This is me:
Wednesday morning my phone rang and instead of the usual “scam likely” (thanks, T-Mobile!) it was the medical center. I picked up, apolozing to my class for taking the call but I was having surgery soon.
“You have been assigned a surgery time tomorrow at 11:00 am.”
“Tomorrow? No, Friday.”
Pause. “Uh, no. December 22nd.”
I went to my google calendaar. For Thursday it says “Surgery.” For six weeks I have been telling everyone, including myself, that my surgery is on Friday.
“Um. Could we schedule it later in the day?” The scheduler is very nice and promises to call back.
“Your surgery is tomorrow? Will we be able to finish our final?” I don’t know why Ahmad is concerned about anything; I’m the fool who doesn’t know what day my surgery is. My answer is forestalled by the phone again, it’s the scheduler with an offer of 1:00.
“Oh, that’s perfect. Thanks so much.” Thursday was a half day and half days end at 12:30. I’m about 20 minutes away from the medical center. Plus, no covid test! My record is pure.
“OK, guys, it’s good. I’ll be here tomorrow. Just have to jet out at 12:30 when school ends.”
“School ends at 1:30 tomorrow.”
“Yeah, it’s some new schedule.” This is the 9th half day this year.
“Fucking fucking fuck.Ignore me.” Just as my calendar said Thursday, the posted bell schedule says school ends tomorrow at 1:30 for the first time in thirty years. I have to get coverage for fourth block.
So I go see the principal’s secretary to confirm procedure. Teachers accrue ten days a year. I’ve been teaching for 14 years and have 120 days. Time off is rare and I usually screw it up so I check with her first.
“Yes, you have to enter an absence record, no sub, get coverage.”
“Why an absence record?”
“You’ll be gone for three hours.”
I look at her. “Tomorrow’s a whole day?”
“No, but you’re contractually obligated to be here until 3:30.”
“This campus will be a ghost town at 1:30. In fact, the only person who would be here tomorrow after 1:30 would be me, if I weren’t going to be gone.” (I’m routinely at school until 6 or 7.)
Fuck that. I enter an absence record of an hour. If she wants to prove I’m not here, she can wait around.
For teachers, there’s a big difference between contractually obligatated hours and actual time worked. You can’t shift the hours. All the extra hours in the world don’t get teachers out of contract hours. I get that. But this is bullshit. Probably the most irritating part is that the secretary knows full well how rare my absences are and how jackassed it is to tell someone who’s never absent that the bill will be for three hours instead of one.
Anyway. I get coverage and in the process notify several other teachers that we’re out at 1:30. Wasn’t just me who didn’t know. That, at least, is comforting.
You might think that since I’m never absent, I might be intolerant of kids taking time off. Or you could more accurately conclude that people who mangle their own surgery dates are tolerant of all sorts of hiccups. But this year has taken a toll on my approach.
The first post-pandemic year the problem was first-bell tardies. We had literally 300 or more kids showing up more than 15 minutes late every day. I’d have fourteen kids out of a class of thirty by the tardy bell, and four kids still missing after 30 minutes.
This year, the tardies are limited to five or six kids, but the absentee rates are stratospheric.I’m not fussy about occasional absences. But I have thirteen students with more than twenty unexcused absences thus far, out of 77 days in school, and most of them had excused absences as well: mental health days (two a month. really.), flu, covid, monthlong trips to India. Three kids didn’t bother to show up for finals. Another kid said “I’m going on vacation next week so I won’t be here. What can I do to make up the work?” Nothing, I said. You’ll probably fail the class.
I told one girl the first week of school to drop precalc when she explained she’d had to leave early every day to go to a college class (I still don’t know how this was allowed). She didn’t. Then she had a crisis with her mother’s health. Then her car got totaled. And in between all these absences, she took her two mental health days every damn month and then, after promising to be in class, spent three days in a row talking to her counselor. Then complained when she got a D, which was a gift. (Great Roger Sweeney joke: Student asks why she got a D. Teacher says because I like you.)
Sing me no sad songs about kids’ emotional health. Most of them are fine. But even if some of them are not, the batshit tolerance is just begging for exploitation, and getting it good and hard.
School’s wonderful. I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to write, plus the Mounjaro tends to wipe me out (22 pounds! although it’s a lot more expensive now). But this year has been even more joyful than last, when just being in the classroom again was a jolt of happiness, masks notwithstanding.
Achievement is up. Last year my trig and algebra 2 classes were hideously behind as these were kids who’d had two years of cheating with photo-math. This deficit is reflected in my precalc class, which is just….not fun. The juniors are ready to go, but the seniors are comatose. My algebra 2 class has by far the worst absenteeism–nine of the +20 absences are in this class–but the rest of the kids are good to go. Not quite up to pre-pandemic skills, but well on their way. I’m teaching a freshman algebra class for the first time since my traumatic all-algebra year of terrors and it’s marvellous. Terrific students, hardworking, ready to face the world. Another thing: last year, most kids wore basically pjs to school. Way more jeans this year.
It was harder to see the division in abilities and mindsets last year, but I’m centering on the view that the middle of the bellcurve kids who spent a couple years of high school in remote and are now seniors were the worst hit. The top kids are still on the ball and kept activities going during the pandemic (I ran five clubs pandemic year to aid in this, plus my usual stuff), but kids who were just planning on community college anyway and had no resumes to worry about found it pretty easy to skate by. I’m seeing mostly the top half of the bellcurve of those who spent middle school in the pandemic, but they seem to be doing very well. Yes, I know what NAEP scores say, but people are stupid about NAEP anyway. I’ll yell about that later.
My worst enemy wouldn’t call me a hardass teacher, but I am not aligned with the current obsession with student mental health. Get your ass back to class, kids. (And don’t say “OK Boomer” to anyone born in the early sixties. It REALLY pisses us off. Early gen boomers got free love, the Beatles, and cheap college. We got disco, HIV, AIDS, stagflation and a far more competitive job market.)
We’re supposed to be doing these SEL lessons every week. I did one. Said “This is stupid.” My advisory class of sophomores agreed so we didn’t do them anymore.
When my TA told me he’s still covid+ after two weeks off, I say “then don’t take the damn test. Lie. What the hell. Get back here.”….and well, not entirely kidding.
But generally, I’m having a blast. It’s good to be back. Most kids are doing great, world. Stop worrying.
Surgery is for arthritis. I’m a bit nervous.