How I Spent My Summer Vacation [Spoiler: Not as planned]

I had some plans this summer. Not a ton of plans, and to be fair the school year had ended in a place that was palpably toxic in very surprising ways, which in turn had an impact on other areas of my life that were not what I would call “ideal”. But still, summer was here and summer is for vacation.

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.

The Prelude:

After my return from Peru in January of this year I was feeling well pleased with myself having completed the classic Inca Trail route: four days of ups and downs at fairly substantial elevation on a path largely made of (somewhat) set stones (no judgment, they’ve been in place for centuries, so it beats most modern infrastructure I’ve encountered.) I carried my own pack, and felt good the whole way through, which was an accomplishment because I had been worried going into the trek as I have remarkable osteoarthritis for someone my age (I’m told). This inconvenience has most dramatically manifested in my knees, one of which has but remnants of cartilage remaining, and the other only slightly ahead of the game. For those of you in the know about these things, you know that there is little to be done for this condition: stay active, maintain a healthy weight, etc., etc. There are some questionable experimental options that some people swear by (emerging stem cell therapy, for which I am hopeful but not sold on at this point, synovial fluid injections…) but there is not a “fix,” as it were, save for replacing one’s knees (which both my paternal grandfather and father had done bilaterally.) As an aside, I was also showing osteoarthritis in my hips as of 2013, which was getting a bit annoying by 2016. My right hip has tended to get pretty aggravated when hiking (more so even than my attitude) for the last couple of years.

About seven years ago, I had my first cortisone injection in my left knee (the good one!) following an acute problem that had occurred. My knee had locked in virasna toward the end of a yoga class and I was unable to re-extend the knee, landing me in the emergency room in an incredibly awkward position (literally) with no discernible cause via x-ray or physical exam, and so “on the count of three we’re going to straighten it!” Three ER attendants braced me and straightened the leg in a swift, excruciating maneuver that left me dazed, mobile, and basically pain-free. Weird. MRI imaging returned no explanations, and so I got a cortisone shot and carried on.

Oh, and the shot was magical.

In 2015, I had my second cortisone injection, in both knees this time, and again was overjoyed at the results including how the shot seemed to alleviate knee and hip pain. I was feeling right as rain.

I had cortisone injections in both knees right before going to Peru as well, and again was amazed at the outcome. I was ready!

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IMG_9282The trip was spectacular and I felt fit, strong, and healthy.

Then I came home.

Back at work in an incredibly challenging environment (more – much more – on this at some point) and in the post-holiday malaise, I turned to my yoga practice as I often do. The first couple of classes I attended were more challenging than they should have been. It had only been a few weeks since I practiced and I had not been sitting around doing nothing – in fact had even done some yoga in Peru in addition to the more obvious exertion. It seemed odd, but I pressed on. At MLK weekend in Tahoe, I attended a yoga class and was even more hampered. By the end of January it became clear something was amiss. Mobility in my right hip had become so limited yoga was becoming nearly impossible even with substantial modifications. (Like, I could not sit in sukhasana, for example, let alone any sort of movement that required hip rotation or extension.)

I went to see the orthopedic guy I had been seeing and we landed on the same conclusion: hip flexor strain. I got some therapeutic suggestions and anti-inflammatories. I also went to see a chiropractor who specializes his work around yoga practitioners. He was attentive, informative, and couldn’t do much to alleviate my situation in the end. By President’s Day weekend I had developed a limp that I could not avoid, and was starting to get pretty depressed. Yoga seemed out of the question, and nothing I was doing was helping. I called my orthopedic people in tears. By the way, if you mention to your medical professionals that you “cannot continue to live like this” they jump to attention.

The next thing I know I am having a MRI of the right hip. The MRI shows significant labral damage and what appeared to be a compound femoral acetabular impingement. Great – this is fixable. I got in for an arthrogram and had a cortisone injection. Again, instant magic, which was a welcome sign as I was off to Hong Kong five days later.

The magic lasted eight days.

While suffering in Hong Kong – as much a walking city as San Francisco, and perhaps more due to the island where I stay – I decided to see my physio there because since 2008 there has been nothing Leo could not fix for me. Except this. “This is not your normal kind of issue,” he said. “You are going to need to see an orthopedic specialist, this is something new and different for you.”

Fun fact: You never want to be new and different in a medical practitioner’s office. That is akin to being and “interesting case” and as even one season of House will tell you, it’s never lupus and its never good.

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When I got back from Asia in April, I was feeling worse in every possible way: I was no longer able to walk without pain, much less do yoga or any sort of exercise. This was having remarkably obvious impacts on my mental and physical well-being.

Around this time I went to see a body worker who I think is one of the most intuitive and powerful practitioners I have come across, and we talked for a long time about what was going on – all the various aspects of my life that were culminating at this time and place and the ways they were manifesting physically. She was able to alleviate not only my pain, but also my anxiety.

For about 12 hours.

After a tumultuous experience with my primary care doctor, I found myself back in orthopedics talking to a surgeon. Talk about “not ideal. He laid out my three options from most to least conservative:

  1. A new anti-inflammatory and physical therapy, Pilates also recommended.
  2. Hip arthroscopy. This is a procedure where a surgeon – like the one I was speaking to – go in and ‘clean up’ the joint, perform labral repair if possible, shave down bone spurs/impingements. [Although this is considered the mid-range option in terms of aggressiveness, it has a much longer rehab period than the third option…]
  3. Total joint replacement of the hip.

As the surgeon went over my MRI with me, he showed me what we were working with and told me that as a specialist in arthroscopy I was not a great candidate. It would be super temporary because of my arthritis, and also he showed me that I had actually no cartilage left in the joint so my discomfort was being caused by bone on bone contact.

I left with a new prescription and a PT appointment, because who the fuck gets a hip replacement at 47?

When I went to my first PT appointment in the third week of April, the therapist introduced herself, looked at my x-rays and MRIs and said, “Well, we can work on mobility and mitigating pain, but you need a new hip.”

Okay lady, slow your roll.

I started working with a really good rehab Pilates instructor – who is awesome and tolerated my less than enthusiastic attitude towards Pilates by being unbelievably enthusiastic. It was an interesting contrast to my PT who is even more direct than I am, generally speaking. It was a good balance.

Summer is Coming:

By May, I was seeing about zero improvement in my situation. On top of this I was spiraling into familiar body issues that seemed out of my control – my lifestyle had changed so much and so dramatically that my clothes were not fitting. This shame spiral on top of everything else made things seem even worse. I generally felt better when I saw the PT or had a Pilates session, but the relief was short-lived. My PT was consistent in her position that I needed a new hip and I began talking to her about the process in broad generalities in our sessions. How long would the recovery be – like how big of window did I need? (This depends and since every person is different it is really hard to answer.) Was there any other alternative that she saw? (Silence.) What was the actual procedure like? (There are two approaches, anterior and posterior, the anterior is a much quicker initial recovery and the recommended option for anyone who is eligible for it.) Was this really what I needed to do? (Silence.)

I was referred to a surgeon who would be able to see me for a consult in July.

I booked a trip to Southampton for the last week in June since I had scrapped all my other plans by this time – music festivals were not a possibility in my condition, and I was not doing anything else in my spare time at this point so I felt this was well deserved.

How I Actually Spent My Vacation:

In the days that followed the culmination of my absolutely bonkers school year experience, I was suddenly spending a great deal of time searching orthopedic surgeons and forwarding the information to my step-dad for him to forward on to his connections for vetting. We landed on one that we all agreed on after a fairly exhaustive effort and I got the referral (out of area – OMG) to see this doctor.

On July 10.

No.

I began my summer break by getting up every morning to call to see if the doctor had cancellations and after a couple of days I knew all the women who worked in the department. I was told that the doctor was on call for O.R. duties on Fridays but that there were two morning appointments released on Thursdays that I could try to get in for, with the knowledge that I could get cancelled last-minute. I got booked for Friday June 22.

The appointment did not get cancelled, but all my hope for any alternative to a total joint replacement did. When the doctor looked at my x-rays from 2016 and that morning, and heard my whole story (which I have neglected to mention I was not able to tell without embarrassing sobs for months at this point) it was clear to him that I needed a new hip. I asked if there were any alternatives, it seemed like there should be because I am only 47. (I avoided going full Nancy Kerrigan, but I did want to know why this was the only alternative.)  It turns out, like so many other questions about the specifics of recovery duration and such, there is no definitive answer, although it seems very likely that more than a decade of competitive track and field along with basketball were not necessarily as good for me as we once thought. He asked me what I knew about the procedure. (More than I wanted to.) Then he brought in the “hip” for me to look at. (Heavy fucking metal.)

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Oh, and this surgeon, the one we all liked and had moved mountains to see? He did not do the anterior approach. He recommended the surgeon I had originally been slated to see on July 13. It took absolutely no calculating to realize that the timing and necessary recovery for this was looking like I was going to have to wait a year.

No no no no.

He said he would make some calls.

We left. I was in a mood that I am quite sure no one wanted to be around, so we went out to lunch. I like the way my parents think.

By about 3:00pm I was getting ready to start thinking about heading back to SF, and my phone rang. It was the surgeon. In the time since we had left he had figured out a way to use his surgery time to partner with a doctor he very much approved of to do the replacement.

On July 3.

I sat there and realized that I was going to have a major surgery in 11 days. In hindsight, I think for someone like me having absolutely no time to think things like this through is probably a good thing, and trust me, there was going to be no time. Within an hour I had been scheduled for four days worth of pre-op adventures.

By the end of June I had cancelled my vacation, seen more medical professionals than I had in decades, and was preparing for my ‘hip-cation’ in the North Bay. It was really happening.

In at 5:45am on July 3, the surgery prep began. I certainly can’t say I remember much about it except that my body issues were not imaginary because I had gained 15 pounds since January (!!!) and the O.R. nurses were great, the anesthesiologist was funny (I had a spinal not a general – although again, I was elsewhere), and the surgeon came in to tell me how the “universe just really came together to make this whole thing happen.” I guess, but it certainly seemed like he had a pretty big hand in things.

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I was home by 3:30pm that day. With a walker, an elevated toilet seat and enough pain medication to quell a herd of elephants.

It was weird. It felt weird, even though I couldn’t really feel anything save for the sensation that someone may have taken a baseball bat to the exterior of my thigh. But it was done, I was basically mobile, and that was that.

Because I was at home in Petaluma with my parents (and yes of course I brought the cats with me) I was able to do absolutely nothing but recover. Like really, nothing. I guess it was a vacation of sorts. And because I have health insurance (unlike the 30 million and growing number of people under 65 without coverage) this scenario turned into a money-saving bonanza for me (Ms. I Got No Plans For The Foreseeable). That was pretty relaxing too.

I came home, cane, cats and all, to San Francisco on the 24th of July, three weeks to the day from my surgery. It was – is – good to be back. I am moving slower than I would like, and I get tired much quicker than I would like – and don’t even talk to me about the Frankenstein situation that has emerged on the front of my upper leg (a six-inch incision and 22 staples leave a mark), but I am here, not needing pain medicine beyond Tylenol and having no pain in the hip, well, because I no longer actually have a hip that can feel pain.

I had a chance to visit with two of my favorite people from Hong Kong about a week or so ago, former village neighbors, they now live in the UK and have been touring the US for several weeks, and I was telling Vicky about my summer. As I told her the story and I realized everything is going as it should – actually much better even than anyone anticipated, but I still didn’t feel, I don’t know, grounded or settled or something. I said I felt a little guilty for not being beside myself with joy that I have this new hip and consequently have solved my problem, as everyone seems to think I should. She told me not to underestimate the significance of what I had done, and that I was not just having to physically integrate this huge new thing in my body, but I was also going to have to mentally integrate it as well and that our mind-body connections are so strong that our brains do funny things when parts are removed or added… This made the most sense to me of anything I had heard post-operatively. I still think back to her words when I feel apprehensive about all that has gone on.

All of my ‘precautions’ lift, coincidentally – or not – on the first day that I report to a new job. I like this symmetry and I feel really good about starting fresh with work after the very challenging experience that last year ended up being. And in my vanity, the one thing I said I could not do was start a new job with a cane seems like it is going to be an actuality.

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I teach, therefore I am employed in education. Again.

You almost had a job in tech…

Just over a year ago, I took a pretty big chance and walked away from the stability and reliability that a permanent teaching position offers. The pay was/is crap, but the benefits and calendar are reliable, although the day-to-day is always unpredictable (most of us who go into teaching and stay there are a bit addicted to that if you ask me.) Like a growing number of people in San Francisco and the surrounding area, I was getting tired of being poor (relatively) and with two decades of professional experience I realistically thought I was armed with a skill set that would make me valuable in a host of different jobs/careers/opportunities (what are people calling them now?) I looked (accurately, I thought) at the emerging professional pathways (that sounds like something people around here would call them) and considered how my skills matched up:

  • Excellent oral and written communication skills
  • Cultural literacy
  • Leadership experience
  • Creative thinker
  • Organized
  • Detail oriented and goal oriented
  • Excellent time management skills
  • Commitment to excellence
  • Well read
  • Trivia master
  • Some other skills that are hard to explain if you are not down with Bloom’s Taxonomy, but let’s just say I reside at steps 5 and 6 
  • I can recall a movie reference for nearly every life experience that arises
  • Ridiculous memory for sports data (and for most things in general)
  • What-the-fuck-I-have-worked-with-kids-and-their-families-and-public-sector-bureacracy-for-decades-don’t-try-to-tell-me-what-it-means-to-have-a-growth-mindset-and-an-ability-to-pivot-and-assume-positive-intent-the-fact-that-I-am-still-standing-and-working-underscores-those-abilities-to-a-degree-you-cannot-possibly-understand

Seriously, when I read job descriptions I was interested in, I feel like I would be a quality candidate for the majority of them. Apparently this does not always translate. And, it turns out, people don’t really like other people to change – they really like to keep everyone in the compartment that makes sense to them.

“But you’re a teacher…”
“You don’t really have the specific experience we are looking for…”
“Don’t you teach?”
“I’m curious why someone at your point in their career is looking to pivot…”
“This is not really the same as teaching, I mean I know it has the same name, instructional designer, designing instruction, but it is not really designing instruction per say…”
“Is there a reason you do not want to teach anymore?”

The fact is, as my neighbor succinctly expressed, I was looking for a job in tech – but I was not being honest about why. So, why was I? Well, philosophically I am pretty convinced that the problems we are seeing across the “tech industry” have a lot to do with the diminishing role of humanities education, or at least the innate interest and ability to think abstractly. This is not surprising to  people who enjoy thinking, and the general consensus is that “while software developers are skilled engineering solutions, their focus is not asking what problems need to be solved, or asking what the consequences are of solving a problem in a particular way,” and this is having logical consequences that suck [too many examples to note, but Uber, Facebook, Cambridge Analytics, and the general disgustingness of the scene make the point effectively.]

I also firmly believe that we are in a position to do amazing things by merging our technological capabilities with our humanity. In education, agriculture, economic growth and sustainability, the potential is really amazing. Not withstanding, people are beginning to realize that to effectively tackle today’s biggest social and technological challenges, we need to think critically about their human context—something humanities graduates happen to be well-trained to do. Call it the revenge of the film, history, and philosophy nerds. I felt hopeful about all of this. And empowered (as somewhat of a film, history, and philosophy nerd.)

Also, I liked the idea of what outsiders hear about working in tech: lots of money, unlimited vacation if you get your work done, lots of money, free gym membership, free gourmet meals, beer bashes, perks, lots of money… Just think for a moment how those kinds of benefits look to a teacher who works 70-hour weeks during the school year, pays for everything they need in their personal and professional lives, and is generally too tired to bother making a single meal all day long. I got emotional considering it. It all seemed so lively, dynamic, and inspiring to be working with people who were super into the work they were doing and brought their best everyday.

Uh, yeah. It is awful…

At a dinner party recently when the Warriors decided to turn it around and actually win the Houston series, I was telling two of my friends (who work in tech) as we stood in their stunningly remodeled home, “God, you know, it was really bad – the whole start-up vibe, it was just… bad. I had no idea.” They both looked at me, only surprised by my surprise. I was unsure who would respond – one definitely does not work at a start up but the other has been bouncing around more than he would like amidst the culture. He spoke, “Uh, yeah. It is awful.” My confusion prompted a more elaborate explanation. “Yeah, they don’t care. About anything. They don’t have to. He didn’t even get paid by his last company – it was ridiculous.” I still don’t understand how this fly-by-night charlatan-esque behavior is okay, but I hold on to my naïveté where I can.

This truth was something I guess I had to arrive at in my own damn time, but it is the truth, no matter how you look at it. The ethos (and ethics) of the start-up culture are a concentrated milieu of the extremes of our American entrepreneurial spirit: ingenuous, aspirational, fantastic – for sure. But cutthroat, greed centered, myopic, and socially Darwinist to Lord of the Flies levels.

It was certainly a departure from public education.

At what cost greatness?

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For me, the cost of my decision was relatively lightweight: the unpredicted outcome that can come with taking a risk, a temporary float in the River of Failure (which is better than some of the other destinations imagined above… but the ego says: ouch.) I left a sure thing that I was unsure I could sustain for the promise of shiny new things. But I did not pay attention to how close the Gate of Ideals is to the Tower of Weak Morals and the sewage pipe of Fakery. One only hopes I climbed out of the River of Failure headed to True Knowledge and not the Hotel Know It All, the Right System Railway station, or other parts unknown in Oblivion or The System.

This past year I saw first hand what it looks like when good intentions are superseded by gross profits and – more importantly – I realized that what I do for a living is not something anyone can just do (contrary to popular belief!) Professional licensure (in any field I would suggest) is important and does make a difference… I would no sooner want a child to work with an unlicensed teacher as I would want to visit an unlicensed doctor or lawyer. I also saw what it looks like when promises made are not kept and the subsequent impact on morale among those to whom the promises were made. I saw how the resilience of these innovators had less to do with resilience and much more to do with insulation from consequence. I saw that fancy semantics (oh-the-grammar-is-so-bad-when-y’all-are-trying-to-be-clever-by-renaming-the-wheel) and slick slide decks do not lead to quality professional products – those outcomes are achieved by professional quality people.

I work in education.

Someone once said that the way we answer the question, “What do you do?” says more about us than most inquiries. An obviously open-ended question, I think most of us would assume (in the US version of Western Culture anyhow) that it is trying to get at how you make money.

“What do you do?”
“I enjoy – ”
“No, but what do you do?”
“Oh, for work…”
“Yes, obviously, what do you do?”

What do you do means, simultaneously, how do you make money, how much money do you make, and how respectable are you. That is one loaded question.

The answers, when you are done being cheeky, generally have a limited range.

“I…”
“I am a…”
“I work in…”

Try those out with a variety of jobs. See how the semantics change and the meaning is altered.

“I teach.” Okay, that works. But “I tech?” “I doctor?” “I engineer?”

“I am a teacher.” More latitude here (although the implications of identity through profession underscore much of the weirdness I am trying to get at here), “I am a doctor,” “I am an engineer,” I am tech?” Scary.

I like, “I work in education,” because I do a whole lot more than just teach (which is a whole lot more than most people do in a lifetime but that is a polemic for another place) and it eliminates the very annoying and widely accepted idea in my field that what I do to earn income is me in my entirety. It is worth noting that most of the jobs in which people who perform them are typically described as being them are the jobs that elicit the most extreme positive and negative reactions – police, firefighters, teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians).

I wanted a chance to attach myself to a professional descriptor that suggested power, savvy, ingenuity, wealth, and social currency. I thought working in the start-up culture would bring that, and in some ways it may have. But it also brought with it a sense of being disposable, disingenuous, and necessarily superficial – don’t get attached to ideas they say, always be ready to let go and move on to the next thing. I lost the good parts that come with being a teacher: being respected by people (even if it is only out of habit and not actual), and having a job that did not take two paragraphs to explain. For the record, an EdTech company and an Education + Technology are the same thing no matter how much you want the extra letters to carry extra weight and in both – as in society – the teachers (even if you insist on calling them educators), remain second class personnel: under paid, under appreciated, and under valued. In spite of the fact that in many ways teachers are the most prepared for the dynamic, think on your feet, constantly pivot, nature of the start-up world, their skills are still mistaken as useless, archaic – even quaint – by the private sector.

I was promised too much when I took the chance to jump into what I thought was the tech world. I see that now, and I should have been aware of this. Had I talked to my peers immersed in the start-up industry they would have alerted me to this. I also, as I am prone to do when I have my sights set on something, did not acknowledge the myriad red flags: the immediate reversal of promises; the professional practices I knew were questionable after two decades of experience; a place that normalized inappropriate behavior; the allowances given for having a “fail forward” attitude that really just allows bad practice to perpetuate and grow. I still fully believe in the benefits of technology, and beyond that, the potential for merging it with education. Beyond believing in it, I am committed to it in a variety of ways. But one thing I can say with confidence now is that the successful merger of the two will need to be led by true visionary educators who have willing technologists in tow. It will not be the other way around.

I work in education.

And you need me along with my professional peers, to affect positive change in our field… and probably yours.

The Change Chronicles: Part 4

Let me start by saying I have had some very good news from the Zone of Employment Transition recently. It is always a little weird to be re-envisioning one’s gainful future, but all things considered I am not really worried about any of it – which is really uncharacteristic for a Virgo/Dog getting deeper into middle age everyday who chose to be a teacher in a city that values youth only slightly less than it values obscene wealth.

But the thing is I know I can get a job. I am good at what I do and there is always a need for people who do what I do – they even need those of us who will never carry a gun. [This is probably not the time to remind every single human who can read that we do not expect any other service professionals to be armed as they carry out their duties – and also worth noting that their duties pale in comparison to those of teachers… you know the ones who are supposed to do, well, everything apparently.]

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Anyhow, in spite of the positive news coming my way and the solid odds that I will be gainfully employed before my current contract even terminates, I found myself being a little Goldilocks-y yesterday, like nothing quite fit. I was thinking about how I made this really intentional change last year to do something different and in so doing seemingly changed my career trajectory.

Or did I? [Unsure.]

Did I need to? [To be determined.]

I certainly had some clear ideas about the kind of changes I wanted to see in my career. I thought I was being really conscious about it all – but maybe I was just buying into the prevailing narrative that surrounds us about what makes a person successful –> mo’ money(?) I have no idea if making more money is going to make me happier – although I like the possibility of that outcome. Here’s what I know is true, you can only be as conscious of any situation as the circumstances allow. And it is no secret that the job I took was not the job I applied for. So, why the hemming and hawing about returning to a situation that is more similar than different to my former professional incarnation?

“You almost had a job in tech…” Said my very insightful neighbor who is the best roommate I never had.

“Yeah, I think that is it, you know? I thought maybe I would be going that way…”

“Why would you want to do that?” She asked, gently, but sincerely.

And she is so right. What I saw and experienced on the tech side of edtech (which I have a whole lot of opinions about as a concept after this year…) was not anything I thought it might be. In fact, when I think about it, even the things that I had looked forward to in the tech world turned out to be sort of sad, hollow efforts to seem cool. I was often reminded of those kids you know from school who are always trying so hard to be all that, and really they just end up being so painfully extra.

The tech culture felt empty. Soulless, even. And this is not for a lack of amenities or money or confidence. I just could not find the authenticity in it that I had become accustomed to from two decades of working in a profession where authenticity is one of the only things that can’t be scratched from ever-diminishing school budgets. Ironically, the tech sector, especially start ups, cannot afford authenticity – they don’t have the time to be invested in people, committed, loyal. They need to be flexible, they have to pivot, they have to have no reservations about walking out on people they promised to build something with; it is the nature of the beast.

This is not some effort to lambaste the tech industry (not that it would be undeserved) and it is certainly not a critique of my current company – it is just the simple acknowledgment that all the flash in the world cannot replace the realness that I have found in every classroom I’ve ever worked in.

So when I find myself considering a return to a more traditional teaching environment (at least in terms of priorities and workload) maybe I don’t need to worry about turning into Mr. Hand (right away anyhow).

I was worried that I was passing my expiration date, or losing my (required) ability roll with the crazy of working in a high school. But I think, if I am being really honest, I was tired. Really, really tired. And I was feeling like the remedy to my fatigue would be working less and getting paid more. I thought a more tech centered job would offer that. I was not thinking about what would be missing.

I am still regularly disheartened with the salaries I see people earning in tech (and no one is telling them they need to carry guns). Further, I am unconvinced they are making the impact on the world that people may credit them with. But, if you are lucky enough to build a career that you are really good at, even if you are horribly underpaid, maybe staying the course is not such a bad decision. As my sage little buddy next door said to me, “if you don’t want to be a grumpy old teacher, don’t be a grumpy old teacher.” Exactly. Whatever I end up doing next year will be so different than anything I’ve done before even if it looks similar from the outside because I am not the same person.

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Tomorrow I am going to see if my barista can spell Heraclitus.

Stay tuned.

 

The Change Chronicles: Part 2

Bill of Goods: as a phrase, has two meanings. The less common is a delivery of goods, a consignment. The more common definition is something that is knowingly presented in a false way, usually with the intent to deceive or gain something by the trickery. The vast majority of the time it is used with the verb sell. Occasionally one will see the phrase with the verb buy.

Change is weird. It shouldn’t be because it is basically the only certainty I have come across in my life. Although, still thinking about last week’s MSDHS massacre – or as I like to call it, Massacre Rubio – incidentally, the 18th school shooting we’ve had this calendar year, it seems somethings never change. Much more on this later….

I am unclear why some people embrace change so easily and some balk at the idea of it. I am also unclear where I actually fall on that spectrum – sometimes I feel like I am cool with all the changes and other times… not so much. The only recognizable pattern I can see is that it comes down to who determines the change is going to occur. I guess it is just like the rest of life – a control issue. I am in the midst of some pretty big changes these days and as I reflect on them and think about whether or not I am finding them thrilling or depressing or terrifying, I keep going back to a turn of phrase that was laid upon me by one of my agents of change on February 9:

You probably feel like you were sold a false bill of goods, huh?

The (unintentional?) mic drop gave me pause then (actually, it rendered me speechless, which was both a benevolent miracle and a total surprise) and now as I am looking at the definition and seeing that false bill of goods is actually a redundancy.

So, that is annoying.

I have been saying (repeatedly) that I intentionally embraced a huge change last year by leaving the public sector and taking a position in a private school, and not even a traditional school but a company that is trying to sell “school”. In some ways that is as bad as it might sound, but in some other ways, it is really inspiring. In this day and age of design thinking the belief is that the way to revolutionize something is take a quasi-nihilist approach and take nothing from the past. To rely on cliches one might say chucking the baby out with the bathwater, but in the interest of avoiding a reliance on two cliches in one post I will go with quasi-nihilist. A focus on solutions rather than problems is something that the public sector is really missing – even if it was not really the fault of those within, it is hard to be expected to do everything for nothing after all – and I was thrilled to think that I was working with people who were focused on facing the problems I have been witnessing for years in American education. We need a fresh take on what we want from education and this seemed like an ideal merger – ideas and experience and energy.

What became clear not long after I began my new adventure (and it has been an adventure in all the best and worst ways) is that I had only pulled a geographical, I wasn’t in some magical place – because magical places are not where shit gets done. The truth is the necessary work to effect change in systems as entrenched as education cannot be treated in the same way we see in other areas. While an extremely dynamic approach to applying solutions will certainly lead to a lot of new strategies, this kind of fluidity has unusual consequences in a classroom – and I am not talking to the kind of classroom most people like to imagine when they think about schools (cue Pink Floyd), I mean in any learning environment. Still, I’m willing to bet the majority of kids in America feel like they have been sold a bill of goods regarding their education: do well in school, get a good job as a result, win at life. Clearly that equation has devolved to disingenuous and beyond.

I am deeply and unrelentingly committed to working towards education reform and creating environments where students are inspired to learn and try and do, rather than recall and release, but I have a much clearer understanding of the kind of strategies that might require. I have my current job to thank for that.

And at the end of the day, it is not about the place, or the computer platform, or the strategic plan. It is about people. And relationships. And really believing that education still can transform lives in meaningful ways. It may happen where I have been recently, or not. And I know change will come to education eventually, regardless of the role I play – but I hope I get to have my say. Although, it will definitely not be where I am right now.

This may or may not be because I was sold a false bill of goods. I am still working out what that means. But it will be because I had to learn that I don’t fit in everywhere even if I think I can, and that sometimes when someone awkwardly turns a phrase like “I bet you feel like you have been sold a false bill of goods, huh?” they see that your ideas and expectations are not what they can support – and possibly (hopefully?) acknowledging their contribution to the ill-fitting circumstances – and all of it is okay. Especially because as a naturally inclined change resistant human, in some ways it is more than okay, it is necessary.

And if it’s not actually all about me, a lot of it is, because the person I am has ideas and solutions to offer and although delicacy might not be on the menu, I am going to continue to unrelentingly try to be the change I want to see and be encouraged by the changes that I come up against at the hands of my agents of change.

 

The Political Line: Keith Haring @ The De Young

 

Keith Haring was the first artist I chose to love all by myself, outside the influence of my parents, or however else it is that we begin to understand our tastes. I have several pieces in my home, (prints of course…) and have always kept my eye out for his work (see poster ripped from a wall in Salzburg above.)  Haring broke out on the scene when I was at the perfect age to grab on to a new type of pop art. It was bright, bold, the lines spoke to me. I mean I was a pre-teen in the early eighties… I was loving the slick, stylized feel of big colors (Esprit anyone?), smooth lines (Nagel – don’t hate…), and looking for something that made sense to me in a world that seemingly made less and less sense. But these were strange times, and they were going to be all the more stranger for me as I started to see the eighties emerge around me.

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Things I remember? Telling my mom to vote for Carter not John Anderson because in our mock election at school, the Anderson votes had led to a Reagan victory, and due to the narrative I was generally exposed to, I was pretty sure we were all going to die a soon as Reagan took office. John Lennon’s murder. Xanadu. Some drama in Iran. No-nukes rallies. Michael Jackson. The emergence of the Anti-Apartheid movement. Olympic boycotts. Live Aid. Our first Mac. My step-dad’s first cell phone: the Brick. And some artwork that was showing up in New York’s subways.  Today I got a screaming refresher course in the decade that took me from 10 to 20.

From the first time I saw Haring I knew that this was an artist I understood. I understood the frenetic feel, contrasted with super clean lines and bright colors. I understood the politics. He spoke to things I knew about and would grow up under the influence of: AIDS. Crack (is Wack). Oppressive governments. Racism. Homophobia. Environmental devastation. The computer age.

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I learned somethings I didn’t know about his work and his life, and his techniques. I learned that Larry Warsh is maybe the most bomb-diggity art guy in New York. I learned that a Sheikha in Dubai owns a couple of amazing pieces of Haring’s work. I learned a new phrase: VISUAL VOCABULARY. And I like that a lot. And Haring was basically right that more people go to the subways than go to the museums – although today, it hardly seemed that way. A huge crowd – nearly as interesting in its diversity as the exhibit added much to a stunning exhibition.

There has been a lot of discussion of Haring’s work and it’s intention – aesthetic? political?commercial? sell-out? watershed? Maybe it is all of the above. I like to think so. I can say, more than 30 years later, his work has a prescience and a relevance that is almost eerie. And seeing this amazing exhibit at the De Young in San Francisco today took me right back to a crazy period of time that shaped me and informed so many of my sociocultural priorities and concerns… so how cool to see it all before me today.

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For a ton of amazing images from museum visitors, go to Instagram and click on the De Young Museum Keith Haring Exhibit location tag. #Awesome.

 

This is ridiculous: A resume.

I have been a high school teacher for coming up on 20 years. In that time I have worked with students ranging in age from eighth to twelfth grades. And what have I done?

I have taught World History, World Geography, US History, European History, American Government, Comparative Government, Economics, World Literature, American Literature, Language and Composition, General English, Creative Writing, Identity and Society, even a little P.E. here and there. I have developed and supervised student internship programs and study skills classes. I have taught courses in the IB program(me), AP courses, A Levels, remediation courses, test prep courses, language acquisition courses, and done private instruction. I have even done some adult education. I have been an athletic coach (basketball and track & field), and academic coach (forensics, speech & debate, Academic Olympics, Mock Trial.) I have planned, organized and supervised field trips, out of state trips, over night trips, and activities for my students. I have developed and implemented curriculum in several subjects. I have been a department chairperson. I have served on site councils,  in boosters clubs, and on teacher mentoring committees. I have never had issues around classroom management, or discipline regardless of the location or demographics of where I have worked. I have supervised student teachers, I have trained teachers in curriculum and methodology. I have piloted programs integrating technology into secondary schools. I have presented papers at professional conferences. I am certified in TESOL/TOEFL and taught over seas for nearly six years. I have an MS in Cultural Geography. I have had my work published, I have been featured on television as an innovative educator. I have given radio interviews about integrating controversial current events in the classroom. I have written hundreds of letters of recommendation. I have traveled the world, largely on my own. I am culturally aware and literate. I can communicate with all kinds of people, really well. I can write. I am well-read. I am incredibly efficient. I have an insane work ethic and I absolutely get shit done.

As far as what else, I suppose you could ask my former students. there are like 2,000 of them out there. They might have some things to add.

So why are there no jobs out there in any field outside of the classroom that I am “qualified” (at least on paper) for? I love teaching, but I would like to do something new. Something a little unusual. Maybe something unpredictable. Something where I can actually earn a salary that is commensurate to my experience, abilities, and work ethic, or at the very least have the chance to negotiate a salary based on these ideas. It is ridiculous to think that teachers cannot do this.

Help me find the perfect job. I am ready.

Seriously. All suggestions welcome.

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Completing the “Circle”.

THINK COMPLETION – COMPLETE THE CIRCLE – THE CIRCLE MUST BE WHOLE

There are many, many interpretations of what the end of days might actually be for humanity. These apocalyptic renderings range from euphoric (see This is the End) to the more generic religious warnings, (which, from what I understand, are supposed to also be rapturous, but generally fall to horrifying, macabre threats of doom), to the reality of our self-perpetuated stupidity hitting home (see Idiocracy), to scientific explanations to suit all kinds as well, (are you a Big Banger or do you prefer the Steady State sensibility?), to literary warnings along the lines of those portended by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley in their wildly divergent means to a seemingly similar end. Having read both 1984 and Brave New World multiple times as a student and a teacher, I always felt, as Neil Postman (see Stuart McMillen’s artistic rendering of his thesis below) seems to have concluded, that Huxley had a more accurate take on the detrimental human state, and that it was not oppression that would be our end, but unlimited everything…. Achieving one’s altered, yet higher state from a perpetual food-coma as it were. [Soma in a nutshell, eh? Actually, yeah.] And while there are important take-aways from both novels, as I have grown up into this 21st Century lifestyle, watching a world with the capacity to solve all of its problems choose not to, and watching an ever-increasing sense of connection lead to what really looks like isolation… both theses seemed somehow lacking. They were close, but not getting at exactly what I was seeing and feeling. Then I read Dave Eggers’ new novel, The Circle.

And now I think I know exactly what to be afraid of.

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