Sunday, August 27, 2023

Introducing The Canebrake: a New Blog

It's been over a year since I've posted here, yet this blog address remains on my email signature lines and in my social media bios. What gives?

I've been writing other places but if I'm honest, I haven't been writing as much as I used to. Just life, you know? 

I retired from teaching a couple of years ago, took a little time off, then started working part-time in the office at my church. That part-time turned into four days a week, sometimes five, and I really enjoy it. My primary responsibility is writing the church newsletter each month, and so, there it is: writing.

It occurred to me that writing a twelve page newsletter each month is probably why I'm not doing much other writing. No fault or no excuses, it's just a thing.

Another thing is that this blog is called And So it Goes in Shreveport. One of my personal resolutions a while back was to quit being so negative and since I just don't have a lot of positive things to say about Shreveport these days, I just keep quiet. Mostly. I mean, there are some good things. I was born and raised here and I have a lot of memories and connections here. Like it or not, it's always going to be home. 

But man, I'm so ready to leave here. It is no secret that Steve and I spend a lot of time in south Louisiana and if I have anything to say about it, we will leave this city and move south. Everything in me wants to move away from Shreveport and its crime, its litter, its backward politics, and...well, that's for another day.

In order to be more positive and to share my love of south Louisiana, I've been blogging a little, a very little bit so far, at my new blog: The Canebrake.  It's several weeks old right now and has only two posts, but I've been spending time getting it set up and tweaked. The posts are coming!

There you will find my life and my love for all things Acadiana! It just didn't seen natural to have an Acadiana blog entitled "And So it Goes in Shreveport." Thus, a new blog was born.

Google isn't good about picking it up just yet in a search, but as it grows that will resolve itself. I hope. Meanwhile, save the link and join me over there. The Canebrake.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

On the Writing Process and oh hey, I'm Writing!

Wow - I remembered the password to this thing. It's been a minute since I've posted here. But I have news, sort of.

I am writing again.

It is so strange. The writing process, I mean. For me, anyway.

For twenty years as an English II educator, I taught To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. My school was on block schedule and that means I taught the novel three times a day for both semesters. There was the occasional semester when I had yearbook, or seniors, juniors, but it is safe to say that I taught the novel many times. One of the questions kids almost always had was, “What else did she write?” “Is there another novel?” Well, at the time, there wasn’t. Lee’s Go Set a Watchman had not yet been released. It seemed so difficult to figure out – a novel as great as Mockingbird, why didn’t she write another?!

I don’t have that answer, really. Maybe she just told her story and that was all she wanted to say. But I know a little something about the writing process, if only from my own experience.

After my biography of Cammie Henry was finished, the well was dry. I don’t know how else to explain that. I couldn’t write a grocery list. I quit blogging, for the most part. I still did a little blogging but nothing I was really proud of. When I traveled the state to speaking events for Cane River Bohemia, an audience question was always, “What are you working on next?!”

And there is a Book Two in progress, but I didn’t write it, really. Book Two is a compilation of Caroline Dormon’s short stories. Dormon is often described as “the mother of the Kisatchie forest," but she was so much more. Such a fascinating woman who did so much, but just the thought of writing a biography of her left me exhausted. Fran Holman Johnson’s biography of Dormon is perfectly fine.

I invested so much of myself, my time, my energy, my soul, into Cane River Bohemia; it was a labor of love and of passion. I firmly believed that Cammie’s story needed to be told and nobody else had done it, so I would do it. I was immersed in that research, in their lives, in her story. I celebrated Lyle’s first book with them, I laughed hysterically at their antics along Isle Brevelle. I cried when Lyle died and I wrote those scenes, and I cried when Cammie aged and died. When I read her diary of her son Isaac’s suffering and death of the Spanish Flu in 1918, I cried all the way home from Natchitoches.

I was exhausted; the well was dry.

Compiling Carrie’s stories wasn’t really writing. I think they need to be shared and I’ll celebrate when the Foreword is done and the book is in the hands of the publisher. (I am not writing the Foreword, obviously).

But writing is so much of who I am. I have blogged for over a decade in multiple places and under a couple of names. I compose sentences in my head all the time. I celebrate beautiful writing wherever I see it and so often I’ll tell someone to read a certain book: “The writing is beautiful!”

But my well was dry.

Then this weekend, out of nowhere, an idea came. It’s not a book. At least, not yet and maybe not ever, but I am writing. This is how it happened.

So many people, since Steve and I have been going to Arnaudville five or six times a year for the past four or five years, people ask me where we go, where we stay, what to eat, and so on. I’ve had several of these recently and so I sat down and decided to just write out a blog post, a sort of reference guide, of these things.

But then it took on a life of its own. Before I stopped, I was 4100 words and six single spaced pages into this and haven’t scratched the surface. I told Steve what I was working on and he cocked his head curiously and said, “But people will think what we do is boring as….”, and I started telling him what I’d covered so far. He started to see where I was going and before long, we were laughing and reminiscing about certain events and he was contributing places I’d forgotten about.

Whatever this thing is that I am writing, whatever it turns out to be, doesn’t really matter; the dam is open. The words are there, the ideas are there, and they are torrential. I can’t stop them.

One thing that helps my writing process so much: a playlist. All through Cane River Bohemia I sat at my desk, headphones jammed in my ears, and listened to the same playlist as I typed. Songs I love, songs that speak to me, that make me happy. Nothing depressing on there, nothing sad. It is my writing playlist and whenever I would hear one of those songs somewhere else, it took me back to my desk, to Cammie, to Melrose.

My playlist has evolved some since then, and I simply added some new things to it as we have traveled in Cajun country. I now have a fair representation of Zachary Richard, Rod Bernard, D. L. Menard, plenty of Swamp Pop, Cajun, and Zydeco. My Cammie playlist now has a Cajun flavor which is appropriate because she was a fiery Cajun girl from around Thibodeaux, and for a little while her spirit lived in me.

I’m not saying what I’m working on is going to be a book; probably nobody wants to read about my south Louisiana travels, but I’m just going with it for now, happy to be writing again. Happy to have ideas and sentences again.

The writing process is a weird thing.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

My Medium Writing Experiment Update

Photo by Art Lasovsky on Unsplash
As I posted here in January, I've been doing most of my writing on Medium lately. Medium is a large blogging platform which hosts many different publications within the platform. It also has the added benefit of having a huge audience which means that more readers will potentially be exposed to my posts. Even better, I can earn some pocket change when I write. 

Medium is an open platform where you can tailor what kind of stories you see. You pick what categories of things you like to read about: Environment, Culture, Fiction, Design, Health and Wellness, that sort of thing. Everyone's front page looks different because it's tailored to your interests. The more you read, the more the algorithm learns what you want to see. The more categories you select, the more diverse your front page is. 

Even famous and well known authors write there: I follow Susan Orlean, author of The Library Book, who posts often. Jon Krakauer writes there, and many others, including some well known politicians.

I started this experiment with Medium in January and want to ride it out at least twelve months and see if I see any growth in both readership and in earnings. So far, I've published twenty-seven articles there and my "views" have more than tripled in the last thirty days. My earnings have more than tripled as well, but when you start out at pennies, any amount of growth is good! Let's just say I'm not in the "hundred dollar club" yet.

I'm still posting here, of course. I'm comfortable here and this is my personal blog where I know my readers and they know me. But, I'm going to keep on with my Medium experiment and see what happens. 

So, if you want to check out my stuff over there, which is different from the stuff over here, here's my link and here's the Medium front page

See ya there!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Dystopian Shreveport: What are the Answers to Survival?

Living in Shreveport these days is turning into some kind of twisted, dystopian experience. It is no exaggeration to note that shootings occur every single day in this city, sometimes multiple times, and often with injuries or fatalities. It is tragic anytime a life is lost to this senseless violence but it seems even more so when an innocent life, or a beautiful child, is lost.

And we accept this. 

On March 20, 2021, five-year old Mya Patel was killed when she was hit by a stray bullet.

Wednesday, March 24, social media reflected multiple audio recordings of shots fired early in the evening, shots I heard clearly while reading in my bedroom.

March 30, a woman a few blocks from me was shot in the hip; luckily she is okay.

March 31, Xavier Griffin, 19 years old, shot and killed in the Queensborogh neighborhood. Nineteen years old.

Last night, April 2, one was killed and others injured in multiple shootings.

It is literally every single day or night - doesn't matter what time -- and we are doing nothing about this. You can check the Caddo 911 Active Emergency Events page and almost every single time you'll see a shots fired or a shootings call, and those don't include the ones that never make it to the page or are "holding," waiting for available officers. 

We are doing nothing about it.

"But, what can we do?!"  I hear you. I don't have those answers. My layman's opinion would be to first work through the local elections process to elect leaders tough on crime, willing to enforce penalties on criminals. From the mayor, to the District Attorney, to the city council and the parish commission, we need support. 

We need police officers and the money to pay them. Shreveport ranks woefully low in police pay and our officers do not stay. We need the best and the brightest, willing to work hard for good pay.

We need jobs. We need businesses to come here to grow the tax base and to provide employment. We need all levels of jobs, from the trades to the administrative. We can't continue to depend simply on service industry jobs as our main employers. 

Businesses won't come without decent infrastructure. Our streets are literally crumbling, our water system is collapsing (not to mention their mismanaged billing practices), and the city is covered in trash, litter, and empty buildings. 

We need a vibrant downtown. The downtown area is trying: there are some places to eat, a few renovated buildings for apartments, you can see a movie, look at buildings. Many people avoid downtown due to safety issues. Maybe we need bicycle or mounted units there. Maybe we need more options for our large homeless population on the streets there. 

We need so many things. Old time Shreveporters often speak of the "good ol' days" when we had sports teams like The Shreveport Captains, where families could go enjoy a game on a pretty afternoon or evening. Now, our baseball stadium is empty, crumbling, and filled with bats and toxic guano.

Neil Johnson postcard photo.

For the most part, unless you want to drink or gamble, there is not much for families to do here. There are a few things...SciPort is downtown, and the Aquarium. What else? Someone help me. I know I'm forgetting something -- my kids are grown.

Before anything else happens, safety has got to be addressed. Perhaps I am alone in my concern. Perhaps I am in the minority when I balk at going to Betty Virginia Park to walk or spend an afternoon outside. Maybe I'm the only one who is constantly on guard when I walk my neighborhood.  Maybe nobody else has started taking their dogs out at night earlier, or in the backyard rather than the front yard. Maybe nobody else has installed surveillance cameras around their home. Maybe I'm the only one much more cautious about locking their car at night. Maybe nobody else has had packages stolen off their front porch. 

Maybe all this is just my perception.

I long to see a thriving Shreveport with businesses like when we had Western Electric, General Motors, Kast Metals, Libby Glass, Poulan WeedEater, to name a few. The Captains played baseball in their new stadium and people sat in the beer garden eating hot dogs and sipping nickel beer. New malls and shopping centers dotted the city, and parks were growing. People ate at local restaurants, like Sansone's, Brocato's, Abe's, Monsour's, The Centenary Oyster House, George's, and Fertitta's, to name a few. Downtown was bustling with department stores like Selber's, Hearne's, Rubensteins, and Palais Royal. You could grab lunch at a nice, fancy place downtown or a quick, inexpensive burger place. You felt safe. You could park in the Selber's parking garage and not worry about your car or about getting panhandled or mugged. Shreve Square was hopping on weekend nights: great bands in multiple clubs, people walking between them, great restaurants, good times.

Have you seen the building where The Sportspage or Humphrees used to be?

Humpfrees, 2021. 

We could reminisce about the glory days forever, and everybody knows times change and nothing stays the same, but the truth is, other cities adapt better than we have. When you travel, when you leave the city and see other places, even places within say a three hour radius, it is stunning to see the difference. 

It's possible to have a clean city with happy people. But Shreveport feels like a city with a cloud of gloom over it. We can talk it up and pretend to be positive. I know people will jump on me and say that it's the negative people like me that keeps it down. "If you hate it here so much, why don't you leave!?" I've heard it. 

The answer is I'd like to be part of a solution, not stick my head in the sand and pretend like it's great. It's not great. Listen to that gunfire every night and tell me how great that is.

So. What's the solution. What do we do, Shreveport? What are the answers?

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Covid Club

Well, it was really just a matter of time, but here we are with Covid.

Last week my husband felt really fatigued and felt "sinusy." It didn't get any better so he went down for a Covid test; in twenty-four hours his negative results came back. Thinking he just had a cold, and that the incessant rain and damp weather might be part of the problem, he went on about his routine.

Tuesday, this week, I was at school when I noticed a dry, non-productive cough come up. I was tired. No fever. I decided to take Wednesday off and rest; but then fever started. I went to Urgent Care and got a rapid test. 


I've got to say, the fella at Oschner Urgent Care was wonderful; his enthusiasm for his job was great! He was so pleasant and he asked if it was my first Covid test. 

"Yes..." I said. He could sense my panic as he held this very long swab in his gloved hand.

He explained exactly what would happen; I said okay and he did the test. 

He sent me back out to my car and said he'd call in ten minutes.

In five he called.  "You are POSITIVE for Covid-19!" like I'd won the lottery. 

"You're kidding..." I said.

"I would NOT kid about something like that!" He gave me the stay at home directions, told me Oschner would be reaching out to check on me, and that was it.

Once my positive results came back, Steve went to Urgent Care and did a rapid test; Positive.

So, here we are.

I feel like he should be on the tail end of his Covid because we both feel like he was positive last week but just tested too soon. An article in the Washington Post explains:

Early in an infection, the virus may not have reproduced enough to be detectable. The false negative rate of PCR tests on the day of exposure is 100 percent, but falls to about 38 percent five days later as symptoms usually set in, according to an analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The rate decreases further, to about 20 percent, after three more days.

His PCR test last week may have been too soon.

So far our symptoms have been manageable. I feel like I have a mild cold although there is a tightness or light pressure in my chest, and behind my ribs in the back. It's weird. We are both fatigued. I have low fever in the evening, around 99. No cough right now. I have headache but that's not all that uncommon for me.

We made notifications to our close contacts.

Neither one of us knows where we got this. I assume I got it from Steve, which is crazy because I was always so certain I would get it from my classroom. My classes are full and we are only two feet apart. I am very grateful that my students were probably not exposed. Monday and Tuesday they were working on Chromebooks writing narratives and I was able to monitor and assist from my own computer through Google classroom. I was not within six feet of any of them and I stay masked all the time.

Going forward in our quarantine, I'm trying to take it easy and let my body fight the virus. It is so hard for me to sit still, so I have to make myself leave the laundry alone, not clean out a closet or drawer, not do yardwork. It's a perfect time to write, I suppose. I'm trying to stay in touch with my students through Google Classroom. We have one of those oxygen meter things and our numbers are good.

If you're a praying sort, we will certainly be grateful for your prayers for a mild bout and a quick return to good health! 

Stay safe and wash your hands!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Curious: Is Anyone Reading Medium?

As usual, I am a little late to the party, but this week I decided to start writing on Medium

Medium is basically a blogging platform, but it seems to be a decent place to post from time to time because of the built in audience.  Launched in August 2012 by Evan Williams, one of the co-founders of Twitter, Medium has a pretty solid following. It's not clear how many subscribers have signed up for the $5 monthly subscription fee, but estimates range from 200,000 to 400,000. 

While one can read for free on Medium, some articles are behind a paywall. You can read three free articles a month on the site, but if you pony up the $5 a month, you're supporting independent journalism because the writers get paid. We don't get paid for the three free articles. 

I kind of stumbled on Medium this spring when this article by Tomas Pueyo went viral and was popping up all over the place. I thought the article was a really well done piece and if that was any indicator of what kind of work was on Medium, I wanted to know more. I've been reading there ever since, and at some point I subscribed. 

On Medium you can tailor your home screen to the types of articles you want to see by simply following categories. I've set mine to coronavirus articles, culture, history, humor, environment...that kind of thing. I like a mix of things. There's a category for writing, too, but I'm getting a lot of articles about how to write on Medium that are weighing my feed down. I might take that one off.

The site hosts professional and amateur writers and so again, pick and choose. Authors seem to be paid by views and engagement: how long someone spends on your article, claps (which is similar to the "like" button), and shares. It's all about exposure and building a following. 

I have concerns about spreading myself too thin: I blog here, at Datechguy blog, and now on Medium as well as working on my second book. But, I'm curious to see if I can spark up a following on Medium which would then develop into a little extra cash in my pocket, which is always a good thing. As my retirement date draws closer, I know that I will have more free time for writing, and so for the moment, I think I can handle three blogging platforms. My posts at each will be quite different because the audience for each is different.

We shall see.

I'm curious if any of you are Medium readers? If not, check the site out and let me know honestly what you think about it. Like I said, you get three free articles per month. Give it a shot and get back to me.

Friday, November 27, 2020

A New SIGIS Series is Coming

My last post in this space was in July and was the most recent in a series of posts about the coronavirus and returning to the classroom during a pandemic. I've had a busy fall and school for me, for everyone, has been very different, but still the same too. 

Since the spring we have all learned a lot more about the virus. Politicization of the virus has created huge divisions in thinking and approach, but in the classroom none of that comes into play. In my classroom, we are socially distanced as much as possible, for example. This was a lot easier when we did the hybrid A/B schedule, but that was not working for the students, so when we returned to normal schedule, I've returned to pretty much normal numbers in the desks. This means nobody is really spread out anymore. So, we clean and sanitize a whole lot. 

The latest data suggests getting the virus from surfaces is a long shot, but we clean anyway. I'm not taking chances. Between every single class I spray and wipe the desks and let them dry the required ten minutes, although between blocks three and four the dry time doesn't happen. When we use Chromebooks, those get wiped down too. High touch surfaces are wiped constantly and we don't share supplies. 

We wear masks. The students, for the most part, are pretty good about it, but I see them getting lax as time goes on. I have a few that I've battled from day one to keep the mask on, or pulled up. But, I'd say 95% of my students are in compliance and that's not a bad number. 

The massive outbreaks of Covid have not happened. There have been cases, sure, but in a pandemic we expect this. Nobody has become critically ill that I know about, however we only really hear about exposures through the grapevine. That, and when someone comes into your room with a yardstick and pulls kids out for the fourteen day quarantine. This has not happened in my room, but it's happened. 

So, it's really not been as bad as we thought initially. And with this knowledge, it's easier to see that the benefit of being in school is so much better than keeping the kids at home.  The kids need the normalcy of school and they need the structure, the social aspect, the food, the security net. 

I don't really regret going back, as nervous as I was.

With numbers rising again, we just need to stay vigilant. I can't spread kids out in my classroom, and my windows don't open, so ventilation is poor. I bought an air purifier which I have on all the time, and maybe that does some good. I don't know. As we return to school after Thanksgiving break, we will have to reaffirm our diligence to cleaning, mask-wearing, distancing, as much as possible. More outbreaks are inevitable. 

I have six more months before I retire from the classroom after twenty-five years. With that in mind, I'm beginning a new series in this space inspired by a teacher friend of mine who is also retiring this year. She and I have been childhood friends, taught together for five years in Caddo Parish, and we are both retiring this year although she has more years in than I do. She's been doing a series on her Facebook page, "Tales of a Teacher" and it's been a lot of fun to read. I hope she compiles them in a book when she retires! Duly inspired, I'm going to record my reflections in this space. 

I've been compiling these in my head for about twenty years. I won't ever publish them in a book; when I retire, I will be writing more books but one about teaching won't be one of them. Any reflecting I do will be right here. 

Lots of teachers write memoirs, I think. I don't usually read them...I mean, I live it every day. In my opinion, the best, most honest teacher "memoir" has already been written. Bel Kauffman's Up the Down Staircase is blisteringly funny and oh so true! No one should go into teaching without reading it. It may be a little dated, but it's still all so true. If that's what I could name this series without getting sued, I would.

I taught French in Caddo for five years...I wasn't certified to teach French, but if I'd been asked to teach calculus I'd have figured it out and done it. I needed a job. I moved to Bossier High School in 2001; my career in Bossier Parish began with 9/11 and it's ending in a pandemic. But it's been my home for twenty years and I never gave one second thought to leaving my school. You'll see why.

Teaching has been an incredibly rewarding career; I've met the most memorable kids, a few forgettable ones, some fabulous administrators, and made some of the best friends I will ever have. I've been inspired every single day. Sometimes I've been red hot angry and wanted to blow everything up with my words; other times, moved to tears by the love I have for my job, my friends, my school, my classroom, my students, and the difference we as teachers and administrators make every single day. 

You'll hear about all of it, the good, the bad, the love and inspiration.

My picture for this post is the pathway I walk every morning when I get to school at 6:35 a.m.. Come on inside with me.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: National Anxiety over Opening School

As we begin to explore strategies to reopen school this fall, teachers across the country are experiencing anxiety about their own safety, that of their students, and that of their own families. It is an agonizing position.

Many teachers feel they must choose between their health, and the health of their family, or their career.

Teachers are collecting Lysol wipes, pricing room foggers for sanitation, and stockpiling gloves and masks. Some are collecting page protectors that can be sanitized and plastic pencil cases.

Let's be clear. If we are talking about putting pencils in individual plastic boxes so nobody else touches them, if we are worried about getting Coronavirus from a pencil, we have already lost this debate.

This back-to-school debate has exploded since the President spoke last week and said that schools must reopen or risk losing funding. I've been reading one article and study after another all week long, and they keep on coming.

Districts across the country are trying to figure out how to do this safely. It is a Herculean and perhaps impossible task and I do not envy these decision makers.

What absolutely must be done is that each community must decide if opening school is safe for them; to do this there must be low community spread of the virus. Currently, Louisiana has a 97% community spread.  As of this writing, cases are climbing as are hospitalizations.

Across the country, it is estimated that at least one-fourth of our teachers are 50 years old or older. Many teachers are themselves in a high-risk group and many more live with someone who is. While teachers are worried about their students, we are also worried about the health and safety of our own families.

For some teachers, a return to the classroom would also mean self-quarantine from their elderly parents to avoid risk of exposing them as well.

And yes, it is true that essential workers have been on the job for months. But unlike a grocery cashier, a delivery driver, or even a doctor or nurse, a teacher will be confined in a classroom with 25 or more students every single day for at least seven hours. Many of these classrooms are in older buildings with poor ventilation and windows that cannot be opened.

We are looking at returning to school with daily temperature checks of students and staff, seven hours in face masks, and a barrage of cleaning chemicals and heavy sanitation measures. Students will have to keep six feet apart (maybe three feet with masks, but I'd prefer six), there can be no sharing of materials like pencils or Chomebooks (what about library books?). Hand washing has been recommended every two hours. How many portable hand washing stations will that mean for a school with 1200 students or more?

And  all that hand washing goes right out the window once the kid pulls out his cellphone, doesn't it?

It's all very dystopian.

We can't let our overwhelming desire for a normal return cloud our better judgement for safety of all of us.

Teachers across the country have come up with some sensible strategies, and while they are not always easy to do, some of them make sense, like keeping upper grades virtual for nine weeks, or until this is under control, and using our buildings and classrooms for lower grades where kids are less at risk, and for kids needing special services. This would enable classes to be quite small and spread out.

Teachers have a lot of questions and here are just a few of mine:

1. Who is going to wipe down my room between classes every day? Where will all of these disinfectant wipes come from? I haven’t seen any since March. Will we use bleach? How will this affect kids with asthma?

2. Will my classes truly be 10 to 15 students? I normally have 25 or more and we are literally on top of each other in my small room.

3.  Under our proposed Phase 2 hybrid model students will be on an A/B schedule and attend every other Friday. If little Johnny shows up on the wrong Friday, are we sending him home? Keeping him? In class? Who will watch him?

4.  Will there be an isolation room for kids with fever or symptoms to stay until a parent comes to get them?

5. Will there be daily temperature checks? At the front door or in homeroom? Once an infected person is in the building, what’s the point? By the time he gets to homeroom he will have exposed many other people.

6. Who will be quarantined if there is a positive case of COVID-19 in a classroom? For how long?

7. If students have to eat lunch in the classroom, masks will be off and there will be much talking; exposure will still be high. When will the teacher get a break?

8. When the inevitable teacher shortage comes due to early retirements and illness, where will all of the subs come from? Subs are often in high risk categories themselves.

9. Will teachers be required to cover classes when there are no subs?

10.  If masks are required, what of the student who shows up without one, wears it improperly, refuses to wear it, takes it off, shoots it across the room, wears a bra cup on his face instead of a mask, etc. Are we to be mask police, too?

11. What will be done to improve ventilation in classrooms with windows sealed shut?

12. How do we ensure students are washing hands every two hours as the CDC guidelines, and the Louisiana Strong Start guidelines suggest? Will there be handwashing stations throughout the schools? Hand sanitizer stations?

13.  Will schools be provided extra personnel to manage all of this?

I feel like I work at the absolute best high school in the world and I work for the best administrators ever born -- no doubt. And our students? They are solid gold; they are loving, kind, wonderful kids and we all feel like family. I want normal school. Don't be confused. I want normal school. I want to look my students in the eyes, I want to be able to tell if they are okay, and I want to help them when they need me to. I want to keep that crate of snacks for the hungry ones, and I want explain a concept in class so that everyone understands what we are learning and why. I love my kids. I love the hugs in the hall, the high-fives, the ones that come stop in on their way to the bathroom or office just to say hi.

School gives me joy. But how can we have that if we are worried about dying from a pencil?


Here is a short list of some of the things I've been reading this week; it's not homework, you don't have to read them. But I decided I wanted to collect them in one place, so here they are.

Further Reading:

Shut and Reopen: the role of schools in the spread of Covid-19 in Europe.  (A UK study whitepaper, 6/20/2020)
"A large-scale reopening of schools while controlling or suppressing the epidemic appears feasible in countries such as Denmark or Norway, where community transmission is generally low. However, school reopening can contribute to significant increases in the growth rate in countries like Germany, where community transmission is relatively high. Our findings underscore the need for a cautious evaluation of reopening strategies that ensure low classroom occupancy and a solid infrastructure to quickly identify and isolate new infections."

I Don't Want to go Back: Many Teachers Are Fearful and Angry over Pressure to Return. (New York Times, 7/11/2020).
"Teachers say crucial questions about how schools will stay clean, keep students physically distanced and prevent further spread of the virus have not been answered. And they feel that their own lives, and those of the family members they come home to, are at stake."

E-Learning is Inevitable for US High Schools Next Year (Medium, 7/10/2020)
"However, the only way to eliminate the risk of transmission during in-person school would be to know with certainty that no one who enters the building is COVID-19 positive. Unless schools can accurately test every person who enters the building every day with real-time results, the spread of COVID-19 in schools will occur and that type of real-time accurate testing capacity will not be possible by this fall for any school let alone all schools."

Epidemiologist: Schools Can Open Safely, and Here's How. (Sherman, TX Herald Democrat, 7/11/2020)
"The focus should be on protecting teachers. It begins with a robust testing program, so they feel safe in the classroom. We know that uncertainty about one’s health and the health of others makes it difficult to feel confident enough to return to work."

No One Wins, but No One Dies: What School Must Look Like... (The Suitcase Scholar, 7/9/2020)
Because no matter how much you want this school year to look like any other school year, it can not and it will not. If we want to accomplish all three of these goals, here’s how it can be done...

How to Reopen Schools: What Science and Other Countries Teach Us (New York Times, 7/11/2020)
"As school districts across the United States consider whether and how to restart in-person classes, their challenge is complicated by a pair of fundamental uncertainties: No nation has tried to send children back to school with the virus raging at levels like America’s, and the scientific research about transmission in classrooms is limited."

Nobody Asked Me: A Teacher's Opinion on School Reopening (Teacher Life Blog, 7/9/2020)
"Remote learning isn’t most people’s first choice, but it is a safer solution in the meantime, while we figure out this global health crisis. It is also hard to imagine how much learning would be taking place in the classroom anyway after they wait in their 75 foot long lines to wash their hands for 20 seconds multiple times a day. School days are already crammed full and now we will be adding in disinfecting constantly, monitoring for symptoms, sending kids to “quarantine”, trying to get ahold of parents, dealing with masks, giving “mask breaks”, etc."

Study of School Reopening Models and Implementation Approaches During the Covid-19 Pandemic (Covid-19 Literature Report Team whitepaper PDF, 7/6/2020)
"This document is a brief summary of the models and implementation approaches to re-opening schools that focuses on the approaches used in 15 countries for which we were able to identify data."

One in Four Teachers at Greater Risk from Coronavirus (CNN, 7/10/2020)
"Nearly 1.5 million teachers are at higher risk of serious illness if they contract coronavirus, according to an analysis released Friday evening. These teachers and instructors, about 24% of the total, suffer from health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity, or are older than age 65, which make them more vulnerable, the Kaiser Family Foundation report found."

These Arizona Teachers Shared a Classroom for Summer School: All 3 contracted Covid-19, 1 died. (USA Today, 7/10/2020)
"The educators decided to teach virtually while together in the same classroom, but took what they thought were extensive measures: They wore masks, they disinfected equipment and kept distance between each other."

The Case Against Reopening Schools During the Pandemic: by a Fifth Grade Teacher (Washington Post, 7/10/2020)
"Safety is the prerequisite for all learning. Ordinarily, we offer hugs and reassurance when a child is upset. We encourage students to walk their peers to the nurse’s office when they get injured on the playing field. We give high-fives and pats on the back when students achieve their goals. We provide private spaces for students to share confidential information, or to de-escalate from distress. In a social-distancing school setting, everything is inverted. Closeness and warmth are now dangerous. Students and teachers must remain hypervigilant, watching for face mask violations, friends too near, an uncovered cough, unwashed hands, and unsanitized surfaces."

Nation's Pediatricians Walk Back Support for In-Person School (NPR, 7/10/2020)
"The American Academy of Pediatrics once again plunged into the growing debate over school reopening with a strong new statement Friday, making clear that while in-person school provides crucial benefits to children, "Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics." The statement also said that "science and community circumstances must guide decision-making."

Covid-19 is as Deadly and Dangerous as Ever. (Medium, 7/8/2020)
"The idea that Covid-19 is becoming less dangerous or deadly is false, the latest data reveals. “The virus is as lethal as ever,” researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute said in a statement. “Deaths and hospitalizations are rising in hot spots around the country. Exactly as public health experts feared.”

Mounting Evidence Suggests Coronavirus is Airborne--but Health Advice has not Caught Up. (Scientific American, 7/8/2020)
"Converging lines of evidence indicate that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, can pass from person to person in tiny droplets called aerosols that waft through the air and accumulate over time. After months of debate about whether people can transmit the virus through exhaled air, there is growing concern among scientists about this transmission route."

Large Antibody Study Adds to Evidence Herd Immunity to Covid-19 is Unachievable (FOX-17, "Nashville, 7/6/2020)
To achieve what epidemiologists call herd immunity, mathematical modelers suggest at least between 60% and 70% of people would need to be immune to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are two paths to herd immunity for COVID-19: vaccines and infection. Vaccines would be the ideal approach, though experts say its effects can wane over time. Another path would be infection, but there's much still unknown about COVID-19, including if having the virus makes a person immune to future infection."

Spike in Cornavirus Cases Means some Schools Won't Open at all this Fall (EdSource, 7/10/2020)
"As coronavirus cases spike across California, some school districts are making the decision to keep campuses closed to most students and to educate them online next school year. Districts in Los Angeles County, which has more coronavirus cases than any county in the state, are preparing for the possibility of classes being completely online at the start of the school year. In neighboring San Bernardino County, its school district this week announced classes would resume next month online."

I'm an Epidemiologist and a dad: Here's Why I think schools should Reopen (Vox, 7/9/2020)

The same will likely be true in schools. The potential risk to teachers, therefore, goes beyond the classroom. Staff risk in schools likely looks similar to the risk of any adult working in a crowded indoor environment during the pandemic. School opening plans must consider teacher safety in addition to the well-being of students.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Anxiety

I'm tired of this virus. Aren't you?

It's been several weeks since I posted about it; my original intent in even writing about Covid in this space was to keep a sort of record for my own later recollection about this very strange time in which we are living.

My productivity has improved; I've made some progress on my next book project and have finally moved into the actual writing part. I'm still doing some research as it arises, but I'm at least working. For the first several weeks of this pandemic I was mired in inertia and could do nothing productive except devour the internet for news on the pandemic.

So, there's that.

I am out of sorts today because I am at this moment missing my grandson's eighth birthday party because of the pandemic. Both Louisiana, where I am, and Texas, where he is, are citing spiking case numbers. So, err on the side of caution.  We really have been trying to be careful.

And we usually travel to Iowa about this time every year to visit family, but again, not worth the risk. My husband's mother is definitely in the high risk group because of age.

All of this, yet we are talking about returning to school in what....five weeks?

I have so many questions and concerns about that. Right now, our numbers are spiking.

I know that leaders and administrators are doing their best to make good decisions. And people tell me, "The kids need to be in school! We have to go back!"

But I have concerns.

And I don't have those answers yet.

So, I worry.

Like, if I get exposed, do I have to use my sick leave to self-quarantine for fourteen days? How many times will this happen?

What about new teachers with no accumulated sick leave; is pay docked when you can't work because of Covid?

What about teachers that live with high-risk family members? Are we supposed to abandon that caution simply because the kids need to go back to school?

Do I have to sanitize my desks between each class? Where in the world will all of that sanitizer come from? I haven't seen Lysol wipes in the store since March.

Do I have to teach both in-person and virtually for those who opt for a virtual classroom?

If our school is on an A/B block, and one cohort comes on Monday and another on Tuesday, what is going to keep the Monday kids from infecting the Tuesday kids when the teacher sees them all and gets the virus and exposes them all?

How many students will actually be in my classroom and am I going to be able to space them out far enough?

How in the world am I actually going to be able to teach through a mask?

There are so many questions. I've talked to colleagues who tell me to chill out; it's no worse than the flu and we get through flu season every year. But COVID-19 is not the flu, and in many cases has serious after effect and long recovery times. According to The New York Times:

Patients may leave the hospital with scarring, damage or inflammation that still needs to heal in the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver or other organs. This can cause a range of problems, including urinary and metabolism issues.

As I said, I live with a person who meets most of the high-risk criteria, and age-wise, while we aren't 65, we aren't far off, either.

So yeah, I have a lot, a whole lot, of anxiety about returning to school.

In all likelihood, I'll be just fine, and once I get back to work and into my routine, it will have been much ado about nothing. But, I'm a worrier.

So, I'm recording those worries here, so hopefully come August, or September, when I look back at this I will laugh and chastise myself for being such a ninny.

I hope.

Additional Reading:
How the Hell Are We Going to do This? (Politico 7/4/20)
Strong Start 2020: Louisiana's Plan
Teachers Worry About Return to Classroom Amid Surges in Covid-19 (ABC News)

Recording Covid-19 (March 17)
Surreal Times (March 18)
The Corona Chronicles: Day 3 (March 19)
The Corona Chronicles: Spring Cleaning (March 21)
The Corona Chronicles: Rising Numbers (March 26)
The Corona Chronicles: Unfocused (March 29)
The Corona Chronicles: Be Kind (April 3)
The Corona Chronicles: Stir Crazy (April 13)
The Corona Chronicles: Classroom Cleanout (May 15)

Monday, June 22, 2020

Summer Reading 2020

Read anything good lately?

I have been reading like a mad woman during the COVID-quarantine, so I'm going to share some of my favorites with you.

Coming out this week is Megan Miranda's The Girl from Widow Hills (June 23).  I loved her book,The Last House Guest, which was the Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick for August 2019.

The Girl from Widow Hills is even better.

It is difficult to review this book without spoilers. The story centers on a woman named Arden who at age six went missing during a storm and was dramatically rescued on live television. The story captivated the nation and the publicity nearly destroyed Arden and her mother. As a young woman, Arden leaves Widow Hills, changes her name to Olivia, and begins a new life. When Arden/Olivia finds a dead body behind her house, she's not certain if she is the murderer or if someone else is.

I can't give away more, but the characters include Arden's addict mother, a policewoman who wants to solve the murder case, and a neighbor named Rick. Throw in a mysterious box of her mother's effects, and you have all the ingredients for a great psychological thriller and an ending that will surprise you.

I really enjoyed this book and was thrilled to receive an advance copy through Simon & Schuster and NetGalley.

Coming out next week is the graphic novel version of The Great Gatsby.

I had an opportunity to read this book thanks to Scribner and NetGalley, and as a high school teacher,
I can tell you that I am grateful to have this book for my very visual students who resist picking up a classic novel because "It's too many words!"

I've pulled more than a few students into To Kill a Mockingbird through the graphic novel version of that great novel, so I anticipate that teachers and librarians across the country will be glad to pick up this interpretation of Gatsby.

The story is still there; F. Scott Fitzgerald's words are still there, now supported by terrific graphic illustrations.

Check it out!

Coming up in August: everyone's favorite -- Fredrick Backman -- has Anxious People coming out. For anyone who loved A Man Called Ove, or Beartown, or any of Backman's other charming stories, you will not be disappointed in this one. I'll post a full review soon, but trust me, I loved this book almost as much as Ove.

What are you reading?!

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Classroom Cleanout

I went to the school this morning to get a few things and clean out a little bit. It was much harder than I anticipated.

On a Friday morning at 10:30, second block should have been winding to a close and kids should have been anxiously waiting for the lunch bell at 10:40. The mid-day announcements would be coming over the intercom.

By the time I left, about 11:00, there should have been kids in the halls, duty teachers monitoring those kids, microwaves across campus warming up teacher lunches. The office should have been bustling, Mrs. Kiper laughing and lobbing wise cracks with kids and administrators. The library should have been filled with kids using the computers or playing board games at the tables. The courtyard should have been filled with kids burning off a little energy before third block. Teachers should have been making that last dash to the restroom before the long afternoon classes start.

I didn't see any of that today.

The halls were dark.

The parking lot was empty.

There were ZERO students on campus.  My room was quiet as a tomb.

My room would have normally had a couple of kids in there eating lunch about that time of the day.

Instead, I found empty desks, library books abandoned in the baskets underneath.

I sighed, looked around, and went to get my things that I needed to work from home.

I missed the sound of kids, and the notes they'd leave for me if they came by while I was out.

Every single kid was important to me, is important to me, and it just feels like we didn't get to finish what we started. It feels tragic and sad...unfinished.

Their journals were still on my desk, graded, ready to return.

We left school on the Friday before Spring Break: March 6. My assignments from that day are still written on the board.

We all expected to come back to school when we left that day. Kids took library books home, textbooks, projects to finish, uniforms to wash, schedules to fill out for next year, and plans. They had plans for their graduation, prom, ring ceremonies, sporting events, and yes, academics. None of that happened.

So yes, all of that literally hangs in the air when you walk in the halls now. It's a tangible thing.

I cleaned out the snacks I kept in my desk for kids that needed something to eat; that won't keep until August. I took home my coffee cup, emptied the water in the Keurig. I looked through projects that weren't finished, some that were, and I scored a bottle of GermX from my supply closet. I erased my board, bagged up things I needed to take home, and I turned out the light.

I hope we NEVER have to go through this again.

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Sitr Crazy

Some quarantine reflections:

Yoga pants are very comfy. Can I wear these all the time?

BlueBell Cookie Dough Overload is really, really good.

I've seen more people walking in my neighborhood than I've ever seen before.Where have these people been?

When the apocalypse comes, I want to own stock in WalMart, grocery stores, and garden centers. Their parking lots are full.

I have gained five pounds.

I have now seen every single episode of Law and Order and Gunsmoke ever made.

Online shopping? I see how people get addicted to this. You can buy anything online. Except toilet paper. Can't buy that.

Who ever thought we would live in a day and age where people post pictures of their toilet tissue scores on social media. "Twenty four pack!  Score!"

Jigsaw puzzles are coveted items. Simpler times, no?

I really miss baseball.

I'm very grateful for my Kindle and the Libby app; I've just finishing reading Michael Henry's Luffing to Cuba: Sailing with Asbo, which was great fun. Before that, I read Tana French's The Trespasser, which means now I've read all of her novels. Before that, I read A Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke. I can go on...

I will meet my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for this year. Not a problem.

I have not watched Tiger King.

Banana Nut Bread is delicious.

If we replaced Ice Cream Trucks with Margarita Trucks, or beer trucks, things might get interesting. Someone do this, please.

I need more yoga pants.

How much longer are we doing this?

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Be Kind

Quarantine is so much more of a challenge when the forecast is seven or eight days of rain.  More of a rain/sunshine balance is optimal for me. Less rain. More sun.

The nagging guilt to be creative and work on my book has been alleviated a little bit in recent days. Ella Dawson wrote a blog post that really resonated with me as she articulated exactly what I've been feeling these past few weeks:

We still get to live with all the bullshit we dealt with before, only now there are more layoffs, fewer healthcare benefits, more push notifications, less safety for our loved ones. Rent still needs to be paid. Debt payments still need to be paid. Groceries still need to be bought. We live with more uncertainty, more danger, more grief. This is not a #coronacation, it’s a psychological onslaught. 
Just get through the day.  
As our minds struggle to process this new normal, our muscles tense up and brace for the unknown. Our bodies throb with stress hormones as we live in a state of constant hyperarousal. All of that stress builds up in our bodies until we release it through exercise, which is easier said than done when we’re trapped inside our homes. If you’ve broken down in sudden caustic sobs, that’s your body searching for an outlet for all that cortisol. We are not going to be as productive as we were before. Anyone who urges you to keep striving has a product they’re trying to sell. Our energy is pulled in too many directions: watching the kids, worrying about our parents, flinching at the thought of our bank balances. Our bodies are operating with less. This is not weakness; it’s biology.

There's more at the link; I encourage you to read her post if you've felt as disoriented as I have lately.

I finally managed to clean out my closet this week and filled a huge black plastic bag with clothes, purses, and belts that I will never wear again. I donated them in a local drop box where I had no contact whatsoever with another human. It's the little things now that give a sense of accomplishment.

A somewhat new development in this new normal: I have discovered that I need to strictly limit my time on Facebook. So many people there are snarky and just mean. Part of this is in the obvious fact that tone does not come across well in online posts. I'm finding Instagram is a much nicer place these days.

On my own Facebook feed, the wide majority of my posts are things I've shared that I find interesting or informative, sometimes funny. The problem comes when commenting on someone's post, specifically these neighborhood pages.

In two specific cases in the past couple of days, I've left an innocent (I thought) comment and people jump on it like sharks in the water. Example: there's been much discussion on one of these local threads about limiting the number of family members in a grocery store at one time. I made a comment about having run in and out of WalMart yesterday for one necessary item. I saw a family of five with the kids engaged in picking up items, putting them back, handling everything in sight, clogging the aisle, not observing six-feet distance, etc.

Sharks in the water. "Wow. You're criticizing people being in the store when YOU were in the store."

Several other similar comments with increasing hostility popped up and then I just deleted my comment.

And I know better. I really do.

Just be nice, people.  Be kind.

Go back to the Ella Dawson article: we are all dealing with a lot of stress right now from a lot of directions. There is no need to add to it by being ugly to anyone.

And you know, that's kind of the way it should be all of the time anyway.

Do what you have to do right now to take care of yourself. If that means distancing yourself from social media for a while, do that. If it means avoiding certain pages on social media, do that. If it makes you feel better to achieve those baby step goals, like cleaning out a closet, go for it. Bake some cupcakes, cookies, a fancy dinner.  Reading takes too much concentration right now? Do a jigsaw puzzle.

Just be nice, people. Seriously.

Nobody is going to win a prize for being the biggest jerk.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Unfocused

Three weeks into this stay at home business and things are beginning to be routine now.

I find that I can't write. This is a golden opportunity to work on my book project. There are some low cognitive things I can be doing on that, even. Things not too complex. But I can't find the attention span.

I'm having trouble reading, too. I find myself able to concentrate on a few pages at a time, but then I lose focus and turn to Facebook or Twitter, scrolling, scrolling.

That being said, there are some things that are becoming routine. I check the COVID numbers every day at noon. I check in on my students in Google classroom and leave feedback and assignments, even though I'm not to give grades at this time. I find that I am perfectly capable of mindlessly pulling weeds out of flowerbeds, cleaning out the refrigerator, and doing the laundry, but cleaning out the file cabinet is too much. Or my closet. Not happening.

I'm not sure why this is; nobody I know personally is sick or exposed (that I know of). I think it's just a general worry and anxiety that has my focus out of whack.

I am increasingly irritated at people who do not take this pandemic seriously.  These people who say that the flu is so much more deadly. Maybe that's true, maybe it's not, but we have vaccines and treatment for flu and we do not for COVID-19. This new virus incubates so much longer than flu and can infect so many more people because of that.

But whatever. I'm not going to argue the point with anyone.

I'm irritated with people who don't respect that six foot distance in the store. I try to avoid going to the grocery store unless it's a necessity. You still can't buy toilet tissue unless you are there at the crack of dawn and run around to multiple stores to check, and I'm not doing that. No Clorox wipes or anything like that in my grocery store, either. I had to make a store run this morning and was checking a carton of eggs to be sure none in the carton were broken before picking up the box, and a man walked up, leaned right in front of me, and grabbed a carton. WAY closer than six feet. No. Just stop that. Be patient and wait a minute!

Maybe I'm over reacting.

I've been obsessively following the story of Michael Bane, a fellow in Chicago who posted his COVID story on Facebook. His story is poignant and he chronicles his illness from exposure, the development and worsening of symptoms, then one scary night and near death experience, and now he is out of ICU and hopefully on the mend. I've been engrossed, and checking on his progress has become part of my routine.

I hope that this lack of focus passes and my ability to concentrate, focus, and do something productive returns soon.  I try to give myself tasks every day and I do feel some progress as I check them off my mental list, so that helps. I get outside in the sun as often as I can, and that helps, too.

How are your days going? Is this just me?