Teacher Self Care and a Finals Week Playlist

I won’t lie, this quarter has been rough.

Being an adjunct for a living means that I have to bounce back and forth between schools, and since “rent” isn’t one of those optional costs, I end up having to take classes that I otherwise wouldn’t. Like this quarter, where I somehow ended up with a three day weekend ever week, and four 15 hour days in a row. Sixty hour weeks in four days. My body has become a battleground between sleep deprivation and caffeine fighting it out for supremacy on a daily basis.

To the individuals who have asked me what I do for a “real” job:  fuck you and your supercilious selves.  I help people think critically, achieve their dreams, and I can keep a room full of people interested and engaged in the subtle sciences of math… and I make it fun. Go back to your banal jobs and your white-washed racism you fuckwits.

My classes have been pretty good, with the occasional exception here and there. Fall quarters I always see students biting off more than they can chew, and new students have the fun job of trying to learn how to balance being a student with living the rest of their lives. For whatever reason this quarter my students’ families have been dying off:  I have had at least 4 students lose parents or loved ones (that I believe), and dealing with that is devastating.  Not all bad news though, I have also had several become new parents as well.  So I know that I’m not the only one dealing with sleep deprivation.

Remember those 3-day weekends I got this quarter? Imagine trying to cram the rest of your life into that.  Trying to recover from exhaustion, have meaningful relationships, exercise, dealing with medical issues, deal with car issues, and trying to have any creative outlet. Oh yeah: also add trying to prep enough meals to survive on during your crazy week!

I should note: I have an amazing partner. She has somehow managed to juggle things that I normally wouldn’t ask of her, as well as caring for me in ways I never knew that I needed.

All of this is pointing to how important it is to have some regular forms of self-care.

This quarter I have had a few consistent things to keep me sane:   podcasts (for my 10+ hours of commuting per week), baking (to force myself to slow down on the weekends), and gaming.  Interspersed with these are my usual mix of running, too many books, and various shenanigans that I can cram into my time.

My podcasts this quarter:  The Scathing Atheist offers a wonderful mix of humor (NSFW!!!) and brutal roasting of the religious bigotry and misogyny, and The Skeptics Guide to the Universe offers wonderful lessons of skepticism and gives me more hope for the future than I had before.

And now:  here is my playlist for grading this quarter.  I’ve only managed to kill four red pens this quarter.  I should sharpen my fangs a bit more.

Good beats for when I repeatedly stab a stack of finals with my red pen.  Metal keeps me sane-ish.

It must be nice to have Summer off

Of all the banal and untrue things said to me, this one garners a balanced reaction between laughing maniacally, sobbing hysterically, or calmly and thoughtfully stabbing the speaker while explaining the realities of an adjunct on “Summer Vacation.”

First off, the reality of being an adjunct instructor (at least in my state) is that if you aren’t teaching then you aren’t getting paid.  Unlike full time professors our pay doesn’t get distributed over the entire year. Our contracts are limited to one term at a time, which means that when finals are over…. hope you have savings!

While it is technically true that an instructor can pick up part time work between quarters, it isn’t a simple prospect.  Also, you can collect unemployment … but you can count on unemployment agencies to misconstrue having classes lined up for the next quarter as having “a guarantee of work.” Washington State has privatised, which just seems to make them less helpful.  Tip for instructors:  you will need to emphasise that classes are a provisional offer of employment, based on enrollment, funding, or program changes, and do not construe a reasonable assurance of future work.  I have taken to bringing copies of class cancellation notices to these meetings. Also, if you are teaching less than half time you can (hypothetically) collect part of your unemployment as well.

Shut up Wesley

So once you know you aren’t going to starve, then there is the other difficulty: you will need to work on prepping your next term. Teaching isn’t just lecturing and grading, there is a lot of planning every single term.  Buckle up, because unpaid overtime is coming!  For me, it means scheduling my topics, setup of my online resources, and writing/updating my exercises.

Teaching often has odd hours, especially if you teach at multiple schools, so there are a lot of other projects that we put off until between quarters.

My “time off” is spoken for this Summer.

So maybe instead of saying stupid things to teachers, why not buy us a cup of coffee and thank us instead.

Mid-Term “adventures”

This post today has very little to do with teaching.  Just some reflections…

You know how things rarely happen one at a time in your life?   One problem? Okay, that is easy enough.  But let’s see how much you can take …   Life happens.   And sometimes life happens really, really hard.

Let me back up a bit.

A few things are happening.  Like moving, doing taxes, and getting sick.

Moving is a painful chore.   First there is the joy of sorting through all of your belongings, packing them up, and staging them for hauling.   Add to that scheduling moving vehicles and storage, overbearing landlords, friends who can’t help (legitimately), and the continuous processes of not having the right size boxes and losing your strapping tape.

Stressed yet?   Oh hey, have you done your taxes?   Show up to the tax prep place, take all of your documents… and wait for two hours.   You decide to run some errands while you wait, and end up getting locked out of your car.   Fun times.

Then there is illness…  Getting sick as a teacher is different than in other types of jobs.   In other jobs, you can call in sick, go to the doctor and get useful drugs, sit at home drink tea and binge-watch old TV shows.  Maybe you need to answer a call from work.

As a teacher, you call in sick, write lesson plans for a sub, check your emails to monitor whether your students have gone crazy or if you need a new sub.  Then you write more lesson plans, and answer emails.  Maybe that evening you can watch some TV, but only after you have written the rubrics for your assignments, because you will have an avalanche of grading waiting for you when you get back.

Getting really sick… is scary, regardless of your profession.   Your body doesn’t feel right.  No matter how excellent and professional the doctors are, it is still frightening.   I’m a mathematician by trade, so I understand statistics and appreciate a good explanation about relative versus absolute risk.  There is no such thing as risk free.  And I also know that in an individual case (like… mine), there it isn’t a 90% success chance… it will be either 0 or 100%. That is all.  And still most of my brain wants to take care of my students, as well as wants to reassure my friends and loved ones that I’m fine.

Not freaking outSo… I’m working on crisis lesson plans, as well as other contingency plans.   There are parts of me that want to be reassured by my loved ones that everything will be alright, because… fuuuuu….

I want to play hooky and binge watch scary movies.

I may do that while I pack.

January, you suck

I know I have taken a longer than usual hiatus from blogging these past few weeks.    Sorry about that!

Life happens, and it has been happening a lot this month.

Stress is stress, regardless of the cause.   Sometimes it is hard to remember that good things can still be stressful too.   This season has had its ups and downs.   So here is what I’ve been contending with:

The Good:   My work and relationships have been both good and busy!   I’m teaching at two different schools I have learned a lot from my new school.  Also, the extra work I’ve gotten has allowed me to be out of debt for the first time in my adult life.    I also have amazing friends and relationships.   My partner and me have decided to move in together and have started looking for a new apartment.     So I have had some wonderful hours looking for apartments with her, and trying to coordinate the puzzles of our lives optimally.

The Bad:   Looking for a new apartment has some extra motivation recently.   My current apartment has been … damp.   This has been an unusually wet Winter, and my apartment has flooded multiple times.  My landlady is nice, but I’m tired of the underannounced workmen who show up, and occasionally coming home to find puddles in my hallway.    Also my recent apartment hunting turned up some issues that I had to deal with in my credit!  (Lets just say it was some residual fallout from a nasty breakup a few years back).   I managed to fix the issues… mostly.

Also, kidney stones are no picnic.

The Ugly:  Taking care of yourself is important, but sometimes even the best efforts don’t work.   Depression and insomnia are things that I periodically have to contend with in my life, and it has made starting teaching this quarter a bit difficult.*   I also have some very dear friends going through some hard times.   I can listen and sympathize, but there isn’t anything I can do otherwise.   And then there is dread… I’ll just say that I’m hoping to avoid PTSD triggers this quarter.

The Usual:    Teaching is a wonderful thing, but it is a lot of work.  Patience isn’t always easy, and it is a necessity for teaching.     I love my students, and I love to teach, but it is a rare week when I don’t have a three-inch stack of grading with me on my weekends.   Teaching is a job that will take all the time and energy that you give to it.   And there will always be more to do.

I also shouldn’t be allowed to listen to politics.   Ever hear the old saying:   if you like laws or sausages, never watch either being made?   Yeah.   I look at American politics and can’t decide whether to laugh or cry.

And that has been my life.   Sorry I haven’t been posting/not sorry, because I can’t really feel bad for being a responsible adult.

February has some more promise in it.  I’m hoping for less drama, although moving friends (and possibly ourselves) is likely to be happening.   January, you are hereby voted out of 2016.


* Just to let you know, I’m okay.   Still weird, and feeling better at this end of the month.


Being a teacher is more than just a job.   Teaching will take every erg of energy you throw at it… and no matter what, there will always be more that you can do.

But teachers are human too.   No matter how we try to be super-teachers, we have lives that sometimes get … complicated.   This may seem like a lead up to an apology for posting sporadically over the last month.   If that is what you thought, then you are right.  I have been overwhelmed and I haven’t kept up on posting.  Sorry.

Among other things, my apartment flooded. After a very damp and squishy night keeping the waters at bay, I had the usual complement of students to care for, classes to teach, and stacks of grading to do.  Self care took a back seat for a while, which was a mistake.

The world never stops, no matter how much we need a break.

After things calmed down, I had planned to write about the attacks from ISIS on Paris … but my friends asked me to wait, to post something fun, but my brain was blank.   I know it is illogical, but I wish I hadn’t waited to post in light of the mass shooting in San Bernardino.   Perhaps they were right, it was too depressing.  I don’t like to admit it, but I have limits and I was reaching mine.   My voice isn’t that loud in the world, but I hope it is heard by some folks.

I *will* be posting on those touchy subjects in the weeks to come.   I’m even happy to give you a preview of the content:   Resist.   Talk to the Muslims in your life, and let them know that they have your support.   Bad people can do horrible things in the name of what you believe in. That doesn’t mean that they represent you or your beliefs, even if they do share a name.   Don’t play to the narrative that Daesh has set up.   And do not give up your freedoms.   It isn’t for love of Mohammed, or Allah, or anything – giving up your freedom is losing.  Living well is the best revenge.   So keep talking, keep exchanging ideas, and pity the fools who think they know the mind of god.  Good ideas can stand up to questions.   Bad ideas cannot be supported, and only violence can carry them forward.

… {later} …

Being a teacher is a job that never stops.   I have good students who want to better their lives, and bad students who need to learn life lessons in order to better themselves (before math lessons can be learned).   Students who need help, and family and friends who need me too.   And I need them just as much.

Being a teacher is more than a job. It is a labor of love.   And I won’t ever stop, because as much as my students need me, I need them too.

Next week I will be on to cheerier subjects, like music to grade finals to.


I want to know who he shot, to honor their memory.  I don’t want to know his name.   I just know how these stories end.

Let me back up.

I was driving to teach a class when I heard the news out of Oregon.   A shooting at Umpqua College, in Oregon… reports were unconfirmed, and the numbers kept changing.   Ten dead, twenty injured… then seven dead.   They said they had the shooter, then we hear that he was “neutralized” (whatever that means).

My commute is long.  I heard a lot of this.   I was out of sorts teaching my class that afternoon.

By the evening, people stopped reacting to the tragedy and tried to do something with it.   Parents were being interviewed, telling secondhand stories.  Commentators were already trying to make sense of the shooting and speculating on the shooters motives.   By the morning, politics had entered the scene.   People for and against gun control, people who want to paint some agenda on the shooter.

I want schools to be safe.   They should be.   They need to be, if anyone is going to learn.   They need to be so we can outgrow this crap.

Here is what I know is going to happen:

  • There will be gun control protests.
  • There will be gun rallies (not likely in the town, but in the capitol).
  • Christians will claim they are being persecuted, regardless of the religious identity of the shooter.
  • Both presidential campaigns will talk about the shooting extensively, using the outrage and sympathy for their own goals.
  • Students from the school will be endlessly interviewed, and asked to relive that day.
  • There will be a TV special about the “heroes” of the day.   Eventually, they will be revealed as humans with flaws.

And a year from now not much will have changed.   We will have new tragedies to mourn, and a presidential circus to distract us.   And the Olympics.   And… and… and…

…and I don’t want to know about the shooter.  I want to know who he shot.   Simply put, there is no sense to be made of this:  celebrate the lives of the fallen, and mourn them if you need to.   Mourn the twisted mind of the shooter who decided this was how he was going to make his mark on the world.

I’m a teacher.   I mourn the loss of those students, of their hopes, of their dreams, and of the loss of peace on campuses across the US.

Now, I’m just exhausted and heartsore.

Fall Frenzy

It begins.

Fall term is starting… the air is crisp in the morning, hinting at cold days to come.   Already, all of my Summer attire is put away.   What has taken its place is an incredible crush of last minute revisions to classes, syllabi, homework, and trying to finish up Summer projects!   Amid the training sessions,  onboarding meetings, and early fall celebrations, it pays being organized and taking out some time for self care.

Which is unfortunate, really.  Where did the time go?

The beginning of every quarter always seems to have a tidal wave of work attached to it, but Fall quarter especially so.   Why?  Perhaps the shorter days?  The crop of new students?  The implementation of new programs or policies (often well-intentioned, but not always useful)?  Whatever the cause, Fall term is crazy.   There is a lot of hustle and bustle during the first few weeks, with a lot of work to take care of before things start to settle down.


That’s all right, I didn’t need more than 5 hours of sleep regularly anyway.

So far, classes have been good to me.   My classes seem to have good personalities, and my grading pile is small.   I only have 13 things to plan and write before Monday.  Plus proofreading.  Plus photocopying.   Plus 100 new names to remember.

Pleasure reading?  Oh yeah, I can add things to my fun reading pile.  Maybe I’ll get to them after finals.

Oh by the way, unemployment decided to mess up your claims for the past two weeks before classes.    As an adjunct, I won’t get paid until mid-October.   I have at least 2 weeks of 14 hour days planned, before things will start to smooth out and calm down.  But in the meantime, my bank account is getting thin.

I love my job, but parts of your psyche twist under these pressures.

I love to teach.   The rewards are incredible, watching people learn.

I just know that I’ll feel better once I collect my first paycheck.  I also remember why I’m evil…

I’ll also be plotting the downfall of mankind.    In all of my ample free time.

What I did last Summer…

During most of the school term a lot of my friends ask me, “when does your Summer break start?”   As a teacher (with a long commute) a great deal of my life gets put on hold while I teach.   Projects, books to read, hanging out with friends, helping friends in need, playing games, housework, exercise….   I know what I need to do for self-care during the term, but I do end up with a backlog of things to do.

Ain't no cure for the Sparta time blues

So here is what I did last Summer, in no particular order:

  • Writing lists of things to do
  • Helped a friend move into her new house *
  • Batman:  Arkham Knight
  • A much anticipated cancer remission celebration **
  • Rescued a friend from a breakdown in the middle of an intersection
  • Binge watching NCIS
  • Help negotiate purchasing a more reliable car ***
  • Putting together my classes for fall.
  • Finally finishing three books on my yard tall “books to read” pile.
  • Walking (for an hour or two) with a crazy friend who decided that walking two and a half marathons was a good idea.
  • Driving my girlfriend to work, while her car was on the fritz.   ****
  • Getting a new teaching gig (!!!!!)
  • Putting together MORE classes for fall.
  • Fighting with unemployment, trying to convince them that “teaching in the fall” still is a conditional offer of employment, and they need to pay me more money.
  • See’s Candies.   Chocolati.  Theo’s Chocolate.
  • Photo shoot of Rory the Racoon at the Center of the Universe
  • Helping pull up scary orange carpet from a nice hardwood floor.
  • Spreadsheets, spreadsheets, spreadsheets!
  • Writing lists of things I’ve done, so I can feel like I was productive.

So, it has been a fun and interesting Summer.   I would have liked a few more “do nothing” days, but I have managed to stay busy enough to not go completely stir crazy.    The jury is still out on “crazy.”

As for now, I get ready to go back to teaching.   I’ll miss you, free time!


* Honestly, this is the third person I’ve helped move this year.   Enough is enough, already!

**  Wow, I was seriously holding my breath on this one!

*** It is more reliable, but the old car was much-loved.   It’s loss will be missed.

****  The car wasn’t universally loved.   But it did give me an excuse to hang out with my girlfriend (moderately incessantly) this Summer.

Engaging tough topics, teacher style

This is an article I wrote over a year ago and decided not to post because it wouldn’t have helped the conversation at the time.   I came across it and decided it was still relevant, sadly.   A lot of things have been said about sexism, but there is also a lot be said about communication.

Outrage is energizing, but it can also alienate potential allies.  At the time, the outrage touched a nerve and I felt compelled to speak.

Here is what I said…

I have been bombarded lately by things with news about the Isla Vista killings.   Article after article after article talking about misogyny, women’s rights, men’s rights, and everything.   I had decided earlier that I wasn’t going to write anything about it.   Not because I don’t have anything relevant to say, but because I’m a guy, and I don’t want to be the guy “speaking from a position of privilege” about “stuff I don’t know.”    The outrage has been palpable, as is evident in a lot of the articles I’ve read.    Something in me finally couldn’t take it anymore.

Let me be perfectly clear:    what happened was horrible, for the victims, for the families, and for the family of the shooter.   I am also a feminist with a resume of action and support.   I sincerely believe that women are still fighting for equality in this society (let alone in other cultures), and that the cultural values that we hand to both men and women are often unhealthy and untenable.   I am WITH women on this fight.

… and many of them are engaging in the discussion wrong.   Not everyone, but enough to put my teeth on edge.

What was being said was true.   And not helpful.   And often engaging in the same things that lead to lousy gender roles and misogyny, only in reverse.   I’ve been writing lately about critical thinking lately, so here is some of mine:

It isn’t men vs. women.   It is human.

Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual.    Everyone on the planet is trying to figure things out on their own.

Now being human has its own needs:   food, water, shelter,  sex and security.   Notice that I put sex in there?    We are mammals, and whether we like it or not there is a biological imperative to reproduce.   But we immediately follow that up with “security.”   Now, we have communities that have survived the test of time.  But they aren’t perfect…  parents try to give to their offspring a blueprint for roles in life.

Those roles kind of suck.   They are a work in progress.   Please, please, please,  let us keep working on them.

Any culture or institution that gets control of how we think of these things is immensely powerful.   Control how people eat?   Power.   Control peoples sense of security or fear?   Power.   Control or deny sexuality?   Power.

Many people couple thought with action.   To some people, thinking is as bad as doing.   That is the trap.

Men are not the enemy

Let me tell you a personal story.   I grew up with a single mom (and I also hit the mom jackpot…),  and I attribute my love of strong women to her and my family.    When I was growing up, my mom had a nice big circle of friends.   Some of her women friends would get together and talk, and on more than one occasion I heard the phrase “All men are scum.   Except for you, Colin.”   Not from my mother herself, but her friends.   People who were important to her and to me.   I understand the feeling that was behind the statement, I even understand the (attempted) amendment on my behalf.    It was still alienating and offputting to be lumped in with “scum”, and the backpedal felt just like a backpedal.   It took a long time for me to reconcile the hurt that they were obviously feeling with the undeniable fact that I was male.   It took a long time, but I came to like who I am and define for myself what being a man really means.     I recognize that they were pushing back against the horrible expectations that had been put upon them.

I believe that all people, female and male, have inherent worth.   I believe that “no means no”, that stop is an order, and that anyone who tries to make sexual demands on a woman simply because she is female is a sick and dangerous individual.   All women are to be respected.

But nobody every told me that it works both ways.  Ever.

Men are victims of the culture as well.    I never valued being a man.   We hear phrases all the time that supposedly have some meaning, but the context for these things have changed so radically, we need to re-define for ourselves what it means to be a man.    “Man-up”, “Man-handle” or even simply “be a man”.   How degrading is it to have these things pushed at us, without any regard for what are the expectations are for men.

What I have learned about being a man is this:  it is a good thing.   I love my body, its quirks, and the pleasure it gives me.   I value being physically strong, and I know that being physically strong doesn’t detract from my intelligence or sensitivity.   I learned that men can be beautiful and sexy, not just women.  I learned that being a man doesn’t mean having to automatically defer to women, just because she hasn’t spoken up yet.   I’ve learned that it is okay to be a sexual being, and that desiring someone isn’t sick or wrong.   I’ve learned that on dates I’m not simply a wallet with a funny personality attached.    Being hairy doesn’t make me stupid, or unattractive.   That I can receive just as well as give.   For me, being a man means that I enjoy being a warrior, a protector to my friends and family; and that being a protector doesn’t mean that I can’t nurture.
Having a penis does not relegate me to role of a wallet on legs,  to being sexually unappreciative of my partners,  that I don’t have be the provider, or that I’m supposed to stoically hide my feelings.    I get to define what my role is.    My partners get to define what their roles are.   THAT is the way it should be.
Let me be clear:   both genders have horrible roles and expectations, and women clearly have the short end of the stick.   Expectations around appearance, capabilities, and roles for women are still nowhere near equal to men.   The fact that these are improvements from previous roles are terrible, and a world of work needs to be done.
The thing that we need to remember is that whatever your gender, everyone has a story to tell.   And more people need to be on board if we want to make cultural changes stick.

Changing culture and making allies… mostly

Not everyone can be an ally.   When making cultural changes, it doesn’t pay to preach to the fringes.   The feminist side already knows the problems that need fixing, and the chauvinist side would rather return to the 1950’s without Rosie the Riveter.  The people who need to be moved are the center.   The people who are otherwise indifferent or put off by either side.

I’m a teacher at heart.   I believe that change starts with education.   And that the lessons that people learn are those that they teach themselves.

There are men who are so completely off the rails that they believe that they are entitled to sex with women, anytime and anywhere (that was Elliot Rodger’s and his cronies complaint).  Misogyny is a cultural problem, and many men have a false sense of being a victim.     You know what helps the fight?   Let chauvinists talk.   So many of them are self-important, entitled assholes… the best thing that you can do is to poke the bear and stand back.   Let them say what they have to say.  By they time they are done, they will have succeeded in proving that changes need to happen.

That is when reasonable voices can take the stage.   Outrage at this point just would serve to polarize, but the acknowledgement that those men have been speaking the same line of crap for years.  Women can stand up as leaders, as people who don’t deserve to be marginalized.   Men can stand up and ask to be supporters, and can change their own roles as well.   And finally those institutions, religions, and groups that try to use gender and sexuality as a means of social power will either change, or lose their popular approval and into the lunatic fringe where they belong.

Positive change can happen for everyone… but only if we stop vilifying each other and can listen and work together.   Both sides can win only when we can agree to meet in the middle, and keep the discussion alive.


Postscript:    In retrospect, I can see why the very polarized discussion can be helpful.   Anger is a useful  emotion, it is an impetus for change and can be very unifying.    But ultimately, setting aside baggage needs to happen before anyone can change.

I’ll step down off my soap box now, and return us to our regularly scheduled Summertime fun.

Now go out there and change the world.   Or change your mind about something.  Same difference.

Evil League of Teachers, now EXTRA STABBY!

Many changes are incremental: one, two, three…

Some changes are more transformative: one, two, chrysalis, butterfly…

Evil Butterfly

I’m hoping that the Evil League of Teachers is out of it’s plodding phase, and is moving into its chrysalis.   Soon, we can be a beautiful butterfly, spreading doom even as we pollinate young minds.   Which is to say, I’m making some changes to our site that will hopefully transform us into a powerhouse of EVIL!   READY FOR WORLD DOMINATION!!!  Just after I get my coffee.

Some things will never change, of course.   Students occasionally learn their lessons the hard way after they discover that procrastination is not a winning strategy.  And teachers learn from their students (hopefully) new winning strategies for their students.  Which is to say that learning isn’t always easy, and requires a healthy dose of humility from time to time.   Which sucks, because I’m not especially humble.

Which is why I’m here a the end of the week, and I’m feeling extra STABBY.

Partially because I’m being pushed out of my comfort zone (which is good), but also for more personal reasons.*   But I will say, this is about growing.  Busting out of caterpillar status, and moving on to be a scary evil butterfly!  And now I’m going to lay this belabored butterfly metaphor to rest.

So you can continue to count on continued things like finals week playlists, midterm misanthropy, student and teacher horoscopes, as well as our going critical (critical thinking) segments.  We can look forward to some new things like confessions from an ex-corporate whore, more teaching advice from a dominatrix, and maybe (let’s say it softly) a new blogger or two? The Evil League of Teachers marches on,  with a new look,  weapons-grade sarcasm, and extra stabbiness!

Now go forth, educate, and use your powers for whatever the hell you want to… they are your powers.



*Honestly, I don’t like it when the people I love get sick, and there is nothing I can do to help them feel better.   It’s a kind of helpless feeling.   Also, migraines suck.