Youthful Porpoise and Other Ramblings

Sometimes I title my blogs by something LOGICAL. Lately, as I’ve been working, I’ve been in a musical rut. I’ve tried to dust off some old tunes in an attempt to brighten up a bit. My sister (Alyx) was a big R.E.M. fan in high school and college, and she turned me on to them. I’ve become a fan of a lot of bands later, less popular works. I haven’t listened to much R.E.M. in years, and I’ve forgotten how GOOD “All the Way to Reno (You’re Gonna Be a Star)” was. In the liner note to In Time, I swear Michael Stipe wrote, “If you think you’re going to Reno to be a star, you’re either delusional or grossly misinformed”, but I could be making it up as I’ve long since lost my copy of the liner notes.


If you are expecting a coherent, working piece – that isn’t this blog. This is a scatter-shot, random pieces that I just need to get out of my own head. “Things that make you go ‘oh’” if you will.
-There are some good things that have come out of teaching in covid. I have stayed unusually creative in trying to find ways to challenge my students. I don’t know if it always works – but I certainly haven’t forgotten to try different things. Especially with trying to give my science students a lab experience, I have to TRY. I have zero illusion that it’s anywhere close to the same experience.
I gave my AP Chemistry students a chromatography lab. I don’t know for sure if it was awesome, but I gave them my best shot. And, from my own artistic standpoint – it looked happy.


I’m excited for this week for my AP Bio students. They’re doing a lab on cell signaling involving taste buds (I didn’t write the lab – I’m not that good). But I did have Sonia and Allison do the taste testing on camera for the students (since my students can’t do it) to lend authenticity to the experience. Any time your kid says, “It tastes like someone farted in your mouth” on camera, that’s a win.
And I do enjoy seeing my students write live on Padlet. They do have unique ways of writing something when they don’t get to show you their answer after careful crafting. “Electrons go wheeeee!” “The enzyme is interrupted by the thingee.” and “I only see circles.” It does bring levity to my day.
This past Friday, I decided to break through the actual fourth wall with my students. No one wants to put their camera on. I had been trying to lighten the mood because everyone had been so down. So I told them that I had a very serious story that related to a lot of what we had been talking about – but I needed to see their faces in order to tell the story. I stole a joke from a comedian, and told a long, drawn out story about a “friend” that I lost track of that was super smart that wanted to be a marine biologist. It culminated with me finding the fake “friend” feeding baby dolphins at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and that weren’t disappointed with how their life turned out, because they in fact were “serving a youthful porpoise.” I got a lot of regretful smiles and “why does my teacher do this to me” laughs. I even got one “I hate you, Dr. K,” from a laughing student.
-My daughter always tells me (at least once a week) to say “hi” to Ms. Harris – the business education teacher next door to me. The first two years during classroom set up, Allison helped me prep my room. When she was done with me, she wandered into Ms. Harris’ room, and Ms. Harris put her to work on a few tasks. I don’t know how much they talked, but Allison really likes her. My daughter is a quiet soul, and I think that’s part of the reason she likes my co-worker. There are things that I forget (I am scatter-brained) – but if Allison tells me to say “hi” to Ms. Harris for her, that’s one thing I NEVER forget to do.
-Actually, my daughter (who is in 7th grade) remembers several of my students. There’s one that took her for a tour of the pit orchestra just before the musical – so Allison frequently wants me to deliver a message to her. Then, there’s another student that Allison saw ONCE during classroom set up that’s in the Early College Academy who I rarely see. Allison always asks me if I’ve seen, and when I do, I HAVE to greet her, too. My kid’s memory is TOO GOOD.
-There are a few days when the floor has most of our teachers working from the building. It almost feels like home. Almost. My other next door neighbor, Ms. Cato, teaches math. I find it very soothing to hear her teach her students during my planning period. She is very good at what she does (and she works with freshmen, whooo), and it sets a rhythm to the day. Plus, I secretly hope that if I listen in, I might pick up something I can use (an equation) for my chemistry knowledge.
-I think it would be fun to either rollerblade the hallways or set up a bowling alley outside my door. I’m just sayin’. Or a game of frisbee – but the fire alarm might disagree.
-I’ve also figured out that I’ll never be able to meditate. I got really close when I was on sabbatical. And then I stopped when I started back at work. And I’ve tried.
And failed.
And failed even more spectacularly.
Then it occurred to me.
I actually kind of do it when I’m trail running. Just running on roads isn’t enough. It’s too EASY.
From what I gather, when one meditates, you have a thought, you focus on it, you let it go – and then you move on peacefully to the next one.
I can’t sit. My students will tell you this. I’ll get 15,000 steps in one school day – before I get home.
It’s also why I enjoy MOVING when I hike – more than getting to the destination. I almost don’t care where I am. Let. Me. MOVE.
When I trail run, I look at 150 feet ahead of me to check for a problem. Then 50-75 feet ahead of. Then 20 feet ahead of me. Then repeat. Until I’m done. It’s why I’m quiet. It’s a movement based form of meditation. But when I run around my neighborhood – there’s nothing to ASSESS, no progression to go through. Ergo, when I return, I’m less at peace.
If it doesn’t make sense to you, it makes sense to me.
-It’s also why I’ve been so keyed up while teaching during covid. I’m tied to that goddamn desk. I can’t MOVE, and I feel like my bones are going to jump out of my body. All this stress, all this nervous energy, and I can’t even burn it by walking around the classroom. There’s no place to go with it. It might sound trivial to YOU, but it’s harder than expected on me.
-It’s clear to me that from a PHYSICAL health standpoint, that schools need to be shutting down. It’s also pretty clear that from a MENTAL health standpoint, that schools need to be open. And by politicizing coronavirus, many regions of the country (local and state governments, and the national government) have sold-out the school systems. They are damned if they stay open, and they are damned if they stay closed.
People are so damned concerned about self-expression and getting everything they want that they’ve lost the big picture. And we’re entering a really painful phase here. “The winter of our discontent” seems like an apropos phrase (thank you, Mr. Steinbeck). I’d ask for an extra hug to keep my spirits lifted, but that’s not safe right now.
-The other hard thing about teaching this year is always being ON. In my first two years, if I was a little off (grumpy, sad – you know, human), it was ok. But this year, I feel as though I’m the last line of defense some days – and that I can’t be off. Near perfection – and smile like I mean it. I would like to be able to exhale and be ME. Goofy when I want to be goofy, and somber when I need to be a little somber. But this year, the job is calling for something different – and that’s hard.
-My family is asking me what I want for Christmas. I have no clue. I want a bottle of melatonin and a glass of warm milk to wash it down with (I’d write something else, but you know, big brother…) I’d like my students to come back to me. I’d like things to start being funny again. I’d like interesting discussions with interesting people. I’d like to feel like I’m actually making a difference instead of merely plugging my fingers into the newest leak. I’d like to feel like I have time to have a little fun – and not just for decompressing – actual fun. I’d like to feel like we’re not constantly walking on some high-wire act. I’d like to be able to embarrass my kids in public.
-My kids used to hate it – we’d go to Target (or some other store, Target isn’t paying me to name-drop them, so you know, to hell with them!) and I’d do something intentionally obnoxious. Because, I’m me. So one of my kids would usually do the, “Dad!” And then they’d try to walk away quickly. So I’d walk even faster to catch up to them and yell (while pointing at them), “See! That’s my child! They’re with me!! Right there. That’s my kid!! I’m their Dad!!!” God, that was fun.
-I talked with my old mentor today (I’d reveal their name, but I need to keep it private for teaching purposes for a few weeks from now!) I reached him in his office on a Saturday. (So I don’t feel as crazy for getting things done, too.) Sometimes, you need Upper Midwestern practicality to recenter yourself. My mentor teaches college, and we were swapping stories and frustrations about teaching right now. He mentioned that some students are taking gap terms or gap years right now – and he didn’t quite understand it. “It’s cold and it’s the Midwest. If we’re going to be stuck in place, at least I can get something done.”
Buckle up the chinstrap, laddies. Time to dive back in.

Author: Jason Kesselring

I am a 42 year old high school chemistry teacher (and former pediatrician), happily married, and a father of two wonderful children.

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