Thursday, December 17, 2009

The day my job finally drove me to drink.

After the homecoming game, one of my former ninth grade physical science students was shot in the back of the head. He died in a hospital in Memphis a few days later. Recently, a sixteen-year-old from my town was charged with capital murder in an unrelated incident, and today I learned through the grapevine that it's another student from that same period. Oh, and last night there were four shootings. One of the victims was one of my seniors last year. I heard from his cousin that so far he's stable.

So, yeah, I had a bourbon and soda and am now ready to have a good long cry, get some sleep, and get up and grade tests.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I've done no Christmas shopping. None. It doesn't help that I've been up to my eyeballs in student papers thanks to the finals grading crunch and the nearest shopping is an hour and a half away, but there's no excuse for not at least ordering the one thing I've already picked out online. I'm also wearing increasingly unflattering outfits as the supply of clean laundry dwindles (Fortunately, today's diversionary tactic of wearing lipstick to distract from my admittedly ugly slacks somewhat worked, and I got about one compliment for every three insults.), and dinners lately tend to consist of balanced and delicious meals like a bagel with cream cheese and some carrot sticks. I stink at life.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I've been overspending since school started. It hasn't been the result of any buying binges; I'm still happiest in a pair of hand-me down jeans from my little brother, and my $10 Tracfone is probably currently out of juice in the bottom of the laundry hamper. This is actually bad news: it would be much easier to correct the problem if I could point to one area of my life where I'm messing up, chastise myself, and get back on course. Instead I'm experiencing the far more insidious lifestyle inflation.

I've gotten sloppy. I'm putting money into savings every month, yes, but I've been doing an incredibly slipshod job of tracking my spending lately. I'm falling into some bad habits like buying lunch at least two or three times a week, and I'm hanging out a lot more with the rather spendy crowd of TFAs. I'm getting whatever I feel like eating when I'm at the grocery store instead of trying to plan frugal meals, and I'm just generally less cost conscious.

There are a million justifications for why this is ok. I'm young, have a stressful job, and should go have some fun. Unlike many of my friends here who have tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, I have no debt. I haven't been missing my targets by that much; although, that is in large part due to a small windfall when I learned I was getting paid for attending a follow-up meeting for some professional development. I'm still saving, just not as much.

Truly, I haven't been doing that bad. For September through November, I met my savings goals even though it was a lot tighter than it should have been.This month it just isn't going to happen. Maybe, just maybe, I could make it work if I didn't buy anyone any Christmas gifts, but I'm not willing to do that. Still, it hasn't been a terrible semester, especially because I threw a bonus I got right before Thanksgiving into the house fund, bringing the total over $9,500. I completed my goal of getting my car fund up to $10,000 right on schedule, too.

All of which contributes to that dangerous sense that all of this spending is somehow ok. Some of it is, much of it isn't, and I need to sort out which is which. My unbudget system of paying myself first and then living on what was left and meticulously tracking spending worked well for quite a while, so I wouldn't call the experiment a failure, but it isn't a good fit with how I'm managing my money right now. I need more structures in place to track whether I'm meeting my goals and spending an appropriate amount on both the necessities of life and frivolity. I need more carefully thought through prioritization.

In other words, I need a budget. On January 1st, I'm starting fresh with a new budget for the new year. I'm looking forward to it, actually. I always took a certain geeky pleasure in entering all of my purchases in the free spreadsheet-based version of PearBudget. It's a lot easier to spend without guilt when you know you've budgeted for whatever it is, no matter how silly your want. Plus setting meaningful goals and then achieving them is very fun and fulfilling.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

November is the new October.

October is generally regarded as a lousy month to be a teacher. The novelty of the school year has definitely worn off by then, students start getting frustrated with the workload and then apathetic, and it is a long time until you or your students have any days off to look forward to. This year my October was pretty good, so good in fact, that it didn't even feel like October. Sure, there were bad days and frustrating students, but my classroom culture remained positive even though the hallways of the school certainly weren't.

Then November hit. Nothing really went wrong; I just got tired. There was a week where it felt like I was barely going through the motions. They were a lot of the right motions so kids mostly kept on learning, but it still wasn't a good feeling. Everyone I talked to agreed that it was just that point in the year and we'd all be better after resting up over Thanksgiving, enjoying a few days of seeing people who didn't think of us only as teachers, goofing off a bit, and ultimately returning to planning with renewed zest.

So I survived Tuesday, when I had the first really major discipline incident that took place in my room this year and had to discuss with the assistant principal whether I wanted them to pursue expelling the student. I'd initially planned on heading home that night, but after getting up a 3 a.m. to grade and then having that kind of day, I just wasn't up for a five hour drive at night. Instead I grabbed Mexican food with friends, ran into my TFA program director and her (boyfriend, partner, common-law husband? What's the best term for people who've been together since college and own a house together?), discussed whether the acts of wanton destruction in the hallways that day topped the previous year when the bathrooms were set afire (consensus: yes), laughed a lot and was reminded why I love my friends, and then passed out at home. Wednesday I packed up, made the drive, and then took the boy out for sushi. When I got home, there was no one there but the dogs so I headed to the bank to open a c.d. and take advantage of some nice rates.

My dad came out to meet me when I got back. That's often a harbinger of bad news, and Wednesday was no different. My grandfather had had a major hemorrhagic stroke and wasn't going to survive. He was unconscious and would remain so. The focus was on making sure he wasn't in pain.

He died late Thursday morning. It was, I think, a good death, mercifully quick after years of struggle, to slip away at ninety as your wife holds you and tells you how much she loves you and your daughters and granddaughter look on. I'm grateful for the hospital, the nurses especially, who always made time to talk with us, who scrambled to find cots for my grandmother and aunt, who showed compassion for my grandfather in his last hours. I'm grateful to the staff of the nursing home who made his last few years as pleasant as possible, who were never anything but completely warm and caring, especially the nurse's aid who adopted my grandparents as her own and was at the hospital the night before my grandfather died and at the funeral Monday.

So the next few days were a blur. We all knew this was coming eventually, but that didn't diminish the sadness. I was a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, a listener, a maker of tea, a mediator of disputes, quietly attempting to comfort my grandmother and keep my family from snapping, yelling at each other, and storming out as they are so prone to do.