The Writing Hour: Happy vs. Whole

By Neva Knott

Two nights ago, a friend posted on Facebook a list entitled “Rules for my Daughter.” Number 10 struck me, stood out, stuck in my brain, has become an epiphany, “Happiness is not a permanent state. Wholeness is. Don’t confuse these.”

I hear often, in support and response to me lamenting a shift in my life, “but you weren’t happy.” I often reply, “but that’s not the point–I’m not trying to just be happy.” And in general, I am happy with my life; there has just been a lot of situation chaos in the last five years.

Wholeness is what I seek, what I have always sought. For me, wholeness is selfless in that it allows me to make a contribution and to feel fulfilled, to feel that I am working with my intellect, strengths and talents and within my boundaries of energy (I often struggle with exhaustion). Living wholeness is the expression of who I am at my core.

We all need role models and I’ve often found mine in literature, or some form of story–movies, TV shows or in the storytellers–musicians, artists, other writers. Within this context, I often ponder why I am drawn to serial TV shows in small towns: Everwood, Northern Exposure, Gilmore Girls, Hart of Dixie, Murder, She Wrote, or TV shows with a strong professional team: Bones, NCIS, or classics steeped in a strong sense of right and wrong: Perry Mason. Episode after episode, regardless of the show, I see wholeness come through characters that have found meaningful work and a complementary life, full of purpose, community, interpersonal relationships, and individuality.

I also think wholeness gets swallowed in the fast pace of life as we live it now.

When I think of wholeness I also think of adages left to me by my father: finish what you start, stick to your principles, put a little elbow grease into it. Sometimes I go long on the elbow grease… striving past my principles, losing track of what I started. I think it’s in these moments I fail to feel whole.

Yesterday I wrote about living a lifestyle life, a type of life synonymous with a whole life.





The Writing Hour: Downtown Nordstrom is my Breakfast at Tiffany’s

By Neva Knott

First, a little writing process/challenge overview. A few days ago, I started this category of The Writing Hour because I’d grumbled to a friend I wasn’t getting any writing done…and he reminded me, just do it for an hour a day. Knowing he was/is right, I took up the challenge. Diligently, the first two days, making blog posts, too. The third day I wrote in my notebook while waiting to meet a friend for lunch, then it all devolved… the only writing I’ve done the past few days is professional, or email. Writing, still, but not getting my practice down on paper, not telling the stories of my life. So I took a hard look at my distractions and use of time. Like everything I set aside, I’ve been not writing these past few days because I’m tired, therefore “don’t feel like it.” What a bad habit… during graduate school I wrote all the time when I was tired and didn’t feel like it, and found it to be much like what my swim coach always said–getting in the pool is the hardest part of the work-out.


Downtown Nordstrom is my Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I went there just now while waiting to meet Tom for lunch…for lunch at a place I ate almost daily when I worked at said Nordstrom, Aztec Taqueria on 10th, across from the parking garage.

Every time I ride up the store escalator I think of all the time I spent working there, at downtown Nordstrom… of how it was a job I loved. As I disembark the escalator and walk through my old department–Brass Plum–I think, the best summer of my life was spent working there and living my carefree life. I had a lifestyle life then. Some of you will know what I mean–a lifestyle life is what we now see blogged about by mostly millennials who have time to travel and write about it, time to do something other than start a career and settle down. During the era of my lifestyle life living, there was no internet, no cell phones to use for quick pics, no blogs.

My lifestyle life wasn’t much focused on travel. I’d done that extensively as a child, so any trip I took during that time was a roadtrip to see parts of the American landscape, or simply to run around the great wilderness of Oregon. Rather, my lifestyle life consisted of learning my creativity, hanging out in the music/art scene, and spending days off running with friends. I was fresh out of college, learning to write and developing my eye as a photographer.

As I sit writing this, I can’t think of any images to post… most of my photo work from that time was practice, and is likely to be found only in the deep recesses of my basement.

My lifestyle life felt whole, which is different than happy, and exists on a much grander scale. I had a steady and secure job that I enjoyed, and friendships amongst my coworkers. I had a college degree, finally, and new eyes on the world because of it. I had a fun, fast circle of friends that I’d made in my early twenties, and there was always something going on. I had a sweet little studio apartment. All of this sealed with hopeful optimism and direction that felt like purpose.

I’m riding down the Nordstrom escalator now, almost time for my lunch date. This place does always make me feel better, like Tiffany’s for Audrey Hepburn. In those days I felt a little like Holly Golightly, and a little like LulaMae…I was comfortable in my skin as a city girl with a plan and a career and a fancy-free life, and a little like I’d escaped something more constraining through the choices I’d made and was making for my future.

As I disembark the escalator, I ponder…what would my life have been like if I’d stayed there, career, full time?

I left Nordstrom when I started publishing Plazm magazine, and when I started to think that a less consumeristic life was a good thing. In that mix, it was also time to move myself toward my big goal of becoming a teacher, so I took my first bartending job, a little less serious, a little more flexible.

I still love fashion, though.

As I walk outside, up toward the taqueria, past Pederson’s Quick Mart–it’s been there this whole many decades… the ghosts begin to whisper. Jim. He worked at the record store around the corner on Taylor, I don’t remember its name. I’d walk up and visit him on my lunch hour, and we’d hang out at Virginia Cafe in the evenings. The following summer I went to LA to visit after he’d moved there, there also working in a record store. He died a bit after that, back in Portland, found dead on the Galleria bathroom floor–a downtown mall just a block away from Nordstrom–with a needle in his arm. I always feel cold when I imagine him lying there. He was such a sweet, sweet guy, always nice and caring; I don’t know what went wrong in his life, but today I say Hey Jim as I walk down the block.

The other ghosts are more friendships that became elusive as I moved my life forward. Tammy and Jan, the other two musketeers of Friday and Saturday nights, dancing, laughing, slopping souvlakia sauce on our cowboy boots at Taki’s at the end of the night. They were also members of the downtown work-a-day circuit. We all worked on that few-block radius hub and would circulate through each other’s days on breaks and meet for lunch, and we’d all wind up at VC at the end of the day.

There were other members of our crew–the other Jim, Andrew of course, Rodney, Alan, Barbara, and a cast of VC regulars whose names I’ve forgotten or possibly never knew. That summer, 1990, we had a good summer. Work, music, river trips, running around the city late night. We had a good summer, a good youth.

As I walk the final block to today’s lunch,   I see in my mind’s eye, the patterned brick of those downtown streets, and see the green curtains on the VC windows that only allowed passers-by to see the tops of patrons’ heads, I see the wood paneled booths, and the one round table by the brass rails of the bar where we’d all gather. I see the shimmer of the water at Sauvie’s Island, and the dark black of Satyricon, the punk club where we’d end up every night.

And I think, what’s a lifestyle life look like now?

For today, I am content to feel the comfort of my Tiffany’s, and to have lunch with a dear friend.

The Daily Hour: a jumble of topics–medical insurance, friends, food

By Neva Knott

I’m writing at night for this hour. I’m tired today, keep waking up too early–at 7:30 AM, and I work as a bartender. By the time I get to the restaurant, I’ve put in a full day–sometimes, work administrative stuff, sometimes walking the dog, doing yoga, cleaning the house, grocery shopping. I’m tired tonight because we had an event at work last night.

Today was one of those jumbled mind days, a day I pondered much, but none of it wants to fall into words on a page.

Source Unknown

First little topic: I went to the doctor via my new insurance plan. This constant changing of doctors and systems and needing referrals for all the aspects of care and the go here and go there for different parts of care is just exhausting. No, I don’t want to see this specialist or that specialist…I want to see my old doctor, but your insurance company told me I had to establish care with you and then get a referral. In short, I don’t want you to be my doctor now, I want my doctor to still be my doctor. I am a person who has had great success with naturopaths and chiropractors and acupuncturists and massage therapists rather than with big-medical-complex types. And as we all know, the affordable care act is not affordable.

Second topic: I wanted some advice about my business, so over the weekend I texted a friend who lives on the other side of the country and is a career restauranteur. He is a friend I cherish–we met 17 years ago, have hardly spent time together in person given the bi-coastal thing, but feel a deep connection. He talked with me logically about the particulars of the situation, and then told me, “No matter what you decide, it will not change who you are at the core. You’ve dealt with other hard situations before fearlessly, you will do that again now.” I get by with a little help from my friends.

After speaking with him, another close friend called to tell me how her new job is going. She is having an experience similar to one I’ve had when changing schools or school districts as a teacher. Change is hard, and talking with her helped me put that old situation of mine into a clearer perspective, and, I think I was able to help her frame her situation a bit, too. We all get by with a little help from our friends. Thankfully.

And then there is food… on the large scale, I am disappointed in Amazon taking over Whole Foods–because A treats employees horribly, destroys small businesses (I know WF is not a small business), and completely disregards the impact of sourcing goods. WF, though it has become much more corporate/capitalistic than it was in its early (idealistic) days, until now has treated employees well, worked to source responsibly, and has programs within the supply chain that benefit humans and the environment. I read yesterday that the reasons A bought WF are 1. data so they can sell more to us 2. to step up their market share in the grocery game. So, a company that has been an example for following the Triple P (people, planet, and profits) business model was just swallowed by a company that espouses the One P model. Uhg.

On the small scale, I spent the evening, in between customers, discussing new menu options with my chef. We want fresh, local, sustainably sourced food that we can execute as closely to Zero Waste as possible. We want to develop relationships with local purveyors.

These issues–sourcing (of medical care and of food), social and environmental justice, and relationships are the stuff.

The Daily Writing Hour: Portland, not Portlandia

By Neva Knott

Two days ago, a friend reminded me to write for an hour a day…this is what I have to say today…

Last night, we hosted a band, The Screamin’ Geezers, at my bar. Two of the members fronted long-ago-known Portland punk bands, The Confidentials and Sado-Nation (early 1980s). These bands played the early punk clubs here, 13th Precinct and then Satyricon, and helped establish the city’s still-burgeoning music scene. So the bar was filled with 50-somethings, all familiar, all the grown-up version of what I jokingly told my bartender was my “misspent youth.” It wasn’t, though…those years opened my creativity and gave me voice.

Club Satyricon

(So yesterday in my post I mentioned being an English teacher, but in the last few years, post 2008 recession, I’ve worked off and on as a bartender. In 2015, I quit my job teaching college to be with and after the cancer diagnosis take care of my partner, Andrew. After his death, I returned to bartending, actually buying my own bar, Black Dog Lounge).

When I first moved to Portland in 1980, I was afraid of the smells and bustle of the city, of the street people and beggars and crime. The one corner on Third and Burnside where the hookers stood. When we’d go down town to Saturday Market or out to dinner, I’d cling to my boyfriend’s arm, afraid that I would be accosted. I don’t know why. It wasn’t as if I’d never been in a gritty city: Dehli, London, Bangkok, Saigon. But for some reason, Portland made me afraid.

In the early 80s, I moved in from the suburbs and I began to love the city. I learned the quadrants the make up its organizational pattern, and lived in one easy to know. I loved the old man bars and the funky drugstore and the old groceries. There were fewer coffee shops then, but there was one just down the hill from my Vista apartment on 23rd, and I learned to drink espresso there. I became adept at city life.

As I began to know the city, I began to meet people in the music scene, some of them the same people who played and danced at my bar last night. There’s talk often of Satyricon closing, of our city changing, of our youth disappearing into age, but what I find as the subtext of those mutterings is the voice and heartbeat of community, of creativity, the rhythm and strum of the meaning in life.

There was a time I hated Portland, sometime in the mid-to-late 90s. It was as if a switch flipped, and one day I just had to get out. I think my social circle had fallen apart. I think that was about the time when hipsters as we now call them flooded in. I know it was the period when all of a sudden traffic was bad, things were expensive, and people started to seem rude. Recently, I began to reconnect with friends from my early, naive, frightened-yet-inquisitive days there, long ago in the 1980s and into the mid-1990s, and began to love my city once again.

Sometimes I think of that Neil Young song, “Helpless.” The line about “all my changes were there,” resonates. All of my changes have been in Portland. I found my adulthood here, I continue to find myself here.







Is my passion worth an hour a day?

By Neva Knott

My life has been a frazzled mess for a couple of years. Or five years, to be specific. Or the last decade since I made a huge career move not knowing the recession was coming and having not yet totally gotten back to full-time, professional employment. Or for the last twelve years since Adam died. He’s not the only one… my mom died in 2012 and left a messy house and decades worth of crap for me to deal with, and then my lover–the man I’d fallen in love with in 1984 and just recently entered a relationship with–was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2016. The glue that has been holding my life together is a toxic concoction of loss, grief, and despair.

Yet I believe in the future. I believe in positivity, and I struggle to put my belief in myself into action. In this messy timespan, I have completed two Master’s degrees, both of which I cherish. I finally got hired to teach at a college–my life-long dream. I keep adding amazing people to my life, and I have reconnected with long-lost, important friends and family members. I have learned to ask for help, I have learned a lot about my deeper, private self. There have been moments of extreme beauty in between all the big failings.

All of this is the backdrop for this hour this morning. A friend asked me yesterday, “What are you doing tomorrow?” I replied, “I don’t know… just home stuff I guess until I come to work. I keep trying to find time to write, but I don’t.” He said, “You just have to do it. Every day. One hour a day.” As an English teacher, I’ve told students that so many times. I’ve told myself that so many times. I’ve made that hour a day my practice so many times–when I feel settled, and until some next life tsunami knocks me ass over tea kettle. I told my friend that I’d read somewhere that no one made time for Wallace Stegner to write. Stegner was prolific in both fiction and non-fiction, founded the creative writing program at Stanford, taught full time for decades. And I’m sure he had his messy timespans; don’t we all?

So what do I want to write about today, in this hour?

1. I returned from Iceland on Thursday. A short trip, just four days, to celebrate my birthday. I met my aunt & two of my uncles there. We drove the southern coast, saw a varied and mesmerizing volcanic landscape–some of it barren, some of it lush. In Reykjavic, the urban forestry caught my eye. Here at home in Portland, Oregon, I volunteer for Friends of Trees, an organization that works to grow the urban tree canopy of our city. (I’ve written extensively about the science-y aspects of the program on my other blog, The Ecotone Exchange). Iceland is an un-forested country. What timber was originally there was cut for human settlement. The patterns of planting in Reykajavic are thoughtfully done. Stands or copses of a variety of species, a different pattern that the usual city streets lined with mono-species planted more for ornamentation than what trees have to offer. Along the countryside I noticed that farmers had surrounded their property with similar planting, stands of trees that can grow to accommodate lumber needs.

2. When I think of trees and air travel, and all of the natural disasters going on right now, I think of climate change. Ok, truth be told, I am constantly thinking of climate change. Not only do I think about it, I evaluate everything I do in relationship to it. Climate change is directly related to–caused by–human activity. Flying is a huge negative, and I am one who has been flying to travel my whole life. Iceland is my only plane trip this year, and I know soon I should stop flying all together.

When I travel, I practice what I call “trash-less travel,” (also the title of a post on The Ecotone Exchange). I refuse as many single-use plastic items as I can. I take a fork and spoon in my cosmetic bag, I carry a reusable drink bottle–that I used on this trip for in-flight wine, coffee, water, and tea. During my Iceland trip, I only wasted one plastic plate at the airport–I thought the food I ordered was going to come in a paper box like the display–and one plastic smoothy cup/lid/straw. Everything adds up.

3. The third thing on my mind this morning is why it is so hard to find this hour each and every day for my passion (s)–writing and photography. Simply, I get distracted. By the strong and ugly emotions that I awake to in my mess of a life, by the stress of not feeling settled, by the story I tell myself that I have to write something good and clear and meaningful, and sometimes I am distracted by sheer exhaustion. These are all bad habits, signaling that I don’t put myself or what I know to be my meaningful work as a priority in my life. I’m glad my friend gave me such a good reminder yesterday. Today, I put words and images on this page.


And so this is Christmas…


My sister and me (I’m in yellow), our first Christmas living abroad, 1969.

By Neva Knott

2016 has been a fucked up year yet as I say that I wonder what year in recent memory hasn’t been for me? This year began with our dear friend Jimmy Boyer dying, on January 21. I’d tried to reach him over the holidays and on New Year’s. I knew something was wrong, I just didn’t know how wrong until I saw the announcement of his death on Facebook, and woke Andrew to tell him. Less than two months later, Andrew died. Just days before, he’d told me he was done, and I asked him if he meant done with a particular procedure at the hospital or done like he wanted to go see Jimmy. He said he wanted to go see Jimmy now. On March 8, the love of my life and best friend to many, the man who changed my life thirty years ago, died. In the mix I didn’t work for 18 months after my return to Portland, firstly because it quickly became apparent that Andrew needed a lot of help with his health issues and then because I just couldn’t, after losing him. And I’m not rich, and Portland is hella expensive now.

Out of the ashes, good has come into my life. I had the opportunity to camp on Mt. Hood this summer, a ritual that had slipped out of my life the last few. I have reacquainted with persons I hold dear here in the town I love, the place I’ve called home since I was 18. I’ve reconnected, through Andrew, with the community that was my world until I gave up on my fluid, creative lifestyle and joined adult professional life–note to self: huge mistake. In that mix, I’ve met many people who were, at first, nice to me because I was Andrew Loomis’s “new” girlfriend; then, they got to know me and I have several important new friendships. I had felt alone for several years, and now I don’t.

I finally gave up on teaching, a career I think gave up on me long ago. It is an odd thing to know you are good at something and simultaneously feel like a round peg in a square hole, day in and day out. I strove my whole novice adulthood to not sell out, yet I did, largely out of fear. I am afraid to fail, and given the family I am from–grandparents and a father who survived the Great Depression–I am afraid to be poor.

Once again this year my family has come together in strength and quirky little similarities that make Knotts Knotts and Coopers Coopers, and we’ve fallen apart and suffered losses. It seems to be our constant state of being.

Christmas started to die for me in 1977, the year my dad got sick with cancer at Thanksgiving, and was given only a few months to live. Still, we bought him presents–items on his list like work gloves and a chainsaw. We knew, as we wrapped them that he’d likely not make it a month more. He opened them with the same pretense, and on January 26th was gone.

Christmas really died for me in 1997, which is the last year I remember my grandmother Hazel alive and there, opening presents with us in the gift exchange fray at my mom’s. She’d wanted a doll that year, for some reason…grandma wanted a doll. She unwrapped it, and held it in her lap, and just looked out at the scramble and the mess and the piles of stuff and wrapping paper and the kids going crazy and hearing all the bursts of “look what I got,” and turned to me and said, “Neva, I wonder if any of them remember what this day is about.” I was raised Lutheran, my grandparents steadfast church goers, and kind people. I loved the candle light ceremony with them, and went to it at their church on Christmas Eve 2012, the first year I lived in Olympia after mom died. I felt my grandfather there with me, and saw my mom’s cousin a few rows over.

Now, Christmas is a day that I spend with my sister and her family. It’s nice that we have this one time in the year when we all get together, exchange gifts, laugh, eat, have drinks, and this year (it’s legal now and the kids are grown) smoked a few rounds of pot. Yesterday, we went to lunch at my tavern, opened gifts, then we played Monopoly, and I, the family vegan, made a prime rib and my sister and I got in a fight right before dinner because the meat wasn’t done and everything else was getting cold and she kept trying to make gravy out of Au Jus package mix and I didn’t have any flour for thickener because I am gluten free and we each thought the other was acting like neurotic mom, who was always a bit perfectionistic about holiday meals. Later, we watched TV, all of us crammed together on the couch and my nephews on the floor.

And so this is Christmas, another year older, what have you done (to quote John Lennon)?

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t miss Andrew. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get pissed at cancer and addiction and our lost time. A day doesn’t go by without some level of an anxiety attack, PTSD episode, or adrenal fatigue kicking my ass. But days do go by and I am alive and I laugh and joke and smile and strive. I do not have survivor’s guilt, only sorrow.

The big sea change in my personal life episode 2016 is that I let go of the biggest thing in my life that wasn’t working and that I held onto of some sort of fear-based logic, the thing that was taking up space in a way that disallowed me to move forward. I quit teaching, a career that never worked for me except for my two years teaching at a community college. My license expired on my birthday in September and I didn’t renew it. That same day, the day I realized I’d forgotten to send in the paperwork and simultaneously said fuck it, the bar I now own came for sale.

In 2016, I realized a dream come true. I’ve been saving and fantasizing and planning to buy my own business since I was 15. On Andrew’s birthday, I signed papers and became that business owner. I own a bar–four college degrees and a shit-ton of life-questioning and anguish later, I own a bar.

In 2016, I have survived yet another big loss, but because of it I have added many to my life, members of my tribe, new close friends, I’ve deepened my relationship with old friends, I’ve reconnected with some I thought were long-lost, and I have continued to live with a little help from my friends who’ve always been there for me.

My BFF Jimmy asked me a couple of years ago, “What’s important to you?” I said, people–my friends. He replied, “That’s obvious.” I hope it is, and that you all know how much you mean in my life.

Most importantly in 2016, I have come home. After feeling displaced for a decade, Portland is once again, firmly, happily, my home.

Just a Day in an American High School…

By Neva Knott

Third Day of This School Year

Three classes today, block schedule, each is 75 minutes long. The first begins at 8:15. Traffic is bad, coffee line is bad, I get into my classroom at 8:10. Unusual for me–I like to arrive early, play some music, get my head in the game. But, my last job was teaching at a community college, and in that type of school, teachers arrive to the room with the students, so it was sort of familiar, too. I had my materials ready, having taught the same lesson to the first three of my six classes yesterday. The only glitch was logging on to the computer so that I could access the seating chart, take attendance, and play the videos that went with the lesson.

Tenth grade Biology…

The first unit is on how the brain works so that you can learn, but it’s also about how to take Cornell Notes, and how to do a close read and mark the text when reading for information. These are Sophomores, so most of them know, or should know, these study skills. But, it’s the beginning of the year, so we review.

B-Block Day, First Class

This class is sleepy. Compliant, sweet, good natured, but sleepy. It’s a small class–17 students–which can be good in terms of behavior, but also awkward when they are all quiet and sleepy and not so in to what we call the flipped classroom.

As I am turning on the computer and hoping it works, a boy comes in, introduces himself, shakes my hand. He was absent the first day. Nice way to introduce himself.

The bell rings, the computer loads, I take attendance, and we begin. I hand out the reading packet, write examples on the board of how to go through it and mark for key words, main ideas, and vocabulary. We look at the questions they’ll need to answer after reading, and I turn them loose to read. Four pages, and I give them 10 minutes. I know most students will finish, I know some won’t even start, and I know that some will work earnestly but will struggle. Ten minutes is enough time to read four pages straight through, but probably not enough to do the marking… but here’s the point… give them more time, and they won’t do anything until I tell them they have a minute left.

They work, I circulate the room and ask people individually if they understand, coach those not yet started so that they can begin.

And then there’s that kid. He’s been in a few of my classrooms in the 20 years I’ve taught. He’s always male. He always comes with some designation, in this case his online profile says he’s in the Indian Education Program. He sits, all day every day, in every class, and does nothing. He is openly, albeit quietly, defiant. He knows exactly where the get-sent-out-for-disciplinary-issues line is, and keeps one toe just over it enough to get whatever he is trying to get, and the rest of himself behind the line. Tuesday, our first day of class, he scrapped all the paint off the table. When I asked him to quit, his response was that the people who painted the table were so lazy they painted over tape. While I was instructing today, he was playing with one of those mini-skate-board decks that seems to fascinate 10th grade boys. Today, all he’s done is get out his shiny, new highliter pens, and is stacking them. Not reading, not marking the text, not giving a shit, just trying to rankle me. But he won’t. I give him two choices: 1. explain to me how you need my help to get started; 2. get started. I keep walking around, and when I come back by, he’s still stacking his pens. I restate my question/directions. At this point, I have taken his stack of markers as, and he says, “I need my markers.” I say, to get busy? He repeats himself. I give him the markers, and tell him that if I find him off task again, I will call the Dean. He is, and I do.

The Dean comes down, I motion for the student to quietly join us in the hallway, and I explain to her in all that educator kind of language that I am getting her involved because we are still setting expectations, and that I would like her support in emphasizing to him that, in my classes, we are–as the school saying goes–On Time, On Task, On a Mission, and that he seems to think working is an option. I also explain to her that he has been argumentative and defiant. She talks to him, he comes back, tells his table mate his woeful story, and continues to do nothing. Now he knows where I stand, and I know what I’m dealing with.

I fucking hate this shit. This is why I don’t teach full time anymore. The other choice I have is to ignore kids like him, which is what most teachers do. But, I can’t. I can’t because there is no good reason to…and, because kids like him want attention. The more they are ignored, the more they act out. So, on some level, he knows I care and that I am going to push him to succeed. But, that doesn’t lessen the bullshit factor of the situation.

Back to everyone else… they worked, diligently. I had to remind one kid no food in class, but I’m sure he remembered the rule because he was hiding his Reese’s PB cup… at least he didn’t leave his trash, hope that wasn’t his only breakfast. We got through the packet–all four pages and the questions–and it took about an hour. We had 15 minutes left, and the computer was working, so I showed them the youtube video we’ll work with next class session.

Ok, I thought, OK… we did it. I’m going to have to work to bring the energy level up in this class and to get them interacting in a learner-to-learner way. But not bad.

B-Block Day, Second Class

Big classes… 29 students. I have seats for 24. Let me tell you, teenagers don’t like to be all squished up, just sayin. Anyway, in they come. On the first day the internet dropped so I couldn’t put them in a seating chart, so that’s where we start today.

Did I mention there are a lot of them? So, I have them all stand along the side-lines, and start calling out names and pointing to seats, reminding them to “correct me gently” if I mis-pronounce a name. I get about a row and a half in, and I realize the disciplinary VP is standing in the doorway, watching. I had to call her to deal with a student yesterday, so I assume she is checking up on me–they do that. She’s smiling, so that’s good, but her time is valuable, so I float over and ask if she needs me “right now,” needs a kid, or needs to talk to me in a minute. She says in a minute is fine. I seat a couple more kids, and then she says, “maybe right now.”

Let me back up a minute–this is the second day I’ve had this class. The first day, it was plain to everyone that they we would do the seating chart today…yet, somehow, the other adult in the room then–the EA for the kids in special ed–didn’t bother to ask that I group together all of the students she works with, nor did she tell me who they are. So…as I started class today, she asked if I could group them. I said, with 20 students standing on the sidelines, and trying to keep them settled and focused, “Sure, but not right now. If you can give me their names after class, I will take care of it for Tuesday when we have class again.” Hmmm… so, back to the disciplinary VP… she says, “___________ needs you to group all of her students together.”

What the fuck? The EA left to tattle on me! Not cool AT ALL. I explained what I’d told the EA to the VP and assured her it would be done, but that I couldn’t do it right now. I paused, looked out at the sea of unseated kids, kids for whom I don’t really have seats, looked back at her and smiled with that smile that says, see what I mean.

Different lesson for this group: set up Cornell Notes, watch a video called The Learning Brain, take notes as review of how to take notes, do a variety of activities–pair share, whole-group share, me go back over stuff–to make sure they got it.

Sure, I had to give some behavioral reminders, like put your FUCKING CELL PHONE AWAY (that’s what I wanted to say, but of course I used teacher-speak language), and where’s your note paper? You’ll need to borrow a pencil from a neighbor, then… No, you can’t go to the bathroom while I’m giving directions, sort of stuff.

But, they got right to work. They worked, they didn’t just go through the motions–they actually worked to learn. Ok, most of them did. Even so, some kids had attitude. Who knows? They are teenagers.

Then it was time to get up and walk around the room and talk to two people you don’t know… it’s called building classroom community, it’s called think-pair-share, it’s called we just watched a video on how sitting too long decreases learning and we’re an hour in and y’all are getting twitchy.

Did I mention the video is only seven minutes long? Gone are the days of a seven minute video/note-taking taking seven minutes. There is some good to that… we use a variety of strategies so that students can experience the information multiple ways, which is what brain research says is most effective. But a lot of that time is eaten up with stuff that would have never been allowed when I was in 10th grade: coming unprepared; talking back to the teacher about which seat you’re assigned; not listening to directions and five people having to be retold what we’re doing, the VP popping in because the EA tattled…

So they are walking around for a minute or two… and one kid pulls out his cell phone and is setting up to take a selfie or a picture of his friend. So, I go over and call the office, ask that someone come down to confiscate the phone…

Since there are so many of them and they are up walking around, no one saw me call. I get them back in their seats and say, “let’s move on,” just as the hall monitor opens the door. Without missing a beat, I make eye contact with him, say, “hi, will you please take his phone?” while pointing at the kid. Dicey move on my part. I can tell this particular kid wants peer attention. I can tell he is not going to be openly defiant in front of 28 other students. The hall monitor takes him out, sets him right. I get the class on track for the next step of the lesson. As I circulate the room, I quietly tell him, “No phones. It’s a non-negotiable rule. Don’t have it out again.” What do you think he said back? “But we weren’t doing anything!” And kept arguing.

Somewhere in the mix of all that, the EA whispered to me that she told the Dean that the special ed teacher hadn’t contacted me… I think her gist was that she was trying to get the other teacher in trouble, not me. But what the fuck, anyway… she’s the one who dropped the ball.

B-Block Day, Third Class

Here it comes. The first day with this group, I spent most of my time being interrupted, and then reminding them of behavior guidelines and rules. The came with their A-game, for sure, the disrupt-the-teacher-so-we-don’t-have-to-do-any-work game. A sure sign they are low-skilled, and a sure sign they have not been made to take responsibility for their behavior in past classes. These are the kids that, in lower grades, were the one or two in the class who, because they were behind, found ways to eek out of doing work. Sophomore year, because of how electives and advanced classes work in mapping out the master schedule for a school, they all seem to land in one class, and that’s bad, because it’s a whole lotta wear-the-teacher-down behavior all day, every day for awhile. It can go several ways: they finally give in and let me help them; a bunch of them drop the class and then I am in the hot seat; they keep disrupting and I start writing referrals, which is about as effective as finding a missing sock… I have learned over the 20 years of my career that eliciting administrative help–ok, it is someone’s $80+ thousand-dollar-a-year job to be the disciplinary VP–gets me into more trouble than it gets the “bad” kid into.

So I stand outside the door, greet each one, and remind them to put their phones away. This establishes that they are entering MY territory and that I am alpha. When the bell rings, I shut the door, stand in front of the class and smile. Then I remind them that we’re going to work on classroom behavior today.

I start the lesson, and am bombarded with interruptions, kids blurting out either commentary meant to derail me, or just plain unnecessary crap. It takes almost 15 minutes to get started… you know, to watch the seven-minute video.

I start the video, and also stop it twice to go over what they should have in their notes. I then tell them I am going to let them finish taking notes without my prompting, though I will stop the video a couple of times to give them time to write stuff down–the woman in the video speaks very quickly…

I circulate the room, and guess what? Out of the 20 students, five are taking notes. One kids says, “no one has given me any paper yet,” even though it is written on the board, “bring supplies every day.” A couple of kids mumble and look down and say they don’t need help. A couple try to argue–WTF? A couple shrug their shoulders. One says he already knows how to do this, which makes NO sense, because…he isn’t doing it.

So we get through the video. Hardly anyone has notes. They begin, in random shout-at-the-teacher fashion to ask me about what was in the video, expecting me to tell them everything they should have written down. When I explain to them that I am not going to do that, because 1. the expectation is that they be on task; 2. the lesson is to practice note-taking… I get some real push-back. Then they want me to replay the video.

So we have another chat about classroom behavior. I point-blank, in a nice-ish way say, “Hey, if I would have seen people actually trying to take notes and actually paying attention, I might replay the video. But, since about two thirds of you all didn’t take any notes, even when I asked if you needed help getting started (multiple times, I might add, dear reader), and when I paused the video for you to catch up, and I saw people staring out the window, or with notebooks closed, or drawing on the desk, no, I am not going to tell you what to put in your notes and I am not going to replay the video.”

In this writing, I know I am forgetting some of the table-by-table stuff, the snitty little things said to me as I walked around, offering help… but anyway.

They had a lot to shout out about that…so I sat and waited until they quieted down. I wait…and while I am waiting, a kid walks by in the hall and one of my students shouts out to him, “what you doing, niggah?” The whole class goes silent and then looks at me. I say yep, we have to work on behavior in this class, for example language. One girl pipes in, “yeah, no profanity, especial the “N” word.” So now they are in my court and we are getting somewhere. If I had ignored the kid who had just made the ultimate faux pas in a mixed race classroom, I’d have lost them forever.

Finally, one kid blurted out, “Miss Knott, do you have patience?” I didn’t answer him. I didn’t answer, because in that moment, he didn’t want the answer–he wanted to make me look bad.

In that moment, also, the students who had done the work were getting that look that those students always get… the one of how the hell did I end up in class with these kids again?

So, I moved on in the lesson. Most of them realized by that time they weren’t going to get anywhere with the bad behavior, so they shut up, at least. What that looked like, 20 minutes before the end of class, was closed notebooks, pens/pencils put away, backpacks on tables, ready to hit the door at the bell.

The next step in the lesson was to have them share with the class from their notes–back to having students “touch” the information multiple times. I handed out note cards, told them to put the number 7 in the top right hand corner and then to write their name on the card. Wow…. over half the class had to have the directions repeated, more than once. Most of the cards weren’t set up as I said. Anyway… this is all information for me about these students.

So shuffled the cards and began calling on students to share from their notes. Those who had notes did a really nice job, quickly giving a fact. Those who had complained that I wouldn’t tell them what to write/replay the video just sat there, notebooks closed, pencils away. After a few share-outs, I said, “I find it quite odd that the people who wanted me to replay the video are the people with closed notebooks…” That changed nothing. So we kept going.

As I wrapped up class, I said, “You all did much better coming into the room and settling down today. But, we still need to work on on-task behavior, and not blurting out interruptingly and making snippy comments.” Somebody started to say some argumentative what-what, and I shut it down. I was done, and I know my facial expression said so, loud and clear. I said, response,  “No. I know the difference between what I need help looks like and I’m trying to “get” the teacher looks like, and most of what I’ve seen in here is trying to get the teacher.”

Some of this behavior is masking low skill level, which I can see already in their work. Some if it is learned helplessness. Some of it is just plain disrespectful bullshit.

Class ended. But I kept one girl behind. In the mix of all the crazy, she had not taken the seat I’d directed her to, hadn’t taken out her notebook, wasn’t doing the work… I talked to her at her table, trying to figure out why, but her table-mate interrupted and yelled, “she can’t speak English so you can’t make her do this.” Not helpful. Not respectful, to me, or that girl.

I walked her over to the counseling center to see if we could get her into a lower-level class. Her counselor told me this: “The Oregon Department of Education deemed that all ELD students (students who can maybe speak a little English) have to be in regular, grade-level classes.” But, no translator has been provided for her. No auxiliary materials have been provided for her. No one told me. The counselor’s first approach was to talk down to me and tell me to ask for help to find classroom teaching strategies to help her…she was really demeaning. I nipped that, saying, “I’ve been teaching in this district since 1995…I know the strategies. But, what she needs is help with translation. She didn’t even know what I meant when I was giving simple directions.” After a lengthy discussion, counselor-to-student in Spanish, and counselor-to-me in English, we determined that the girl’s cousin is in the class, and can help translate. I told the counselor that she seemed pretty lost, too, but that was countered with a gloss-over comment. I was given the name of the ELD teacher to contact.

Her first approach of help was to email the principal to see if there were many ELD students in the class so that it justified the use of a translator to “help the teacher.”

And then I returned to my classroom, pissed.

Pissed at the system that, in the 20 years I’ve been in it hasn’t found a way to help students who don’t speak English–and there are many. Pissed that behavior expectations are stated and not upheld–I’m not talking about uptight stuff, just basic classroom demeanor stuff. Pissed that a kid with a $300 cell phone thinks it’s my job to buy him paper. Pissed that 10th-graders think the expectation is too high when they are asked to take notes on a seven-minute video. Pissed that the ELD teacher phrased her email that I needed the help, not the student. Pissed that the EA called the VP on me…

And here’s the thing about having the VP called, and me having to call the Dean and then the Hall Monitor, and having to visit the counselor (which many teachers, especially in the situation of being a sub, wouldn’t have done)… all of that goes as little black-marks in the column that says, “we had to go to her classroom to take care of an issue again.” Fuck that.

I emailed the Special Ed teacher, noting that, after I had told the EA I would deal with the seating issue for the next class, the VP was called in. I wanted her to know, in my professionally worded email, that that was oh so the wrong move, and that I didn’t appreciate it. I think she got the message; her reply was effusive and an offer of lots of communication.

The Question and the Smile

So that kid who asked if I have patience… he has no idea. And, yes, I will answer his question on Tuesday when I start class and remind them again of behavior expectations in the classroom…and this is what I will say, “I have no patience for disruptive, rude behavior (and why should I?). I have infinite patience for kids who are trying.”

We’re supposed to teach behavior–it’s written everywhere in all the school-rule stuff. We’re supposed to know the kids and what they need in terms of educations. It was a hard fucking day, one that reminded me why I don’t want to do this full-time. But, guess what? That girl, the one who doesn’t speak enough English to know which seat I’m directing her to, she smiled at me when we finished our conversation with the counselor. And that is the same in any language.