Putting a Bow On It: 2007-2021

This blog has died a de facto death over the course of the last year (and, if I’m honest, it’s actually closer to 3 years), and now it’s time to make it de jure. Blame it on the pandemic, blame it on changing priorities, blame it on concerns over increased vulnerability with increased professional visibility (founded or unfounded), blame it on the boogie.

I’ve enjoyed using this space for collaboration and connection (it actually pre-dates most, if not all, of my social media accounts) and public reflection, as well as more than my share of written navel-gazing. Maybe it was never meant to last forever, but it was good for what it was, while it was. I won’t say I don’t have time for it anymore; as I’m fond of saying, we never have time for anything, we make time for things. My priorities and time commitments lie elsewhere now; I plan to leave this blog online for whatever reference purposes it can serve, but I can’t see myself posting here again, at least not in the near future.

If you’re still reading this, thank you for listening as I’ve worked out my thoughts publicly over the last 14 years. I can’t believe that when I started this blog, my son was two and my daughter wasn’t even born yet. Now, he’s a few weeks away from getting his driver’s license and she is a teenager. Back then, I was a high school teacher, excited about using technology in his classes and on the verge of wrapping up graduate school and embarking on a new career in school psychology. That has been and passed, along with a second stint in graduate school and several positions later, including school psychologist, adjunct college professor, instructional supervisor, and assistant principal.

At the time of writing, I’m finishing my 21st year in public education (all in New Jersey) and currently serving in the role of a high school assistant principal. I’m excited to see where my professional path takes me on what will be the back third or so of my career, and even more excited for what lies beyond that.

Settling In, So To Speak [BTP]

Two observations, possibly somewhat contradictory, about pandemic living, now closing in on the end of Week 9 of teach/learn/work-from home here in PA: 1) we have actually adapted, in our own weird way, and 2) this is exhausting.

Here are three good articles that speak to the second point – in a nutshell, we have to work harder to sustain concentration the longer we videochat (my colleagues and I rack up several hours per day) and we process and perceive many of the verbal and physical cues inherent to interpersonal communication differently through this format than we do in person. This, plus, you know, the constant thrum of stress of living through a global pandemic in one of the worst-hit regions in the United States all make these taxing (plus I don’t have the most comfortable chair in my office).

There are days when I leave my office at the end of the ‘work day’ (whatever that is anymore) and I just collapse onto the couch. It’s obviously not a physically taxing or dangerous job, thank goodness, but it drains you in a different way. Hard to explain, but if you’ve experienced it, you know.

On a different note, not that I would ever want things to remain this way, but I notice that in our house we have mostly adapted to the new temporary normal (I refuse to acknowledge it as the ‘new normal’). In lieu of our usual routine, we have established a new routine that sort of feels relatively normal. New wake-up times, new work locations, but it’s the one thing we have that we didn’t at the start of all this, and for what it’s worth, that has given some structure and temporary normalcy that I think we have found somewhat comforting, even if we won’t admit it because it’s not the normalcy we want. It’s the normalcy we need and the normalcy we’re going to have to live with, however.

The above is not a commentary on how I feel about remote instruction (as a parent or an educator), but more an observation on human behavior, and how we create frameworks for ourselves even when none exist. As much as none of us in our house want things to be this way, I must admit things have settled down into a less frantic state than they were two months ago.

Stray observation 1: my undergraduate class recently came to a close for the semester, and not a moment too soon. The students were fantastic, and I’m looking forward to them doing great things in education in the next couple years, but between me still acclimating to my new ‘day job’ this year and the chaos of adjusting my class to a remote instruction environment for the second half of the semester while doing the same for my day job, it’s hard to feel as if I was able to give them the best version of myself, the teacher they deserved to have. If one of my staff members was saying this to me, I know I would tell them not to beat themselves up, but I’ve never been very good at taking my own advice.

Stray observation 2: Despite my county and the Philly/NJ/NY region being especially hard-hit by the novel coronavirus, the township in which I live remains mercifully low in confirmed cases (we have been in the 1-10 confirmed cases range for weeks now, according to the county hub; so few that they redact the exact number of cases and only report as a range). We are a suburban/rural area with enough space and low enough population density to make social distancing relatively effortless. This, in addition to consistently taking common-sense precautions like grocery shopping at off hours and regular mask usage, has helped to alleviate at least some of my anxiety surrounding this whole experience. I’ll take all the help I can get.

In a Holding Pattern [BTP]

The stay-at-home order (both de facto and de jure) that is now approaching the end of its fifth week has me in a very jarring place… for a number of reasons, but one I think at the root of it all is that I am simultaneously holding competing senses and states of being in my mind all. the. time. On the one hand, there is the ever-present sense of urgency that comes from having to work work work to plan our continued professional navigation of the day-to-day in ways that are much more time-consuming and labor-intensive than under normal circumstances.

On the other hand, the urgency has been complicated – and sometimes completely stalled – by the lack of concrete knowledge about where we are heading. As of now, several states (including PA, where I live and where my children go to school) have already closed school buildings statewide for the year. Whether one agrees or disagrees with this stance, the fact that the decision has been made and finalized allows school communities in PA to proceed with making plans for the remainder of the year with the understanding that there will be no more in-person physical classes or gatherings. We may not like it, but at least we know the cards we have been dealt, and can play them accordingly.

We have waited weeks for the 4/17 decision from Gov. Murphy about the scope of continued school closures in NJ. It actually came a day early, but I confess to feeling more frustration than anything else when I heard that the closures were just extended to May 15, with another decision to be made then.

To be clear, I would love nothing more for this to all be a bad dream and for us to get back to school tomorrow, provided we could do so safely and without elevated risk to our students, staff, and surrounding communities. Also, because I have seen some anonymous nobodies on social media calling for educators to take pay cuts or give back parts of their salaries for this year – I am not on vacation and I am not enjoying this. There are some professions and jobs for which telecommuting makes perfect sense. I don’t believe mine is one of them (and let’s be honest, this isn’t even telecommuting; this is crisis teaching, or disaster teaching, as I have seen it referred to elsewhere). My wife and I – along with all the other educators I know – are working three times as hard to deliver the education and services children and families need throughout this pandemic. From a leadership standpoint, we find ourselves having to devote time and energy planning for the most mundane of tasks, and then planning again when we run into obstacles. Even the best of days since the schools have shut down have been stressful and complicated, never mind the worst.

With the uncertainty surrounding the last month or so of the school year – not just classes but all the attendant ceremonies and activities – we find ourselves in a position where long-term planning is… if not impossible, certainly much more challenging than if we knew for sure we’d be closed (or open, for that matter). Again, even under the best of circumstances, these things take an inordinate amount of planning and preparation. Now, and for at least the next four weeks, it’s pretty clear we will be doubling our efforts, making one set of plans for in-person events and at least one other to allow for a closed building and prohibitions on public gatherings. And even if we are physically back, what restrictions, if any, will we have to navigate and accommodate in order to return to a safe school environment (e.g., masks, social distancing, split sessions, etc., all of which have been proposed by various state governors facing public pressure to reopen schools and the economy that relies so heavily on the child supervision component schools provide). Again – nobody is afraid of hard work, but with everything taking three times as long as usual, there are only so many hours in a day to make things happen.

I understand the political and economic factors at play in a decision like this, and it is not my intention to minimize those concerns. I also appreciate how Murphy, as well as other governors from the region such as Wolf, Cuomo, and Carney, have indicated that any economic reopening or recovery plan must and will prioritize public health concerns. This isn’t necessarily a criticism of the decision as much as it is a reflection on how the lack of a concrete path forward creates additional challenges.

I work with a fantastic staff who will rise to any challenge, but perhaps one of the most frustrating things about this situation is not being able to do one of the things we do best, which is problem-solve, and certainly not as efficiently or as effectively as we would like, not knowing what the context we will be dealing with in four weeks will be. I know it frustrates people who come to us with questions (and proposed solutions to problems, present or potential) when our response is, “We don’t know” or “we have to wait and see.” It frustrates us having to give those responses. It’s not because we haven’t thought about it, or are blowing them off, or don’t have thoughts about multiple contingencies we could put into play – developing Plans A through X, Y, and Z is what we spend much of our workdays doing these days – it’s that until we know exactly where we’re going, there’s only so much we can do in terms of taking action.

A Brief Programming Note: Updated URLs

Due to some under-the-hood shenanigans that I won’t even pretend to understand, the URLs for both the blog site and the RSS feed for this blog have had to change. From 4/4/20 forward, the updated URLs are:

Thanks to Katie at Reclaim Hosting for diagnosing and fixing whatever the problem was. Of all the web hosting services I’ve used, Reclaim is hands-down the best and most responsive, and I wholeheartedly recommend them for your hosting needs.

Fraying at the Edges [BTP]

I’ve been working from home for two and a half weeks now by the time this posts Friday morning, and it will have been a solid three that my students, my wife, and my kids have been on “remote instruction” to varying degrees in each of our districts.

We are hanging in there, but the effects of social distancing and our state stay-at-home order (we’ve been basically following it all this time but it was made official yesterday; no foolin’) are beginning to take their toll.

There were tears, raised voices, heated tempers, and arguments that had no reason to be arguments this week between and among all four of us. The effects of social isolation are starting to take their toll on all of us, to varying degrees and at different times. I’ve taken on the role of ‘grocery getter’, which is the only reason I leave the house other than to take walks with my family, and I look forward to those trips with about equal parts excitement (for a change of scenery) and anxiety (over the thought that this trip could be the one during which I contract the virus… if I don’t have it already).

Of the four of us, I honestly thought I would have the easiest time navigating this forced isolation. Even on my best days I love nothing more than whiling away time at home, preferring it to pretty much any other place I could be most days. As much as I enjoy traveling, there’s nothing like coming home to my own bed. Issa Rae put it better than I possibly could:

Turns out being at home is only as fun as my ability to decide to not be at home.

My county has put together an informative website for government updates and tracking confirmed cases across the county. As of this evening, my township is one of many in which there have only been between 1-10 confirmed cases. That gives me some comfort that I’m not going out into a densely populated area with a high rate of infection, but I also know that those numbers only represent the number of tested and confirmed cases, and that there are any number of people walking around, either asymptomatic or symptomatic but not tested.

It seems like almost every day, there are more deaths in the news, both of local people and celebrities. Last night it was announced that Adam Schlesinger died at 52 from complications from covid-19. Aside from numerous other musical accomplishments, I knew him first as the bassist and co-songwriter for Fountains of Wayne, a band I discovered at 19 and have loved ever since (more than half my life by this point). I normally don’t much care about celebrities passing, other than to recognize the inherent sadness in the loss of human life and then move on with my day, but Schlesinger’s death hit a little differently for me.

I got to see the band play in New Hope in March 2013 shortly before they broke up and I was under no misapprehensions that they were ever getting back together again, so it’s not like I was holding out for the reunion tour. In talking with my wife this morning about the fact that this particular death has impacted me so disproportionately, I think I figured out why. I like a lot of bands across genres, but Fountains of Wayne was one that legitimately brought me joy. I don’t know that I can say that about any other band. Musically, stylistically, thematically, lyrically… maybe the fact that we both have roots in New Jersey, and that featured prominently in FoW’s work… whatever it was, I felt a connection with their body of work that I can’t recall feeling for any other artist or band of any genre, including bands I would otherwise classify as my favorites.

I’m getting back into my feelings again. I’m not usually this guy and I’m wondering how much of how I’m reacting to this news has to do with the above paragraph and how much has to do with the cumulative impact of everything that has happened regarding the pandemic over the last few weeks.

One false move, baby, suddenly everything’s ruined…