I am an artist.

I have a couple of teaching credentials- English and Digital Media- so naturally I am teaching a middle school art class. My students are currently studying the most important of art skills: creating cartoon mascots for terrible fake cereals. We developed a couple of them as a class. The first was an unnamed hamburger fellow.

Two drawings of cartoon hamburgers.  One looks dangerous.
Hammy? Burgo-Man?

I was particularly pleased with the drippy cheese nose. The smaller version was an attempt make him look more like a fun mascot and less like a failed genetic experiment.

The second was this sentient ice cream cone:

Hey kids! I.C. Kreme ponders his existence!
Also pictured: a very rough sketch of a yam with bloodshot eyes.

As you can see, my teaching philosophy is “education is serious.”


Distance instruction, week one

Does it suck?

It sucks, but not as bad as I thought it would suck. The main thing I miss is the NOISE. My class is always noisy. Kids are making things, and they aren’t quiet about it. Now the main thing I hear all day is my own voice. When the kids are looking at me, I feel like they’re being forced to stare, like student zombies; when they look away, I worry that I’ve lost their attention.

And it’s not just my noise that’s missing. No one’s laughing and yelling in the halls. The bells aren’t ringing. And heaven help me, I miss staff meetings.

Working from…work

I’m working from my classroom, so I have all of my materials. My students don’t have access to everything they should, but for the most part we can fake it. I still don’t know how my digital media monkeys are going to make movies with low-powered school Chromebooks, or what exactly will end up in the yearbook, but my students are clever and creative; they’re going to make things that surprise and impress me, just like they always do.

Fighting the student zombie stare

I accidentally changed my teaching strategy a few days in. I recorded a live lesson I did with a couple of classes in case someone was absent. Then I realized that instead of giving the same lesson again I could share the video for the students to watch in their own time, which meant I could do less direct instruction and let more students present their work to the class. Much more interesting from my side, and I hope more engaging for my students. It also means students who miss something can rewatch until they get it, and students who already understand can skip ahead and go right to their projects.

I’ve heard of the strategy before – it’s called a flipped classroom – but I’ve avoided it up to this point because I don’t like assigning homework. Now EVERYTHING is homework- and all lessons are coming from a screen- so it feels a bit more natural.

Next week, things change again. We have no students on campus, but a student enrichment program is going to bring about two dozen kids back, a dozen each in two rooms. One of those rooms is right next to mine. I’ve been teaching with my doors open for maximum ventilation, but now that one will have to stay closed.


Also scheduled for next week: Back to School night. Teachers can either host a live Zoom/Meet or post videos for their classes. I was going to record my videos at work today, but I decided I should wait until I’m not wearing the shirt with the cartoon dumpster fire. It might send the wrong message.

Me wearing a shirt with a cartoon dumpster on fire saying "I'M FINE."

Honestly: I’m fine. My students are safe, this crisis will pass, and I feel like the challenges are giving me new skills as a teacher that will transfer to my future classes when we transition back to traditional instruction.

… or a new form of non-traditional instruction. Los Angeles County is starting to come close to the point that districts can apply for waivers to let students back on campus. If that happens, everything changes all over again, probably right when everyone has the rhythm of this system worked out. It will be an all-new struggle, but it will be worth it to have a noisy room again.

COVID work

Two Hours

I did something today I haven’t done for two months: I worked at school. First I shot some video of our principal, then I helped clean out lockers.

It was hard.

Dr. Macias and I talked a bit about this year, and about the next. Next year’s kids will almost certainly be going to a school where they are rarely on campus, and never all on campus at the same time. Electives and physical education are particularly impacted. I teach digital media, and there is simply no way to be socially distant in a computer lab. I do not know how (or what) I will be teaching in August.

After the video, I went on locker duty.

Every locker is open. Most of them had school locks that were opened with a master key. Some had personal locks; those were opened with bolt cutters. Every unchecked locker has a profile page of the student to whom it’s assigned. It was the first time I had seen most of those faces since we closed.

The lockers are weird little ghosts of the students that once used them. Some students are organized – their lockers are usually empty. Some students are a little less focused. Their lockers look like mine did when I was their age: messy and stuffed with whatever weird trinkets I loved that week.

I know the kid who owns this backpack. He thinks it’s hilarious.

One of the lockers had a big pink and purple button that read “I REALLY WISH I WEREN’T HERE RIGHT NOW!” It was absolutely right and completely wrong. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be throwing student treasures into plastic bags. But I wanted to be there. I wanted to be making jokes with students, complaining about “that kid” to my friends at the lunch table, working out final grades, watching students get ready for high school and beyond.

Is it a Spongebob thing? It looks Spongebobian.

Our eighth graders always have a big promotion ceremony. Family and friends fill the PE field. Awards are given. Crowds shout and applaud. Friends hug. Summers together are planned. Students get one last moment as a single group before they get split up and absorbed into larger schools, before they really make the first steps from adolescence to adulthood.

This year they will get a video they can watch at home. Teachers are working to make that video something special, but it will always be more isolated and distant. Next year will probably be even more disconnected.

I’m not in the center of this thing. I spent two hours bagging belongings, not two months bagging bodies. But if my tiny actions on the edge of this pandemic hurt this much, I can’t imagine what it’s like at the epicenter.

Take care of yourselves.

I really wish we weren’t here right now.

star wars work

I make important things for work (Star Wars Edition)

My students are shooting a film that includes a light saber battle, so I found a tutorial to help them figure out the effects. This is my rough test footage.

George Lucas named Luke Skywalker after me.

Some things:

  • Rotoscoping is annoying and tedious.
  • Rotoscoping is even more annoying and tedious when you realize halfway through it that you haven’t been setting keyframes.
  • It’s easier to to animate large movements.
  • It’s hard to match up prerecorded light saber sounds to new video. None of the sounds in this clip are timed properly, and most of them are the wrong sound altogether. I would have faked it with mouth noises, but Katherine is asleep and doesn’t need to wake up to me making buzzes and space burps.
  • Square ended light sabers look weird.

I also made this opening for the morning bulletin. A few nerds on campus will get it.

And all of them will be annoyed by it.