At a Loss

There are some times in my classroom that I am positively at a loss, that I am standing there, looking at what just happened, listening to what’s being said, watching what’s going on, and I find myself wondering, “What in the world do I do about this?” I’ve been in the classroom for almost twenty years now, and I’ve come to realize that I will always — always — have these moments.

Last week, for example, in order to load a document I wanted the students to view on the projector, I turned my back on my most challenging class — challenging in that they are, by and large, not motivated and therefore not inclined to behave in a manner that produces the most efficient use of our limited class time — and in the few seconds that I had my back turned, this happened.

This, in fact, is a photo after I kicked some of the papers into a more consolidated pile.

Apparently, in a matter of seconds, a boy who sits in the back of the room stood up, ran to the front of the room, grabbed a girl’s binder, ran back to the back of the room, and emptied its contents on the floor with the girl in heated pursuit. This girl is not very popular, and she has a habit of antagonizing everyone around her and then playing the victim. In this case, though, she was the victim, but that didn’t stop the kids from hooting in approval at the boy’s actions.

I called them down; they stopped after a few seconds; and I didn’t have the slightest clue what to do. I removed them both from the classroom, but that’s hardly a preventative measure for the next time the kid gets an impulse to do something like this. Truth be told, the boy can be more antagonistic and disruptive among his peers as the girl.

These are thirteen-year-old kids. They’re not two or three. Yet their behavior belies their age, because this sort of thing happens so frequently. If it was a one-time occurrence, it would just be a question of youthful hi-jinks, but something similar happens on a regular basis, and I never really know what to do to prevent it.


“Daddy, will you come lie with me?”

The Boy is having trouble falling asleep, and when this happens, there’s only one real solution: to climb into the bed with him and let him fall asleep curled in one’s arms.

I’ll admit that there was a time that I was growing tired of this. It was an almost nightly ritual, and with so many things I needed and wanted to do in the evening once the kids were asleep, I just wanted him to drift off as quickly as possible.

But over the last couple of years, another change has happened, which has altered my outlook on stretching out with the Boy in the evening. The Girl, now almost eleven, requires little to no bedtime assistance, and some nights, I have simply kissed her goodnight and turned out her light. She’s growing up, and in doing so, she’s developing her own evening routines and rhythms, and unlike the Boy, she no longer gets scared as she’s going to bed.

It struck me, then, that E will be following suit soon. No, not really all that soon, but soon enough. A few years and the whole bedtime ritual in the house will look entirely different than it does now. A few more years and neither one will really want K or me to lie in the bed with them, stroking their hair, whispering to them to lie still and go to sleep. And I will look back on this time when I could have done it with a tinge of regret that I didn’t do it more often.

Which is why, when the Boy asked if I would lie down with him, I did so without hesitation.

Lost Stars

E and I were lying on the bed in the master bedroom, reading. He always gets a book from school for his daily reading log, and often the book is leveled just right for reading with a parent: a few words he knows, enough short words that he can sound out, and a few words that he needs a lot of help with. Always a refrain of sorts, something easily remembered that he can just repeat.

Today’s book: My Dad and I.

We made it through the book, which was about all the things the narrator’s dad teaches him to do and all the things he teaches his dad to do, and E began teaching me about his star behavior system in school. Of course I knew all about it: I just had a conference with his teacher a few weeks ago, and we get a daily report about how many stars he ended the day with. But of course I let him explain it.

“We start with three stars, and if we do something wrong, we lose a star.” He paused, then added, “I haven’t lost a star yet this year.”

What will he do when he loses a star?

Updated B

The Girl got her report card today, and much to her surprise, she didn’t get that B. Turns out it was on the second quarter reporting period — which  means she has a hole to dig herself out of. But at least the streak remains.


The Girl tomorrow will be getting the first B she’s ever made on a report card. It’s in social studies, and it weighs heavily on her.

“I got an A on the study guide,” she told me this evening, “but I got a C on the test.”

I don’t remember when I got my first B. Probably on my first report card. I can’t remember when I got my first C, but I think it was in junior high. I do remember getting the one D I ever received: earth science, ninth grade. I think I made all As and Bs in college, but if I had, I would have not graduated simply Cum Laude but rather Summa. Or so it seems to me.

Obviously grades were never all that important to me. Sure, I wanted to do well, but I didn’t beat myself up over it. I sat back and watched everyone who was interested battle for valedictorian and salutatorian honors, and I think I slipped into the top 10% of my class and was somewhat pleased with that.

The Girl’s biggest concern is remaining on the All A Honor Roll. Will this disqualify her for end of year honors? I had to admit that, despite being a teacher, I really didn’t know. Again, I never really worry too much about it.

My own students come to me sometimes worried about their grades. My English I Honors course has had the dubious distinction of being the first B for several students over the year. I express my regret, point out that I don’t give grades but that they earn grades, but in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “It’s not such a big deal really.” For them it is: it’s a high school credit course, which means it will count toward their GPA.

I’ve had students’ parents have their children repeat English I in high school to get that A. I’ve even had one mother require her daughter repeat because her A wasn’t high enough. “Your class was much harder,” the girl wrote later in an email.

So I try to comfort L the best I can, suggesting that it’s not the end of the world. She dries her eyes and says, “I know.” But I know that doesn’t help all that much.


I’ve a moved a few times, each time different. Moving to Poland in 1996 was accomplished with the help of two suitcases and a carry-on bag. Moving back to the States was similar. Moving from one apartment in Boston to another, just north of Boston in Mauldin, lasted one long day with multiple trips in the smallest available U-Haul van because it was all that was available on that day when everyone in the greater Boston area who is moving moves. Moving back to Poland in 2001 was like 1996: two suitcases and something under the seat in front of me. Back to the States in 2005 included several mailings and the usual airline baggage. From Ashville to Greenville was easier since we had a large U-Haul and several helping hands. But in all those adventures, I moved only a few thousand things at most. And that’s counting each article of clothing and miscellany separately.

This week I moved 207,282 objects, plus several databases and a handful of email addresses. Changing hosts is a long involved process. Life goes on as usual, but one’s online presence stops. Visits to traveling museums and Halloween come and go complete with pictures, but they all sit on one’s computer until, at long last, it’s all done and everything is back to normal.

Afternoon Ride

We went back to a favorite park this afternoon — the kids and K went the short way in the car; I went a somewhat longer way by bike, just to see what the route was like.

I found myself out of suburbia and in the “country” in a matter of kilometers, and I got to thinking about taking a new way to work when I ride. It would double my current distance, but 90% of the ride was so much more pleasant.

This meant that everyone got a headstart on the walk/ride.

That meant I missed all the manhole climbing that inevitably takes place. Still, there are mysteries: did Clover jump up or was she placed? Certainly the latter.

I also missed all of L’s silly games. I don’t know if it’s just a little way to exert a bit of control over the Boy or if she’s actually enjoying it, but she sometimes proposes to E that they play something that place her clearly in a place of authority. Today, she had to check the bikes every time we reached one of the walking-only wooden bridges.

I finally caught up to them just as they were climbing off yet another manhole cover. The Boy was ready to leave the slow girls behind, but first we had to walk across yet another bridge.

And then we got the idea for the picture, one that’s instantly become one of my favorite portraits of the two of us.

His expression is just classic E: so serious, trying so hard to be such a grown up little boy.

During our ride, the Boy noticed a family riding the opposite direction.

“That’s really dangerous,” he said.


“They weren’t wearing helmets!” This morning, coming home from Mass, E kept checking that I was going the speed limit. I’m pretty sure he’s going to grow up to be a safety engineer. I can see him coming home for a visit and with his new, more diplomatic communication skills, beginning many a conversation with, “Um, Dad, about X you did in the backyard…”

Once we all regrouped back at the car, I headed home another way. I knew the trail we’d been riding on continued a bit further, and my thinking was that I might ride that whole trail to its end next time I rode to work. It will indeed be a pleasant ride, but not for a week like this week, when I have hall duty in the morning and must be at my station at 7:45. The idea of leaving before 6:40 to make it there in time with enough time to change — not going to work.

I got home and checked my stats on Strava and had the same depressing reaction: my average power output for the ride was right at 150 watts. Some perspective: amateur riders are considered decent riders, able to start small-scale races, with consistent power outputs of 250 watts for about two hours. At 300 watts, you’re really a good rider. The pros? They are over 400 watts for a four- to five-hour, 180-230 kilometer race, with the ability to crank it up to 700 watts for twenty minutes or so. That’s so unreal that it’s like watching Tommy Emmanuel’s fingers on the fretboard: “How is that even humanly possible?” I ask myself.