Reflections on the US Exit from the Paris Agreement

I am not a scientist or an expert on international relations.  I have done some research and taken a look at the work of experts in both fields.  On May 31st when it was announced that the world would be pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accords I was shocked and worried.  I spent some time and looked into the effects of this deal and found a handful of interesting insights.  The first is that the methods for removing the United States from the agreement will take a long time.  According to the New York Times and other sources, the timeframe for removing the US from the Paris agreement will take about 4 years and will not occur until after the 2020 election.  This means that all we’ve done is begin a process that won’t show a single dividend until after the next president is elected.

The next big concern is that the United States will fall behind the world and contribute to climate change in a greater way than planned.  This is unlikely to occur because it does not make economic sense.  Business Insider gives a mixed view but agrees with other experts that the current economic situation will not be affected by the United States exiting the Paris agreement.  The US economy has been transitioning to developing, manufacturing, and marketing renewables for years as the prices of fossil fuels have cratered.  There is also the need to create products that can be sold worldwide and that will impose restrictions on manufacturing that will keep many businesses in line with the Paris agreement.

Will the United States exit from the Paris agreement benefit the US economy? Yes, and no.  There is a booming industry that has grown up around providing solutions to global warming problems.  That area of the economy will continue to grow.  There may be a boost to industries that are being heavily regulated but many of those industries are being phased out by changes in demand for products and services.  Solomon Hsiang, of the University of California at Berkeley, stated: “Putting national resources further into coal while China takes the lead in solar is like investing in building a better horse-drawn carriage back when Henry Ford was investing in mass producing cars.”  We may be putting some people back to work but the costs will be greater than the gains.  If you combine the economies of California and Texas, two of the states leading the way in climate change reform, their combined economies would be the 4th largest in the world just behind Japan.  California produced $2.48 trillion GDP and Texas’ $1.63 trillion GDP would provide a nice $4.11 trillion GDP.  These two states are technology hubs and contribute just over 20% of the US GDP.  They are likely to continue developing technology that will be driven by the need to reduce the environmental impact of people.

The environment may be impacted by the choice of the United States to exit the Paris agreement, but not by much.  The counter point is that it does not take much impact to create catastrophic consequences for the environment.  Many states, businesses, people, and institutions will continue to adhere to and surpass the goals of the Paris agreement.  The impact of the United States withdrawing is likely to be detrimental to the environment but not as dramatic as people fear.  The 190 countries remaining in the agreement have pledged to continue improving the world’s conditions even if the US backslides like a country that has suffered a terrible disaster.  There are many possible outcomes for how the world will react to The United States withdrawing from the Paris agreement.  Most seem to the long-term rise in temperature being limited to only a few degrees.  A few degrees are a serious threat to the long-term viability of the planet.  Any reduction in the rising temperature will help the planet and us in return.  There will be a cost for the few degrees of change as the instance of natural disasters, the rising cost of adapting to change, and the growing need to compete with other nations for resources becomes a drain on the US taxpayers and Treasury.

The impact of the United States exiting the Paris agreement will be costly politically.  During the 20th century, the United States became a world leader in politics and economics through global leadership and economic development.  The isolationist choice to leave the Paris agreement will cost the United States in both areas.  China has been courting US allies for decades by showing strong economic growth and by providing international support.  Countries that have been staunch US allies, like Australia and  Germany are finding markets and support from China to be enticing them away from relationships with the United States.  The leaders of many other countries have spoken out against the United States’ exit from the Paris agreement.  This condemnation is one example of many showing the dwindling role that the United States will play internationally over the coming years.  The leadership of the world is up for grabs and it looks like China has been preparing for this eventuality and will seize the title.

The conclusion of all of these factors seems to be that the attitude of isolationism and populism expressed by the President of the United States will have long-term negative consequences for the United States while allowing for the world to shift the leadership role to a country that has been preparing for the 21st century and is ready to lead the world into the future.  The environment will be affected by the choice but the impact may not be as severe as some people predict.  All changes to the environment will have serious and far-reaching implications for people.  Our changing world will be one of the biggest challenges in the next 100 years and beyond.  The United States itself may begin to fraction as business civic leaders make gains that benefit their sectors in spite of the choices of the Federal Government.  This may further erode the average American’s faith in the national government and cause the balance of power to shift to states or private businesses.  In all, this appears to be a historical milestone that will be cited as the beginning of the decline of the United States.

Thoughts on Congressional Term Limits and Pensions

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By: Michael Espinos
14 August 2016

I have been seeing a lot of people posting easy fixes to solve the problems with Congress.  What bothers me about this is that we should know that our government is too complex for an easy fix to just swoop in and solve our problems.  You may respond that the complexity needs to be simplified to make our government better and that is also simplistic.  Our government is like a complex biome; you can’t just drastically change it and expect the biome to remain functional.  If we continue to think that easy fixes will solve all of our problems then we are not facing a government but an education problem.  Most adults know that anything that sounds too good to be true usually is but there are entire industries predicated on convincing people to buy something they don’t need and doesn’t work because it will be an easy solution to their problem.  I’ve fallen for it a few times and I’d call anyone who says they haven’t a liar.  That is the problem, we know better yet we fall for it.  When it comes to a complex organization like the Federal Government we as citizens should know that there cannot be an easy fix but we all want it so badly.  Let me address the current easy fixes; afterward I’ll suggest two ideas that may help change the biome of the government enough to make positive changes.

Term Limits

Term limits sound like a great fix and just under one-third of states have some sort term limit for politicians that serve at state level positions.  People argue that it infuses the position with new blood and makes the person in office focus less on holding the office and more on getting the job done.  All of these reasons sound great but there are some downsides that this overlooks.  The first and most important thing that is overlooked is the choice of the voters.  As a voter, I would like to keep an effective politician in office because I know that he has my interests in mind.  If I want to keep someone I have voted into office why should I not be able to keep voting for him?  That is how democracy should work.  The voter’s power is to put whom they want into office.

You may balk at that and say that I don’t know what my legislator is doing in office.  How do I know he has my interests in mind?  I watch what they do.  We live in a digital age and I have apps like Countable and sites like Govtrack that allow me to follow what is going on.  I also know that as informed as I am, I don’t understand a fraction of what goes on in Washington.  That may sound like a reason to attack incumbents but the fact is that it is their job to know how to get bills passed not mine.  That leads me to my second concern about term limits; how will anything get passed if we have a revolving door of legislators?  Many legislators have said that it takes most of their first term to learn the ropes of how congress works.  With term limits, we are kicking them out as soon as they finally learn how to get work done.  That cannot be effective.  Many people point to the power of lobbyists and special interests.  They say that the power of these groups over legislators is ruining our country.  That may be true but when a legislator needs votes they can lean on these contacts to make sure that their membership and money goes to making something happen.  This is the greatest strength of the NRA; they have a small membership and yet they are effective at pushing their agenda more than any other group.  Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver nailed it in the two parts of his piece on the Dickey Amendment. (Part 1, Part 2 )  If we cannot mobilize voters to turn out for issues that matter then we will continue to be dominated by those who can.  I am a union member and we talk about the power as a block of voters but the union leadership doesn’t address communication issues.  This is all to say that just because you don’t trust outside interests in politics doesn’t mean that they don’t serve a purpose.  Additionally, imagine those special interests with access to a flock of new and inexperienced legislators regularly that they can mold into what they want without having to give anything up.

The next major concern I have with term limits is that the turnover will weaken the legislative process.  No one will develop long term goals and in many cases, entire committees that are vital to the nation will be filled with inexperienced members.  Would you rather have someone with over a decade of experience deciding if the National Defense Committee should recommend that Congress authorize a war or someone who has only been in office for 3 months and hasn’t learned how to navigate the building yet let alone become caught up on the intricacies of National Defense and the impact of what their decision could cast the world?  Can you tell me what S. 683: Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act of 2015 is about?  That is one of 10,916 pieces of legislation that the 114th Congress has to consider as of this writing.  If a legislator is invested long term in their job they will be invested in making sure that they know the important issues being discussed; they’ll be able to sift the wheat from the chaff.  They will be able to understand why S. 683 has a predicted chance of passing that is zero percent.  They will know what the generic title that is an acronym that is close to the word career.  Is this a jobs bill? If you can’t answer that question and don’t know how to find out then you may want to reconsider term limits.

Legislation1Source

The final concern I have is that this will discourage highly qualified people from seeking office because it is temporary and they will not be able to make a career out of it.  The best choices for the job are not going to run.  It is not as glamorous as it sounds.  There is a lot of work involved being a legislator and it will not be worth the work only to walk away from what you build in just a few short years.  You may get more new blood into Congress but the quality will be diluted by the frequent turnover.  Another aspect that is being ignored is that legislators depend heavily on their staff.  Congressional staffers have a major impact on how the government works and will make careers out of working for a few members of Congress.  Term limits would effectively ruin this network and would further hamper the already inefficient system.

Limited Pensions

Congress has the lowest approval rating ever.  That does not engender goodwill from the electorate toward paying the members of Congress.  It is easy to want to take away that pay.  Since the financial crash of 2008 many voters have faced dire economic straits.  When someone says that members of Congress receive their paycheck for life it will enrage the voter who has had to decide if they should sell their house or take a third job to try and save it.  We have all heard how members of Congress get paid for life and it doesn’t sound fair.  It sounded like a sweet deal to me and I wished I could get in on an easy meal ticket like that.  Too bad it isn’t true.  Congress has a retirement plan that is similar to what many government employees receive.  There is even a relatively easy to understand report that pops up first when you run an internet search for “Congressional Retirement Plan”  If you are elected in November you will need to hold onto your seat for 5 years before you’re eligible for CSRS.  If you are in the Senate this should not be too hard but if you are in the House it becomes a bit more complex.  You may be saying that 5 years is not that long and after that, the money just rains down forever.  That is also not quite true.

Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at the age of 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary. source: page 4

That is still not a bad deal you say?  I agree but it isn’t easy to get and I feel that it is important to reward those who serve our country.  You may not like legislators as much as veterans but they do the work of our nation and take a surprisingly similar oath.  This may all seem like an apology for members of a dysfunctional system but it is not.  Legislators know that they will be financially provided for if they do their job.  They only need to worry about being re-elected.  The election cycle is a problem but as we know there is no such thing as a quick fix.  Now imagine you have a legislator who will only be around for a two terms at most.  What is their focus?  They aren’t focused on the voters because after they are re-elected they are no longer held accountable for what they do and that can have serious consequences in its self.  If you have legislators that are only around for a short amount of time they are focused on where their next paycheck will come from.  You tried to remove money from the equation and that is a great idea but someone else will have money and they will be able to buy a 2nd term legislator much cheaper than before.

Furthermore, removing the financial incentive means that you will again push away qualified candidates.  If your years of work will not be counted toward your pension then why should you do it?  This opens the door even wider for corruption and outside influence.  You will not have dedicated lawmakers that know how to play within the system; instead, you will have opportunists that see a short time commitment in a job that no one wants with a potential for a big payday when they are done.  I cannot imagine how that would be in the nation’s best interests.

Alternatives

There has been a quick fix bandied about that is a situational fix that has some merit but needs refinement.  The idea is that legislators should be under the penalty of No Budget, No Pay.  (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3) This sounds like a great idea but it has a similar, albeit lesser, flaw as limiting pensions.  Special interests will find a crack to worm their way into this and supplement the lack of pay to encourage the legislators to further agenda.  There should be penalties for the lack of progress made by Congress but I feel that there should also be financial incentives for getting work done.  It may sound crazy but people work harder when they are rewarded and the Congress costs just over 4 billion depending on which funding bill you read.  That is 4 billion out of an estimated budget of just over 27 trillion for 2017.  That means that the cost of Congress is 0.0147% of the total budget. (House, Senate)  I’m sure you’ll hear at least one story this year about far more than that being wasted on some doomed project.  We can afford to incentivize legislators to be productive.

Budget1Chart values in Billion $ units.  Source

This leads to my final concern.  We shouldn’t have to incentivize them to be productive because we, as citizens, should be involved in the running of our government.  When was the last time you called your representative? When did you write a letter, send a tweet, visit or in any way interact with your elected representatives?  If you have not or cannot remember then you have no one to blame for the running of this country other than yourself.  Your vote gets them into office but it is your responsibility to make sure that the elected officials in office know what you want.  Your job does not stop when you cast your vote.  If you wonder why politicians pander to the party extremes it is because those people feel so passionately about their beliefs that they maintain contact with their representatives and they vote in all elections, not just the presidential ones.  You need to stay informed, stay involved, and stay in contact.  Be a citizen, not just a voter.

 

Additional source:
Legislative Term Limits: A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come and Gone. BURDETT A. LOOMIS, University of Kansas

Solve for X when X=Impossible

 

We, as teachers are often asked to do the impossible.  It is not because our administration or the stakeholders keep raising their expectations based on previous success; it is because doing the impossible is part of our job.  There are too many situations to count that have started out as a routine task in teaching and have turned into a task that would make the labors of Hercules seem like a better choice.

I know it is hyperbole but any teacher can tell you that there has been that one little, tiny, minor task that, when added to everything else, is most certainly the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The heaviest of these little straws is the expectations of others.  We are expected to educationally keep up with the Joneses.  There are new philosophies and best practices coming at a rapid rate fueled by the spread of educational technology (EdTech) and Personal Learning Networks (PLN).  There is so much that it is impossible to judge what is right for our students and how to make it work in the classroom while still keeping to the curriculum that may or may not be updated.  These expectations have put a huge burden on teachers and often end with teachers being asked to do the impossible.

I always tell my students, “Nothing is impossible; we just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.”  Teachers need to believe this as well.  I want to do all the amazing things I see pop up in my news feed but I need to figure it out first.  We often rush to bring new ideas to the students without considering how we will implement them.  I am guilty of this more often than I would like to admit.  What I do to reduce the impact of my mistakes is follow the principals of science; treat new ideas like a new medication about to go to market or a new study being submitted to a journal.

  1. Define the idea: There are so many great new things I want to add to my classroom but I need to take the time to pick the right one. I need to hypothesize what will have the greatest impact on my students.  Effective instruction is far more impressive than being cutting edge.
  2. Evaluate your resources: What are you willing to put into this great new idea? How much of your time, budget and other limited resources are you willing to give? This is important because we often stretch ourselves too thin and it causes many teachers to lose hope and feel inadequate.
  3. Test your idea: I know we hate the dreaded T-word; in this case you need to do small tests of your new idea. Start with a situation where this new idea would work best and then gradually take it out in other, less ideal, situations. When we jump into new ideas, curriculum, and methods without testing them out in small doses and getting results it can have a major impact on students.  Would you try a new medication someone on the internet said worked for them? Not without finding out more about it first I hope.
  4. Share your results: If you try something out and it is working for you that is amazing! Share what you have done and how you did it with others and see if they get similar results.  This may seem obvious but this is how a good idea becomes a best practice.  When something works in one class that may just be a perfect storm of success but when it can be shared and used then it becomes a movement.

 

The moral of the story is that we teachers need to slow down and evaluate all these great ideas flooding in.  There will be many people around you who want you to jump face first into new pedagogies and there will be pressure to join the crowd with each new trend but no one knows your classroom, kids and style like you do.  I am not saying that you should never change but I ask that all professionals go slowly into changes and make sure that a change really is for the best before just tossing all in.  You only get one shot at teaching the material so rise up to the challenge.

 

Chapter 4: First Impressions

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I thought that this meeting would be about what we are doing as teachers. It turns out that it is about how little we actually know. I always assumed my teachers had their shit together and knew everything. When I went back to college to to become a teacher my fear was that I didn’t know enough so I started reading everything I could. I wanted to read all the books my kids would be reading, I wanted to know about the TV shows they watched, I wanted to know about them so I could answer all their questions. I turned myself into a teenager with all the media I was consuming.

When I finally started taking the classes on methods and teaching I learned that most teachers follow a formulaic script that they are expected to improve on to fi their style. I was let down big time. I thought that it was an art but it turned out that teaching was more theater than art. The instructors talked about how to improve and differentiate the material but I kept hearing scripts. I almost quit the teaching program right there. The only thing that stopped me was our first observation hours. I went to a school down the street from my condo and it was a beautiful well-funded school with happy children. There was just enough diversity that you didn’t have to feel ashamed and the parents all had perfect children.

The kids I met working at Clara Barton Middle School were all carbon copies of their parents. These kids had tutors, private lessons and parental support. When they asked questions they were wonderful and insightful. The teachers barely followed the script and I observed one enrichment lesson after another. The students had fun and wanted o be there. They each had their own computer and interacted seamlessly with it and the teacher. I was in love.

I knew that the instructors I had at my university were burnouts and hacks who just taught teaching classes to discourage future generations as a warning. Clara Barton Middle School was what I wanted to do. It was the future and it was my motivation.   I did all of my observation there and even managed to get my Student Teaching assignment there. It helped that I was dating the teacher who agreed to be my supervising teacher. I thought I was a lock for a job there because three teachers would be retiring this year. I was the perfect candidate for the position.

Good god this meeting room is hot. Why is everyone staring at me?

The woman who seems to be running the meeting asks me again, “Murray, you’re 8th grade right?”

This is the first I have heard about what I’ll be teaching. I respond, “It’s Murphy”

She glares daggers at me and asks, “You are the 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher right?”

“Sorry, yeah I am.” I shut up after that hoping she will explain what this all means to me. She doesn’t.

As the meeting progressed I realized that we didn’t have a script. In teaching terms this is not having a curriculum. The district had a curriculum for middle school language arts but that was something they bought 3 years ago and it was an expensive investment. This school being re-opened was an emergency response and put the district way over budget. We would not be getting a fancy script with reading materials and supplemental workbooks. We were doing this the old fashion way. We would be reading books in class sets and doing worksheets that were stolen from the Internet and any other free resources we could. The teachers around the table were divvying up the class sets of books and most of these sets were old when I was middle school. The Westing Game, Black Beauty and The Indian in the Cupboard were the ones I had heard of. Where was the Percy Jackson or Harry Potter? There was nothing that had been written in the last 20 years. The kids would not connect to any of this.

As soon as a decent book came up I tried to claim it. S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders is a bit easy for 8th graders but at least I could work with it. I was given a scowl of disapproval when I spoke up but at least I had a book. I had a direction.

I am an 8th grade teacher and my kids are going to be learning about how rough life was growing up on the streets. I think I can use this book to connect with the kids that will be here and I just might be able to salvage this year. At least this will look good on my resume for next year.

I head back to my room and start writing up a lesson for The Outsiders. I map it out to take most of the first quarter and after three hours of planning I stretch out and stand up. Just as I am shaking from the stretch and making a dumb yawning sound I turn to see Joyce standing in my door. She starts laughing as I try to straighten myself out and recover some cool. She has a giant roll roll of posters in her hands and brings them over to me.

She is still laughing when she says, “I thought you may need these. You didn’t sound like you had much in your room.” She is looking around as she says this and suddenly my row of books on the heater seems sad. She seems to think the same thing and adds, There are some posters I don’t have room for on my walls and even a few are for English class.”

“Language Arts.” I say a bit imperiously.

“Whatever, you know what I meant. Do you want to borrow these or not?” She huffs out at me.

Suddenly I feel like a jerk and stammer, “Yeah thanks. I just don’t like calling it English because it’s racist or something. I don’t know they always corrected me in school so I’ll just shut up now”

She laughs at me and unrolls the posters. We flip through a few o them and I cannot wait to get them up on the walls because they are really good. There is even a motivational cat poster. I feel like my room is complete having one of those. Joyce helps me get them up on the walls which required hunting down tape. I didn’t even think to buy wall gum or sticky strips. We eventually see a roll of tape hanging off the maintenance cart and we run off with it. When we get the last poster hung I turn to her and offer my thanks.

“Thank you for the save, my room looks like a real classroom now. It is still a bit empty but it is better than just the books I brought.”

She smiles, “You’re welcome. My boyfriend is happy that I finally got my stuff out of our apartment. Like I said, it was either here or taking them to my moms for storage. I’m kind of a hoarder when it comes to free school stuff. I knew I didn’t need ‘Language Arts’ posters but I got them at such a deal it was still worth it.”

She used air quotes when she said “Language Arts.”

She went on, “Anyway you’re the first person who has talked to me since I got here so you get to be my friend. Stop calling me Joyce, that is a grandma name. Most people call me Joy.”

I had to smile because Joyce was my Great Aunt’s name, my Grandmother’s sister.

“Well Joy, you can call me Scott. It is short for Scott.” This joke never fails to get a smile, she roller her eyes. “You are the second person I have met today and the first person who has not shouted at me so that makes you a friend as well.” I wanted to add that it was a shame to hear about her boyfriend but I kept that to myself. “If you ever need anything I can provide then let me know. I can analyze a book or give you financial advice. Other than those two things I seem to be rather useless.”

She kept smiling and asked, “What are you planning to do with the kids?”

“Since I am the 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher we will spend the first quarter looking at the fine work of S.E. Hinton and her coming of age tale, The Outsiders. I plan to inspire a new crop of readers with this great book and the story of how Miss Hinton wrote this while she was only 16.”

“I love that book.” She laughed and added, “You sound like you got your lesson plan from Wikipedia.”

I did.

She went on, “You should take a look at some of the lesson plans online and get a feel for what they do with this book. I can email you some links, what’s your email address?”

“I can give you my personal one, they don’t have the Internet up yet here and I have no idea what my school address will be. I just hope they don’t misspell it. Everyone keeps calling my Murray.”

Joy crinkles her brow and says, “Yeah I noticed that. Maybe they hired the wrong guy and you just don’t know it yet.”

I laugh because I have already wondered this, “If a Murray shows up here I’ll tell him where he got the posters.”

She takes off and I head home for the day. I don’t know how it happened but it is already 4:30. I skipped lunch and I grab some sushi on the way home. The commute is a bit killer to get back to the city but it is worth it. I get home after my first day of being a real teacher and I cannot stop smiling. I am a real teacher. I have a classroom, with borrowed posters. I have a curriculum, which I need to improve on. I have a cute girl named Joy who is my friend and she has a boyfriend she lives with. It is not the best start but at least nothing can take away my smile.

I plan on rereading The Outsiders tonight and getting a fresh jump on lesson planning tomorrow so it doesn’t sound like I ripped off Wikipedia any more.

I spend the next few days tracking down information and sitting through meetings that tell me nothing. I get a class list right before I leave on the last day before school starts. I have not talked to anyone else and that suits me just fine. My grandmother was a teacher and the only teaching advice she ever gave me was, “Stay out of the teachers lounge and stay out of the drama. It is the fastest way to make enemies of people you’ll have to work with everyday.” I have done my best to avoid drama and it seems to be working because there are cliques already forming.

I am ready for these students. I know my first day is going to be awesome and I know these kids are going to be rocked by how much fun Language Arts can be if you have a good book. This is going to be great.

Chapter 3: A Friendly Face

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Using superior deduction I head to the Library and hope to find the book nerds there. I know I am a book nerd as well but I still don’t feel like I am part of the school yet. I guess when you only have a total of 4 hours spent in the school you can’t feel like you are a part of it yet. Hell, the school doesn’t even have a proper name yet.

I find a group in the library but it seems they are the IT crew. I ask them if they know where the Language Arts teachers are meeting and one of them spits the suggestion of emailing them. It hits me; I have no idea how to access any of my school accounts. With my captive audience I ask them how I access my email. My Cro-Magnon conversational partner grunts something about a school computer and access information. My questions about a school computer lead me to an understanding that we not only do not have computers yet but we also do not have Internet. I ask him how he suggests I use email to contact my team and find myself no longer in possession of a person to talk to.

I wonder where the damn Language Arts meeting is. The school is laid out like a big cross with the gymnasium at the top right. It is two stories tall and looks like it should be big but feels small when you get inside. The ceilings are low enough that I can touch them if I stand on my tiptoes and stretch. That doesn’t say much since I am only 5’10”. The building was built in the 60s and is already over 50 years old. It doesn’t help that it sat empty for the last 5 years being neglected.

Walking the hallways I see mostly dark doors and think to myself that they must all be somewhere. You would think that with three days to go before school that this place would look like a bee hive all busy with teacher bees trying to get set up for school. The idea of teachers as bees has me smiling when I come across an occupied room. At least I think it is occupied, there are boxes everywhere and the lights are on.

I pop my head in and whisper shout “Hello.”

All of the sudden I hear a tumble to my left and a small form falls out of the closet. She brushes herself off on her jeans and shoved her hand out to me announcing, “Hi, I’m Joyce Rainer.”

“Hi Joyce, I’m Scott Murphy.” Is all I can manage taking her in and shaking her hand.

Joyce looks to be just over 5 feet tall and small enough that she could fit in one of the boxes she brought. She has her brown hair tied up in a way that looks both careless and complicated. She is dressed in paint splattered jeans and a shirt that some would call vintage but looks more like she got it from a rag bin. All in all my first impression is of a mess but she has a nice smile.

“So what’s up Scott?” she asks as I realize I am staring a little too much.

I test the waters and ask, “Do you know what’s going on around here?”

“I have no idea. I was hired just before that meeting this morning.”

“Wow, that’s less time than I have had. What are all these boxes? Did they leave them for you or what?”

“Oh these? No, I had them in my car because I knew I would get the job.”

“That seems confident of you.”

“Nope, this was my last resort and either I got this job or I drove these boxes back to my parents house to put in storage. It was either this or go back to waiting tables.”

“So, what are you teaching?”

Joyce looked sheepish, cast her eyes down and answered, “Art”

I exclaim, “That’s cool! I loved Art as a kid. It was the only class I didn’t have to pay attention in.” as soon as the words leave my mouth I realize I sound like a jerk.

“Yeah, that’s the problem. No one takes Art seriously and I am not even sure if I’ll have a job in a year. This school is not in the budget and they are doing all they can just to get it open. Art is expensive and I have no supplies other than what I brought. I have no budget as far as I know and there isn’t even a sink in my room. If I keep thinking about it I’m going to cry.”

Well this turned sad fast. I don’t know what the hell to say to someone crying. I don’t know how to handle this, I’ll try being funny that never fails.

“You could teach them how to draw on their note books. They will be practicing in my class anyway. Nobody pays attention in Language Arts.”

Her pause and eventual smile make me think that she now considers me an idiot rather than funny.

“Thank you.” She says and then changes the subject, “Do you know what we are supposed to do next?”

“I was told that I should meet with my subject matter team but I have no idea where they are. Other than that I have no idea. But at least I’m not alone in being lost. Do you need help with any of the boxes?”

“No thank you, I am sure you have your own room to unpack and hang up.”

“All unpacked. I only had one box of books and it looks sad in my room.”

“You don’t have anything else?” she asked with a sense of confusion.

“Nope, I never really thought about how my room would look.” As I say it feel how lame I must sound. I can’t believe I sound like such an amateur. I was always prepared when I was a Financial Advisor and now I sound like I just woke up and decided to be a teacher. That is kind of how it went but I should sound more prepared.

“Are you a second career teacher? You look too old to be straight out of college.”

She looked too young to be out of high school but I decided that would not the right thing to say after she was just on the verge of tears.

“Yeah, I used to be a Financial Advisor and decided to become a teacher. I quit my job and went back to school. This is my first job.”

“You quit being a Financial Advisor for this?” She doesn’t sound incredulous but she also doesn’t sound impressed at my sacrifice.

“Yep, I wanted to do something good in the world and being a Financial Advisor was boring.”

“Why didn’t you become a Math teacher? Why Language Arts?”

“Being a math teacher means you’re the boring teacher and I guess maybe I watched too many movies like Dead Poet’s Society.” It sounded lame when I said it but she smiled.

“How about you, why Art?”

“I guess I never grew up. I always wanted to be an artist but I was never that good. I am still working on it but teaching is better than being a waitress so here I am.”

“You shouldn’t want to be an artist.” She gave me a death stare and I hurried up and said, “You are an artist. You just need to make what feels good to you and others will eventually see it.”

She gave me a big smile and looked like she was going to cry again. I said it was nice to meet her and scurried out of the room. This seemed like a good time to go.

The hallways were still empty but I had a bounce in my step as I headed back to my room. Joyce seemed nice, a bit dramatic, but nice. I realized that I would be the oddball in the school since everyone else was either in their early 20s or ready for retirement. Here I am just past 32. I am not really young enough to hang with the twenty-somethings and I am nowhere near old enough to identify with the old codgers. I guess I’ll just have to see what happens.

Something happened that surprised me. That eardrum-rending buzz came through the overhead speakers and my name was being shouted out to report to the conference room. I asked the speakers where the conference room was but got no reply as I expected.

I assumed the rom must be near the office so I hurried down there and found out that it was the same stale sweaty room where I was interviewed by Principal Griffin. The room was packed with faces I barely remembered seeing from the meeting this morning. They all looked at me and I had flashbacks to dreams of showing up to school without pants on. This was not what I expected. I found a place in the corner and tried not to attract any more attention to myself.

Chapter 2: Day 1

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I got my books lined up on the heater and it somehow makes my room look even sadder. The good thing is that people will see them since they are the only things in my classroom and they will not be in doubt that I am one well-read, high-class dude. I wish I had more to put up on the walls but I was caught completely by surprise with this job. Honestly I had never really thought I was going to get a job as a teacher and didn’t really think about what my classroom would look like. Every time I zoned out in class I thought about the great discussions I would be having with my kids or the feeling of them coming back years later telling me I had inspired them. I never thought about what the first day would look like. I think I should have actually read that book from Wong & Wong.

Well, this is a good time to explore my room’s storage and see what I have on offer. It turns out after looking through all the cabinets under the heater, the closet and my desk I have exactly 6 things in my room. I have letters E, F and J from the 1997 World Book Encyclopedia; I have a composition notebook with some beautifully illustrated genitalia comprising most of the work between the covers and two dead mice in my desk drawer.

I am beginning to wonder about how I could quit gracefully and not ruin all may future career chances. Just as I consider sneaking out to my car and slinking off into the sunset I see a flicker of movement out of the corner my eye. Could there be life on this desolate planet after all?

I pop out into the hall and see the spill of light coming from a door three doors down. I approach with caution, I have no idea why but I am nervous. I pop my head in and knock on the door and to my surprise it is my 3rd grade teacher. No shit, Mr. Stakes is sitting at his desk smoking.

“Can we smoke in here?” I dumbly ask knowing full well that no school anywhere allows smoking in the classrooms.

“Fuck it, no one will know or care.” Mr. Stakes responds.

“Hey, Mr. Stakes, I doubt you remember me but…” He cuts me off.

“Let me guess, I was your teacher?”

“Well, yeah.”

“I’m so glad you tuned out great. Look at you a teacher now, I’m so proud.” He says with a tone that tells me this is a rehearsed speech.

“Thanks, I guess. What are you doing here? Did you volunteer for this? I thought you taught 3rd grade.”

“Who are you again?” he asks finally noting I am not going away.

“I’m Scott Murray, eh, Murphy. Sorry, a bit overwhelmed and they spelled my name wrong.”

“Is this your first year?”

It must show, “Yes, I can’t wait to get started.” Yep I am so new you can see it from space.

“Let me answer your question, I am here because I thought it would be a good idea to pad my retirement with a few more years of work. The district did not take kindly to that and was stuck dealing with it until they opened this hell-hole back up. I was involuntarily moved and find myself here talking to you. I am too old to start from scratch and they know it. I’ll be done as soon as the year is over and they get to hire another eager young beaver like yourself. “

I was getting the impression that my 3rd grade teacher had been broken by the system. This is the system that I chose to quite a job where I earned a quarter million a year doing because I wanted to make the world better. I think I may be a dumb ass.

“So, what do we do?” I asked trying not to sound lame and failing.

“We? We, set up our rooms and get ready for the meetings that will start soon and take up every moment of free time you have for the next three days.”

“Oh.” I answered and that caused Mr. Stakes to take pity on me.

“Listen Scott, you can call me Bill. This school will have students in three days. No one is prepared for that so my suggestion is that you get real good at pretending you know what you are doing and keep on faking it until you think the kids believe it. These kids will sense weakness and pounce. You lose control of your classroom and you lose the year. I suggest you get some work ready for them day one and work them hard all the first week. Don’t bother grading everything but pick one assignment and make a big deal out of it. If you can do that you have a shot at making it out of this year with your sanity in tact.”

I would later realize that this was the greatest lesson he would ever teach me. I learned more in the last five minutes than I did in all my teaching methods courses.

There was an awful buzz over the speakers and a voice called all staff to report to the main auditorium. I had no idea where that was but I can follow a crowd. I hit the main hallway and followed the trudging people to a auditorium that smelled must and looked a bit frayed around the edges.

Principal Griffin was at the front with a woman who looked old enough to have heard Lincoln give the Gettysburg Address and a knock out blonde that had my full attention. I was hoping that the blonde would be chained to a desk so that I could drop by and make her acquaintance. No woman can stand up to my charms if she is not allowed to leave when I drop b to talk to her. I call my style Tenacious Pleading.

It turns out the centenarian is the Dean of Students and the amazing blonde is the Assistant Principal. I hope to work closely with her. Griffin finishes introductions and I finally look around and realize that the staff is mostly younger than me except for the handful of grizzled veterans posted up in the corner ignoring the proceedings. It hits me that we are the misfits and rookies. We are about to be thrown into the fire and no one has any idea what they are doing. The next two hours fly by at a crawl. I don’t know what Griffin is talking about and the centenarian as it turns out is hilariously named Mrs. Edwina “Eddy” Deville. She pronounces it like Devil. She takes us through the known troublemakers that we can expect and I have no frame of reference but feel like I should be taking notes. Finally the blonde reveals herself to by Ms. Jennifer Shaw. Did she just suggest she is single? She tells us all how great it will be to work with her and I can’t wait to tell her the same.

After the meeting I stop by to talk with her and introduce myself. She stops me short and demands, “Are you Murphy?”

“Yes!” I exclaim, so happy that she got it right.

“Griffin hired you without consulting me.”

Well this is not the start I was hoping for.

I tentatively reply, “I didn’t know. Glad to be here though, I can’t wait to get started.”

“Have you ever taught a day other than Observation and Student Teaching?”

“Sorry, no I haven’t. I focused on my applications and didn’t need to work while I looked.”

“Listen to me, your trust fund will not help you here. I will be observing your room in two weeks for your first evaluation. You had better be up-to-speed by then. Meet with your subject matter team and your mentor today. You need to get on the same page as the rest of us.”

I have no idea what I did to piss her off but I do know that it could have gone better. I realize that I was so focused on watching her move during the introductions that I have no idea who else teaches Language arts in this building. I may have found what she dislikes about me but I don’t know if I could have helped it. I guess wondering around will be my next bold move.

Chapter 1: Becoming A Teacher

I have no idea what I’m doing.

I have two Bachelors degrees and had a successful career for 5 years and I still have no idea what I am doing. I could retire tomorrow and live comfortably as long as the market holds so what am I doing looking at my name miss-spelled on a door to a classroom? There are three days before the school year starts and I have nothing to put on the walls. I have no idea what the curriculum looks like and the only person I met was my principal who didn’t remember who I was when I walked in. He interviewed me and hired me in the same day and seemed relieved that I could walk upright and form full sentences. His only concern was that this was a second career for me, no one seems to understand why I quit being a financial advisor to become a teacher.

They spelled my damn name wrong.

I hope that the phone works.

There is a ringtone but I don’t know who to call or what the extensions are. Looks like 0 will be my first attempt. On the other end I hear a haggard voice, “District Middle School 3, this is Deb how can I help you.”

“Hi Deb this is Scott Murphy, who do I talk to about getting the name on the door fixed? It was spelled wrong and I don’t want the kids to be confused.”

“Hold on one second.” She sighs and I get put through to my savior.

It’s voicemail, “This user has not set up an outgoing message.” BEEEP.

“Hi, this is Scott Murphy. I am sorry to bother you and I know you are busy but the name on my door was misspelled ‘Murray’ not ‘Murphy’ and I was wondering if someone could fix it to limit confusion for the kids on their first day. Thanks!”

I hope that went somewhere and hang up my phone.

I am not prepared for this; I have no idea how to decorate a classroom. I know what they should look like. I have sat in them for years and know that I should have posters and motivational cats on the walls. I know I should have a bulletin board. I have no idea where to get that stuff. What the hell was I thinking becoming a teacher?

I drop my box of books on my new desk and quickly realize that I do not have a chair. At least I have a desk. It looks like it may have sailed over on the mayflower but it has four legs and some drawers. It looks like my students wont have to worry about where they sit since their desks are attached to the chairs. I was afraid I wouldn’t have desks. This school was old when I was young. It has been closed for 5 years after they built the new middle school across town. The sudden population surge in the last two years has caused a frantic need for classroom space and they re-opened this school. They took the original name, Sally Ride Junior High, and changed it into a middle school before they slapped it up on the new building. We get the cast off building and currently no name. We are the fighting District Middle School 3s. We are the red-headed step-child of Island Grove. I want to say I hate this town but I grew up here and I had hoped when I moved to the city that I would never return other than to visit my parents on holidays. I don’t hate this town, your hometown gets in your blood and you can never get rid of it.

Island Grove is a big town outside of a small city. It doesn’t matter where it is because all towns like it look the same. It started out as a land grab and absorbed a few local unincorporated areas back in the 70s. It grew around a thriving downtown and shopping district that people still call quaint despite the fact it is rife with chain stores and coffee shops. They have a damn Apple Store; what is quaint about an Apple Store? The town as people think of it is prosperous and prestigious to the people who live in the area. No one at college had ever heard of it. The tradesmen and laborers who lived in the surrounding towns built Island Grove, not the founding fathers. Those tradesmen eventually made enough to build hoses within the town limits and live a comfortable life.

My dad was a plumber who moved us here when I was 5. He claims to have build our house and I believed him. What he meant to say was that he knew a guy or two and called in favors to have our house built on land we could barely afford for next to nothing.

Island Grove grew for years and then the 2008 market crash happened. Suddenly there were foreclosures as far as the eye could see and people began to wonder what would happen to the subdivisions that were sprouting up everywhere. Turns out that the people who managed to hang on to their house were so desperate for neighbors that they pushed through approval for a new developer, John Samson. Samson developed the lands while receiving nearly criminal tax breaks. He developed those well-planned beautiful subdivisions into low cost housing that was cheap and looked two steps up above a trailer park. The houses were all prefabricated and the truest sense of the phrase cookie cutter. At first the residents of Island grove were not too concerned about this but it became clear that Samson knew something others did not. The state had enacted laws that would allow low-income families to afford low cost housing at a subsidized rate. Samson was going to sell all those houses and the taxpayers were going to pay him to do it.   This population boom caused a huge surge in students. The old families and well to do did not want this riff-raff mixing with their kids and quickly re-opened the old schools that had been closed when they made the new education campus just outside of downtown.

I found myself looking for a job as a Language Arts Teacher in a job market that was flooded with Language Arts teachers. They don’t tell you this when you are in the education program but everyone K-9 is qualified to teach LA. The amount of general education classes you take is usually enough to qualify even the most inept educator to teach reading. That’s right, one of the most important subjects is the one with the lowest bar to entry. I found myself a grain of sand on the beach of reading teachers. I had filled out over 200 applications in 3 states and interviewed at 42 different schools over the last 6 months.

I had just about given up when my phone rang while I was at lunch. I would have ignored it but my ex-wife was sitting across the table from me and I was in a mood to piss her off. The haggard voice on the other end asked me if I was still interested in the Language Arts position and if I had time for an interview. I was and I did. He gave me a quick interview over the phone while my ex stared daggers at me. I was shocked when he asked me to stop by later that day for a second interview. As soon as I had the details I had second thoughts.

It is true; I had applied for a Language Arts position in my hometown. I had known they were opening up the old Sally Ride School. I had not considered they were going to ask me to work there. I went to an Ivy League University and Graduated near the top of my class in Business Administration. I was all set to be a CEO or as it turns out a Financial Advisor. Why would they think I should work in the Island Grove ghetto?

The school was exactly as I remembered it from playing sports. It was a dump. It looked like it was in the middle of being torn down and there was only 4 days until the school year was supposed to start. The secretary was absent. The entire office staff was absent. I walked around until I saw a light on in an office. It turned out this was the haggard sounding man who called me. His appearance matched his voice. He looked as though he had been trapped in this room for days and judging by the stack of take out cartons in the trash he may have been. He was about 40 pounds past obese and looked like he was somewhere between 30 and a stroke. He asked me to sit down and made some excuse about not meeting me while mumbling about where the time flew off too.

The interview was not about my ideas or my skills or even my thoughts on education. All Principal Griffin wanted to know was if I was qualified to teach middle school Language Arts and how quickly I could get a TB test and physical. I said I had them al ready to go since I had to get them when I was in the finals for a different job. The audible sound of relief in his voice made we sad for him. In less than 20 minutes I was hired and told to report to the District’s Headquarters tomorrow at 7:30 AM for paperwork and assignment. I walked out and it was surreal. I had a job, easy as that.

It was not that easy. It turns out the District Headquarters does not open until 9 AM. August is a hot month and I felt like I was a criminal casing the place as I sat in my car with the air running. I had already had my coffee for the morning and had nothing I needed to do. I chased the first person to arrive into the building. My eager excitement was a burden on the poor office drone that had no idea what I was talking about. It took me until ten before I was seated across from somebody who had an idea of what I was supposed to do. I then spent a grueling 5 hours getting paperwork completed, fingerprints taken, papers filed and question answered. By the time I final left and hurried over to District Middle School 3 to see if I could get into my classroom and get a feel for what I needed.

I was disappointed when the doors were locked. No one answered my knocks and though there were cars in the parking lot I could not find a single human being to let me in other than a little old lady who shook her head when I knocked on the window and pointed at the door. I was too new to let that diminish my excitement. I went home and packed a box full to bursting with books that would convince people that I was smart and well read.

Here I am finally in my room and all I have is a box of books and my name misspelled on the door. Turing around I notice that my phone is blinking with a message. I like the receiver and hit the button marked with a faded looking envelope. In my ear I hear my won voice, “Hi, this is Scott Murphy. I am sorry to bother you and I know you are busy but the name on my door was misspelled ‘Murray’ not ‘Murphy’ and I was wondering if someone could fix it to limit confusion for the kids on their first day. Thanks!”

God, I sound like an ass. Well at least I don’t have to worry about anyone else knowing that I have no idea what I am doing.