Time Traveling

It all started with Mr. Yousef on Thursday.

Or perhaps, it had been percolating for a few weeks, and Mr. Yousef crystallized it in my Principal’s office, on that Thursday.

I sat at the conference table with him, talking about attendance and truancy and COVID, and I realized how many years I have been serving students in schools like my current one. I thought, in an instant, about how confusing and terrifying being new can be: you have no idea what the schools really do, or what they are like, or how the beauty at the core of them, the children, MUST be our core commitment, despite all the pitfalls and policy changes.

The thoughts led me back to Gus Garcia Middle School, in the fall of 2007: 15 years ago.

Gus Garcia has been popping up lately as it has come to my attention that a large number of those of us who taught there and who opened that school are now administrators in Austin ISD and Elgin ISD. It is definitely true that the difficult experiences at Garcia led us to leadership.

Let’s do a roll call….Dr. Melvin Bedford, once AP, is now Principal at Austin High School. Chara Harris, once a math teacher, is now Principal of Murchison Middle School. Brandy Gratten, once an English teacher, is the Principal of Martin Middle School. Ben McCormack, once an English teacher, is the Principal of St Elmo Elementary. De’Sean Roby, once Instructional Coach, is Principal of Bertha Sadler Means Middle School. Tasha Bedford, once an English teacher, is Assistant Principal of Bertha Sadler Means Middle School. Kalandra Williams, once a math teacher, is Assistant Principal of Neidig Elementary School. And me, Patience Blythe, once a science teacher, is Assistant Principal of Booker T Washington Elementary School.

As I sat in that room with Mr. Yousef, talking about attendance policy and telling him that I am known for being very, very, very aware of student attendance, I thought about those years, and why so many of us became administrators.

For many years, I have shied away from writing about the experiences I had at Gus Garcia. My issues with understanding life-work balance while working there were definitely contributing factors to my divorce in 2009. although I do believe that our marriage wouldn’t have worked no matter where either of us was working. I have shied away from it because the experiences were so intense, and so of their moment. We went through the financial crisis at that school and the election of Barack Obama; these events fundamentally changed public schools. They perhaps felt too close for real examination; I also didn’t want to upset anyone in the retelling.

But here we are, 15 years later, and schools have changed so much. In many ways they are better, and yet, the results for poor children remain the same. I wonder why that is. I have some ideas, which I will share here as the year progresses. This is my first year as an Assistant Principal, and my mentor has asked me to remember to write about it. I will.

But to go back to that meeting on Thursday afternoon with Mr. Yousef; it was one of those meetings that sends you back in time, and through time, and provides you a deep reflection on the present: that everything you have done has brought you to that exact moment in time. At that moment, we talked about truancy and withdrawing students, and I sat in that beautiful office, in that school building, and again realized that I am so lucky to have so many years of experience with which to refer.

On the day before, I was in a training for SAMA, which for those of you who are not in schools or institutional settings, is a practice of de-escalating crises that works very well. I mentioned to Wednesday’s instructor that, at Garcia, all of the teachers were trained in SAMA due to the level of need at that campus.

In other words, all roads in my mind are leading to Garcia at this moment.

It is time.

When I returned to Austin ISD in 2015 after a four-year absence, the gentleman looking at my paperwork said, “Oh. You were at Garcia. There were a lot of problems there.” I said, “Yes, there were. Whose fault do you think that was?”

Let’s dive in.

Garcia Middle School was built up on a hill, in East Austin, on the east side of 183 off Loyola Lane. It is a beautiful building that looks like a community college. The first time I went into the building, it was just a shell, and we wandered through it being told where this would be, and that. We had planning meetings in the construction trailer out front. Most of the staff had come over from Porter Middle School, which had recently been closed in South Austin.

When the school opened, it was beautiful. Huge windows let the light shine in on the east and west side. Each grade level section was painted a different color: orange, blue, and yellow. Each classroom had a plasma screen television (these were the days before Promethean boards). Each area had its own workroom with its own copier and its own computer lab (these were also the days before Chromebooks). There was a patio off the cafeteria that was planted with native plants. I was the most experienced science teacher with one year of teaching experience.

When I think about Garcia, I don’t want to enumerate its flaws and faults or describe all the things that went wrong there. To me, there is little point in dwelling on those things, and I don’t want people to feel I am pointing fingers or blaming anyone for what happened. I find it comforting and inspiring that so many of us who were young teachers there are now administrators at high-needs campuses in this area; this shows that we all learned a lot in those years, and decided to take a path that would make sure the things that happened at Garcia would never happen again under our watch.

But despite the desire to not talk about the problems, the formative aspects of my three years at Garcia keep popping up. Why is that? Is it because my time at Garcia was my first experience of true leadership? Conversely, my first experience at understanding what lack of leadership can do? Perhaps.

At Garcia, we went through three principals in one year. The first one left us in December. Before she left, she held an assembly in the gym and yelled at everyone in a voice I will never forget: it was a voice of desperation, sadness, defeat, and acknowledgment that what she had done had not worked. She was replaced by an amazing changemaker who came into that school with his giant gold rings, announcements on the PA, reward systems for students and teachers, and songs in the cafeteria. He changed everything in mere weeks. The third was a principal that no one liked; she divided the cliques and friend groups. She was challenging. She broke the staff apart to rebuild it. She was the only person in my three years there who could get the students to listen to her and only her simply by asking. She could talk to them. When I decided to leave, she asked me, “So….how is Bedichek Middle School?”. I told her that I had to learn how to teach; that all I knew was how to control classes but I needed to learn the other aspects of teaching. She and other administrators there told me that there are kids who need help everywhere. They were, of course, right.

One of my takeaways from being in Title 1 public schools for so long is that people with years of experience have opinions and observations that are priceless; they are diamonds. You may not agree with everything, but there is a truth that resonates and is useful to apply to your own situation. Ultimately, experience gives us perspective so that when big changes occur, like what is happening now, we remember and know that we will make it through this, too. Younger teachers don’t know this. I didn’t know this back in 2007 at Garcia Middle School.

I had two rooms at Garcia: first one without a window, and later, one with two gorgeous windows on the second floor that I often opened each morning because the fog would roll into the classroom and I loved it. It was a very foggy place; a hilltop that was covered in cloud in the early mornings and backed up to a greenbelt that was never named as such due to where it was in the city. In the back of the room, I had a coffee maker that some other teachers used. When I wasn’t at school, which was rare, students would open the windows and throw textbooks onto the roof of the first floor.

During transitions, why do we drift backward into memory? Does it ground us somehow? Remind us that if we survived then, we will survive now? Do the memories help us interpret the realities of this moment? It is hard to say.

I don’t know what stories from Garcia will pop up here. Will it be the time we made cricket houses in the science elective and I didn’t realize that crickets eat cardboard and all the crickets escaped to be found by the custodians? Will it be how the 8th graders self-segregated in class every time you turned your back on them? Will it be the city gang truce meeting in the library? Will it be the time that student brought a giant knife in a Jordans box to kill me? Will it be the time the two boys got in a fight and one shot the other one in the face (both survived)? Will it be how the kids stashed drugs in the upstairs 7th-grade boys’ bathroom ceiling tiles and sold them at lunch? Will it be the time I was observed by the district and a boy was walking across the tops of lab tables while another was hiding in a cabinet, and others were making and sending darts into the ceiling tiles and yet, I still received a positive evaluation? Will it be the time that I wrote a blog post about advisory that somehow was picked up by a national publication and ended up on the front page of the Austin American Statesman? Or will it be completely different memories? We shall see.

If I could share one truth about serving students in Title 1 schools with anyone who would listen at this exact moment in time, it would be this; if you are not in the schools, you have no idea what happens within them, and you do not understand their importance. The importance of the schools is critical; it is key to the future of the country as a whole. The more they get broken down, under-funded, criticized, or have unfunded mandates applied to them (I am looking at you, HB 4545), the impacts on the children and adults in the schools are massive.

I remember when President Obama was elected, when Dr. Helen Johnson became principal, when TEA came in to audit our campus, and we began to talk about this new test called STAAR. It all happened there, at that campus. So many things happened there, and I can remember so many of them vividly; they were that intense and meaningful.

At that school, I wore striped knee socks every day; I had probably 10 or so pairs. The students asked me why I wore them every day, and I told them it was because I had prison tattoos on my legs and I couldn’t show them. Would I say this today? Definitely not. But the kids loved it and thought it was hilarious. They called me “Colorful” there, not Ms. Blythe, and never once questioned how someone who had been in prison could be their teacher, let alone this tall, weird, white lady. In fact, those students *insisted* that I was not white. At the time, I didn’t understand what they meant.

What is happening in the schools this year is heartbreaking: how can there be so many openings? One of the biggest things I learned at Garcia is how I cannot solve the world’s problems; I can only hope to influence a small group of people in front of me. I learned about the importance of the students in my care, and the teachers that I could help. As our year begins, my current campus has the lowest turnover rate in our district and only has one open position. That tells me a lot about our school. That tells me we can grow; we have a whole crew of caring people who chose to stay after the hardest year I have ever experienced as a public school educator.

I wish I could take you all, the general public, the Texas state legislature, the US Congress and Senate, and bring you into the schools. You would see the needs; you would meet the students and you would see how much they need access to a high-quality education delivered by caring adults. School is another form of nutrition; anyone who tells you it isn’t critical to every child has some hidden agenda that I am not interested in understanding. I wish I could bring you into these classrooms; like the time at Garcia, when I had the most bonkers class I had ever had up to that point. The students never stopped talking: I didn’t know how to help them calm down then, and I randomly, in desperation, put on a video of Charlie Chaplin. Almost instantly, they asked, “why is no one talking?” They then completely calmed down, and from then on, Charlie Chaplin videos were rewards in that class. To that end, one day I told the students that I had lost my voice and could not speak, and they had to find ways to help me communicate. All of a sudden, everyone could raise their hands before speaking.

Schools are magical and majestic. But mostly, they are critically important to the lives of children. Throughout the pandemic, the lives of children have been an afterthought. They have not been our priority. Government leaders seemed to think they would just bounce back and be fine after all of the time away from school. Those of us in the schools understand that this concept is a false assumption; the time away was damaging to so many of them, in many ways that we, as adults, will probably never truly understand.

I thank you for joining me here and reading my ramblings about grief, life, schools, and our country. I do love it so. I love its children most of all. I hope you do, too, even if you don’t have any of your own. And I do hope you think about how important school was for you, and act in kind.

All the Boats in the Harbor

I grew up in the summers on a large island off the coast of Maine. If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you well know this. I grew up on Mount Desert Island, and lived there until about 5 years ago, when I returned to Austin, Texas.

Mount Desert Island (MDI) is a tourism community that attracts 2 million people in a normal summer; our year-round population is a smidge less than 10,000. There are many funny comments from tourists that islanders have to endure, and lately, one has been sticking in my memory.

I can see Bar Harbor in the summer clearly in my mind’s eye. There are pleasure boats, whale boats, lobster boats, and dinghies moored there, bobbing up and down in the water, as the currents and the winds shift. Bar Harbor is an open harbor so really is only used in the summer, due to its lack of protection from winter storms. Tourists often look out into that harbor and see all the boats on their moorings, with the mainland beyond, and ask: “how do they get all the boats to face the same direction?”

Whenever this particular question is uttered, we laugh, albeit inwardly. Of course, it is the water currents, not the mooring, that determine how the boats set in the water.

COVID has now been raging for months: it feels like forever. I remember I said I was going to write here every day, and that never materialized. I have now decided to be more patient and gentle with myself, and write whenever I feel that I can. There are all sorts of below-the-surface water currents at work, causing us all to drift on this invisible tide.

Right now, schools are supposed to open as normal, and there is no plan for teacher or staff protection. The President wants the whole country to re-open, and periodically shrieks about the stock market and the NASDAQ, as if that means anything to 15 million unemployed people. The Texas governor issued a mask order last week, in the midst of a fury of anti-mask propaganda. I canceled my Facebook account yesterday: well, I put it on a 7 day hiatus, but after reading articles like this one, I am fairly certain I am on the path to permanently deleting it next week. I was in a meeting last week and described the feeling of being in the Upside Down, if the Upside Down was made of molasses; it is as if we are in a crazy parallel reality where truth is not valued, science has been relegated to the side lines, and time seems to move very strangely.

I don’t know what else to say except that times feel dark, and strange, and scary, and it is very hot (at least we have air conditioning!). I have been sewing almost obsessively, and watercoloring scenes from my life for a new quilt. I will share some of those when I have a few more ready. Some memories are good, some poignant, some sad; very much like the life they reflect.

I have been emailing with an old boyfriend from 20 years ago, and I think we have been comfort for each other in these strange days. Cody and I seem to not be a consistent comfort to each other, but I read an article about that, too. I feel very grateful for my friends at this time, for my dog Oscar, for my family in England who I can FaceTime with, and for the myriad stories I can engage with on television and in books. I spend a lot of time in contemplation and reflection, thinking about all the stages of my life, and of other’s lives, and how many, definite chapters we all experience. Life marches on despite our existence in the vacuum of COVID-19.

In some ways, this time reminds me of working in the studio in Northeast Harbor very late at night in the winters, when it was so dark outside that I couldn’t see anything beyond a few feet out of the front window, where the lights shone. I remember the blackness of the branches of the trees, the sound of the winter wind, the deep glow of electric light in a sea of winter black. None of us can see where this goes or when it ends, although many of us would like to know.

Despite the looks of the boats in harbors worldwide, there is no one undercurrent pulling us in one direction or another. There is, unfortunately, tension and mis-management, megalomania, fear, the unknown, wishes, rebellion, new ideas, anger, and a bit of hope. I just bought some very bright fabric to make quilts for the many babies that I know are on their way into this crazy world.

Back to sewing. With love, P

Date: 8 July 2020

Worldwide Cases: 12,009,301

Worldwide Deaths: 548,822

Worldwide Mortality Rate: 4.57%

United States Cases: 3,110,000

United States Deaths: 134,000

United States Mortality Rate: 4.30%

All the Feelings

Tonight, I miss my students. I miss them so much, and in tandem with that feeling, I feel fear. My fear is rooted in the worry that we have lost something fundamental, not in schools, but in our society. I am afraid that the “normal” course of things is now fundamentally altered. I just finished watching “Friday Night Lights” for the 5th or 6th time, and all of the things that I saw for those kids in the last two episodes of the show may not come true for our kids, simply because our economy as we knew it was a lie it seems, or at least, it was true only for a few.

I spent this morning talking to my friend Von about all of it, and I think we have a pretty solid plan to see how things go over the next year, and then maybe all (the friend group) try to leave the United States for greener, perhaps Italian, pastures. Everything seem so confusing and as if a giant rug was yanked out from underneath all of us at the same time. 16 million people have lost their jobs? And yet, I sit on a couch with a puppy watching  “Apollo 13” because it was just the 50th anniversary the other day. Maybe it was yesterday?

Anyway – there are good things happening. There are the birds and the bees and new variegated geraniums and the fact that our house now has a/c and heat for the first time since we bought it. Our friends and family are fine. We are getting along great, although there are stories of the opposite being true. I suspect if you didn’t get along before the pandemic, you sure as hell aren’t getting along now.

This is non-sequitor, but important. Today I received an application for Early College High School from a student who was rather well known for being a scamp earlier in the year. Then, he went to Mexico for three weeks, returned and was transferred into my class. The kid and I just got along really, really well and he turned himself around and started to take his schoolwork seriously. He passed one half of his college entrance exams. I called him a couple of times over this strange break of ours and asked him to apply to ECHS. He said he would think about it, and I gave him til last Thursday to tell me either way, no pressure. He called me back and told me he wanted to do it, and then I dropped off applications at his brother’s house (no contact on the porch!). Late this afternoon, I received 5 photos via text, which were his full-page essays that he wrote explaining his goals, his challenges, and his three best qualities. The school counselor, who received his application, wrote me to say “wow”. This one incident let me know that maybe I did something good this year, despite how strangely it has (almost) ended.

I worry about our future and our kids, even though I know I have no control over this. People say this a lot: we have no control over x or y or z, but that doesn’t change the feelings. I was listening to a podcast today and the host said that she felt we should stop saying “how are you?” because no one has a good answer, and we should come up with something else. I wish someone would come up with something else to say to me instead of “you can’t control x, y or z”, or perhaps I should learn non-attachment. Perhaps both.

Tonight, it is late and I am so tired and just hope to sleep tonight. I am having so much trouble sleeping, and so many others are, too. But, suffice it to say, I did not realize how much love I had for my students, and for the “normal” way of life until a few weeks ago. This too shall pass, but into what?

Date: 16 April 2020

Cases: 2,064,815

United States: 639,628

Deaths: 137,020

Mortality Rate: 6.64%

 

 

 

 

It’s Been a Few Days

It has been a few days. I haven’t known what to say, but by now I just think I am shirking a responsibility so I will try my best.

By tomorrow there will be 2 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide. The United States is still beating everyone in our number of cases, and now, our number of deaths. Our federal government continues to fail miserably at anything resembling leadership. New York City seems like a death trap, but the governor of New York actually knows how to lead, so that is something. It seems that the resolution of this crisis will only come from the states, but primarily, the individuals that experience it. It seems that the world is lacking leadership: there is no one who has stepped in. I hear that the women presidents of the world are doing a wonderful job, but we hear nothing of them here.

I suppose I feel cynical today. I feel cynical about the United States and where it is going, and where it is. After all, I only became a citizen a few years ago, in 2015. It has been 4 years. I am considering renouncing my citizenship to this country that now seems patently absurd and abjectly cruel to its people. How can a president almost mock his own peoples’ suffering, disregard it, and only care about the levels of money that he and his friends can earn? It is despicable, it is deplorable. It is the lowest point yet of a low-road presidency. I have been hesitant to write my inner desire to renounce my US citizenship out of fear that someone will read this and take me to task, but now, I think it is all right to be honest.

Where do we go from here? What happens to the world? Will it all just go screaming forward into “normal”? 4 million garment workers lost their jobs in Asia, and none of them get stimulus money from their governments, although I can guarantee you in 2 years, they will be back, forced into factory work so that folks in the United States can buy t-shirts for $5. Or maybe not. Maybe the Coronavirus COVID19 is so powerful that it really will stop us in our tracks. What does that mean? What would we all do? I think we all are so anxious at this moment that it is impossible to think clearly. We are all on edge and just trying to distract our minds from those moments of terror and concern.

I miss hugging my friends and having dinner parties with them. I just baked a new cake, a parsnip cake, from the Lost Kitchen cookbook and it smells divine. I can’t wait to make if for them. I am waiting to receive a new book, written by a namesake, and I am very much looking forward to devouring its pages and begin crafting my own minor masterpiece. It sits in a box to my right, begging me to dive in.

What will we all do? It is impossible to know. All I know is that today and each day are very tiring in their complexity and their lack of clear information and facts. Perhaps it is by design? Perhaps it is a pandemic.

Date: 14 April 2020

Cases: 1,920,985

United States: 582,580

Deaths (Worldwide): 119,686

Mortality Rate (Worldwide): 6.23%

Dystopian Worry

These last few days, I have been drowning in worry. I have been enmeshed it in, held down by it, choked by it, pressured by it, swayed by it, distracted by it, addled by it. It has held me by the throat. Everything seems so chaotic and insane, like how could it have all been so fragile that it fell apart in just a few weeks? Just like all the dystopian fiction I have read for all of these years, those stories were exactly right in predicting the pace of the dominoes falling.

But then there is another side to this. The control piece is the other side, and the reality is that there is no control now or any other time. I think, though, that the now feels so out of control it is rather starkly constructed with the relative peace of “before”. Let’s say that, anyway. And add to that a lack of leadership so profound it seems that no one cares, let alone has the skill, to lead. We are all just watching it unfold in real-time. And real-time feels fast sometimes, and sometimes ever…so…slow.

I type this sitting by a cook fire in my garden. I can hear crickets and frogs, birds, and my neighbor’s little girl on her playscape. I can hear the distant sound of trucks on the highway, and sometimes one even drives down our road, past our house. The dog just barked at a toad: I don’t think he’d ever seen one before. The wind plays with my hair, and the almost full moon is caught in wispy clouds over the eastern sky. The sun has almost set, and tomorrow is….Tuesday?

Where do we place worry, or free-floating anxiety when we have nowhere to go, when we are asked to stay at home and do nothing? When we are no longer working, except for maybe an hour or two, here and there. When we are asked to not go out to shops, to wander, to talk with friends on their patios. When we are asked to be at home with our family and our own thoughts for the third week in a row. The mind reels, wobbles, pursues strange rabbit holes of thought and indecision, concern, and worry. But then it passes, again, to another rabbit hole or recipe, project or paranoia.

I have seen more beautiful meals cooked and photographed on Instagram than ever: people are getting crafty out there, My friend Shanarra is making COVID-19 themed quarantine cocktails that just sound lovely and have many snarky, slightly ironic names. People are challenging themselves to create beauty out of what they have, rather than seeking it from someone else, outside of themselves, with a perfectly curated vision of beauty and bliss, Perhaps it is becoming more real.

This experience, while bizarre, does feel like the Maine winter. We have come through the first phase in which we accept it is winter and we will be snowed in quite a bit and have begun to look around for things to do on snow days. Some people are still trying to pretend that nothing has changed. My friend Linda once told me that winter forces you to know the nooks and crannies of your own mind, and you might be surprised as to what you find in there. I wholeheartedly agree with her assessment. I found anxiety and worry and irrational fear, not of the virus, but of society’s lack of security and stability in the face of grave trial. Queen Elizabeth spoke yesterday of the strength of Britons, and I took some solace from her. She is right, and she has been alive a lot longer than me.

Tonight I was staring at the evening star through whispy, humid clouds and wondering what to do, and a little voice in my head said: publish your book. Work on your book. That is something that I can do, and I do have a lot of time.

I am hoping I can take some tools from my toolbox and try to remember that anxiety is fear feeling real, but it’s not real, really. I will try to remember to breathe and bake a yummy cake I have been wanting to try, and roast some veggies and call friends I haven’t chatted with yet this quarantine time. I have to remember that the bees don’t care about COVID-19: they are off to the races, and after all, they are the lynchpin to our food system. The bees’ work is much more important than my worries.

Perspective,  I think, is my takeaway tonight. I hope you out there are doing all right. Stay home, stay safe, be well. Create something beautiful out of weird stuff around your house. You never know what it might end up meaning to you.

Date: 6 April 2020

Cases: 1,346,299

United States: 367,507

Deaths: 74,679

Mortality Rate: 5.547%

Friday Reflection

View at Medium.com

The map is scary and sad, and yet, there are still lots of people who won’t take the virus seriously. No one seems to be talking about the overall mortality rate: all people talk about is social distancing and whether or not to wear a mask.

Today we went on a car parade all around Elgin to see our families and it was great. I have been so sad these last two days, and I couldn’t really tell you why. I realized, last night, that I miss the morning times of school: advisory time, when the kids come in and out to visit and hang out. I miss the bliss of ending 4th period and knowing I have 5th period and lunch off together, and the joy that is 6th period. 6th period was my worst class at one point, but they turned into my best through multiple exercises in vulnerability and that ultimate in teacher skills: parenting. They learned at some point, and then knew, had internalized, that I really really cared about them, and then, all 29 of them, magically, through a force of their own, decided, like a hive of wily honeybees, to behave as a whole. And after them came my bouncy 7th period computer science kids: 30 of the smartest, magic-jumping-beaniest kids in the school who came up with wonderful and realistic apps to address the impacts of the Coronavirus way back before the government even thought of this disease as a concern. Then my 8th period, my smallest class, my island of misfit toys with whom I get to round out each day: each day asking me question after ridiculous question and being mean to me just to be 8th graders. I miss them all so much it is crazy.

Being away from my students has made me think of all the students of years passed. Some are teachers now, some are married, some have kids, some are riding their own melt, and some have disappeared from my frame of vision. One of them sent me a photo of her sewing table last night because she saw I was sewing on my Instagram Stories.

We are shut down, our economy is cratering, so many people are unemployed it is unfathomable to me. Our schools are closed, and everything is weird. It all happened so fast.  I hope our new normal, after this has passed, is more reflective of our individual humanity and our scope for being people with each other. I hope we appreciate nature more. I worry that it will get a lot worse before it gets better. Heavy heart today: I hope tomorrow is better.

Date: 03 April 2020

Cases: 1,099,389

United States: 277,953

Deaths: 58,901

Mortality Rate: 5.358%

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Here are some articles about how to interpret the models that have been discussed over the last few days –

 

  1. https://medium.com/@wpegden/a-call-to-honesty-in-pandemic-modeling-5c156686a64b

2. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/04/01/824744490/5-key-facts-the-white-house-isnt-saying-about-their-covid-19-projections?fbclid=IwAR3wx7NSOwqJ-aFswK2SafUGLvRiUhCwF_H8L7XghgMnGqjti3dZDuUH9Pg

3. https://covid19.healthdata.org/?fbclid=IwAR089L2Ipds3BzCR-jC-obV0hzHgSci2lEywQFOfKDwBE3zVkDIK0QPZvKc

 

 

Tomorrow, A Million

This is just a quickie as it is very late and I am very tired. I am not sure where the day went, but went it went. I think that tomorrow the world will cross the 1,000,000 infection mark. That feels crazy as I remember noting, with my students, when there were 1000 cases, in China, back in January, I think. This is hard to believe.

There are still many people who don’t take this seriously: most of the state of Texas seems to not take it seriously. I wonder who is right? I miss my students and have a strange sense of time right now. I miss my students and wonder if they miss me. I miss my students and miss my structured days a it, even though my ability to walk my dog once a day and spend time in my garden and sew the quilt squares for the Lockdown Patchwork Project makes me happy.

Nicole’s uncle died of COVID-19 and I worry he is just the first person of many who I will be acquainted with. 240,000 people will die, they say, if we do everything right. Texas? Any ideas about that one?

Tomorrow is another day. I wish on the stars each night that it is only the smaller number and that we figure out this crazy virus soon.

Good night.

Date: 01 April 2020

Cases: 937,567

Deaths: 47,235

Mortality Rate: 5.038%

Daily Promise

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It has been several days since I have written, and I now realize that it is a massive oversight. So much is changing, every day, sometimes every hour, that this situation almost requires documentation. So, I heretofore commit to writing at least a little bit, every day.

I post the statistics at the bottom of every post but suffice it to say: living through a pandemic is eerie and off-putting in the strangeness of how everything feels the same, except that you can’t go to work and you are not supposed to see your friends or go shopping for anything non-essential. Today, Drs Birx and Fauci presented some very interesting projection modelsof where we go from here. Without any intervention, 2,000,000 deaths. With interventions, our best-case scenario is about 200,000. Dr. Birx always says we need to do better, and I appreciate that about her. She also has an amazing scarf collection and wears them tied in interesting ways every day. Her scarf affinity reminds me of Madeline Albright’s pins; I love good accessorizing.

I am not trying to be glib. In fact, I am very worried. I mostly worry because I think only a very small percentage of people are taking the pandemic as seriously as they need to; it seems that people think it can’t really happen. But I think something at least will happen, and I am scared about what it will be.

Meanwhile, I have to come up with meaningful online lessons (that is no problem) and hope that most of the students do them (that is more of a problem), and I have to wrap my head around staying home for at least one more month. Two weeks has felt like forever: I wonder what I will be saying come May 5th. School is cancelled till May 4th per government order. Wild times.

I am going to teach lessons around COVID-19 in computer science class and think about meaningful communication and stress management and future-casting in college and career readiness. I am going to plan for next year’s switch to full-time computer science and moving to the high school. I am going to edit my book, which is 1200 pages and is sitting beside me on the table, grinning and glowing in its glory. I am so excited. I am going to sew, and garden, and paint, and organize the scary closet. I am going to write.

I have been listening to lots of podcasts about this pandemic: maybe you have, too. I am fascinated to talk to my friend and mentor, Derry, about the science going on behind the scenes of media frenzy and public panic. He says that they are studying why certain people die and why certain people barely get sick. They are trying to figure out why the immune system over-reacts to it sometimes, killing its own alveoli (lung) cells, and what impact the disease has on the heart. They are looking at using Immuno-suppressant therapy, perhaps, and trying to sequence the genotype of all people with the disease so that they can find the commonalities that cause people to die, and some people to spread the disease without knowing they are sick. Mysteries, right? Living through a pandemic, an event “never seen before in modern medical science” as Derry says, is a crazy, wild rollercoaster of a ride.

The backdrop of this ride is the beauty of Texas spring, with all of its birds and bugs and flowers. My bees don’t care that there is a human pandemic, and the starlings that gather in their murmurs aren’t affected. The rain falls with regularity, the sun sets, and it rises. My love for people grows each day, as before, but perhaps with a bit more purpose, intent and fervour. I worry a lot and try to remember that control is an illusion. I remember this best when I am outside with plants and trees. I remember it, also, when I am reading and sewing, or just sitting on the patio.

When this is over, whenever that will be, I wonder what we will remember? That is why I commit to writing every day. Otherwise, I will forget.

 

Date: 31 March 2020

Cases: 855,007

Deaths: 42,032

Mortality Rate: 4.916%

 

Quiet Afternoons

There are people out riding their bikes and mowing their lawns and it is Thursday afternoon. People are out walking, and making beautiful photos on Instagram, and cooking, and everything else. Everything else but….working.

According to the New York Times, 3 million people have filed for unemployment, the most people ever in one week. I don’t really know what that even means, it just sounds like such a big number. Never before have I been more thankful for my job: I am so lucky to have my job, that Cody has his job, and that we both are able to work from home and still be paid.

I feel that there is some sort of shift happening in peoples’ perceptions in terms of their own lives and livelihoods. So many parents have told me that they are so happy to be at home with their families. So many people are out on the streets walking around instead of inside, glued to screens. So many people are more kind to each other than they were. People seem to be sharing, pitching in, and working together. I am ignoring the government and all the crazy madness that seems to come spewing out of the executive branch each day: I cannot understand a president who places money over people. I do acknowledge that it is not just as plain and simple as that, and that we must of course think of the economy, too, but it seems not to be a choice between but a choice of both. Texas Monthly has a great article about this false choice .

The days are strangely long, but they pass into relaxing evenings and then into beautiful mornings, over and over, on a relaxed sense of repetition. I feel guilty sometimes about my peaceful experience of this pandemic, but I suppose it is just the way it is for me. So I send love out to the rest of you, and hope you are all ok.

Date: 26 March 2020

Cases: 529,591

Deaths: 23,970

Mortality Rate: 4.52%

Today the United States became #1 in infections

Today

Let Me Tell You About My Day

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Today I was given a task: something new and novel after 7 days of nothing, of stewing, of worrying and brooding. Here we were: back to work. I was asked to call every student in my 2nd period and try to talk to them and their parents. I started off the day in my seemingly neverending quest for flour, but that is another story. Flourless, I began the phone calls at about 10am.

I have this theory about education; the theory is that public education, but K-12 education in general, gets a bad rap in the press, but in reality, people love their local schools. I spent hours today talking to kids and their parents. I spent time laughing and listening and commiserating and checking that they were all mostly ok. I listened to moms so worried their kids were going to miss out, to a dad who said his son was very sad to miss school (a revelation since I didn’t know he liked it at all), to a student who told me, in his typically friendly and nonchalant way, that everything was all right and he understood what he needs to do next week.

The calls took hours: much longer than I thought they would. Even though at times I became tired, I was thankful to reach out and talk to each and every one of those people. Sometimes, I took the calls outside on the patio when I needed some sunshine, and sometimes I just sat at my kitchen table and laughed and laughed with fellow moms of teenagers. One mom told me that I am the first teacher who has ever given her child a B and she likes me for it because it taught him to work harder. One mom said she was so worried about her three girls that she felt panicked but would do her best to make sure they walked over to pick up free breakfast and lunch and did their work for school. Her daughter, fellow nervous spirit, is so worried that she doesn’t have enough hours for NJHS (she has 46 out of the required 10) and that we wouldn’t be able to host the fundraiser for the cafeteria manager who has breast cancer.  I asked a dad of a student who wants to be in Early College High School that he talk to his extremely gifted child about the importance of being flexible and open in the face of uncertainty. As I write, another child’s father just called because he received my message earlier and wanted to check about the plans for next week.

I teach in a district with 87% poverty. Let that roll around in your brain a bit. There are all sorts of assumptions about students who come from under-resourced environments. Data says they don’t achieve, that they don’t have the grit of their wealthier peers, and some folks even say that they are un-teachable. With these attitudes come years of classist and racist prejudice that are unfounded; I have done this for 14 years and I have very rarely found a parent who does not want the best for their child. Even those two moms I can remember saying so were only speaking out of their own pain, anxiety, and fear.

I started today by looking at news that said we are facing 30% unemployment. This afternoon, I spoke to a dad who clearly was very worried about getting food for his wife and himself, and was relieved to hear that there are free meals available for his children. When I listen to parts of the daily press briefings, it is abundantly clear to me that the people in government have no idea what a dollar costs. They don’t know the price of a gallon of milk, or the choices parents have to make between eating themselves and getting food for their children. When I think about these things a lot, I become very angry.

I ended today by speaking to so many parents and students; the majority of my students said they missed being in school. The majority of their parents were very carefully listening to exactly what they needed to do to connect their child with the academic expectations of their teachers. All the people I spoke with were kind and said they were doing fine and that it was important that resources went to people who really need them.

In other words, I had a very positive, human experience. No matter how angry our government’s response (or rather, lack of response) makes me, I have to remember that in order to move through this experience, whatever it will be when we get to a place of reflection upon it, will depend on the actions of each other. We will listen and laugh, and cry, and find solutions, together. We will remember that each of us is trying her or his best and that each person cares so much it is incomprehensible and indescribable.

With love and appreciation tonight, I am going to go and eat chicken and rice, and not worry about the fact that I still can’t find flour.

Date: 23 March 2020

Cases – 378,679

Deaths – 16,508

Mortality Rate – 4.359%