In times of trouble, a sign of hope to keep going …

May 30, 2012

This past week, the lawmakers in Springfield have been debating how much of the money I have been forced to give to them (and will be forced to continue giving) in the pension fund I will never see … the removal of a large portion of my potential retirement added to the loss of jobs security that is already sending quite a few in my profession searching for alternatives was leading me to think “it can’t be that bad … given my weight, I’m not likely to need that much to retire on anyway”.  Always looking on the bright side while your profession is being served up as the scapegoat for the world’s problems.

Then a letter arrived yesterday …

Earlier this year, I had a student who ended up withdrawing from school … it was the second year in a row he ended up leaving at the semester.  He had some really serious drug issues coupled with some emotional issues.  He and I had discussed his problems a great deal as they were affecting his school work.  The young man was quite bright, and his parents were supportive of finding him help … they were not too hard on him, but they weren’t lax either.

Yesterday, I received a letter from the young man.  He is getting ready to leave rehab after several months.  Over the course of our discussions, I had talked to him about my own family’s issues with chemical dependency.  His letter was thanking me for understanding and patience and being willing to treat him as a human being rather than as some undesirable.  As a gift, he enclosed his 24 hour sobriety chip.

For those not in the know, when addicts go through rehab, they are often given tokens to denote how long they have remained free of whatever their dependency is … the first chip might only be for an hour, or a day … and as times goes on they get new tokens to remind them of how long they have stayed free of whatever it is they need to stay free of.  To some people, these tokens are real badges of honor, really not much different than a medal for fighting an enemy.  receiving one like this was a great honor.

Needless to say, it snapped me out of the doldrums.  Leave it to my students to give me a kick in the butt when it is needed.


Strange Days on the Sou’ Side

May 27, 2012

It has been a strange few weeks on the better side of the City of Chicago.  The White Sox are getting ready to finish sweeping the first place Cleveland Natives out of the Cell.  This will erase a bad early part of May, and put them one-half game behind Cleveland for first place.  The Sox will also be four games over .500.  Not bad for a team many were picking for last place.

Over the last four games (all wins), the White Sox have scored at least nine games.  The last time the Sox put up nine runs in four consecutive games was 1938.

As I sit here the day before Memorial Day, there is a hitter for the White Sox who is flirting with a 0.400 batting average.  Not only that, but his average has been going up the last few weeks.  Fan favorite Paul Konerko hit his 400th homer as a member of the White Sox today, and with that, a single later in the game puts him at 0.399.  I know that Paul Konerko is not going to be hitting 0.400 for the season, but in the last 30+ years I have followed the team, I ave no recollection of a starter playing through the first two months of the season carrying an average anywhere near t his high into June.  Even Frank Thomas, the year he actually won the batting title, never came this close to 0.400 so late!  For a guy who has labored in the shadows for his entire career, it is tremendous to see the eyes of the baseball world turn their eyes to this guy for a while.

The pitching has cooled a bit, but with the hitting exploding balls all over the park, it hasn’t mattered too much.   The hitting has been so un-White Sox like … all of their collective averages are moving north, and even Adam Dunn has seen his walk percentage edge up, and has already surpassed last year’s disastrously low home run total, and is now among the league leaders.

What could make this any better?  You KNOW waht could make this better.

The other side of town is looking like the White House from Independence Day.  The Cubs are simultaneously imploding and exploding.  Things have gotten so bad at the Weedy confines (HOW BAD IS IT!!???), the Cubs are actually not selling out games.  While the White Sox are sweeping division leaders, the Cubs are being swept by the Pirates, a team that hasn’t finished above 0.500 for a season since 1992!!  When the sun rises on Memorial Day, the Chicago Cubs will have the worst record in Major League Baseball, and no sign of recovering soon.

The White Sox will now have a challenge ahead of them … they are heading to Tamper (Tampa for the non-New Englanders) to face the Rays.  After that, June will see series with Toronto, St. Louis, the Dodgers, and the Yankees.  When the dust clears to take us into July, we will have an idea of whether or not this team can compete with the rest of the League.

A Guide for Protesters coming to Chicago for the NATO Summit

May 15, 2012

It ain’t the Olympics, but at least some of the world is coming to Chicago this up and coming week for the NATO summit.  President Obama was kind enough to pull the G-8 summit out of Chicago knowing that Chicago would descend into something reminiscent of H.G. Welles Morlock and Eloi civilizations, but this NATO summit thing should prove to be some of the biggest protests the city has seen since the 1968 convention.

If you are planning to come to Chicago for your protesting needs, here are a few things to consider.

1.  While most police departments are ashamed of their darker history, the 1968 Democratic Conventions is viewed by the CPD as a mark of pride.

Then Mayor Daley gave “shoot-to-kill” orders for anyone found holding a cocktail.  A few hours later this was clarified to be a “molotov cocktail” (good thing this was the morning and not happy hour).  The repeated beating of hippies is something that the current police officers hear the older and retired officers wax rhapsodically about, and wonder if a bunch of no-good hippies or hippy-like entities will invade the city.  This could be their chance.  Unlike LA where the police are worried about being caught on video tape, there is a good chance the police will have relatives videotaping beatings to be shown at future retirement parties.  This isn’t Europe … the police are here to look out for the rights of the citizens, not the anarchists.  Doing stupid shit is equivalent to having a legal affidavit saying “please beat me until I ask for death” … and the CPD will likely oblige.

2.  Don’t believe the law that forbids Chicagoans to own handguns.

First off, Chicago has plenty of gang bangers and their affiliates who are armed with everything from shivs to automatic weapons with armor piercing rounds.  Normally, they need to be careful because shooting up the neighborhood usually involves cops arriving to drag away a few of their wannabe friends to an interrogation room where they are asked questions while playing Mike Tyson’s Super Punch Out without the video game controllers for a few hours.  The gang bangers know you don’t shoot at cops, because their turf will be invaded and salted.  On the other hand, shooting at European anarchists who wonder into their neighborhood might get them a medal from the Chief of Police … not to mention they won’t be crazy about the increased police presence … so keep in mind that there are plenty of armed citizens with plenty of motivation to shoot at the visitors.

Then there are the law abiding citizens who hold several thousand unregistered firearms for self-defense … you won’t have to worry about them unless you start firebombing the local grocer or peeing on their lawn (note:  feel free to pee all over Wrigleyville, they are all used to it).  However, there are plenty of cases of lawbreakers mysteriously getting shot on private property while committing a crime, and no gun ever turning up while the owner of said property sits around shrugging and hoping that the gunpowder residue can get washed off the walls of the sniper’s nest he built next to the master bedroom.  Stay off the private property, and out of the gang strongholds … you should be OK.

3.  No one here really cares about your politics.

Whether you are far right wing fascists, far left wing anarchists, Occupy Wall Street, anti-war protesters, or the committee to get Joe Jackson elected to the Hall of Fame, you are going to find limited support in Chicago.    Politically, Chicago is a strange place.  Sure, it is a Democratic stranglehold, and you won’t find a Republican until you get to DuPage County, but Chicago is also a pragmatic city … it isn’t as far left as, say, San Francisco, but their nose isn’t held up in the air for all to sneer at like New York.  Chicagoans tend to be distrustful of outsiders showing up to either complain or promise the latest in snake oil to cure what ails you.  I you think you are coming to raise an army and change teh hearts and minds of the world, I recommend you try another city.

In short, we are happy you have chosen to come and stay in our hotels and eat at our whole grain family markets … but that aside, your welcome in this town is limited,and you should be careful to not let any doors hit your buttocks on the way out.

Really bad karma …

May 14, 2012

It has been a bad, bad couple of days …

It started last Wednesday.  All of the physics teachers in my school are part of what we in the business call a Professional Learning Community (PLC).  The idea is that we meet as a team to decide what to teach for each of our classes and then design common tests to use.  Some of this is a very good idea.  Some of it not so much (using tests that don’t change from year to year are great ideas when you want to collect data … but fast forward to Friday to see why it is also a really bad idea.  The problem is that PLCs only work if there are groups of people willing to be honest and compromise.  That is not a universally shared idea in my group, and Wednesday it came to a head where we had to agree on a report to submit to our superiors.  Generally, these things take way too long to do when six people need to agree … so I wrote up a summary.  I wouldn’t care if the group rejected it or edited it, but two members of the team were vocal that it included some not so positive statements about what had happened over the year (honestly, we didn’t accomplish too much), and demanded that the “negative” comments were removed … not because they weren’t the truth, but because they might get our superiors more involved.  Wednesday was not a good day.

This past week was also the start of the summer grad classes … I am taking two this semester, one on instructional leadership, and the other on human resource management, the latter is an on-line course.  I received the syllabus on Sunday, and had put it off until Wednesday.  It turned  out that my first assignment was due that evening, and I couldn’t do it without the book.  The problem:  I couldn’t get over to the school bookstore until Friday evening.  Frustration!

Thursday …. there is a student in m sophomore class that I have invested a ton and a half of time into trying to get her attitude and work habits turned around.  I had to involve the dean to help me, and after over two months, I got her turned around … it was a big win because the class she is is one of the rougher classes I have taught over the last ten years.  On Thursday, she was working and the student next to her said something to her.  Her pen was one of those pens that had a laser pointer on one side, and she turned it one and aimed it at the other kid’s eye.  I screamed out “STOP!!”, and probably startled the neighboring rooms.  She jumped, and looked at me:  “WHAT?” she responds.  I took the pen and had to write her up to the dean.  She is looking at Saturday morning detention, and by Friday morning, it was clear our relationship is back to square one.

Earlier that morning, I had received an e-mail from one of my senior parents.  We had been in correspondence for the better half of the semester.  Most of my senior class kids did great first semester.  As the second semester starts, and we cover energy and momentum (far more abstract ideas compared to motion and forces) + senioritis = lower grades.  This mother was concerned when her daughter started off the semester with a “C”, but took my word for it when I said grades would go up as we got into electricity and other topics, and sure enough the grade was going up.  She mentioned that she was concerned about her daughter as the family was having some troubles and that her daughter was quiet, and that this plus some other teenage problems might be affecting her grade.  Mom also shared with me that her daughter was concerned that I don’t really teach the class.  This point is the truth … because I teach the modeling method, there is very little actual lecture, and there is a lot of weight on the students to work and learn.  This is something explained very clearly to parents and students alike at the beginning of the year.  Mom was appreciative of this, and felt it was necessary to remind her.

Thursday afternoon, before class, I asked the student, quietly, to see me after class.  After class, I waited until everyone left, and talked to her … told her that mom had mentioned that there were some problems at home, and that I was here to support her … that if things at home were getting in the way of studying or homework, that she should let me know, and that I would be happy to extend a deadline.  I also reminded her that I really don’t teach … that the student has more responsibility to teach themselves than in other classes.  She told me that she was fine, and that nothing was affecting her …

Friday …

I woke up and said that today was going to be a great day!  I should have noticed in the mirror that the universe was looking at me and extending the middle finger while laughing.

At 7:15 I received a message from the student’s mom, and called her back.  The student had suffered a bit of an emotional breakdown, and felt I had humiliated her.  Mom was clearly upset, but was being very rational … her daughter was upset enough that she was keeping her home (mom was simultaneously on her way to pick up another daughter at college and dealing with this … she handled her self far better than I would have).  She emphasized that she knew I was working in her daughter’s best interest, but that she hadn’t given me permission to speak to her daughter.  So Friday had just started, and my guilt complex over screwing up one of my best students has shot up past the limit.  Even after my department chair assured me that I had done nothing wrong, I couldn’t help but feel beyond horrible.  At least Friday couldn’t get worse …

Later that day, my advanced physics class had a test.  As I was walking the room, I noticed one of my students in standard “I’m looking at my cellphone but you can’t tell” position.  I went over, and he tried to sneak it into his pocket.  I asked for it, and he handed it over, swearing that he wasn’t cheating … he was texting his sister.  I told him that I didn’t care, and he offered to prove it.  I handed him back the phone, and he proceeded to enter his message directory, and open the first message, a text to sister talking about a pickup.  I asked him to go back to the directory, and open a message that caught my eye … a message from one of the other students in the class, and the preview was a string of letter from A-E.  He looked dejected, and opened the message.  It was the answers to the test … even included the test number and a warning to “make sure these are the correct answers”.  I went from disbelief to white hot fury immediately.  I know that it was a young person making a really bad mistake, but the first things going through my head were “how many other people in here are cheating”, “I can’t trust one flippin’ kid!” … that was an emotional response, and fortunately I said nothing.  I pulled the kid’s test, and went to call the dean.  When I came back, I went to the kid who had sent the text, and asked why he had done this.  He played the “what text?”, “me?” bit.  I showed him the text.  Silence,  I asked him what he had to say,and he said “nothing”.  As I walked away, he turned to the kid I had caught and he whispered “you stupid!”

While I was waiting for the dean, I realized that something didn’t make sense … the test had only been out 10-15 minutes … the kid who had sent the answers hadn’t finished the test.  I realized that there was a third party involved from an earlier class.  The text had included a test number, and it didn’t match either kid’s test number.  I looked up the test number in the previous class, and turned that name over to the dean.  Turns out I had guessed right.  I couldn’t even go home afterwards.  I was so revved and upset that I ended up not leaving until after 5 pm … at which point I realized the college book stored had closed.

>>climbs up on soapbox<< When things go wrong at work, most people are not happy … teaching is one of the few jobs that people who do the job right get emotionally invested in.  Failures can be far more crushing … and I am not even talking about mistakes and problems that can cost your job.  When teaching gets reduced to impersonal data collection and test prep as it is heading, it gets much easier for teachers to emotionally remove themselves from their work, and that is a ticket for bad teaching.  >>climbs off of soapbox<<

Saturday … I wake up early, and again figured today had to be a better day!  I looked in the mirror and missed the universe flipping me the bird with both fingers.

I drove out to the university bookstore (about 40 minutes).  The book I had been told to get was priced at $210 (I always tell my kids, if they want to really earn money, forget the law, medicine, or engineering, write a textbook).  The clerk at  the store informed me that the school felt bad about having us use the expensive book, and had decided to use the older edition … which they didn’t have in stock. I accept full blame that I should have opened the syllabus on Sunday, but I was already down an assignment, and had no plans of going down 0-2 to open the class.

I drove home (it was nearly noon now), and contemplated …

I remembered that there might be a chance to get a used copy at the chain of used book stores.  I called them up, and told me that there was a copy at the Palatine store.  I called them and they confirmed there was a copy of the 2nd edition (I needed the 5th edition). I asked how much … and they said $10.  I was sold, and set off for Palatine.  I got home around 2:30, and started doing my reading and writing.  I ended up needed part of Sunday, and had to cancel being at Mother’s Day dinner with the family.

Monday arrived.  Absolutely couldn’t get worse … new week, things will turn around.  The universe in the mirror had a look of pity for me by that time.

I was barely out of the parking lot when I noticed the car drifting a bit.  I kept going, and 2 miles later noticed a real pull.  Shortly after I started hearing the tell tale “thu-thu-thu-thump” of a flat tire.  I kept going, and by the time I got to school, it was flat as a board.  I decided to just park it and deal with it after school ….

After school, I pulled my portable air compressor out of the trunk, and started filling the tire … which didn’t work.  I realized it was time for the spare and took about 30 minutes switching the tires.  Driving as long as I did had, in fact, eviscerated the tire … it looked like someone had slashed it all the way around the tire.  I managed to get to a tire place, and get it switched out.

Tuesday WILL be a better day.  That cackle is the universe laughing in my general direction.