In Response To: Waiting For The Bell (Hell)

With 10 minutes left, they begin to hear the audible motion of the secondhand, rising above the anxious anticipation: tick, tock, tick, tock, as the thin, red line makes it way around the clock’s face. Hypnotically, the pace seems to slow, each second feels painstaking, as if reality were buffering.

Nine minutes remaining and the pencils begin to nervously tap, almost in successive beats, matching the secondhand’s rhythm noticed only a minute ago. The pencils ceased operating for their intended purpose about five minutes prior, but now their weight begins to reach overwhelming, leaden and dense. The successive ba-dump ba-dump of eraser to sharpened end is anything but soothing, auditory indicators of stress on the mind of a weary teenager.

With eight minutes until the liberty bell, the squirming commences. Bodies shift  uncomfortably and seats, squeaking plastic against metal, sing like a chorus of classroom crickets. Papers shuffle atop desks into semi-neat piles, made for easier grasping and shoving in backpacks.

Nervous and uncertain stares from student to student bounce like ping-pong balls, back and forth, with seven minutes worth of a sentence still to be served.  Glances dart, eyes communicating solidarity as if to say, “We are in this together. We are going to make it.” Nobody makes eye contact with me, and I stand alone in this, an island surrounded by furious, hungry sharks. There are no colleagues in the room who share my eagerness, but there are students avoiding making eye contact; they would not dare look at me for fear that I could somehow delay their inevitable.

360 seconds are all that separate us from leaving school for a full week. Each second  like a degree in a circle, making its way around to a complete rotation. Pulses begin to speed up, hearts begin to race, all the syncopated rhythms of anticipation.

On any given day, the last five minutes of the class period serve as the signal for the unofficial gradual dissent into the post-school recuperation period. The day before spring break, or any vacation however, we are already five minutes into that decline. The physical pain begins to set in, with legs weakened, arms become too heavy to lift, and spine collapses in on itself, creating not only poor posture, but slumping, zombie-like figures. And that’s just us teachers.

Unable to resist the urge, mutinous rebels begin to unzip, forcibly stuff, and re-zip backpacks. Cacophonous whirs and zips, quick and bee-like, pollinate the classroom. Four minutes until the drones fly this hive and swarm the campus.

2:12: someone, sniveling in the corner, is in tears. This is too much, this infernal waiting, cruel and unusual and torturous. When one breaks, others will follow, clawing at their skin and gnashing their teeth. The natives are restless, and I hunker back, checking my exits, perspiration dotting my brow.

At the two-minute marker, they’re all on their feet, jockeying for advantageous, chair-on-desk positioning. Backpacks clash not unlike oversized beetle shells, sending bodies awhirl, staggering, wobbling insects bounce off one another. Hydroflasks are casualties, their metallic and distinct clinks resonating against the tile, denting and chipping in the arthropodal chaos.

A collective and audible gasp, one giant breath inhaled by all at once, fills lungs, depleting the room of oxygen. One, light-headed minute clinging on the clock. An adolescent mass, phalanx-forming, inches incrementally toward the exit. Although no one speaks a word, you’d swear you could hear them countdown each second. Lost amongst the human wrecking ball, a small member of the herd collapses, at risk of being trampled, a victim of vicious, impatient beasts.

Five: each takes a step back.

Four: one severs from the herd.

Three: she reaches forward, fingertips grazing the door.

Two: the handle begins to turn.

One: in a outward-moving thrust, the door springs open, hinges nearly severed.

Sky parting, the sweetest chorus of angels’ voices pours forth from the heavens. The final bell signals Spring Break.

Let us all rejoice.




In Response To: Puddles

When the sun finally breaks free from behind the clouds, silver reflections across the rain, gathered in the ground, brilliantly sparkle, bouncing back the rays now pouring from above. The earth smells clean and damp and renewed, refreshed by the day’s early downpour. Droplets gather on the leaves, and the birds begin to make their way back out from the refuge, singing their songs, rejoicing in the reclaimed light.

The beauty that remains after an early spring shower makes you forget all about the stress that comes from rainy days on the road. Growing up in Southern California, drivers tend to forget all that they’ve learned from years of experience as soon as tiny droplets come forth from the sky. Drivers, especially those in SUVs, seem to be terrified, as though their wheels will certainly lift from the road, sending them into a spiral, leading to their damp demise. White knuckles grip their steering wheels for dear life, tired wipers waving like angry arms: back and forth, back and forth.

As luck would have it today, I spent minimal time in the car while it was raining. My commute to work, a measly 4 miles, means I have very little to worry about, even in the worst of downpours.

Counting my chickens before they hatch, I still managed to find myself soaked at two separate occasions. The first was during a walking tour at the local high school. An annual tradition, busloads of our eighth-grade students journey to preview their home for the next four years. Mother Nature cared not for our human plans, and the clouds gathered in an angry cluster, gray and furious and full of rain, colluding to obstruct what five minutes prior, held the sun in full force. Caught without shelter, it was all I can do to hurry my pace, skipping from one awning to another in a fickle attempt to keep myself dry, all while bounding between adolescents.

Stubborn and proud, the sun could not be upstaged for too long, the true star in any day’s show, its rays peering from behind the storm’s curtains. During the length of today’s performance however I spent the majority of my time indoors, coveting the warmest part of the morning and afternoon. After and afternoon spent in the IEP meeting from hell,  and finally making my way towards home, the clouds again proved to be a formidable opponent. As it began to pour, harder than it did earlier in the day, I pulled into my mother-in-law’s driveway to pick up both my toddler and my seven-month-old puppy, both of whom have an affinity for the rain. Timing, as you know, is everything.

In spite of my lack of patience, weathered by a far too long Thursday, the two of them acted like the rain was the best thing that ever happened. After struggling to get the dog in the backseat of the car onto the precariously placed towel, the one meant to protect my seat (prior to her scratching and pushing it off), the time arrived to corral Ezra. Before I could gather him in my arms and load him in to his car seat, his eyes lit up, reflecting the concrete surface, slick with rainwater, in front of him.

Pooled about three inches deep, gathered in an indent in the driveway, deliciously tempting in its splash-worthiness, lay a puddle. Magnets to children, these nature-made spills beckon to be jumped upon. Droplets fell into the puddle, creating ripples, widening in concentric, outward circles. Mischievously splashed across Ezra’s face, a smile spreads.

He’s going to jump.

Finicky me, a dirty wet child means a cleaning, drying parent. I looked down at his feet and see that he is appropriately clad in his waterproof shoes, the ones I put on him knowing he is going to step in mud, dig in dirt, or get generally filthy. Designed specifically to be washed and cleaned easily, they are my obsessive-compulsive dream.

Compressed with in the millisecond of parental decision making, I nodded his way. “Go ahead,” I encouraged, ” Jump.” He gives me a look of disbelief, unsure that he heard correctly. “Jump!” I say more loudly, practically yelling over the beating rain, almost begging my child to do what I know he wants to.

Arms swinging, ankles pressed together, Ezra swings his arms back-and-forth, preparing for his bodily trajectory. From the moment he rises from the ground and begins his grand journey, I can tell it’s going to end in a monumental splash.

A wave of wetness rises from the ground, reaching me at about chest height, covering Ezra. Like the torrential downpour of rain, an outburst of laughter more refreshing than the spring storm, poured from his mouth.

Spring splashes make for incredibly joyful moments with my child.

Moments later, I am buckling him into the car, very wet a little worse for the wear. My body only halfway in the backseat, my legs continue to get pelted by the downpour.

“Dad,” he lets out with a grin, “That was the best splash ever!”

After today’s literal and figurative rainstorms, most restorative and healing was letting my kid be a kid, and having the fatherly intuition to do so. It only took one jump into nature’s smallest of lakes: the puddle. That was perhaps the most refreshing moment to be had during (or after) a rainstorm

In Response To: Diagnosis

It is said that children pay for the sins of their fathers. I often wonder: what did mine do? What God or gods did he aggravate to such a degree that I would bear the burden? What god would be so vengeful to alter my life’s course? What if there were no God? He or she seemed to be hiding beneath a rock, cowering somewhere out of reach, unable to hear the plaintiff calls of someone clearly in need. I guess I wasn’t loud enough.

Although I can’t definitively answer those questions (because there may be time and place for such hypotheses to be made), there was a moment when everything changed – my cataclysm – a godless warp in my continuum of time. What was previously one way, became something entirely different, like blinking an eye and reopening it only to find a pale green sky, filled with clouds, hanging just above the ground, close enough to touch if you just strained enough. I’d know exactly what I was seeing (the sky), but at the same time, would be startled by its utter lack of familiarity (it’s green?). From one instant to the next, I was left with the unpleasant certainty that there would never again be a blue sky, so to speak, in my life, and this green would be the new normal.

Each layer of this memory is onion skin – thin and difficult to separate from the next, delicate and difficult to peel back, triggering involuntary tears. At age 19, I became, partly, who I am today, on a Wednesday morning in the fall of 2004. The exact moment I can recall with such clarity, precisely wedged between my mother’s nervous foot-tapping and my father’s vacant stares, my silent sentinels standing guard, unable to protect me from the hidden attacker. They were a useless phalanx against an invisible army. I sat on one of those doctor’s chairs, the thinnest layer of paper product separating me and a history of previous patients, still warm from whoever sat there before me. That was not that long ago for me, and it’s true what they say about memory, that you may not remember every detail, but you will remember a feeling or feelings, and that I do. Those feelings, no matter how cemented you try to make their feet in the cinderblocks of repression, they resurface from the lake in which you try to drown them. At first, the bubbles come to the surface slowly until, all at once, the memory surfaces facedown, bobbing in an otherwise placid pool, forcing itself to be addressed, swollen with the weight of history. So much for sleeping with the fishes. Looking back, I realize that there I still sit, 19, on that bed, listening to the clinical pronouncement of my future.

Doctor’s offices are places where diagnoses happen sterilly, devoid of humanity. Places where the bright white lights match the bright white walls and the bright white lab coats of trained professionals who swear to do no harm. Places where there are so many answers, but ever more questions.

The cleanliness made me uncomfortable, and I’d shift repeatedly, each time causing the rustling of the crepe-like paper beneath, like the crunching of snow beneath heavy boots, but without any of the nostalgic winter underpinnings. Smelling of some disinfectant, the room felt more toxic than clean, as though I could close my eyes, breathe deeply, and achieve some sort of half-rate high from the noxious fumes. But no such luck; I tried.. There were no clocks on the wall, so time passed at freakishly slow, as if carried by an snail through quicksand. Each tick of a second hand seemed to measure five, and I would have loved a glass of water to wet my dry mouth. The irony is that this moment is timeless, and even if there had been a clock, time stopped for me altogether.

Sweat formed around my brow, causing the light in the room to reflect directly downward into my eyes through which I bore witness to the events to follow. The entire experience was outer-body; hovering above myself was me, looking down on the room, hovering to bear witness. My heart was pounding in my chest as if awaiting some judge’s sentence, but that was to come.

Two years prior, I found myself in a similar setting, equally clinical, just a hundred-plus miles from this room. A high school senior, my routine doctor’s visit had turned dark after a series of accusations were made by a less-than-couth doctor, more concerned that his office door would revolve x amount of times per day than with the fragile state of his patients. My feet, size eight (eight-and-a-half, depending on the make), had gone into hibernation; they’d taken a long nap, and the pins-and-needles feeling of sleeping limbs persisted for the past two weeks.

You can imagine, person with two feet of your own (assuming) just how uncomfortable / annoying / infuriating such a nagging, yet benign sensation would be. It was a person talking at a movie bad. That person on their cell phone at the register obnoxious. It was downright bothersome. A varsity athlete, playing soccer had become complicated by the unnatural clumsiness brought on by the lack of feeling in my cleats. I’d lumber as I ran, one foot clumsily clunking over the other, cinder blocks in leather boots. Falling unnaturally, I looked like a clown in a striped uniform, and was pretty much useless as an athlete and teammate at this time. I may have stood more of a chance being bound at the ankles with rope.

Rationalizing, I gave myself countless, trite encouragements. It was probably nothing. It would go away. I would run normally again. Yes, but when? Patience was not my virtue.

By the time I found myself sitting before the least friendly doctor this side of the Mississippi (because east-coast doctors had to be even less friendly – especially those in Manhattan, dealing with endless traffic or subway stops, and in the middle of winter? Forget about it!), I had reached max capacity for the tolerance of sleeping feet.

“You have poor nutrition,” he accused, or maybe he asked? “You have poor nutrition?” Either way, it felt suggestive and accusatory. My mother would be mortified at such an accusation / inquiry.

“No,” I responded, slightly off-guard.

“You using drugs,” again a question or statement. Who could tell? Maybe it was his accent?

Again, “No.”

“You sure?” Question this time, I’m certain.


“You’re sure you’re using drugs or not using them?” Tiring of his Gestapo tactics, I sighed, sinking into poor posture.

“I am sure I don’t use drugs – “

“Because this is a safe place,” he claimed, although it became increasingly clear that this was anything but. (Didn’t he take some sort of oath? One hand, parallel to body, elbow bent at an acute angle. Or is that Boy Scouts?)

“I’m sure.”

“Well,” he rubbed his chin, quizzically, as though he were thinking about what to get for lunch (because that’s what I do when I’m thinking about lunch), and not about my physical (and at this point, mental) well being. “It’ll probably just go away. Come back in two weeks if it doesn’t,” followed by the most vague of all doctor statements learned in their doctor classes, “If not, we’ll run some tests.”

There I had it – perfect clarity. It was nothing. Probably nothing. Probably (certainly) nothing.

Fan-fucking-tastic, I thought, tests, something this AP-loaded high schooler just could not get enough of. Bring them on (or don’t. hat would be fine, too).

Within two short weeks, it did go away. Magic! Oh you, human body, with your trickster ways. You almost had me panicking there, the whole numb-feet thing. So, feet rejuvenated and gait restored to typical levels of clumsiness, I returned to my normal life and over-scheduled program, soccer included. Good morning, feet! My, you feel rested. There were no more tests, No more inquiries into my nutrition or drug habits – that is, until the time when my parents came to support me with their best intentions and palpable nervousness.

Awakened by my father’s cough, I distract myself from whatever impending doom would follow, taking in my surroundings. Doctor’s offices are wretched places. Their ambiance really is shitty. Plastered around the room beneath the flickering fluorescence were seemingly infinite brochures addressing you-name-it health concerns: breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, acid reflux, obesity – a robust plethora of conditions. A who’s who of life-altering ailments.This was a veritable smorgasbord of menu items for the budding hypochondriac in such a setting. What will I choose today? Will it be one from column A or column B? So much to choose from. How does one ever decide?  Do I have that? (No, that one is for ovarian cysts. You don’t have ovaries.) There was, it seemed, something for everyone, membership, if you will, into exclusive clubs for the infirm that few would willingly join. The faces on those brochures were so normal, and that’s the point; he or she on the cover could be you – you could be them, with their golden retrievers and smiling toddlers, helmets atop a tricycle or hand-in-hand with a paid-model-to-look-like loved one. The woman on the acid reflux brochure looked like my fourth-grade teacher. Was it her? Did she carry Tums in her purse and I never noticed?

It could be you, taking the trifold from its plastic casing, thumbing through the well-organized and visually appealing content, staring down the barrel of your medical future. In a split second, your mind climbs the ladder of assumption, making arrangements for your future as a member of Club Sick. Do you get a membership card? A tote bag? Is there an elected body that runs the meetings? Are there cookies at the meeting? That would somehow lesson the despair. I could use a cookie right now, maybe two. This office could really use a plate of cookies, especially when I am forced to wait in the clockless room for an indiscernible amount of time. Lost in transient thoughts of absent sandwich cookies., the door to the room opened and the doctor, heavy footed in shoes only doctors and Dr. Frankenstein’s monster should wear, ominous in their leaden thuds, steps in, and everything changes. If there had been a clock in the room, it would have stopped. I gulp. The white lights flicker and the recycled air pipes through the vents. Which brochure would I be?

In Response To: Detention

Campus beautification should be brought back in place of our school’s current detention system.

If a student gets detention on a weekly basis, is it really serving its purpose for that student? Being the questioner that I am, I often ask myself how useful detention is, and in my opinion, it’s about as effective as wearing sunscreen in a rainstorm.

Twice a year, our staff is asked to consider, as it’s not mandatory, hosting detention. The rule is, you cannot assign detention unless you are willing to host it on two occasions annually. One would think teachers line up to offer their services, except they don’t. Each time the signup is passed around at our first staff meeting, I contemplate signing up, although I never assign detentions. The way I choose to operate, I never need to, but that is not to say that my days are without challenges. My classroom is mine to manage, and I make it my responsibility to deal with disruptive behaviors, yet I’m always reminded by one staff member that in order for anyone to have that option, we need to buy into the system. So, I buy into the collective bargaining that is site peer pressure.

Fewer people are seeing the necessity, however, and we are in a detention-host drought.  It is now second semester, and we have about eight detention days unfilled, and since we only allow students after school detention on two days a week (to accommodate late, after-school buses), that totals about four weeks worth of un-hosted detentions.

Several of my students earned a detention today, their somber faces telling tales of woe and sorry-for-myselfness.  Not interested in asking question, I refrained, but I could hazard a guess as to why those particular students would find themselves in such a predicament. There are times, I do admit, that students receive such “behavioral supports” and “opportunities to grow” because it is easier than actually managing a classroom. Teacher survival relies upon the power-play of the carbon-copy detention slip, and without it, some colleagues face mutinous situations.

Problematically, nobody acquiesced to host those in need of “opportunities for growth” today. Generous me. E-mailing the administrative assistant, I volunteered to host today’s detainees.

Approaching the line of students awaiting to be escorted to the hour of doom, their sullen faces and detention slips in hand, my teacher gaze of disappointment and “you could do better” pierces their stubborn, adolescent veils. If I am going to tack an additional hour onto my day, allow me to revel in the authoritative mode. According to the chicken scratch annotations on the slips, 10 of the twelve lucky, soon-to-be-reformed citizens earned their trip to post-school attitude adjustments by way of a single teacher,  all for the same vague reason: not following directions.

Color me shocked. Adolescents not following directions in a middle school classroom? That seems more like a normal day than one that warrants assigning 10 detentions.

“Why do you think you were assigned detention?” I ask.

One of the students responds, “Because we are generally loud or off task.”

“And why is that” I probed, authority and concerns peppering my voice. “You know the difference between good school behavior and bad. Why would you do something in that class he wouldn’t do it mine?”

“Because we’re bored,” another blurts out. Unsympathetic to that behavior, I can at least understand it. Both the behavioral supports that need to be implemented in this class, but also support for the teacher who clearly feels as though he has no other option but to assign detentions to students, need to be reevaluated.

After the hour I spent with the detainees, I felt like I had been in detention, too.

It has been a very long time since I felt like that.

My sophomore year of high school marks the only time I earned detention in my entire school career. Chemistry could have been one of my favorite classes, except it was taught by an eccentric and close-to-retirement teacher, Mrs. Lundie, whose penchant for a good ol’ story ran deeper than her love of the chemistry she taught. Possessing the strangest ability for getting us to remember things, her mnemonic devices were particularly peculiar. My favorite story she ever told us starred her sister called “Effie.”

Balanced between bunsen burners and beakers, the day’s experiment had to wait. Effie’s history beckoned. We were in for a long one.

Mrs. Lundie, from a small town in Missouri, in full possession of a sweet southern accent, proceeded to tangentially recount a 30-minute story about her tomboy sister. It turns out, Effie really enjoyed lifting weights. She was the strongest member of the family, so strong in fact she seemed like the kind of brute broad who could till the plow with bare hands. I have to admit, we were all enthralled by Effie, imagining her bulging muscles hunkering inside overalls, skin suntanned from her hours toiling beneath the harvest sun. Her aptness for manual labor rivaling only that of her family’s oxen, cooperatively reaping the fall harvest, Effie and beasts. We were all enthralled, hanging on each word, dripping with molasses and suspense, tipping our work stools towards the storyteller. The pastoral scene was resplendent with stuffs by which legends are made.

Mrs. Lundie’s big reveal came not in mid-America themes, nor did she wrap us in the warm blanket of a Aesop-like morale. Nope. Her sister’s name, in the end, may not have been Effie. Hell, I don’t even know if she had a sister at all. She wasn’t just duping us, it was for the sake of learning. Effie, the letters F and E in sequence, represent the atomic symbol for the element of iron.

Effie pumped iron. 

Turns out, this woman with a supposed rich, family history, was a spinner of periodic lies, a teller of tales taller than an ox car. Mnemonic devices, I warned were her specialty, yet and I remain unamused, robbed of a half-hour by her story. My last name, Ferro, literally means iron. It begins with the letters F and E.  

Teachers are just damn lunatics.

For the remainder of the year, my lab partner Rachel and I, made terrible jokes emulating Mrs. Lundie’s “Effie” model. “Did you know that salt is the nasty appetizer? N and A. Na. Sodium. Salt. Or we’d laugh aloud as one of use would shout, “Eh you! I found gold!!’ A and U. Au. Gold. Get it? 

But it wasn’t all fun and games in chemistry class. We did more than memorize elements on the periodic table, balance chemical equations, or, for extra credit, design a physical beanbag mole to represent the chemistry concept of a “mole.”  (Sidenote: it was 2000, and I named mine “Mollenium.” You’re welcome.) From time to time, people got in trouble.

Mrs. Lundie was the only teacher to ever assigned me detention. As she strolled down the rows of high tables, our lab stations, where our chemistry learning occurred, she approached the back of the room where I sat next to Rachel, beside the cabinets with ancient, yellowing textbooks, and jarred, unidentified substances. Glancing at me with lips pursed, she asked, “Are you chewing gum in my classroom?” It was pretty obvious; I was chewing gum in her classroom.

“Spit that out!” she commanded, in her kind of official-but-I-am-sweet-as-sweet-tea way.  Rising to find the nearest trash can, Mrs. Lundie started her way back to the front of the room, passing my desk again. “Are you still chewing?” inquiring with incredulity, like more than ten seconds elapsed. The answer again, was an obvious yes. “I’m gonna give you detention for your defiance! she exclaimed.

“But I barely had time to spit it out,” I argued, but it was all in vain.

That afternoon, I met on the blazing blacktop with our school security detail, another member of the detention chain gang, plastic bag and gloves in hand. I received an hour of work detail, beautifying the campus by picking up all of my schoolmates litter, scraping desiccated morsels, likely, of Winterfresh gum like that I failed to spit out.

Considered cruel and unusual punishment in 2019, my district abolished the practice of campus beautification as a means of behavioral modification. No longer do you see hordes of students, lined up like complicit little ducklings pecking at scraps of paper and detritus. Instead, they are forced to spend a quiet hour pondering the errors of their ways – in my classroom because no one else volunteered.

While pondering their misdeeds, the 14-year-old me, is still upset about Effie, and even more upset that I didn’t have the opportunity to spit my gum out.

I take an Altoid out of my drawer and compromise, the memory’s minty freshness on the tip of my tongue.

In Response To: Monday Blues

Mondays. Need I really say more? They really are the red-headed step-child of the weekdays.

Each start of the week is semi-predictable in its awfulness, but with each Monday comes a different set of trials and tribulations. Try as I may to pretend they’re not awful, like they may hold untapped potential, I accept that it would make me somewhat delusional in believing so, the blindest of faiths. Even the thought of saying “good morning” seems like a lie. Would just “morning” be acceptable? Instead, I suggest we all just look at each other and grumble, thus acknowledging how pessimistic we all feel on this given day.

But then, completely unprecedented and set off by some unforeseen twist of fate, your first period class is really excited as they walk through the door – not out. The energy is contagious, and the lesson you planned to get them pumped about the otherwise-lame-to-8th-graders content, goes off without a hitch! They are engaged, interactive, and more awake than you’ve seen them in months. Rather than presume some sort of witchcraft, you roll with the momentum.

During your prep period, you catch up on your grading, all of it! You look at your gradebook and realize that you don’t have any outstanding assignments. OK, fine. You have an assignment, but that one you plan on saving until Spring Break anyway so you’re still ahead of the game. Congratulations!

Maybe this Monday thing isn’t so bad after all, but it’s too early to tell.

As the day progresses, worlds open for you, and opportunities abound, peeling themselves back for you like a juicy beginning-of-the-week orange. You can hardly contain yourself! Your spouse brings you a treat, unexpected, unsolicited, and brightening what would normally be a dingy Monday. Beginning to feel warm inside, almost tingly, it’s like your insides have fallen asleep, but instead, you recognize the faint tinge of excitement. Uncharacteristic, you don’t usually feel this on Monday, and you feel your skepticism melt away with the Monday blues.

Boldly, you begin to believe this week may not turn out to be half bad, especially if today is any indicator. The student sitting outside your door at lunch is playing that “Sicko Mode” song, and it doesn’t even bother you. You even nod at him like you know what’s up. “This Monday is on Sicko Mode,” you think to yourself, than immediately oppress that outburst. But you do know what’s up. It’s Monday, and you’re having the best one ever.

After a calm lunch where nobody either asks you for anything or expects you to do something for them, you approach the last two periods of the day feeling inspired. Sixth period allows you to coast. You’re on Teacher cruise control and you can see the very bright light at the end of today’s tunnel, but there is only one thing in your way: period seven.

If ever there were a class that made you contemplate leaving teaching for the Peace Corps, it’s this one. All the students who together, and one incredibly horrible dynamic, have found each other, you now approach this class which trepidation every day. Even as a veteran teacher, they are the fly in your Chardonnay. The rain on your parade. But you love them and want the best for them anyway because they are your students, so you put on your growth-mindset pants, and Brene Brown the hell out of them on the daily.

As luck would have it, this may be one of their best days ever. When the final bell rings, you practically click your heels in the air a-la Fred Flintstone. You did it! You survived Monday – no, better than that – you kicked this Monday’s ass.

As you pack a few things and grab your planner to review tomorrow’s lesson (which by the way you’ve already prepared, made copies for, and reviewed the homework assignment you plan to give, because, you know, it’s that kind of Monday), you see it circled on your calendar in big bold letters: STAFF MEETING. An audible gasp leaves your slightly parted lips.

You almost had it. Touché, Monday. Touché.

In Response To: Leprechauns

My 23 and Me results are quite dramatic. For all intents and purposes, I am a veritable mutt, 31 flavors of genetic ice cream. In all my inherited DNA is colored green, no luck of the Irish in me.

That’s why I forgot it was St. Patrick’s Day this morning.

Ironically, I am wearing a green shirt. It is one of my favorites: a Kafka Metamorphosis T-shirt. The perfect shade of green, a bit grassy, a bit mossy, not quite kelly and not quite pea, it suits me as an English teacher and fan of the book. It wasn’t until my wife opened her phone for a message that our household considered our wardrobe choices. Since I was already appropriately dressed, I didn’t give it further thought. My toddler however, immediately needed to find something green.

“Why do we have to wear a green?” he asked my wife, concerned he’s missing out on some holiday message. Then, she casually explained, “Because if you don’t the leprechauns will pinch you.” The machinations inside my son’s head begin to turn, each cog rotating with another. I can see through his facial transfigurations that he is pondering his next move. With the self-assurance only possessed by a toddler, he confidently requests his lime green sunglasses in an action that begs a leprechaun to dare come near him. Just try pinching me, he seems to say.

“I’m going leprechaun hunting,” he announces. Consequently, the wardrobe needed to be accessorized. Donning a double-sided hero cape, carrying his butterfly net, and of course, his now trademark leprechaun-hunting glasses. Preparing to go to the grocery store, hunting the little green men all along the way, his game face is on.

No pot of gold is safe from Ezra.

Color me jealous, in the appropriate shade of green. My child has a way about him, capturing the attention of most adults, as he casually explains his costume’s logic. My outfit? It’s for hunting leprechauns. Luckily, the myth is perpetuated by the kind adults who are accomplices, buying into his game, feeding the narrative.

With his curiosity and propensity for stubbornness, inherited from me, Ezra makes his mind up about something, and it just has to happen. Leprechauns may find sanctuary behind the boxes and cans of the groceries aisles, but if anyone is going to ferret one out, it would be my son. Net in hand, the hunt continues.

Ezra: Leprechaun Hunter, age 4

Today, I wear a green accidentally, but in accordance with my non-Irish Irish tradition. But I wish I weren’t; I wish I were carrying a butterfly net, wearing really cool sunglasses, and a cape, pursuing leprechauns with the innocence of a child, (and the support of all the adults around me).

What do you think will happen if I try?

In Response To: Needing a Band-Aid

Daylight Saving Time is great during the second half of the day, when the sun shines down during the early evening hours, giving you time to extend your outdoor activities. Less enjoyable, however, is getting up and going to work in the dark.

On an average day, I arrive at work sometime around 6:30 in the morning. Quiet and still, the parking lot is pretty empty, but a few of us diehard teachers are there long before our students. Knocks on the door at this early hour surprise me.

Thursday morning, one such disturbance startled me. Opening the door, three of my students are standing outside, looking expectantly, awaiting an invite. Waving them in, I return to unpacking my computer, plugging in its cords, and getting my technology tested for the day.

Cutting to the chase, “Mr. Ferro, can I have a Band-Aid?” It’s before seven in the morning, and already they want something.

A pretty innocuous question, I give you that. No one is denied such a request in my classroom, such things are in hand’s reach because when you need one, you should have one (like a pencil).

Responding, I’m not quick to hand over the requested item. Not yet.

“Good morning Mr. Ferro. How are you? Oh I’m fine, so kind of you to ask. How was you’re afternoon? It was splendid! I graded papers, caught up on my blog and some reading. And yours? It was good? How lovely. How’s the family? Oh, they’re great, too.” 

The barrage of questions seems out of place, but they are not.

“Umm,” the confusion trails on, ellipses, like lemmings, one jumping over the other. Each one looks to the other, unsure of which question to ask first, especially since I have provided a ready-made reply. 

Generally, I find it impolite for people to ask me for something without first greeting me or asking me how I am doing. Ego aside, it isn’t about me, but rather common decency. It’s the same with emails.

Should an email begin with a “can you” or “would you” or “please,” instantly, I am leery. Even when I am in a hurry or find myself with a shortage of time, my emails begin with some sort of salutation beyond the implied “I’m messaging you because I need something.” Humans should be treated as such, and seeing one another as just a means to a predetermined end diminishes our identity. I am more than a purveyor of Band-Aids, damn it.

Consider that the next time you knock on a door before it’s light out, or send an email. What message do you really want to send the recipient?

In Response To: Mercury In Retro(8th)Grade

Scientists say it’s nothing more than an optical illusion. Astrologists claim that, because of mercury in retrograde, we should not do anything hastily, like enter a contract or make a large purchase. I, for one, believe there is something about this astrological phenomenon that is severely altering the emotional state of my students.

Hysteria and general pandemonium washed over my classroom like a high-tide wave, crashing into our middle-school shore. Weighty universe altering gravitational and sentimental pulls, four different female students today cried, sobbed really, and were unable to explain exactly why. Mining for emotional gold has never been my strength, and as much as I would love to believe I can solve everyone’s problems, a cape-wearing crusader, Super Solace, you could call me, my kryptonite is tears.

Academic being far superior to my emotional intelligence, I never hazard a guess as to the trigger of female (or anyone’s) sensitivities. I know better. Growing up with an older sister and checking of hitched for my marital status, foolish I’d be to think I would stay married should I  ever make a claim as to why my wife is having an emotional day. Nope. Not going to do it.

Student tears, however common In middle school, make me uncomfortable.

Sanctuary from adolescent chaos, the majority of students, some not even my own, find my class to be an extremely safe place, and many use my room as a haven, a refuge of sorts, even during the lunch hour, when they are feeling upset or emotional in anyway. A few months back, a  category four of a hurricane embodied by a petite female student arrived to my fourth-period class visibly upset, her face slick with what I refer to as eye rain. Without words, she summons a dozen of her closest female friends, a coven of condolences. Around her they gathered, summoning spirits, healing energies transmitted through their presence, hands on shoulders, leaning in, giving words of affirmation, and supportive, friendly commentary.

I offered nothing but chocolate.

As I hesitantly approached the ritualistic ceremony, the student enshrouded with sympathy, my palms open. I offer her my comfort in the form of confection. Eyes glazed with wetness, the corners of her mouth form a subtle U not unlike an upside down umbrella. Accepting my gift, momentary peace ensues.

Early on in my teaching career, I learned to have a small stockpile of chocolate stored in my refrigerator or cabinets to quell the overwhelmingness of my novice teaching tumult. Diving into the sugary treats, the pleasure sensors in my brain light up whenever I eat a piece. Prone to being volatile myself, and having a hereditary predisposition for desiring chocolate thanks to my mother, the occasional piece  is enough to level me again.

Cloaked in the mysterious language written in the stars, I blame the current mercury in retrograde status. At a critical time about halfway through my day today, I realize I am running on fumes, too low on my confectionery counseling to deal with the emotional upheaval should this cosmo-consuming phenomenon persist.

Warning signs of the emotional apocalypse at hand, a trip to Costco may be in order after a day like today. Wholesale quantities of dopamine-inducing goodness required for survival. Fearful of being consumed by the sentimental storms, never again will I find myself this low on something that I find more effective than my less-than-quality, verbal support.

Written in the stars is our emotional fates and our destinies can only be altered if not sheer will, than by entire constellations of condolences: chocolate. May I never again experience the chaos that is mercury in retro(eighth)grade.

In Response To: Your Kid’s Smartphone

Today someone tried to take my photo. Without my permission. On their phone. 2000 me is awed by the technology. 2019 me is pissed off.

My first cell phone was acquired in 2002. I had already graduated high school, age 17. Enrolled in college, my first foray into mobile communication was compulsory. Because I had a job, one of the necessities of adulthood was self-funded. Like everyone else at the time, I got a Nokia 5150. The coolest thing about it was, with the help of the internet, you could spend hours composing monotone ringtones. If you listened close enough, it actually sounded like your favorite song. Brilliant.

This was already a step up from the cell phone I used in high school, an ancient artifact of technology’s past, that I shared with my mom. It flipped open and shut to cover the buttons, and was married to an extremely fragile antenna you had to pull up so delicately for fear you’d snap it in doing so. It’s only purpose was to call someone and to receive calls from someone else. Nothing fancy, nothing beyond the bare minimum, nothing at all like the phones of today. 16-year-old me sitting in the bleachers, using my shared cell phone to call our landline to get a ride home, one of the only purposes it served.

Nobody needs to tell you the ubiquitousness of smartphones – just look around. Regardless of where you are, it is incredibly likely that there is someone staring downward, thumbs racing across tempered glass. These digital devices cost more than computers because they are, in essence, handheld computers, evolutions from the earliest forms of PDAs and BlackBerries, PalmPilots that purported to be the “future,” already banished to the past.

The device I currently use, the one I am using to help me record this blog through voice text, is an iPhone 8, an already outdated model that the eighth graders in my class like to remind me. One student in particular, offers frequent criticisms, his iPhone XR is far reigning superior. Because he is a spoiled brat, he’s filled with a sense of entitlement that is beyond appropriate, but his brattiness does not mean he is incorrect; his phone is better, certainly newer. I’m being shamed for this.

Shaming another for what he or she does or does not have is nothing new. Whether it be clothes (Supreme) or shoes (Vans) or smart phones (see above), the  practice of mocking someone for having less than you do could not be more quintessentially middle school.

Unsurprisingly, you would be hard-pressed to find any teenager walking, under any circumstance, without a smart phone in hand. Admittedly, I find more uses for my smart phone than I ever would have initially thought when I received my first iPhone about a decade ago. Now, it is far easier to navigate the world, check in on social media, post to Google Classroom via my handheld device than it is by way of my laptop. This efficiency, however, comes with the price. What are we sacrificing at the cost of convenience? The short answer? Our children and, quite frankly, their innocence.

As a conscientious parent, I try as hard as possible to not use my device while I my child is present, and it’s damn hard. Of course, there are times where I feel that it is unavoidable. Heck, if I were to leave my house and get within 5 miles and realize that I have left home without my device, I’m turning around to get it. I used to have no excuse other than the desire to have it, but now I offer the fact that I am emergency contact for my child, and of course I cannot be without it. I have chosen to separate myself from the mainland by cutting the cable to a used-to-be traditional home phone. More the reason, clearly, to stay connected to my device, at least physically.

As a conscientious parent, I try as hard as possible to not use my device and I have my child. Of course, there are times where I feel that it is unavoidable. Heck, if I were to leave my house and get within 5 miles and realize that I have left home without my device, I’m turning around to get it. Are used to have no excuse, but now are use the fact that I am emergency contact for my child, and of course I cannot be without it. I have separate myself from the mainland by cutting the cable to a traditional in-home phone. More the reason, clearly, to stay connected to my device, at least physically.

My students on the other hand, are more connected to each other than ever, yet could not be further apart. You’ve all seen them: the group of similarly-dressed teenagers, gathered around a bench at your local shopping mall, sitting together, laughing and smiling, while staring at their screens. Likely, they are celebrating their togetherness with complete social isolation. It’s as though they’re saying let’s be together, but not interact in anyway that is human.

No. Human interaction? That is so 2005. Gross.

Friendships have evolved into something totally different in the digitally-connected age. More disconcerting is the evolution of frenemies, gasoline fires fueled by social media.  The unwinding of the social fabric is even worse, made threadbare by constant interaction with smartphones. Although they can only be part of the blame, the rapid decline in student behavior is at least somewhat attributed to smartphones. Such a change, as monumental as it is, has only taken place, in my observation, within the past decade.

The average student 10 years ago would start their day like any other kid. Probably hitting snooze a couple of times, maybe even being jostled awake by his or her parents, but eventually, he or she gets out of bed to start their day. Let’s call our imaginary subject Clark. He is an eighth grader at his neighborhood school, all-around average American adolescent.

When he sits down for breakfast, he’s not thinking about social media. His mom makes breakfast, or his dad does if his mom goes to work early, but he sits down with his family to eat. He has a cell phone on his parents plan, but with very limited minutes, texts at a per-use fee. It’s probably still upstairs charging, and he forgets it at least once a week. He hasn’t given it much thought since the night before when he plugged it in to charge. Purposed for an emergency, to call his parents for rides, and occasionally, call a friend at school if he’s absent, he rarely goes over his allotted minutes.

Zipped inside his backpack front pocket, the phone remains there for the entirety of the day. There’s no need for it. Clark’s classwork is on paper, or the computers that he uses in class are sufficient for whatever task he is assigned. He doesn’t even own headphones.

During passing period, when trying to retrieve his history textbook from his locker, Clark can’t help but notice that the lock is stuck as he’s tried repeatedly to break it loose. He begins to struggle publicly as the lock won’t budge. As his anger increases, he begins to hit on his locker, turning heads. To a casual observer, he probably looks upset, maybe even a bit crazy. Another student, Clark’s friend Alec, sensing his dismay, walks over and begins to help him with his locker until they can, together, open it up to retrieve the book.

They walk to class, Clark slightly embarrassed with himself, but he doesn’t give it much thought once he enters his next period.

In 2019, the scenario looks a little different.

As soon as the sun rises, if not before, Clark’s already on his phone. He stayed up until 1 AM watching Netflix and Youtube gaming videos. He has managed to check to see if his Snapchat streaks have remained intact, already played through few rounds of Fortnite (half of which he wins), and checked in on his group chat. He notices his battery is down to 25%, still – or is it already? He will have to bring his charger to school today, and charge it during passing –  or, find some teacher kind enough to let him charge it at the back of the room. If Clark can’t find a teacher, he will just charge it in the plug and hope that no one notices. Covering it with his backpack may fool the watchful eye.

There is no such thing as breakfast as a family. Between checking emails and texting friends, each person goes unnoticed, tiny islands in the familial archipelago. The breakfast table is no longer a place for conversation but rather a dumping ground for whatever piece of life’s debris should grace its surface.

The car ride is no different. With headphones on, Clark browses through Spotify playlist in order to determine what song to play next. Each song blares.

Upon arriving at school, the hallways are electric, alive with conversations of YouTube videos, gossip about seven social media posts, or, most rare, discussion about something remotely school-related.

No sooner than Clark makes it halfway down the hall then he is a texted by Alec. “Where R U at” it says. He ignores the bad grammar, doesn’t even notice it, texting back “On my way to first period C U during passing.”

During class, he dares only sneak to view his phone four or five times. This particular teacher is a stickler for a device-free setting. If he gets caught one more time, he’s going to get a call home and his parents will have to pick up his confiscated phone. He doesn’t want that to happen, but is really curious to see how many likes he received on his latest Instagram post. Surprised to find that there’s only 32 likes after the first hour, his heart sinks. In his mind, he should’ve had at least 50 likes by now. Clark’s selfie game is strong. Maybe people are lagging today. Or, worse yet, maybe they just didn’t actually like his post.

When the bell rings, he does as promised, meeting up with Alec beside his locker. They talk a little bit about the test they’re going to have later, but it’s no sweat. Someone shared a Google Doc, and most of their conversation centers around their after school plans: video games. Arriving at his locker, he can’t help but notice that it’s stuck. The normal combination won’t crack his academic safe, it won’t budge. He begins to feel a bit embarrassed, Clark’s face heats with the eyes of his schoolmates. Why won’t his locker work? This usually isn’t a problem. In his frustration, he can’t even notice that he has begun banging, loudly at that.

His so-called friend Alec, the one who is so eager to meet him during passing period, impulsively pulls out his phone. Because he thinks this moment is too funny to miss, he begins to record it to be added to a Snapchat story. The entire time, he can tell that his friend is frustrated, but this is comedic gold. Alec’s a meme god. He can already tell that people are going to definitely like this on his story. Maybe he’ll post it on Instagram, too.

While Clark was in class just 20 minutes ago, he couldn’t wait to get more likes on Instagram. Little does he know that he is going to be the school’s Internet superstar for the afternoon, posted and reposted on private, public, and spam accounts. Before he’ll even leave school that day, he will have earned his friend well over 200 likes at his own expense.

The prevalence of social media on smartphones doesn’t sound so good to him anymore now does it? He’s liked, but at what expense?

This scenario, although fictional, is all too real. With quick access to such devices, nothing is sacred anymore. One’s personal embarrassment becomes public. Once public, it becomes someone else’s boost in popularity, enabling kids like Alec to climb another round in the social hierarchy. This is our new normal.

Increasingly resentful, situations like this are not rare in my own school. Obsession with documentation, making the personal public, is truly ingrained within the brains – and smartphones – of the students I teach.

The ultimate lack of privacy is what concerns me the most. Anything can make it onto social media, and I find myself preoccupied by this as a teacher. On numerous occasions, I have become the subject of students’ photographic attempts. Denouncing such attempts, I find myself saying, “I am not at all flattered by your need to photograph me. What makes you think it’s okay to take someone’s likeness without permission?”

Threatening to take phones away, or even actually physically removing them from the student, rarely helps. They learn nothing from the experience. Disrespect and lack of boundaries is commonplace.

Alternatively, I’ll say something like “We are not playing paparazzi right now.”

Students find me funny or entertaining, maybe, or I’m just going to be the subject for their meme-ification later, capturing my likeness on their smart phones, in any capacity, it all makes me increasingly uncomfortable. My likeness is just that. Mine. It never even occurred to them to ask my permission. They believe that because they have access and interest that it is suddenly acceptable to you make a forever memory of any situation.

Every persona is public, and you are only one Snap away from fame, but do you even know when it’s happening? Our students, who are definitely digitally native, are not necessarily digitally literate. Moreover, they lack the proper etiquette. Can we fault them when we don’t teach them? It’s like putting young people behind the wheel without a license. The danger, folks, is real, and we may all be casualties on the internet highway.

In Response To: Reply to All

I’d like to personally meet the man or woman who invented the reply-to-all feature. It would be an honor to shake his (or her) hand so I can wrap my hand around, grab with a firm grip, and squeeze all the fingers, one by one, until they break with a satisfying crunch.Whoever thought that this anarchistic feature was a good idea should be punished adequately.

Any type of group messaging system irritates me to no end. It’s nice to be included, and we all have a need to belong, but never have I ever felt that I need to belong to an email chain. You know the kind I am talking about: it originated from somebody at your teaching site, like your demanding principal or complicit administrative assistant, that is addressed to all staff. You also know that one staff member who can’t help but reply to every single email ever written by anybody on the face of the earth that he or she receives because it is a compulsion. Even more terrifying is the incessant need to reply to every single person who received the original email. And you’re included.

No, I don’t care that you can’t come to a staff meeting because you have an optometrist appointment. I’m sorry that your child threw up on you this morning and that you will be unable to be present something (irrelevant) to our department meeting. Yes, it is a travesty that you can’t find your keys and you will be five minutes late, but when you do come in, you will announce something like: “They were in my purse all along. Isn’t that silly?”

Yes. Yes it is.

Please do not take this opportunity to sell your daughter’s Girl Scout cookies because we were just reminded of a fire drill. Please feel free not to use the staff directory as a classified ad to unload that old sofa, mini fridge, or broken cabinet that sits in the back of your classroom.

Maybe that was just a little bit harsh. But, I do wonder who actually pays attention when they hit the reply to all.

Let’s do a thought experiment: if the computer system, every time someone clicked “reply to all” generated prompts, what would happend. Person clicks “reply to all.” Computer prompts: Are you sure? Click YES or No. No. No is the right answer. If the person still clicks yes because, you know, they are seriously deluded into thinking that all, if not, at least half, of the recipients need to know this information, a second prompt will arise. Are you REALLY sure? No. Please click NO. Unfortunately, there is that guy, the one who insists on the relevance of replaying to everyone. It really is critical. The third and final prompt arises: Are you really, REALLY sure? [Flashes in red. Skulls and crossbones. Blaring horns.] Should that lovely human still persist in proliferating toxic communication and click “YES,” the computer self-destructs.

People share things that they clearly should not be sharing with an entire recipient list. Years ago, I was copied on an email that went out to all fifth-grade teachers in my very large school district. I cannot remember what the original email was for, but I’m pretty sure I just deleted it. My rebellious streak is strong. Anything with that many recipients probably wasn’t intended for only me, and if it’s that important, someone will track me down in person.

Flash forward to 11 years later, I receive an unwelcome if not surprising email from somebody trying to sell their couch. To the entire fifth-grade teacher population. I now teach middle school, and can’t believe he or she thought it was a great idea to use a massive list-serv that came from our very large district over a decade earlier. Needless to say, teachers districtwide climbed aboard their beautifully-adorned soapboxes, empowered to be communication crusaders for Internet justice. They voiced their frustrations at the sheer inappropriateness of such a self-serving advertisement, chastising the sender. The majority noted how unprofessional it was to use reply to all. The irony? Every single person told the sender not to reply to all by replying to all.

May their computers not-so-spontaneously combust.

This went around and around for two, maybe three, weeks With my deleted box overflowing with copious responses.

It’s no different within sites. This week’s school bulletin, which is emailed out the Friday prior to the week it “bulletins,” received more than the normal reply to alls. I

t all started with a question from one teacher, the one teacher who usually has questions that I’ve already been answered but since she doesn’t pay attention, her question seems completely valid. This is the same teacher who, at staff meeting, only has “me” questions, during roundtable, the unspoken and agreed upon period where teachers have an unspoken agreement to never, under any circumstance, say anything that jeopardizes leaving the torture that is a compulsory staff meeting. This same teacher, In order to get a question answered, naturally, had to reply at all. As the answers to the questions came in, everyone just has to reply to all. In fact, several people reply to all with the same answer as the previous person. The entire time, I can’t help but be very upset as the important emails in my inbox get buried beneath this avalanche add in significant questions and responses. The best part? The answer to her question could’ve been found in the bulletin itself had she only looked.

Thank goodness for the 12 staff members who came to her rescue. 15 emails later, and numerous thank yous and assorted you’re welcomes, the great reply to all deluge of March 2019 had subsided, yet none of their computers exploded in a suicidal protest to reply to all.

I beg. I implore. Please do NOT REPLY TO ALL. Should you find yourself tempted by the potential to spread your digital, communicative seed, reflect upon that imaginary warning pop-up asking you if you’re sure. If you’re not, then don’t reply to all. If you are, trust me, don’t reply to all. Envision the motherboard and internal components of your favorite device strewn helter-skelter across your living room rug.

[Please reply only to me when commenting on this post. NOTE: No staff colleague or computer was harmed in the creation of this blog post.}