The Copy Machine Blues

The copy machine.  

There aren’t many pieces of equipment within a school building that can evoke such strong emotional responses from teachers.  

The high that you feel when a) it’s available and b) it works flawlessly are hard to match.  The lows that come with a line, a paper jam, or — and this might be the worst — walking into the copy room to find every access door open and not a living soul in sight?  Well, those lows are hard to match as well.

Today was a mixed bag of feelings.  I volunteered to make copies for another teacher, which made me feel good — yay!  I walked into the copy room to find a “Replace the Waste Toner Container” notification — ugh.  I walked across the school to find the other copy machine looking like it was working — yay!

I put my paper in the tray, dropped my masters in the feeder, and pressed “play,” only to experience highs and lows all at the same time.  It worked, yes, but I’d forgotten how slow that machine worked. 

Yay — Ugh — Yay — Ugh — Yay

I’ve got to be fair: I ended with a yay because it only jammed once.  That’s a win.  A slow win, but a win!

Hurricane Ida

By choice, I’ve not gone back through my blog to see how many times I’ve written about the weather.  I know it’s been more than a few times, and, when I have, it’s rarely been about sunny days.  I’ll just add this post to the list

Today, thanks to Hurricane Ida, it’s a weather day for my district here in north Alabama.  We’re some 400 miles from the Gulf Coast, but the dangers are still real. 

Thus, the weather day.

The decision was made yesterday, well before the first drops of rain fell here in our area.  That’s a tough call to make, but it was a good one, says the teacher who’s sitting with a cup of coffee and a laptop in his living room watching the rain fall outside.  

Good or bad, though, I have to acknowledge the perils of the “durned if you do, durned if you don’t” nature of the decision faced by district leadership.

If the decision to cancel school is made and the weather hazard turns out to be less than expected, you’ve got upset parents.

If the decision to cancel school is made and the weather hazard turns out to be real BUT there’s anything less than widespread damage, you’ve still got upset parents.

If you don’t decide to cancel school and the weather hazard turns out to be less than expected, you were still gambling with student safety.  (That said, the majority of upset people are teachers and students.)

If you don’t decide to cancel school and the weather hazard comes to be, you should have listened to the experts and made a different choice.

Durned if you do, durned if you don’t.  I do appreciate the difficulty of the decision.

As for me?  I’ll watch the rain and hope for the best while grading some papers, writing some lesson plans, and reaching for another cup of coffee.  

It’s My Turn to Write About It

There are so many ways I’ve thought of to start this piece.  

I thought about taking the random fact angle:  Until recently, I’d heard the word “nasopharyngeal,” but didn’t really know what it meant.

 Or the poetry approach.  I decided against it because, despite the fact that it always comes to my mind when I find myself actually-really-truly sidelined with illness.  Unfortunately, though, Dickinson’s guest who stopped for her when she didn’t have time to stop herself hits too close to home for so many, so I’ll just mention it.

I considered the dialog I shared with the nurse on the phone, starting with the sinking feeling I had when the phone actually rang.  They only call for positive cases, or so I was informed by the sign taped to the plexiglass partition in the clinic.

Sub plans.  I could have written about sub plans, but I thought that tack might not resonate with my readers who aren’t teachers. (Okay, I’ve only got a few readers, and my mom’s the only one who’s not a teacher, but still, it’s best to be safe.)

Finally, the ten days at home came to mind as a way to introduce the story.  Ten days of living in my bedroom with my wife holding down the rest of the fort.  It wasn’t a bad time, once I had my nest built, but it’s not something I want to do again.

I’m hesitant (but not hesitant enough, apparently) to add another thought after the “Finally” paragraph, but I could start by mentioning how the emotions around the topic kinda kill the pleasure of even writing about it.  

Yes. I think I’ll go with that.

The Perfect Rain

It really was the perfect rain.

—–

I stood in the living room, feeling a bit disoriented, a bit relieved, a bit exhausted, and a bit excited all at the same time.  The second day of school had ended three or four hours earlier, but I’d left the building just 15 or 20 minutes before the present moment.

It was a long day.

“You know what I’d like to do Saturday morning?” I asked my wife who was sitting in a chair, waiting to see where my just-walked-in-the-door brain was going.

“What’s that?” 

“I’d like to go for a hike.  Get outside.”

“That sounds great.  I’ve been wanting to do that too.”

Lisa and I enjoy hiking and being outside.  For a number of reasons, with my month-plus-long trip to Ohio to be with my family and the beginning of the school year high on the list, it had been over two months since we were on a trail.  It was going to be nice to get back out there.

—–

It was early Saturday morning, just before we were ready to leave, and we both looked at the weather apps on our phones.  I interpreted mine to say dry skies, and she decided hers recommended a rain jacket.  We each grabbed one, coming down on the side of reluctant caution.  Wearing a rain jacket during an Alabama rain shower in August tends to leave the wearer wetter on the inside of the garment than on the outside.  Humidity — ugh.

—–

We’d hiked for 40 minutes or so, and the woods were glorious despite the lack of a breeze and overcast skies.  The temperatures weren’t too high, and the humidity wasn’t bad.  

I turned back toward Lisa and said, “It looks like we’re missing that rain.”  

I was feeling pretty good about that, as my rain jacket was sitting back in the car.  The look on her face, though, let me know I was clearly missing something.  I listened carefully, and heard the tap-tap-tap of raindrops on the leaves overhead.

Bummer.

To her credit, I don’t remember my wife saying a word until I acknowledged the precipitation.  

The rain was light, though, and we’d continued to walk another five minutes or so through the woods before we could actually feel the drops. Even then, we stayed relatively dry. 

And we walked on.

We were at the highest point on the trail and the furthest from the car when the rain picked up just a bit.  Drops bounced off our hats and started to pool on our day packs just before, well, the rain almost stopped.

The woods were even greener with the wetness, the air around us cooled dramatically, and our spirits were buoyed even higher.  We walked on, mindful of the newly-slick rocks, but with smiles on our faces.

It really was the perfect rain.

Words for $500

Palpable.

I used to see that word all the time in the news and magazine or website articles.  Adjectives and verbs have runs of popularity, I think; they come in, burn brightly, and then fade back into obscurity.  

Yesterday I thought about the word palpable.  I didn’t use it in a sentence, and I didn’t speak it aloud — I just thought about it.  

My school’s faculty was leaving a meeting, and half of us (the other half, I’m happy to say) were heading to our classrooms to prepare for the parent orientation that was imminent.

Imminent.  That’s another word that comes and goes.

Our individual feelings, which, while they were different for all of us, were some variation of anxiousness or excitement.  They were palpable. 

Depending on where one lives, the new school year is upon us.  Imminent, even.  I hope it’s a good one for everyone.

Note: This post was written a week before it was published. It was the beginning of the school year. I was distracted and didn’t post it. Things happen. {smile}

Klee Klee Klee Klee

Standing outside the door with the knuckles of my raised right hand just inches from it, I listened carefully, trying to decide what was happening on the other side.  Hearing what sounded like normal activity, I tapped on the wood.

Normal activity: That idea made me smile.

“Yeah!  Come on in!”

Turning the knob, I entered the room slowly, despite knowing it was safe to do so.  With my eyes starting to adjust to the brighter light inside the room, I closed the door behind me just as the alarm started to blare.

I know it’s not nice to call a lady an “alarm,” and the word “blare” isn’t polite either, but, well, there we were.

The lady, in this case, was a young American kestrel.  Her pale yellow feet, just visible below her nearly-spherical-looking body, clutched her perch, and her head — again, just barely discernible above the fluff — was turned toward me. 

Her appearance was a defensive behavior.  Her tan-streaked chest was puffed out, and her cinnamon and grey wings were held just out from her body.  Her tail, still not fully grown, pointed straight down from her back.  She looked big, in her mind, despite the fact that she weighed just over 100 grams.  

And her vocalization.  Wow.  She was loud.  Hoping to scare me off with her call since her appearance wasn’t doing the trick, she stared at me with her dark eyes as her beak opened and closed rapidly.  I could see her bright red throat under the ultraviolet lights, and I watched as her tongue vibrated with her cry.

“Well, hello,” I said, my voice quiet so I didn’t scare her, assuming she could even hear me.  

“Klee klee klee klee klee klee klee klee klee klee klee klee klee,” she replied.

Satisfied she was okay, I made my way across the room to stand and look at her.  I hadn’t seen her in a few weeks, and her appearance was strikingly different than at that time.  Her adult plumage was coming in, and the amount of juvenile fuzz covering her body had decreased dramatically.  I was in awe.

“I think she’s ready to eat,” I was told.  Settling into a comfortable position out of the way, I watched her training session unfold.  She flew and “hunted” like a champ, her instincts taking her through the next 20 minutes or so.  

Nature is incredible.

A juvenile female American kestrel sitting on a perch in a room.  Her adult plumage is starting to come in, but she still looks very young.
A juvenile female American Kestrel


I’m a volunteer with a conservation education organization in north Alabama. For more information, click here.

The Student Information System

School starts in ten days and  
I have a list of names in a spreadsheet
freshly extracted from the student information system

The S. I. S.  

Fourth graders, all
as that’s what I teach 
Fourth graders.  You’ve heard that old line, right? 

“Oh, you’re a teacher.  What do you teach?”  

“Fourth graders.” Awkward pause.

I’ve looked at that spreadsheet and even queried the SIS
that all-knowing database
but found it to be missing some information

The student in the 11th row 
is he excited about coming to school?  

I wonder about the kiddo in row 4
Science is her favorite subject
but how can I help her love the others?

Does Row Number 6 know that Row Number 8 
is worried about making friends
just like he is?

Row 2 can’t wait to tell me about her summer,
her trip, and all the fun she had, yet

There’s no mention that Row 23 
wishes she could forget the last three months

Row 14, I’ll find out on my own
loves reading while snuggled on the couch 
with his new step-mom

But that’s not in the database  

I have birthdays and addresses 
I guess there’s that

Please Don’t Leave

Interstate 65 in the southern half of Alabama is, for the most part, a beautiful slog.  Pine trees line the roadside for dozens of miles at a time, and you’d better not have less than half a tank of gas if there’s an accident ahead.  Monotony and the resultant distractions probably lead to most of those accidents, but that’s not what I’m writing about. 

As I said, southern Alabama (and northern Alabama, for that matter) is a beautiful place.  The gentle hills of the coastal plain are mostly covered in the pines I mentioned earlier, and the views that the tallest of those hills afford are stunning, in a relatively flat and green way.

Recently, coming home from a conference, I had the opportunity to drive I-65 northbound out of the Montgomery area.  The trip, I’m happy to say, was relatively uneventful as all of my distractions — as well as those of my fellow travelers — were within the limits of safety.  The drive, not complicated with heavy rain or traffic accidents, gave me some time to think, as well as plenty to think about.  

A number of miles north of Montgomery stands a billboard that is regular fodder for local conversation and commentary.  Given the inter-state nature of interstate travel, it’s also known throughout the region and even makes it into national human-interest pieces on occasion.  I am, of course, referring to the “GO TO CHURCH Or the Devil Will Get You!” (sic) sign.

I didn’t actually spend a lot of time thinking about that sign, and I’m not writing about it either. It’s just cool to tell people about it.

There is, however, a new sign sharing the same field, and I did spend some time thinking about it.  Much smaller, though still prominent, the sign states the cliché, “America love it or leave it.”  I’m pretty sure it’s in all caps, but I didn’t get a picture.  In my mind, though, it’s in all caps. 

That saying has been around longer than I can remember (which is back into the 70s), and there was a time when I gave it a positive nod, if not a hearty endorsement.  I used to think differently about a lot of things, to tell you the truth.  Now, though, I see a different America than I did back then, and I see that sign and its words differently as well.  

I used to see only my own little world.  My little town, my little circle of friends and family, and my little frame of reference.  My limited travel and only three channels (plus PBS on the UHF dial) were, I suppose, some of the reasons things used to be little.

Now, though, I see a bigger world and a bigger America.  My little town gave way to living on three different continents and enjoying a variety of experiences.  Traveling over the years (as well as the Internet) has given me a bigger circle of friends and family, and my frame of reference has grown as a result.  I’ve met and known people who are different from me: they look differently, they think differently, and they act differently. They — at least those who are stateside — are America.

America is a big place, literally and metaphorically.  It’s a place of wonder and simplicity; a place of unity and division; a place of celebration and protest.  It’s E pluribus unum: From many, one.  America is a country of diversity and the variety of opinions that come with that reality.  My America, whether one likes it or not, is a place of both differences and similarities.  

And you know what? America, as I see it, is big enough and strong enough to thrive with those realities; they’re an asset, not a liability.

That sign, I suspect, didn’t completely express its author’s full intention.  I could be wrong, but what I think it’s supposed to say is, “MY little vision of America: Love it or leave it.”

I don’t agree with your opinion, sir or ma’am, but I respect your right to have it, and I’m glad you have the opportunity to share it with the world.  

On Permanence

Concrete wall anchors.

All three of those words carry a sense of permanence that — I have to confess — I’m just not looking for right now.  That said, I need to mount something to a wall, and it has to be done today.  

Anchored, it will be.  To a concrete wall.

I’m moving into a new classroom, teaching a new grade level, and working with a new team.  That, for me, is a lot of new, and while I’m looking forward to everything about this school year, it’s still a bit much, given how the summer break has gone so far.  (I’ll start at the current time with that story: All is going well.  The previous five weeks were a bit touch-and-go, though.)

Ah, a new classroom!  So much potential, and so many decisions to be made.  Decisions that include where to mount an interactive panel that’s roughly the size of the barracks room in which I started my adult life.  

Thus the concrete wall anchors.  

Fortunately, I’ve got a putty knife and I’m not afraid to use it.  Maybe things aren’t so permanent after all!

Father’s Day 2021

Etiquette in enclosed spaces is still an iffy thing in the middle of 2021, and a hitch of hesitation showed in the movement of the young man who instinctively lurched toward the doors of my elevator as they started to close.  It was only a hitch, though, and the urgency in his eyes caused me to stick my hand between the moving stainless steel panels, sending them back open to allow him to step into the car with me.

In his early 20s with a ball cap covering his short curly hair, he carried an overfilled bag in his left hand and a phone in his right.  He had been walking hard, and a mixture of anxiety and exertion showed on his face.

I reached down and pushed the button beside the number six, then turned to face the new passenger.

“What floor are you headed to?”

“Fourth, please.”  His countenance darkened slightly as he spoke, although it’s possible it was just a figment of my imagination or a product of my own memory.  I pushed the appropriate metal button.

As the doors slid closed all the way this time, a brief moment of silence hung between us, and with the slightest of jolts, we began to move upward.

Save the hum of the ventilation fan, the ding of passing the second and then the third floor was the only sound in the car until I found the words to say. 

Our car slowed to a stop and the doors opened as I spoke. “My dad just left the fourth floor the other day. I hope y’all are out of there soon.”

Hope. I hope.

He turned his face toward me as he left the car. Inhaling deeply, he hesitated for the second time in the last 30 seconds before saying, simply, “Thanks, man.”

He turned and walked away as the doors slid shut.

Within a few seconds they opened again to let me leave the small compartment. As they had many times over the past three weeks, my eyes looked toward the brushed steel letters on the wall just ahead of me: Heart and Vascular Patient Care.

I whispered a short prayer as I dropped my eyes to the directory on the wall beside me.  As if I needed to be reminded, I read the label beside the number four.

Heart and Vascular Intensive Care

Hope.  I hope.

Turning away, I stepped in the direction of the patient I had come to see, happy to be able to make the trip.