The Last Thing

The last thing

is the email I receive 

before shutting down 

my computer for the day.

Subject line: Info for You to Know

My heart drops.

It’s about my boy in the hoodie.

Things are bad at home.

Mom has cancer.

Dad is not in the picture.

Little sister is battling mental illness

The financial struggles are overwhelming.

I look away from the screen

remembering the boy’s fictional story 

from the fall.

The pieces fall together 

as I read through his draft.

The reference to a sick mom

and a deadbeat dad.

A protagonist who steals Airs Jordans

to resale for cash-

money needed for medicine and food.

How the main character

tries to do right by his mother,

but the neighborhood gangs call to him,

offering him a way out.

How in the mornings, the boy

makes breakfast for the family,

so his mother can rest from the pain.

How the protagonist, who wears a black hoodie too,

says, “I am an overthinking mess 

who is just trying to survive.”

The last thing that happened today

is a story that is not fiction at all

but rather a silent boy’s truth.

A truth I had not considered

but now understand,

and my heart 


Throwback Thursday

Today, our team discussed hosting a restorative meeting with a student struggling to meet our school’s behavior expectations which got me thinking about disciplinary practices during my school years. How when I was in school there was little to no student due process. How if a teacher accused you of wrongdoing, there was no recourse to plead your case. You simply served your time. 

A common disciplinary practice at my elementary school was the nose to the wall consequence.  Students were paraded out at the start of recess, like little convicts, and required to stand with their noses pressed against the brick wall. If children tried to turn their heads to take a peek at their classmates playing on the blacktop behind them, a recess monitor was there to yell at them. Something like, “Turn around and put your nose against the wall immediately or you will lose another recess!”

In middle school, students faced another form of this humiliating practice. Instead of standing against a wall, students who were in trouble stood on the stage with their backs to the cafeteria while the rest of us ate. At the end of lunch, the stage curtains would close, concealing the “troublemakers” from the eyes, but not the ears in the cafeteria. We would nervously giggle as each crack of the paddle meant the principal was closer to the climactic end of his public flogging.

As a kid, it never dawned on me that these practices might be wholly inappropriate and cruel.  I never stopped to think that teachers and administrators might target students. That staff might hurt kids for reasons other than for inappropriate behavior. That adults I trusted could be racist, homophobic, or simply hated kids because they were different from themselves.

Thankfully, we have come a long way in public education since the days of my youth. Today, many school systems guarantee students due process, provide intervention strategies, implement restorative justice practices, and ban corporal punishment and humiliation tactics. Yet, I am no longer a naive kid from the 1970s. We have much work still ahead of us if we are to ensure all students thrive in a safe and supportive learning environment.

A Respite from Testing

The standardized assessment recently slain

by 300 knights with sharpened #2 pencils

means the warriors can return home to their smaller 

community classrooms to read and write with choice.

No longer do they fear oppressive prompts,

drills of skills or anxiety provoking algorithms-

calculations used to determine future class,

the threat of below level rankings

temporarily assuaged.

In room 325, April promises poetry.

Calm enters through the open window

settling in on its inhabitants

like a sweet scented metaphor. 

Books open, pages turn, scribes scribe.

The room exhales a collective sigh

as moods lift

and freedom is sipped.


Today’s classroom was busy. Find 40 ways students’ needs were met.

b a n d a i d s n a c k s p e n c i l c o u n s e l o r h e a d p h o n e s 

c u p b i n d e r n u r s e b r e a k s c r u n c h y f o r k u p s t a n d e r 

z i p l o c k b a g t i s s u e s h i g h f i v e s h a l l p a s s c h a r g e r 

f e e d b a c k a g e n d a l o v e c h e c k i n s i c e p a c k f i d g i t s

w a t e r p a t i e n c e g l a s s e s c h o i c e s c e l e b r a t i o n s

e x p e r t i s e p a d s r e c o m m e n d a t i o n p o s t i t s s h a r i n g

f l e x i b l e s e a t i n g a d v o c a c y g l u e s t i c k i n t e r v e n t i o n

h i g h e x p e c t a t i o n s p a r e n t c o n t a c t f r i e n d s p r a i s e

Rearranging Life, Part II

Earlier this year my daughter was blindsided,

punched in the gut by a fist of words,

I don’t love you anymore. 

His blow was devastating.

So I did what every mother does.

I offered her advice, a remedy for the pain.

Why don’t you try rearranging a room or two. 

Reclaim, rediscover, reimagine the possibilities

of your space and relationships.

Reluctantly, she agreed to try, 

admitting it would be hard.

He is everywhere, she said.

So I imagined her

rearranging her things, 

swapping out the dining room 

for her living room,

removing curtains,

shifting the bed to the corner,

discovering a new perspective,

one that felt more like her, 

and less like him.

But several weeks later,

she called back.

It isn’t enough, she said.

No matter where I place the sofa,

or the dresser

or the table,

I remain anchored in a raging sea.

She talked and I listened,

her voice brightening when

she spoke of a move to the city-

about how sometimes 

a rearrangement calls for

packing boxes,

a U-Haul truck,

and a destination

hundreds of miles north.

Rearranging a Room, Part I

Once or twice a year, I rearrange the furniture in a room

often swapping pieces from one room into the next.

I’ll sit in the space and re-imagine it 

with the couch on the west wall instead of the east.

Or I’ll haul up a chair from the basement

and fall in love with its shape all over again.

I like how the change

in balance

and light,

and color,

and texture

brings a renewed energy into a space,

invoking a new perspective-

the point of view 

I curate and control.

The Boy in the Hoodie

The boy in the hoodie,

the one who pulls his zippered sweatshirt

high over his chin to conceal his mouth,

sits in the middle of the classroom.

He speaks to no one

not even me.

When I check in with him,

he merely shakes his head

back and forth or

up and down

in rapid-fire succession.

He–refusing words,

refusing relationships,

a self-destructive coping mechanism.

His mom and dad seem like loving, caring parents.

When I express my concerns about his engagement,

his missing work, his withdrawn nature,

they give me permission to keep him after school

on Tuesdays and Thursdays until his academics improve.

I tell the boy in the hoodie that

the arrangement is just until 

he has reengages with his studies.

I remind him I am here to help,

and that I believe in him,

that I see his intelligence,

that he is worthy.

Most days after school though

he rarely speaks, except to say, 

I don’t care or I don’t have the paper.

choosing to communicate nonverbally, 

eyes downcast.

But I know we both see the changes.

The boy in the hoodie,

who some call lazy and gruff,

is turning in assignments

and his grades are improving.

When I ask about his siblings,

he says he has two sisters

and that he is close with them.

He tells me that his favorite subject 

used to be math

but that was before Covid, 

before he stopped trying.

Last Thursday, one week out from the quarter’s end,

I told him he wouldn’t need to stay with me 

unless his grades slip again.

I figured he would be relieved.

I imagined he would leave my classroom 

the following week

without ever speaking another word to me-

relieved to be away from the teacher 

who expects too much from him,

who asks too many questions

who  just won’t let him be.

But that boy in the hoodie

surprised me.

He pulled down the zippered sweatshirt,

the part that covered his mouth,

looked directly at me and asked:

“Could I still come after school if I wanted to?

Next quarter?”

I paused,


As teachers we don’t always see evidence

that what we do positively impacts

the lives of the children we teach.

But last Thursday, 

I knew we had worked some kind of miracle.

A miracle that would have to sustain me 

during this hard, hard year of teaching.

“Of course!” I said, trying to play it cool,  

“You are always welcome to stay with me.”

Phil’s Flip Flops

At the end of period five 

a well-worn pair of brown flip flops 

were left near the trash can

by my desk.

They belonged to my student Phil,

who wears the same brown

flip flops,

no matter the weather,

no matter the occasion.

Clearly Phil must have

kicked them off

during reading time

and never bothered to put them back on.

Was it forgetfulness?


A prank?

No matter,

I knew Phil would be back.

The boy needed his shoes.

But lunch time came and went.

And no Phil.

I was certain

he would rush into my room

complaining about having to wear shoes,

telling me that he left them in the room

because he felt like going barefoot,

insisting he liked the cool concrete floor 

pressed against his heels and toes.

Hadn’t someone stopped Phil in the cafeteria?

Told him he was not allowed in line

or at the table without shoes?

Hadn’t someone insisted that 

shoes be worn at all times,

or else?

The final bell chimed at 2:35.

Classes were dismissed for the day,

but Phil’s flip flops remained.

I could have picked them up

and deposited them in the lost and found,

but I thought, no

Phil will be back,

so I left them there, undisturbed

near the trash can

by my desk.

In the morning,

the flip flops had been rearranged 

into neat parallel lines.

The night custodian must have felt compelled to 

straighten them thinking they were mine,

that I had left them there.

I consulted my homeroom students

who somehow know everything about everyone.

When I asked why Phil never came back for his shoes.

They told me he had a second pair of flip flops 

tucked inside his backpack

exactly like his old ones

which were near the trash can

by my desk.

If We Were Having Coffee…

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I’m reading Lucy By the Sea and share how the fictionalized story about the early days of the pandemic is like reliving our collective trauma all over again. There are many parallels between Lucy’s early interpretation of the virus and my own. We both thought it would be over in a few weeks, until the images of refrigerated morgue trucks, bizarre presidential briefings, charts and graphs depicting steep rises in cases followed by even steeper rises in deaths on the evening news hit like a slap across the face. The impending isolation and despair is so relatable and easily relivable–it all lands a little too close for comfort. I do remain hopeful though that the ending of Elizabeth Strout’s novel is more cathartic than dread-filled.

If we were having coffee, I’d declare my 2023 summer goals: 1) strengthen my core; 2) improve my mediation practice; 3) schedule more time to read and write; and 4) spend as little time as possible doing school stuff. I’d then explain my reasoning behind my fourth goal, like sticking to the tenets of what contract employment means–teachers are not typically paid for hours worked outside of contract hours. The illusion of teacher-work accomplished between 7:30 and 3:00 pm each day is not reality. Only when teachers stop carrying so much of the workload into their weekends and summers, will the systemic problems associated with teacher pay inequity and burnout be addressed. 

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that my daughter plans to move to New York City this summer to pursue the next chapter of her life. I would tell you how proud I am of her willingness to jump into new experiences with gusto and optimism. And how excited I am to have more reasons to visit NYC.

If we were having coffee, I’d talk about my aging pets and the exorbitantly high bills we pay to keep their systems running. We would laugh about how a simple pet check-up often reveals some new malady that needs long term treatment. 

“You can put your cat on an inhaler for that,” I’d repeat to you in the voice of my veterinarian. 

And you’d say, “Better your cat than you.”

“Touche. Touche.”

Thanks, The Dirigible Plum for the inspiration.