Sunday, October 10, 2021

PAPASANITY


Alrighty, then. Let me think about this:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I have been teaching-gulp-31 years. That's right. I have been getting up every morning more or less at dawn to arrive at school somewhere between 6:45 and the first bell at 7:30. I have been blessed to have spent those years inside a classroom with an incredibly diverse collection of high school students in North Carolina and here in West Virginia. You know what? It is my passion, and I love it.

The willingness to change, to adjust to the ever-evolving needs of students, to reinvent when projects do not work anymore, to envision new possible outcomes to stories that have yet to be written. This has been my non-secret secret, and it has been my mindset to avoid the complacency and frustration that can easily edge its way into the heart of any profession, especially teaching.

I have taught seniors for longer than I can remember. I have recreated more rubrics, searched for new content, planned more original lessons from scratch that an outsider may actually say: Hey. Come on. Can't you do the same thing every year? How hard is teaching? The irony is that I have always wanted to be able to have so many locked-in, pull-them-out-of-the-folder lessons that I never have to plan anything again. I actually have the dusty, torn folders as evidence of this. Fortunately, that dream has never come to fruition.

Every year I have a vision for my class and my students, but what I do have is a collection of tried and true basic "recipes," that with minor (and occasionally major) tweaking can be used in different and unique ways for the different and unique students in my care every year.

A couple weeks ago as I was planning my rhetorical analysis unit for my seniors, I happened across an old folder that had PAPA SQUARES written in faded pencil across the tab. My colleague Besty Knorr shared this idea she had discovered on one of the many educational websites she peruses for new ideas. With her permission, I "stole" the idea, changed it, adjusted it, and envisioned how the story of my students doing this project would develop into something educational and memorable.

Allow me to give you a crash course in PAPA  squares. PAPA is a way to help students test their own understanding of a piece of rhetoric (argumentative writing or speech). PAPA is an acronym for Persona, Audience, Purpose, and Argument and is the foundational understanding for any type of analysis. Yada-Yada-Yada. Each student creates a folded, interactive square with moving flaps out of a gigantic sheet of card stock on which every side and flap has some individual part of the analysis. 

The finished PAPA square.
Caution: This is not as easy as it looks.

My English IV students had already read and analyzed George W. Bush's 9/11 speech, and they begrudgingly awaited the standard typed essay to follow. I was so excited to tell them we would have plenty of time for that later and that we were going to make-TA!DA!-a PAPA SQUARE! I proudly displayed my own square I had made years ago with its colorful flaps and text written on the inside and backside and flipside. I found it amazing and glorious, but from the look on their faces, they found it insurmountable and frightening. 

I know my students come to the table with different abilities. Any educator worth their salt knows this and creates assignments that allow individual skills to shine while developing those which need growth. Some students are great writers, some have tremendous artistic skills, some excel at math and measuring, and some can barely use safety scissors. You know what? All of this is perfectly fine when we are making PAPA squares.

When the day arrived and my students see PAPAsanity on the smartboard as the agenda for the next two days, we all settled in or attempted to flee, meticulously measured and cut paper, tossed scraps aside, learned to laugh at our own imperfections, struggled with starting over or fixing mistakes, helped one another, distracted one another. We embraced the chaos, and that is perfectly fine.

"Draw a 3" x 5" rectangle." What do we do? "Draw a 3" x 5" rectangle." Wait. Mine is different than his. It is smaller. "We are using inches not centimeters." 😀

Hey! Can we ADD-HD people move back to this table? We work better together. "Ummmm-OK? I am not sure that is a good idea, but..." 😟 Great! Come on back here!

"I am moving on to Stage 3. If you are not quite finished with Stage 2, I promise I will come back to help you. Just keep moving forward." Wait! What are we doing? I am still on the first stage! 😲

Are we supposed to be writing this in pen? "Yes. Blue or black ink as it says on the slide."  Wait. What? I have been writing in pencil. What do I do?  "Write it in pen." Does anybody have a pen? Oh, wait. I have one. 😭


Two days later, we all looked at our PAPA squares, taking pictures for the back wall where I have displayed the Live a Great Story flag I bought this summer. I had placed it back in the back of the room as a reminder to all of my seniors to embrace the daily experiences they have and find a message among all of the moments of exhilaration, stress, mediocrity, and even chaos. They were so happy to be finished with this project. Unfortunately, I had to break the news to them that there was one more part to this crazy PAPA square project-the essay.

The groans! The complaints! The eye-rolls!

I laugh in the face of adversity, particularly when I am confident a story is going to have an epilogue that unifies the message better than the actual ending. 

"We all did this PAPA square together. We all finished it, right? Here is the thing: we all had different obstacles, though. Some struggled with writing, some struggled with measuring and cutting, some struggled with their teammates, and, hey, I absolutely know that some of you struggled with me. I struggle with myself sometimes myself because I can be annoying. Now it is time to tell your story, in your own style, about the obstacle you overcame to complete this project. I want your story to have a meaningful message for anyone, even someone who has no idea what a PAPA square is or has never set foot in this class."

At this moment, PAPAsanity became something so much more than a rhetorical analysis or a folded cardstock square with colorful designs. PAPAsanity became a vehicle for these young people to attach meaning to what could have been just another meaningless project in school to them. These kids dove into this personal account by writing about some incredible lessons they learned like "(being able) to recognize one’s faults and problems (as the) only way a person can improve." Or even acknowledging (that) "there will be times you aren’t understanding (but do) not give up when things are at their worst."

I love teaching for moments just like these. I can live my own great story engaging a classroom of teenagers from beginning to end on a project like PAPAsanity while at the same time being a small part of the great story my students share about their own lives. 


Do you want to hear some more about PAPAsanity
Check out my next podcast!















Sunday, August 22, 2021

LIVE A GREAT STORY


Where do we even begin to tell our stories? Some parts and pieces of our lives are safeguarded in the past while others are relegated as afterthoughts on a nightstand. We tell ourselves as we organize and categorize them that there will be a point to all of this, that understanding will come in time.

I rolled up my Live a Great Story flag into my carry-on bag for my flight to the beach. I had ordered a flag back in July after countless advertisements for it continually popped up on my Facebook feed. I think I clicked on the ad one time, and we became philosophical friends until I brought one home for good.

I flew down for a week at the beach to visit with my friend Jodi and her family. Jodi and I always have important topics and questions about life we want to solve as we take many long walks up and down the beach. Talks beside the ocean are different. Any problems or challenges I am facing fade in the beauty and expanse of the ocean while the sounds of the waves whisper answers as I quietly sit watching the tide.

Up and down the beach Jodi and I journeyed, talking about growing older, the body aches we both feel more and more, the challenges about living apart from family, the feeling of always having something we have to do, and the struggles of not only understanding other people but understanding ourselves.

Every day we walked, we ended up at what we call "the point," a beautiful stone structure created to help prevent beach erosion. A couple of times we went beyond our destination into a more secluded cove where there were fewer people walking. The conversation about life's troubles tended to end there. The serenity of the cove offered the same calmness to two people weary from life's walk.

One day, I told Jodi that I wanted to take my pictures with the Live a Great Story flag here. We unraveled it, and Jodi began to take pictures of my attempting to hold the flag in front of me. The unobstructed ocean breeze would have none of that as it blew the flag around my body, over my head, and down the beach. As Jodi and I often do, we laughed at the absurdity of what we were trying to do: take a perfect picture at a time when nothing is perfect. 


Living a great story does not mean living one which is free of failure or regret nor does it mean living one which is completely full of exciting highlight reels and success. Living a great story is embracing the wind when it blows you off course or when it leads you to a place of peace. Living a great story is walking a path, whether it be on a smooth sandy beach or a rocky mountain path, with a sense of purpose and a quest for understanding. 

We can put parts and pieces in the past, where we treasure them as moments that never will return. We can place these parts and pieces nearby until deciding what they all mean in the ever-changing story of our lives. The most important thing is to live our story and appreciate the unexpected random nature of it all.


Thanks for all the great pictures, Bestie.



















Sunday, July 18, 2021

"FOCUS ON THE MOMENT"


Gone are the days when I was really invested in the NBA. To be transparent, I do not think I ever really followed the regular season and only occasionally read about teams and players while watching highlights on YouTube or ESPN. I enjoyed the playoffs, though. This is where the stories always appeal to me.

I had been scrolling through Twitter where I saw a great interview with Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis and the Bucks had just evened the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, during which he scored 40-plus points in a double-double over consecutive games while contributing this incredible block during the series-tying game.


The reporter interviewing him asks how someone so young could have figured out his ego, particularly after his recent performances on the court. His response is one which I have watched several times, thinking not just about this "mindset" in basketball but in all aspects of life. If you have not seen it, you should definitely watch it and listen carefully.



I am not a psychologist or even in the ballpark of Sigmund Freud, so forgive me if I do not explain this well. The "ego" allows the person to balance the moral code and lessons we have learned throughout our lives with primal urges and desires we have had since birth.  It is imperative to know how to use the ego effectively. Without doing so, our lives can become full of frustration, distraction, and disappointment. 

Clearly, we can always look at our past and feel accomplishment, but Giannis uses the word "focus" to emphasize that he cannot dwell on what he has done as it is in the past and does allow him to move forward. He suggests that to "focus" too much on the future leads a person to an overabundance of pride. In Giannis' case, his pride would tell him that because he scored 40-plus points in two games, he will score 40-plus points or even more in the next game. 

Giannis' message is to "focus on the moment." We are humble "in the moment" because we are not relying on what we have done in the past or what we say we will do in the future. We must remain engaged in the here and now, doing our best to live by the values and experiences embedded in us to become better people in each moment of our lives. Giannis explains that this does not mean he sets no expectations for himself. It simply means "going out there and enjoying the game." 

Life is a constant challenge. We tend to fall back on previous accomplishments when obstacles stand in our path as we forget what brought us to the accomplishment. We believe that rising to a challenge once in the past will influence the present. It does not. Focus on the moment, savor each minute, do your best, be humble, and let the current experience become part of your ongoing story.  

Bibliography

Ashley Landis. “Giannis Antetokounmpo Signs Largest Deal in NBA History with Milwaukee Bucks,” CNN.com, 15 Dec.2020, www.cnn.com/2020/12/15/us/giannis-antetokounmpo-contract-spt-trnd/index.html.

Cherry, Kendra. “How Ego Strength Is Used to Manage the Id, Superego, and Reality.” Verywell Mind, 30 Apr. 2020, www.verywellmind.com/ego-strength-2795169. 
“Giannis UNREAL BLOCK with 1:15 Left in CLUTCH Time!” YouTube.com, NBA.com, 15 July 2021, youtube/b4-Hi4MeYMY.
“‘When You Focus on the Past, That’s Your Ego.’ Giannis Antetokounmpo Life Lessons.” YouTube, upload by The Milwaukee Bucks, 17 July 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qLchg4xkOY.


Sunday, June 27, 2021

WIDE TURN



I am fairly certain that I did a few things right by my father as I was growing up; however, I know that learning to drive was not one of them. 

To this day, I wince at some of the stupidity I exhibited as we drove our family car around the parking lot at Wheeling Park High School and on the one road in our neighborhood. I practiced driving on a stick shift. I am glad I learned to drive that way, but I was so terrible at pushing in the clutch and shifting the gear from first to second back then. Crunch! Grind! Halt! I could sense the growing disappointment with each of my father's deep sighs. 

The frustration melted from my father's face whenever I could successfully shift into a higher gear and move forward steadily. But, unfortunately, roads are not straight for very long around West Virginia, and I would eventually need to slow down to make a turn.

I grew up watching Speed Racer. Speed was so cool to me. I loved the way he would zip around those turns, repeatedly crossing his arms and spinning the steering wheel of the Mach 5 round and round and round. If anyone came too close or got in his way, he could bump them off the road, through a guardrail, and into a deep ravine. Speed Racer and the Mach 5 would just keep moving ahead on the road in front of them. He made driving look so easy. 

"Stop turning the wheel like that!" my dad would yell. "Never, ever, keep your arms crossed when you are turning! Slow down and move your hands! You are going to have an accident because you have no control over the car! "

I would give my dad this bewildered look as I sat with my left and right arms still locked across the steering wheel because I could not quite figure out the timing to move my hands around the wheel.  One problem had blended into the next. I struggled with down-shifting, so I took turns faster than I should, holding onto the wheel for dear life.  I was such a doofus. 


My issues with turns have followed me throughout life. From time to time, I find myself too close to a curb and ride over it. You see, I am terrified of making a wide turn into someone else's lane. I witness other people doing this all of the time. I am speechless as they leave a parking lot or make a turn at a light only to glide cavalierly into the next lane instead of carefully taking the time to stay in their own lane. 

"Wide turn. Wide. WIDE!" I can hear my dad's crescendoing voice as he tried to appear comfortable in the passenger seat, hoping that I would not lose my confidence. "If another car is coming, you will be right in front of it. That is their lane." While I still wanted to be Speed Racer, I knew my cartoon idol would never drive straight into an oncoming car. So I played small and hugged my side of the road, occasionally riding tires over a curb, eliciting a Bump! and Thump! from the car and a "Curb. That's a curb!" from my father. 

The world has changed since I struggled with the complexities of the clutch and making turns. More country roads and endless highways have opened to me, and more drivers have joined me traveling to their own metaphorical destinations. I learned a long time ago that a wide turn is just not suitable beyond the confines of a quiet road, regardless of how separate from the rest of the world we think we are. A wide turn can take another person by surprise, forcing him off his path. A wide turn can change a person's attitude and how a person sees the rest of the world. After all, we do not drive these roads and highways by ourselves.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

RANDOM EVENTS

 


I have never been the best at relinquishing my control to the forces of life. I am definitely a work in progress. I fight a constant battle between maintaining the status quo out of a need for security and veering joyously off course to a different destination. Fear hinders me and propels me. Beauty and growth reside in the random nature of life, though. While I may not always have the understanding of life's mysteries that I crave, I find comfort in my own awareness of the ebbs and flows of life as they occur.

As a teacher who relishes scheduling and planning, I often find myself growing enraptured in the routine, myopically driving toward the end goal: a test, a project, a paper, or a presentation. I had a student several years back say to me, "Mr. Bucon, we are going to get everything done eventually. It is ok to take your foot off the gas." He was correct, of course. Destinations will always await the patient while the journey may offer more magic and significance.

Seinfeld, the iconic sitcom from the '90s, is full of those random moments. Honestly, the show is quite literally about the characters' reactions to the most random events, making it what George Constanza refers to as a "show about nothing." I remember one episode in which George is, yet again, complaining to Jerry at the diner about how pathetic his life is. Over coffee, Jerry and George amble and ramble about a change in philosophy for George which involves doing the opposite of whatever he would normally do. And so the show takes off from there with George having remarkable success in life by doing the opposite of his instincts.

seinfeldmemes.com

So as I take one last look back at the past school year before fully embracing the summer months, I remember a week when I tossed my plans and did what George Constanza does, the opposite of whatever I would normally do. I had to brace myself for the unexpected.

I remember talking to Trey in my English IV class about The Boss Project. Why him? He and his friends loved music and had always been vocal about listening to some of the same music as I did growing up. So I pulled up The Boss Project on my computer for Trey to see. "Trey, give it to me straight. I have always wanted to do a Springsteen unit, and I just think this could be really cool." 


I was so uncertain about how this would play out. This project had second-semester seniors analyzing three of Bruce Springsteen's most famous songs, talking about them, writing about them, watching the incredible film Blinded by the Light, then completing a final creative project. In my heart, I knew it could be a great project, but I was so concerned about how a random project thrown into the mix this close to the end of the year would work with a group of kids a month away from graduation. I needed Trey's seal of approval. If he was in, I felt confident moving forward.

"Oh, Mr. Bucon. This would be so cool. They will love this." Trey's energy was overwhelming. Did he possess insights I did not have?

What happened? We slowed down, took our foot off the gas, listened to Bruce rev his engines, and enjoyed the ride. At one point I turned the smartboard over to Kayla and Trey as they led the discussion of Born to Run in each of their classes all on their own. I was AMAZED as I enjoyed all of the give and take these two had with their peers. I sat there annotating along with them, rarely saying a word at all, and marveling at the unexpected insights these seniors had not only about Springsteen's music but about life, love, working, and following their dreams. I never expected this. 


Blinded by the Light is a beautiful movie about Javed, a Pakastani teenage boy who is the same age as my students. He lives in Luton, England, where he experiences the same issues that many young people face today: conflicts with parents, finding a place in an angry world, and embarking on a future for themselves. Once we finished watching and discussing the film, we literally tore apart our study guides and used carefully cut pieces as integral parts of original and creative projects with each student sharing the lyrics and images that inspired them.

This was a school year when I desperately held a tight grip on the wheel, driving hard for a destination not always accessible on a road map. Whether I was doing this out of fear or desperation to keep a routine during which nothing was routine, at some point I was able to ease off on the gas in order to travel a more scenic route. And so it is with choosing to embrace the randomness of life. We take the good with the bad and are always hopeful a little magic will happen.




POSTSCRIPT

If you have read any of my blogs from this recent school year, you can tell it has been a challenging year and a half going back to the spring of 2020 when the year ended abruptly until the spring of 2021 when life in the world seemed to be finally returning to something normal. I was not sure how the year would go for me or my students. I will admit that I held onto that wheel a little tighter as the uncertainty of day-to-day and week-to-week education affected us all more than we care to discuss anymore.

I took these pictures of my senior classes at the end of the year after they received their Classcraft Mastery Certificates. (You will need to ask one of them to explain this to you. 😀) These students made my life so much better throughout the year as they were patient and kind when I struggled with everything teachers were asked to do. They buoyed my spirits on more than one occasion and supported one another during a year in which we could have used a little less randomness and a bit more predictability and routine.

Love you all. 🤗






Sunday, May 16, 2021

I SEE YOU


Occasionally we witness a special story unfolding before us. We do not know the exact time and place the story began, but we seem to realize we have reached the climax. While we watch the participants experience the moments falling into place, we wonder if, by watching, we become part of the tale people will remember for a lifetime.

I see my high school seniors in front of me, those I have taught through a masking-wearing, desk-cleaning, sanitizer-using, anxiety-causing pandemic this year. They stand in formal attire on the steps of the White Palace at Wheeling Park, posing for the perfect prom photo that never seems to happen. They are a mass of excitement, nervousness, and tranquility as they embrace a moment many wondered would ever occur.

I decide to stand back from the crowd of attending guests and away from the uneasiness of mingling with too many people when my batteries are low. I just watch. The seniors process down the steps across a red carpet. Couples, groups of friends, and individuals take their moments on stage to enjoy the applause of the gathering throughout the parking lot; it is a gathering applauding more than just a group of high school students at a prom, though.

The previous graduating class did not have this experience. Across the country, uncertainty, safety concerns, and social distancing shut down everything in school last year. There were no in-person classes, no spring sports, no graduation ceremony, and definitely no prom. Schools joined the rest of a world on pause until a more safe, more comfortable moment for all to arrive. That pause left people everywhere on the proverbial edge. Many lived with an anxiousness about whether we could plan too far into the future and whether a normal beat and rhythm would ever return to life.


A different world exists inside the ballroom atop the White Place. Their story continues to unfold with the "Hollywood" theme spreading across the back wall and throughout the candle-lit tables at the prom. Anxious smiles of trepidation are now supplanted with joyous smiles of celebration as the seniors realize that life can have a better ending.

From the teacher table near the rear of the ballroom, I can observe the festivities from a comfortable distance. I can see those seniors who spent the entire year facing not only the rugged trek of their last year in high school but also the dark shadow that life could possibly grind to a halt yet again, transporting them back to a time where doubt and frustration permeated their lives.

I see the students who struggled with remote learning, missing the day-to-day interaction with their peers and teachers. I see the student-athletes who occasionally had to contact-tracing quarantine, never fully appreciating the type of senior season they anticipated when they were young. I see the students who had covid, experiencing isolation while they joined us with brave smiles on a Google Meet. I see those who hated masks, constantly allowing last week's reused and ill-fitting mask to fall off their nose. I see those who showed up day to day, putting on a brave face even though doubt hovered in the back of their minds.

I see those students who persevered and made the best of a situation no one ever expected. Who are they? As audience members and role players in this story, we see the people we know in the starring roles. As parents, we see our children. As brothers and sisters, we see our siblings; as teachers, we see our students; as coaches, we see our players; as previous graduates, we see ourselves; and as a community, we see our future.

After a night of breaking bread together, celebrating the comical awards ceremony, and taking countless pictures and selfies, the young celebrants realize that the end of this magical evening has arrived. The graduating class slowly gathers together for a final dance with stragglers only prolonging the inevitable. The dance is one traditionally done in a circle to a slow song which reflects the finality of the dance and their time together. The lights dim slightly as the graduates sway to the last song. In this closing scene, all of the seniors are able to see one another, knowing that they shared this story together.

Roll credits.



Sunday, May 9, 2021

IT JUST MAKES ME FEEL GOOD

Every Thursday Mom and I pull up to the door to Classic-Changes Hair Design in Elm Grove. Rain or shine, Mom has a standing hair appointment with Cindy every week. Mom does her best to get around, but she never lets her limitations keep her from seeing Cindy. "It just makes me feel good," she says lightly patting her freshly-styled hair and smiling.

Being somewhat follically challenged, I can no longer appreciate the feeling of leaving a hair stylist's chair with a fresh cut. The closest feeling I have is after I trim my scraggly growth of a beard. Even then, it is not the same thing. It is more of a chore to keep the hair from growing into my lip or causing a rash on my skin. I cannot picture myself saying, "It just makes me feel good" then smiling and going about my way in the world.

Mom is different, though. Having her hair done is a treat for her. God love her. She deserves it, doesn't she? Out of respect for her and all mothers, I will not mention her age. I will not say anything about a weekly hair appointment but will do everything I can to make sure she arrives on time and does not have to wait when she is done. You know the reason, right? 

The past several weeks, I have pulled up to the curb outside of Classic-Changes every Thursday after a long day at school, hopped out of the car to help mom, then walked her to the door. One time I shut off the car and took a little nap. I was so tired. This week, I had no time to nap but ran some errands for her in Elm Grove. I don't mind, even when I am tired. You know why.

I do my best to make it to the door as she is leaving, but Cindy is always there walking her out if I happen to be running late or snoozing. Mom loves going to Cindy because she knows exactly how to make her look and feel great. 

A couple years ago, Mom was going through some health challenges, but even then she was determined to keep having her hair done on a weekly basis because keeping a routine was making life a bit more normal. I can remember the tender care that Cindy took with Mom as she personally knew all too well the challenges that Mom was facing with her health. Cindy continues to do for Mom what mothers have done for so many people in their lives: she takes care of her and helps Mom feel better about herself. 


So every Thursday, I want to make sure that Mom goes to Classic-Changes. I may be tired and worn out, but I remember all of those times that Mom has probably felt that way as my brother I were growing up. I think of all of those moments when Mom cooked a nice dinner, fed my dog, listened to me complain, or tossed some clothes in the wash. (These were just last week!) Yes, Mom knows that her hair will look better once she visits Cindy, but Mom deserves this weekly trip for reasons far beyond simply looking good.

💛 Happy Mother's Day to you, Mom! 💛

💛 Happy Mother's Day to all! 💛

Sunday, May 2, 2021

IN THE DARKNESS, LIGHT


One morning somewhere in the nexus of Daylight Savings Time when the world was springing forward from a November that had fallen backward, I swiped my fob on the outdoor keypad at school, entering the small, dark elevator foyer into a world in which time celebrated its inconsequential victory over someone who had lost the ability to distinguish the past from the future. 

My black jacket, drooping on my sagging shoulders, covered the wrinkles in the khakis and unpressed shirt I had worn two days earlier. A dark toboggan and black Under Armour mask swathed my entire head except for my eyes which locked onto the glow of my cell phone. As the elevator slowly ascended from the first floor to the third floor,  I checked my text messages, my email, and all of my social media, looking for a tidbit of light to start my day. I remained focused on my cell phone, reading the last of the emails I should have read days ago as the doors to the elevator slid open into the third-floor elevator corridor.

I had no sooner left the elevator, my head still fixated on my phone, when I found myself jumping, grabbing my chest to capture the breath I expelled, and yelling, "Ahhh! Oh! Shit!" A dark figure stood in the shadows of a gray morning light emanating from the only window in this corridor. Childhood nightmares of discovering a fanged clown under my bed or a lead-footed boogeyman in the closet poured back into my adult psyche, assuming their grip on my soul once again. I tinkled a little, too. Just a little, not a lot. Enough to make me uncomfortably check for wet spots.

I pushed myself up against the adjacent wall as I switched on the phone's flashlight. I uncomfortably examined the figure from a distance as I slowly moved the light up and down. "Damn it. Shit," I grunted. "It's Joseph holding Baby Jesus." I took a picture while I laughed and attempted to catch my breath. As I rushed to my classroom, an uneasy feeling remained with me throughout the morning as I warmed the cold chills of fear out of my body. 


As I left school at the end of the day, I ventured back to the elevator. Since I had become despicably lazy over the past year, voices told me to take the stairs as a futile means of exercise after a day of sedentary activity. I ignored those voices, wanting to address my need to confront the statue. Not confront Baby Jesus or Joseph. Just the statue. Confronting Joseph and Baby Jesus is disturbed and would only add fuel to gossip around the school that I have not "been right" since the pandemic began.

Those multiple cups of coffee and stacks of research papers had ignited small vestiges of critical thinking as I examined the statue for what it was. I can see why I was startled early that morning. The statue stood nearly my height and had been placed uncomfortably close to the doors of the elevator. Sure, it was far enough away from the doors so that a person would not walk directly into it, but it was definitely close enough to scare the shit out of anyone who was not paying attention. And now I did not think that was Joseph or Baby Jesus. Joseph had that circular, self-inflicted bald spot atop his head and Baby Jesus did not have that holy glow or halo around his tiny head. It was probably Saint Francis of Assisi and a child. Shouldn't that be a baby deer, raccoon, or some other small animal then?

Clearly, I am still obsessed with this statue. I recently started a small group text of people I thought would know the identity of the statue. According to the Catholic Online link a member of our group sent me, this statue is of Saint Anthony of Padua who is traditionally seen holding - Baby Jesus.😨 I am a failure of a Catholic who is teaching Catholic children in a Catholic School. Do not tell the religion teachers or my mom. The guilt! The Catholic guilt!

Saint Anthony. Franciscan Friar. Man of poverty. Speaker to fish. This is who scared me this morning.

As I was reading about Saint Anthony on this website, I discovered an intriguing tale about him – a fish tale, if you will. 🐟🐠🐟🐟 As the story goes, a group of heretics would not listen to Saint Anthony as he attempted to talk to them, so Saint Anthony chose to "preach his message to the fish."  He did this to calm his own heart while giving glory to God. (Fascinating and quite cool, right?) According to the story, fish began to gather around him in the water, inspiring the people who refused to listen to Saint Anthony. I guess if the fish were listening then perhaps they should give Saint Anthony a listen.

Saint Anthony? He is recognized as the Patron Saint of Lost Articles: lost things, religious articles, and, of course, lost people. Oh, the irony.

I took the stairs and walked outside to a chilly, sunny afternoon. I carried my black jacket at my side, practically dragging it along the sidewalk. My cell phone remained in my book bag as I walked to my car with my head up thinking about tomorrow.



Works Consulted

Chircop, Philip. “Anthony Preaching to the Fishes.” A-MUSED, 13 June 2016, www.philipchircop.com/post/145856760467/anthony-preaching-to-the-fishes-christ-the.

“St. Anthony of Padua - Saints & Angels.” Catholic Online, www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=24.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

OPEN TABS



It seems I really cannot identify days anymore. Sometime this week I was sitting at my desk at school looking at my screen when I asked myself what exactly I was doing. The question was nothing overly existential at that time; I just simply forgot what I was doing as my eyes slid left to right and back again over an unknown number of tabs that had gathered as a collection of gremlins to taunt me that morning.

I pulled my already slipping glasses away from my face, shifting my black covid gear in the process. I squinted at the blurry figures sitting behind the plexiglass at the front of my desk. I knew who they were as much as a teacher could in this situation. We were in class. They were my students. We were in second period or maybe first. I don't know. Honestly, this could have been my fourth period. I am embarrassed to say that I just do not remember.

I returned my glasses to my face and adjusted the ear bands of my mask under the frames. My group of similarly masked students looked around at one another talking among themselves in a muffled, undecipherable chit-chat while they awaited me to remember what exactly I was doing. "The tabs. The tabs will tell me," I mumbled to myself. 

"Mr. Bucon, are you ok?" one of them asked.

That was a loaded question that propelled me on one of my unannounced free-flowing, rambling self-talks meant to sort through a scattering of thoughts. "Do any of you feel as if you have so many tabs open on your computers that everything just starts blurring together?" Many of them nodded enthusiastically as I turned from them back to my screen. "You know, we had spent so much time remote-learning. I was constantly organizing these stupid tabs so that I could move from one topic to the next in those Google Meets that now I worry that all I see are open tabs everywhere. I think it is making me sick."

I looked up at them again, needing a bit of understanding and compassion.

My eyes started to well-up a little. We have all been there over the past year as the way we have typically navigated our harried days has morphed into some bizarre control-fest which has led to frustration, disappointment, and tears. I used my hand to point out the open tabs on my screen. 

"I have Renweb open on the left to do attendance then I slide to the right to go over the agenda for the day. I have Classcraft ready for the random event and Google Classroom open for our assignment today. Look at all of these other documents. I am grading work, I am creating documents for next week, I am constantly checking my email. I think I could do all of this and not even look at you. This is not normal."

I sat there, frozen in a moment of helplessness of my own making. My life had become this dystopian reflecting mirror of computer tabs traveling endlessly into the ether. 

"I love teaching. I know other people are going through similar feelings at their jobs," I continued. "Life could be a heck of a lot worse out there. I am just waiting for a time when I do not need to sit here looking at a bunch of open tabs. I just want to close them all right now." 

I sighed. Most of them nodded. 

I am positive that my students and I all have different perspectives on what I mean by closing all of these tabs right now. I actually spent the latter part of this week considering what carried me to this moment. 

The most obvious has been what it means to be teaching during a pandemic. I struggled last spring being thrust into a situation none of us were truly prepared to undertake. This year began with the hope that if everyone wore masks, we sat six feet apart, we cleaned the desks after each class, and we did a "deep-clean" at the end of the day that we could have a full school year with some minor tweaks and interruptions. However, a recent long stretch of remote-learning has blended with current in-person instruction, and we have become attached to technology, locked into gliding through tabs and joining Google Meets. 

I have tried hard to keep remote-learning as personal as possible. I did not want to fall into the trap of handouts and videos and slides and impersonal instructional programs. I did not become a teacher to teach remotely. Being there for my students when they need my assistance is one part of the job I continue to embrace. The past year is the epitome of one of those times. 

The figurative tabs, though. Maybe those are my deeper concern. The figurative tabs are those ones that are not attached to technology. They are the ones we constantly keep open in our minds: families, jobs, doctor's appointments, shopping lists, car servicing, housekeeping, birthdays, holidays. What do I need to do today? Which "tab" is at the forefront?

Everything we have done in the past with varying degrees of challenges has had a dark haze of red, orange, and gold pandemic colors hovering over us for a year. What do we want to do? What do we need to do? What can we do? What should we do? What shouldn't we do? How can we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? How much longer can this last? These questions have become additional tabs in my mind.

I do not foresee the days becoming any more recognizable to me. Unfortunately, I will still have numerous open tabs in mind as well as on my computer in my classroom. The challenge will ultimately remain as it always has been. 

The past year has been a learning experience in so many ways. I have had to make adjustments in how I look at life and how I address the twists and detours a pandemic can place in my path. I have relearned lessons that I discovered long ago. I am reminded to move to the forefront those things which are most important, those which require our immediate attention, those in our hearts. I am reminded to be OK with not finishing every item on a list because tomorrow will come as a new opportunity. I am reminded to be patient with myself and others as we all struggle to do our best in challenging times.