(Not My) Reflections on 2017

Frustrated WriterI’m a bit jealous of bloggers who sit down knowing what they want to write about, and they write it. Sure, they may edit a bit… or the details and color may fill themselves in as they type, but otherwise they knock it out, hit “publish,” and the views come click-click-clicking along. 

I guess that’s happened for me a few times, but less often recently and not at all the past few weeks. And it should be so easy – the end of the calendar year is coming up, and I’m halfway through a new subject at a new school in a new state where some things have gone quite well and other things have been far more challenging than I expected. I haven’t kept up with the history writing the way I’d hoped, but I’ve tried to at least write about my classroom experiences and struggles along the way. That’s not the sort of thing that’s going to bring back last year’s numbers or make me famous on the Twitters, but it’s useful for me and more teachers than I’d have expected have reached out to tell me it’s encouraging to them as well. What more could one ask in these surreal times?

Most of the time, though, when I start to write this one, it fights me. There’s plenty of typing – but it’s all the wrong things and they keep taking over.  

Real authors will tell you that’s OK sometimes – let the characters feel what they feel, and do what they do, even if it’s not what you intended for them to do. Songwriters sometimes have stream-of consciousness experiences, sitting down to strum a few chords until dinner and suddenly it’s seven hours later and they’ve written, recorded, and produced a rock opera about a blind squirrel who lights up when prime numbers are used, and made it a metaphor for the universal human experience. That stuff is all wonderful, but this is an education blog. Average length, 1200 – 1600 words. Try not to cuss very much. Use appropriate visuals to keep things segmented for the reader. And above all, say something useful – motivational, or educational, or reflective…

It’s that last option that’s been evading me for days now. It should be so easy! This is traditionally the time of year people look back and reflect. Teachers are supposed to do that anyway – at least, I’m pretty sure that’s been mentioned in several of the “Teach Good, Darn It!” books I’ve perused in recent years. To consider what’s gone well and what could have gone better… to rejoice, or mourn, to remember, to improve, or maybe to acknowledge and then forget. 

And that’s where I keep getting hung up – the need to acknowledge and forget. 

I can’t realistically or honestly reflect on the past year without addressing the political elephant in the oval room – all the elephants in all the rooms, actually – breaking everything and stomping on people and getting elephant $#!+ everywhere. Because it’s been a weird year, the kind that needs an obscene modifier or eleven – as in, “It’s been a weird $*!@#^&$^% year!” or even “It’s been a #@()*^ing weird #$&@%$^ year, amiright?!?! 

I don’t wish to dwell on the foil-hatted nut-foolery that is our current government, but neither can I look back and honestly consider the past twelve months without confessing that while state politics depressed, outraged, and destroyed me beyond what I could have thought possible in 2016, national politics surpassed the experience in every possible way in 2017.

I’ve spent hours typing, deleting, and re-typing what should be the obligatory “so yeah it’s been pretty disappointing in so many ways” paragraph which I could then move past to do actual reflecting on my teaching and classroom experiences this year so far. I even have some bullet points jotted down – some of which might even become separate posts all on their own.

> How important is it for students to like you? To trust you?

> How important is it to be a master of your content? Of pedagogy?

> How much is it professionally and ethically OK to modify curricular expectations based on the kids in front of you? How high should you keep that “bar” when so many aren’t meeting it? When do you bend, and when do you not?

> Who knew there was so much history for me to not know? Like, I’ve never even heard of these people or events before now...?! (Yes, that was going to be a real topic, humbling as it is.)

> The false dichotomy of “grit suffer boot camp destroy” vs. “nurture nurture nurture love-coddles”

But I can’t get to them. I haven’t even rough-drafted crappy versions so there’s something to go back and fix. 

The problems is that first paragraph, where I acknowledge the role politics and society have played in making this a draining, discouraging year. I’ve written it about a dozen times, and it’s varied from 459 words to over 2000. It just keeps taking on a life of its own, a contagion, a sentient blob, a meltdown of feelings and words and the inability to get the lid back on that jar.  

I simply did not know I could be so shocked, so disappointed, so despondent, and so outraged for so many days in a row. It’s actually rather impressive – you keep thinking at some point we’d have maxed out the WTF-ometer, then you wake up to find the President is promoting snuff videos from known hate-groups or insisting that many Nazis are just as nice as the folks they run over with cars or siccing his minions on private citizens because they refuse to kiss his ass sufficiently. His voice isn’t his voice, his photos aren’t his photos, his words aren’t his words, and he daily insists that facts aren’t true. Only his words are true – even when they change from hour to hour or make no damn sense to begin with. 

And smart people – people who know their history and understand how the government is supposed to work, even when it’s flawed and messy – just keep shrugging and telling me that he’s simply a bit unpolished and that’s what people find refreshing. That daily efforts to undercut public trust in our own intelligence agencies, to destroy the free press, to further marginalize and demonize the downtrodden, and to make up outrageous, easily disprovable lies nearly every day (“the law never said not to sleep in ANY bed – anywhere you sleep is a BED – it’s ALWAYS said a bed WITH SHEETS!”) – those are all just cute little quirks and besides Obama did it all the time because both sides are exactly the same and that’s why we had to get rid of the other side no matter what so really it’s their fault.

It’s maddening, and depressing, and if I think about it too long, there’s really no reason to get up in the morning, let alone go teach. I mean, my classes are all about history and related skills – document analysis, examining points of view, writing meaningful arguments with a professional tone and supporting them with evidence and reason… all pretty much obsolete and apparently proof of my godless left-wing agenda in the classroom. No wonder we were collectively called out in the President’s Inaugural Address for denying knowledge to all the beautiful children while hoarding all the riches bestowed on public education.

So, yeah – that’s been a defining feature of this past year. I wish it wasn’t. I wish I was better at handling it. But I’ve been trying to write this post off and on for a week now, and every time I end up with 1500+ words ranting and mocking and in ugly despair, hating myself for not being able to just play along, to detach, to pretend it’s not as horribly wrong as it so totally is. Get to the pedagogy – to the struggles – to the kids I genuinely love so much, even when they’re driving me crazy. I keep deleting paragraphs and cutting the word count, but every time I decide to simply move past, it types itself again. 

So here it is. My reflections on 2017 go like this: it’s been a helluva learning curve. I love my kids and my department and the community in which I live and work. There’s much worth considering about what’s gone well and what hasn’t, and I’m always happy to share what I think about pretty much all of it – and maybe even make a wisecrack or two. 

But I should tell you up front – in terms of me trying to be a person, and a citizen, and a social media presence, and an informed human, 2017 has kicked my ass and mocked me as I slapped and spit back. I keep my politics in their place when it comes to the classroom – like the rest of my personal life, I only share pieces at the right time and in professionally appropriate ways. You don’t have to worry that I’m indoctrinating your little darlings, other than my radical obsession with mutual respect, decency, evidence, and reason as I mentioned above.

That doesn’t mean I’m fine with any of what's happening. Or that it hasn’t dramatically affected everything else. Because it has.

Yes, in the end these are my buttons, my issues, my feelings, and thus my responsibility– I get it. But this is also my year-end reflection – and so, for now, those things are all a part of it. 

So maybe now I can write the post I keep wanting to write. Deciding to write. Needing to write.  

Maybe.

Guess we'll know soon.

Meltdown

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