Friday, December 28, 2018

Driver's education

Last week, I heard the eight words no motorist wants to hear: "Do you know why I pulled you over?"

Just a few minutes after leaving home, I had noted a police vehicle perpendicularly approaching the intersection I was passing through. A quick glance in my rear-view showed the patrol car turning in behind me. I stayed on my best behavior, as far as I could tell, for another fraction of a mile and through one traffic-light change. Accelerating once the light turned green, I suddenly saw far more flashing lights in my mirrors. Either the officer had to get by me in search of more pressing matters or... yeah, I was being pulled over.

My window quickly down, awkward pleasantries exchanged; then the eight-word question, and my honest, "Actually, Officer, no I don't."

He told me that my passenger-side tail light was out and asked if I had known that. I hadn't. "Happens a lot," he said. "Many people find out when the police stop them. I need to see your license, registration, and insurance."

I gathered those documents, handed them over. After a quick riffle, he flashed my insurance card back my way. "Your insurance expired in September," he said. "I've got to write you a ticket for that."

"That must be an old card," I said, embarrassed. "My insurance is current."

The officer remained polite and pleasant. "Can you get the current insurance information on your phone?"he asked. I could and did. Moments later, I was dismissed, sans ticket.

Sixteen hours later, I'd printed an accurate insurance card and replaced one tail-light bulb. Whew.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018


In my ongoing education about skiing, I've learned lots about lifts: gondolas that can pile in 8-10 passengers; chairs that accommodate 2-6, sometimes in high-speed detachable versions and other times in fixed models that give your knees and back a solid whack when they arrive. No matter the lift, though, one quality they have in common (across North America, at least) is a Disney-like corral or maze. Made of ropes or metal barriers, this structure funnels shuffling skiers and riders in varying degrees of order towards their ride. Multiple lanes sift together like an alternating merge on the road, and at some high-volume, well-staffed establishments, lift operators double as traffic cops, keeping people flowing.

Another quirk of this culture is most lifts that invite three or more passengers feature a singles line as one entry point. So, while friends and family typically opt to ride together, soloists can go their own way, filling in stray seats and optimizing the uphill load. A lesson imparted to me years ago by my wife, a life-long skier, is that in a crowded corral the singles line typically moves faster. Thus, while she and I played together at the mountain yesterday, we took a mercenary approach to the lift line, heading for the singles. Sometimes, the luck of that line meant we still rode together, piling in with another pair from the group lines. Other times, destiny divided us. We reunited minutes later and a thousand feet or more higher to compare notes about the skiers with whom we shared a chair -- from Scotland, Louisiana, Indiana, and sometimes even from Colorado, where we were recreating.

This management system sparked my teacher brain. (It's never fully on vacation.) While group work has its place in cultivating collaboration skills and yielding results that differ interestingly from what one can produce on one's own, what if project-based learning regularly offered a singles line where some students could opt to operate independently for a stretch? At some point, singles could merge with each other or a larger group, either to change the dynamics of the ride or to compare notes on the journey thus far before returning to their separate ways. This strikes me as another opportunity for student choice, reflection, and even teacher coaching. Maybe my next assignment -- among other variables -- will specify how many riders can fit on the proverbial chair.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

In-body experience

When unseasonably good weather beckoned Saturday, I went for a trail run and had an epiphany. That epiphany came after a fair amount of complaining from assorted muscles and joints that hadn't been tasked with running lately.

"You want us to what? Where?" they seemed to protest.

Once their (my?) exertions had brought me (us?) higher, the epiphany dawned: I love being on ridge tops. Breathtaking views in multiple directions; mild, vertiginous thrills; pleasantly rolling terrain neither climbing nor descending too steeply; the overall sense of one's labor having paid off, its fruits ready to be enjoyed for a while, uninterrupted. A variation of Robert Frost comes to mind: Something there is that doesn't love a ridge.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Vexing texting

Just before sharing a book talk about Jeff Zentner's Goodbye Days, I polled three classes of eighth graders whom I teach.

"How many of you have sent a text message recently?" I asked. At least three-quarters of their ~80 hands went up.

"How many of you have seen someone else send a text recently?" Most hands raised.

"How many of you have texted or seen someone send a text while in a car?" Similar show as prior question.

"How many of you have seen the driver send or receive texts?" More than half of hands up.

Seems like, drivers, we could improve the example that we're setting for young people -- at least until the autonomous vehicles pull up to the curbs of the future.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Pedestrian lesson

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view....Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." --Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

As an English teacher, I regularly deal in metaphor, which perhaps explains why taking something too literally on Monday morning felt both delightful and more-than-a-little transgressive.

I was shuffling the short distance from the bus stop to school in the chill December dawn when I noted a thin layer of overnight snow coated the sidewalk. It was early enough that I was just the second person to traverse the white canvas. The heavy tread of someone else's bootprint made this case plainly.

An unexpected compulsion throbbed through me: I needed to walk in those same steps. I wasn't being followed, nor trying to conceal how many of me there were; I just had to do this. So, I adjusted my stride to let my foot land on top of the next print. Each step following suit, a smidgen shorter than my natural gait, I made my awkward way along the walk. Turns out occupying someone else's shoes -- just the outline of them, really -- is hard, uncomfortable work.