On the wrong side of truth in the internet age…

The internet may be a cesspit catering to humanity’s worst instincts, but one thing I can’t take away from it is that this interconnected series of tubes and wires had made it very, very difficult to lie. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just that it’s the kind of unintended consequence that I don’t think anyone expected when the internet came along and let us all start downloading songs on Napster.

By way of example, I’ll offer you a short story from 2002, my third and final year as a teacher, when I was already desperate to get out and mostly indifferent to the concept of consequences.

Picture it… St. Mary’s County… 2002… While I was busy lining up another job that I knew was starting in January, several friends were planning their week-long vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The problem was that the week they picked was somewhere towards the tail end of September – when the weather along the Atlantic coast was beautiful, but also when school was most decidedly in session. They wanted to know if I wanted to go along.

Me, being all of 24, did what any rational person would do and concocted a wild story of needing to be away from the classroom for a week. It couldn’t be that I was sick. Being away for a full week would have triggered the need for pesky things like a doctor’s note. I don’t remember what excuse I ginned up in the moment, but it worked well enough that I wasn’t asked for any additional evidence of need and I got to spend a long late summer week boozing with my friends and driving my Jeep on the beach. A few weeks later I was able to tell those long ago bosses that I wasn’t going to come back after Christmas break. I’d also managed to burn off all of the personal days and sick time I was entitled to take that year. So it was a win-win for me at least.

Admittedly that wasn’t my finest professional moment. Today, backed by the power of the internet, social media, and the fact that we all carry around a world-class video production center / photo studio in our pocket, trying to pull off a similar scam would be almost guaranteed career suicide. I can’t imagine a circumstance where me and a bunch of my closest friends and their significant others could spend a week beach bumming around the Outer Banks and managing to avoid being tagged in a picture. Surely I would forget to remove the geo-tag on some innocuous tweet or when posting the great view from somewhere north of Corolla Light to Insta. 

I’m not implying that the internet and our current brave new era of modern technology has in any way made us more honest, but it does feel like it has made us a hell of a lot more likely to get caught living on the wrong side of the truth. 

Time flies…

I heard a statistic this morning that 25% of the people living in the United States weren’t yet born on the morning of September 11, 2001. I don’t know how accurate that number is, but fifteen years is a pretty long time and there do seem to be an awful lot of young people wandering around these days. To them, today’s date is something from a history book – about as tangible as the attack on Pearl Harbor or the burning of Washington. For those of us who lived through that gut wrenching September day long ago, though, it’s not so much history as it is something we carry with us every day.

If I were to walk into Great Mills High School today I could show you exactly where I was standing in the lobby when someone passed by and told me about an explosion at the World Trade Center. I commented wondering why they were running old footage of the bombing back in ’93. No, that wasn’t it, they assured me, dragging me down the hall to the library where a dozen people stood gape-mouthed around a television cart.

Bells ring. Class changes. I’m due back in my own room. Walk me into that room today and I can show you exactly where I was standing, elbows propped on my lectern, when we saw the first shaky images of the Pentagon burning and then when the towers fell. A lot of these students were military kids and maybe they “got it” more than some others. It might have been the first and only time in my brief teaching career I experienced a room of quiet searching, of contemplation, and of understanding that fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters would soon be going in harms way. There was no use trying to “teach” anything at that point. The best I could manage in that moment was just talking, individual conversations about what happened, about terrorism, and about what came next.

In my head the details of that morning are still every bit as vivid as that damned bright blue sky. I don’t expect that will ever change. Time flies, they say, but there are some moments, no matter how far past that stay with you forever.

Wrong gear…

It’s the end of July. The part of me that spent two years checking off classes good for a teaching degree and then spent 28 months actually teaching still rebels this time of year. Some people go into teaching because they have a passion for their field. Some do it because they like kids and want to “touch the future.” That always seemed like a particularly pervy phrase to me, but I digress. The point is, I mostly went into teaching because it seemed like a great way to maximize time not working.

By now the average teacher is probably yelling at me about all the time they spend prepping, planning, grading, collaborating, talking to parents, and taking refreshed training after class, on weekends, and over the summer. My solution to that was to simply not do those things. I was usually in my room 30 minutes before the first bell only because that gave me time to eat whatever breakfast I picked up on my way in from the house and the busses barely cleared the parking lot before I was headed for the doors at the end of the day. As for grading on the weekends, at night, or at some other time when I wasn’t getting paid for it? Yeah. Forget about it. I guess someone people work for love, but I’ve always been more a “work for money” type of guy. Maybe that’s another reason the whole teaching career never took off, but again I digress.

What I seem to have at the moment is a distinct lack of motivation and the deep seated wish that all manner of jobs came with a 45-day chunk of free time right around the middle of summer. Sure, I’m making sure the paper shuffles from here to there, but in my head isn’t even in the same city as the ballpark where the game’s being played. That’s not a good long-term plan. Once the days start getting shorter and the nights cooler, I’ll snap back to reality. Right now I feel like a car running in the wrong gear – still moving forward, but doing it in a monumentally inefficient way… and you just can’t fix that shit with more cowbell.

Casting around…

After spending two years milling about with Nobody Told Me… The Cynic’s Guide for New Employees and a few months hashing out What Annoys Jeff this Week: 2012 in Review, it feels a bit odd to be sitting here without a current work in progress. Not a bad odd, just a different one. I should be putting this time to good use on something, but so far I have no earthly idea what that will be at the moment. Of course there will be a 2013 eBook edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week, but with 24 regular weekly installments yet to be written, I’m nowhere near interested in putting the cart so far out in advance of the horse. In the meantime, I’ll just sit here hoping that inspiration strikes in a big way.

For a few weeks there I was tinkering around with the idea of working up a survival guide for new teachers, but that experience is so far in the past, getting somewhere beyond the obvious was a problem. I wish I would have kept better notes of the pitfalls and foibles of my brief brush with the teaching profession. Sadly, I didn’t start keeping detailed book until I shifted careers and realized the true value of documenting most everything. Since fiction doesn’t really feel like my genre and God knows I don’t want to get bogged down into a multi-year long research project, I’ll keep casting around until I land on something that can hold my interest for 20 or 30,000 words.

If anyone has ideas, consider this your opportunity to become part of the process.

Back in the day…

The days are getting longer. The air is warming up. Another lifetime ago when I was a teacher, this was the time of year when I could start to smell summer vacation coming on. Sure, it was still two months off, but in my head those glorious two months of having absolutely nothing to do were right around the corner. My itch to get on with vacation was every bit as strong as any student’s might be. Even now, after I’ve spent three times longer being not a teacher than I spent in the classroom, I still feel the almost gravitational draw of summer vacation. When June rolls around and I’m still sitting in the office, it still comes as something of a shock to the system.

All things considered, summer is pretty much the only thing I miss about the teaching profession. Sure, a couple of the students turned out to be real people who I legitimately enjoy staing in touch with (Yes, you know who you are). But seriously, talk about a career path that someone was completely ill-suited for. Sheesh. What was I thinking? Still, summer vacation is a pretty big draw. The price you have to pay to get those two months off was just do damned high for me.

Looking out the window at a sun filled spring morning, makes me wish just for a minute that things were different… but then I remember the parents, administrators, standardized tests, certifications, low pay, general lack discipline, requirements to leave no child behind, and the unbridled hell that was “service learning” and I’m reasonably happy to be sitting here in my cube.