, only there’s no alcohol allowed to dull the mental pain of watching kids do this. My guess is that even chimpanzees and the great apes would get bored of flipping containers before kids do. And these are animals that throw shit at each other. Literally! God forbid students start throwing shit during class for entertainment value…

Fidget spinners and container-flipping should not be allowed in class or at school, period. Anyone who argues that they benefit the classroom environment or the student in any way is a moron. Classroom accommodations, my ass. I can’t wait until these stupid preoccupations go the way of the tech-deck mini-skateboards that kids used to play with several years ago. Which begs the question… what’s next?

Sleep-deprived teaching

Few days are as difficult to get through as teaching after a lousy night’s sleep. 3 AM is a dark time for both the bedroom and the brain. I’ve been known to quarter an Ambien tablet and take one quarter if I wake up in the wee hours and can’t fall back asleep. It’s that, or lie in bed, thinking about all the work lying in wait a few scant hours down the road. At 3 AM, my mind often turns to the idea of a career change.

On mornings after a night of sleep-deprivation, I envy adults who go off to an office job, I’d love to sit at a desk, in front of a computer. No spastic tweens dropping their books loudly on their desks and shouting at each other. Just me and a computer screen. I wouldn’t lose my temper and frighten the children with threats of emailing parents and trips to the office. I would just stare blankly at the monitor for hours.

Teaching is stressful. I don’t think people truly appreciate how on-the-ball we have to be on a minute-to-minute basis. There is no sleeping behind a newspaper as kids work quietly on dittos. A teacher is on-stage for hours at a time, and God help you if you’re exhausted when you arrive at school in the morning.

So, to all of the people who say, “Yeah, but you get the summers off,” let’s trade jobs for a day. You’ll figure it out quickly…

Slugboy (your tax dollars at work)

I’ve been in education twenty years. I’ve seen a lot of lazy kids. But NEVER have I seen a kid as lazy as Slugboy.

Slugboy is a portly, shabbily-dressed young man who attends my class each day. By “attends,” I mean that he shows up, sits down, and does nothing but breathe. Seriously. There is valuable classroom oxygen going to waste here!

Slugboy only exerts effort toward one goal: doing absolutely nothing. In fact, I would wager that if he took the effort he puts into doing nothing and applied it to doing something, he’d be an A student across the board.

Time and time again, I’ve been told by various co-workers that he is actually very smart. I beg to differ. He may have ability, but refusing to use that ability isn’t smart at all. Ability minus effort equals NOTHING. Zero. Zilch.

I half-jokingly think to myself that I should just start giving Slugboy money now, since he will be sucking up everyone’s tax dollars very soon, anyway. Buy him a Playstation, a couch, and a case of Cheetos, and he’ll be set! I wonder: if I prepay his welfare, can I get a discount later on?

I realize this may raise hackles for some, but let’s face it: there are those on welfare who shouldn’t be. Chances are good they are very much like Slugboy. They have ability, but they don’t have motivation. Why do they deserve my money?

I don’t doubt that Slugboy has some very serious issues at home. I’m sure it’s not a healthy situation. And, on some level, I do feel sorry for him. It’s just that I can’t stand seeing somebody so eager to let themselves fail, especially when he has so many supportive adults around him each day at school.

I had a conversation with him today. I tried to emphasize that if he behaves the way he does in class on the job, he will be fired. I told him I think it’s sad that he isn’t willing to help himself, and that it will backfire on him later in life. I said a number of other things. I had remote hope that we might have a “come to Jesus moment,” so to speak. Slugboy would magically see the error of his ways, try harder, and eventually grow up to be of some use to society. That was not the case. Slugboy continually inflated and deflated a balloon he had in his pocket during the entire “conversation.” See what I mean about my precious oxygen?

It will be the last conversation I have with him. I have close to 30 other students in my class who are willing to try, and I will focus on them. It’s no fun when I have to give up on somebody, but like Spock said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

How did I get here?


I write this as I sit at my desk during 3rd period, on a wet, rainy day at the end of November. My students are working on a multimedia activity using my classroom set of Chromebooks. I love days when I use the Chromebooks. I don’t have to stand and talk all period. Five hours of standing and talking fries my mind and makes my sciatic nerve throb. I’m not so young no more. Twenty years of standing did this to me. And no, the squishy insoles don’t work.

I keep getting up to help kids who didn’t bother to listen to the directions. At times, I am reminded of a line from a poem by Steven Jesse Bernstein:

“These men look confused, like fish being clubbed on the pier.”

As an aside, Bernstein killed himself. Anyway, replace the word “men” with “students” and you’ll understand what the inattentive kids look like. Mouth-breathers.

My teaching situation is actually quite fantastic. I work at a upper-socioeconomic school where many students and parents value education. I have all the latest classroom gear: projector, sound system, microphone, etc. I teach science, which interests me. I have only one prep. I like and respect both the principal and assistant principal, and they take good care of me. And the kids… many of them actually say “thank you” as they leave the classroom! Most of them are sweet and earnest. It’s a good gig. I like my job and want to do a good, solid job of educating these little 12- and 13-year olds. So why am I so cynical?

To be continued…