Sunday, March 29, 2020


Moments we see hurtling our direction fill our lives, and we are unable to avoid them regardless of our emotional preparation or bastions of security. There are numerous events we sense developing over long periods which we never address with any urgency, for we always believe we have time, plenty of time.  There are also those incidents in our lives that strike us from our blind side, those that leave us wondering why we never considered anything like this could ever happen. 

We know all of this yet seem surprised when any one of these situations occurs. While many people complain and fret over how our world has changed, others become more reflective, often searching for some meaning in whatever pain, suffering, or inconvenience which has attached itself to our lives. Once full of beating rhythms, a constant shuffle of steps, and a breathing list of anticipated milestones, life now spins to a stop as we long for a return to normalcy. In our minds, we know that normal is farther away than we can imagine.

I felt Friday, March 13th, coming. I was not surprised when this day arrived, but I could not believe how it just slid right into our lives, turning our world sideways. Meeting as a faculty for two hours that morning to discuss whatever preparations we could make for a possible school closure because of the coronavirus pandemic did little to prepare me for the moment when the principal would make the closing announcement later that morning. I was even less prepared for my juniors and seniors who came to class throughout the day. Each brought a challenging gamut of emotions, a unique set of individual concerns, and a definitive degree of uncertainty regarding the shift in whatever routine or normalcy they had in their lives.

Cup your hands under a running faucet of warm water. Do your best to keep your hands and fingers closed tightly together while letting the water flow over the top into the sink below. Move your cupped hands slowly from the faucet while maintaining the tightness in your hands to prevent any water from slipping through the crevices. The water you try desperately to keep dribbles out of the cracks only to spiral down the drain. That is how I felt that day, how my seniors felt.

My seniors tossed many questions my way, but I could only offer uncomfortable hope and reassurance despite having no answers to allay their fears. Second-semester senior year and the usual rites of passage afforded generations of seniors before them seemed to be slowly seeping through the seniors' tightly clenched hands. The dreams and expectations of their transition from high school into the real world appear to be disappearing ever since the real world landed hard on their doorstep.

When we have lost something, we worry. Initially, we write personal narratives about life being unfair and never going the way we want it to go. On that Friday, I selfishly wondered about how inconvenienced my life was going to be. I worried about the changes I would have to make to my plans and teaching style to convert to "distance learning." Anxiety bubbled over while I contemplated a loss of freedom to come and go as I pleased. Eventually, emotion gives way to reason through an understanding of the severity of the situation. 

In the grand scope of a pandemic, my worries are inconsequential to the lives of people who have contracted the virus or whose family members who have fallen ill and perhaps even died. My problems are negligible to the concerns of doctors and nurses who care for the sick and business owners the government has identified as non-essential and closed. We all have the ability to check ourselves, replacing fear, anger, and frustration with perspective, reasoning, and empathy. 

Reality settled uncomfortably in my life over the next few weeks. I attempted to strike a balance watching news alerts and press conferences on the pandemic, continually checking in on social media, and completing my long-distance teaching work. One aspect of my life I pushed aside was my spiritual well-being; I chose to busy myself with the other three in the hope that any sadness, regret, or anxiety would eventually fade. My heart kept revisiting my classes, particularly my seniors who continued to complete their assignments in Classcraft Quest or Google Classroom. I missed them.

I began to revisit moments throughout the year that remained in my heart. I remembered the newness of the classroom at the beginning of the year and the eager faces of students I greeted at the door. I heard the applause of students who eagerly anticipated the next Random Event in Classcraft and the complaints of students who are not particularly "artsy" whenever we would do scrapfolios. I shrugged off the embarrassment I felt when the students yelled my name at games but treasured the time one of my students left a CCHS cowbell on my desk to ring during the next football game. I shared the pride of completing a research paper or a long book as well as the loss, the confusion, and the anxiety they felt March 13th and the days following. I relived my year-long experiences with the hard workers, the jokers, the quiet ones, the confused, the texting-under-the-desk ones, the sleepy ones, the kind ones, and the lunch crew. All of them. That is my life as a teacher: meeting my students where they are to the best of my ability, finding common ground to create a learning community, and establishing a safe place for all to discover potential and feel a connection. Yeah, I miss them.

I have been asking myself what I hope to gain from stranding myself in the past while being constantly worried about what I am missing or what the next day will bring. Quite honestly, I am struggling to put this all together in one convenient thought or perspective. I know that at times I have not been as grateful or invested in those ordinary moments, forgetting that they disappear with the click of the second hand on a clock. I know that at times I vainly struggle with controlling my path to the future, believing that if I work hard, follow the rules, and live right that the future will be as I desire. I know that there is a vast world outside of mine with people whose problems are much more severe than mine are to me.

I stand in front of the faucet as the water falls into my cupped hands. I need to recognize the reality that this water is never going to remain in my hands. I can appreciate it while it is there, feeling the warmth of the water on my skin or raising it to my lips to drink. Once it is gone, I can always return my hands beneath the faucet to replenish that which I once had. Ultimately the most significant part of all of this is how I choose to live life. I can continue to be angry, bitter, and afraid, or I can remind myself that there are parts of our lives that are never guaranteed. The noblest choices are to remain optimistic despite all odds and to cherish that which experience has afforded us. We should pray and be kind to one another, continuing to do the best we can with the understanding that the world is not always going to be as we wish it could be.

This is my first promo for a blog. I am proud that it captures some of the feelings I have been experiencing these past few weeks.

I am going follow this post with a What's Up, Buddy? podcast on Monday, March 30th. I hope you can listen.

Sunday, March 1, 2020


Nothing really surprises me anymore as a teacher. I tell my high school students that I have heard about every "story" or "reason" for homework not being completed, for projects remaining incomplete weeks removed from a due date. Nothing surprises me. I have learned to roll with the explanations students offer me as they hope that something will stick.

"Having said that," I explain to those empty-handed teenagers in front of me, "I would still like to see this finished. How much more time do you need? How can I help you?" Inevitably, that which is incomplete is completed; those that are lost find their way.

The past month has been different in my English IV classes. I have been incredibly surprised, and I am at loss for words. That's a new one for me. Nothing bad is happening in Room 304; life is actually the opposite for this teacher and his students.

I met Sam Hill over Christmas break this year. My Kindle offered his story as a free download for a short time, and I wanted a good read over break. I needed a book to take me somewhere beyond the daily grind of reading analysis papers and poorly written vocabulary sentences. I needed a book destined to remind me that despite the precarious nature of life, I can still experience something extraordinary if my vision is clear.

Robert Dugoni's novel The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell is the story of Sam Hill, a man who was born with ocular albinism, a condition that affects the pigment of the eyes. Imagine going through school in the 1960's with red eyes and having classmates rename you as "Sam Hell." Throughout his novel Dugoni transports the reader from the present day to the past and back again as Sam relives life experiences in order to understand the person he has become. Sam's life is at times a spiritual struggle as he explores his purpose in life. Robert Dugoni has created a thoughtful novel which at times is a reflection on morality, kindness, faith, and God.


Over several weeks after Christmas break I nonchalantly showed individual seniors in my English IV class the paperback copy of the book, all 428 glorious pages of it, until everyone in my classes had a chance to read the compelling back cover then leaf through the book. 

"Oh, yeah. I think this will be good." 


"It is awfully long, but this sounds like it will be interesting."

"It's huge. How are we going to read all of this?"

"That cover is so cool. Is his name really Sam Hell?"

"Is there a movie about this?

As I said earlier, I have heard just about everything in my thirty years of teaching, so none of this surprised me at all. I was hesitant to even begin ordering The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell out of fear that my students would absolutely hate it, and I would be shackled with tediously dragging a bunch of teenagers through 428 pages of the book. This could become a nightmare for all of us. 

However, I had faith that my students would find the character of Sam Hill and his friends Mickie and Ernie as compelling as I did. I had faith that Sam's story, as full of eye-opening reality as a teacher can take in a classroom, would connect with young people who may have experienced the same issues of acceptance, relationships, isolation, bullying, faith, and death as Sam does throughout this novel. I had faith that they would understand the messages that Dugoni is expressing through the lives of his characters.

A month later the teacher in me has been experiencing truly "extraordinary" moments as I have attempted to pace the reading of the book as I normally do every other novel I have ever "taught." I have always enjoyed reading to students in class to help them become acclimated to the novel, the characters, the plot, themes, and the author's writing style; I did so throughout the first two parts of the book, but then I began encountering these types of excuses:

"Mr. Bucon, I hope you aren't mad, but I have been reading ahead."

"Sorry but I read the next three chapters. Am I in trouble?"

"Quiet, Mr. Bucon. It is Sustained Silent Reading!"

"I have finished Part Three already. I cannot put this down."

"This may be my favorite book ever."

"Are you sure there isn't a movie about this?"

We just finished a "test" of sorts on Friday about Part Five of the book and only have two parts remaining this week. As a teacher, the experience of a class becoming so enraptured by a novel like this is one which I will not soon forget.  They are a wonderful group enjoying a truly wonderful novel.

At the girls basketball game last Friday night, JB and Michael, two students in my eighth period, ventured over to sit beside me at halftime and never left. Guess what. The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell came up. "So, Mr. Bucon," JB began, "What is going to happen with Sam and David Bateman?"

"Do you really want me to tell you? I don't mind."

"No. No. Don't tell me. I want to be surprised. Is it good though?"

I smiled, shrugged my shoulders, then looked at Michael who sat silently beside JB and me. He is probably one of those kids who read ahead and does not want to tell me. He doesn't like to get into trouble. 

Twitter post and a comment from Robert Dugoni.