An Afternoon Drive (anything but leisurely) – SOLSC Day #21

On a typical Friday afternoon, I would rush home from work (maybe make a quick forty-five minute Happy Hour pit-stop), change my clothes, and head back out for a night of pick-ups and drop-offs.  My two oldest kids and my seventh grader would need to be picked up from practice and later dropped at a friend’s house.  My youngest would need a ride to her soccer game, usually around 7:00 PM, and then, my wife and I would sit down to a nice Friday dinner at 9:30.  Friday’s take on a whole different meaning than they did when I was in my twenties.

So, yesterday was obviously different until my daughter asked, “Will you take me driving?”  My heart rate instantly went up (I even had a little sweat on my forehead) and I hoped beyond hope that my wife would save me and offer to take her.  C’mon Sarah, save me.  You know how nervous it makes me to drive with her.  She just smiled a deviant smile my way and shook her head.  No chance. 

I have patience, but when it comes to driving with my daughter, patience is gone.  She brakes too late and too hard.  She takes turns too quickly, and she talks too much, which worries me that it is distracting her from the thought process that goes into driving.  Needless to say, I have a constant hold to the passenger seat door’s inside handle, one foot it pressed as hard as possible to the elevated part of the floor, and I’m constantly leaning forward.  Last time, my back hurt for two days.

“Sure.” I say with a shaky voice.

“Where are we going to drive to?” She asks.

Now, if my patience is going to be shot for the day and my heart rate is going to be tested, I need to get something out of this for me.  So, I reply, “The bottle shop.”  This is my favorite craft beer shop that is considered an essential business/store and is still open for purchasing delicious adult beverages.

“Do you think Mom’s goin’ be cool with me driving you to a bottle shop?”

“Am I buying you something there?” I say half sarcastically.

“No.  Good point.”

“Is she taking you driving?” Again, I say half sarcastically.

“Another good point.” She smiles.

I have to admit that she did a nice job navigating the streets, traffic lights, and stop signs along the way, which included carefully passing over railroad tracks.  I was impressed, but still a little shaky.

The bottle shop has the cutest, most well behaved dog, Barley, who jumps up to see you when you are purchasing your craft beer.  My daughter, a real dog lover, was left in the van.  Social distancing and all.

While purchasing my beverages, I could not help myself as I looked at the screen of local brewery taps, so I added a Growler fill to my purchase.  Telling the owner, “My sixteen-year-old daughter drove me here.  I may need something extra after the ride home.  If we make it home in one piece.” Again, only half joking.

She did so well on the way home that we drove a few extra miles past our house.  When we got home, my youngest daughter had chalked a message to her sister on the driveway, “Great Job Driving, Hannah”.  I helped her add “and Dad” to the bottom of the message.  I survived (and I have some beverages to help me celebrate:).

What is wrong with me? – SOLSC Day #20

Early this morning, I sat down with my cup of coffee and read a great little piece in the New York Daily News about runners’ gross habits (spitting and blowing snot from their noses – also known as “snot rockets”).  I have been consistently running for twenty-four years (this June), and I think of myself as a “clean” runner (hygiene – I will not claim to have a “clean” mouth when a driver cuts me off or a group of young people drive up behind me yelling, “Run, Forest, Run”).  In fact, over the past four to five days of running, I have even been cognitive of staying six feet away from fellow walkers and runners (running right down the middle of the road if I have to).  After reading the article, I thought to myself: Do I engage in these unclean habits?  NO WAY!

With the temperatures in the 60’s, which does not happen very often in the end of March in Syracuse, I decided to test my cleanliness as a runner with a run before virtual school starts.  As I turned the corner of the first block, I thought I am a clean runner.  I’ve had no urge to spit.  Why was I so worried after I read the article?   And then it happened, I spit.  Oh no!  I wasn’t even a half-mile into my run and it flew out.  I didn’t even mean to.  About three blocks later, it happened again.  Mind you, I am trying not to.  What am I like when I’m not thinking about it?  The horror.

After the turnaround at the reservoir, I headed downhill and back to the blocks that surround my neighborhood.  As I was coasting down the hill, not even thinking, I put my finger on my nose and blew.  Oh my goodness!  It was natural.  For a split second, I tried to stop myself, but I couldn’t.  It is habit.  I am a dirty runner.  I wonder if the walkers (and drivers) that I’ve passed by (while spitting or snot-rocketing) through the years think that I am unclean.  This changes everything.

The rest of the run was a blur.  I was angry and sad at myself about becoming a dirty runner (unknowing to me, I probably spit or snot-rocket another ten or fifteen times).  Finally, I arrived at the bottom of my driveway and started my walking warm-down.  About fifteen steps into my warm-down, I took the collar of my t-shirt and wiped my nose.  WHAT AM I DOING?  How could I not be aware of how gross of a runner I have become?  I need to change (not just my shirt, but my hygiene as a runner).

I walked into the house and quickly threw my shirt into the hamper.  I needed to get clean.

My wife yelled from the kitchen, “How was your run?”

“Terrible.” I replied.  “Do you think that I’m an unclean runner?”

“Absolutely,” she immediately states, “I can’t stand when you wipe your nose on your shirt.”

Ugh!  All of these years, why didn’t she tell me this?  She was probably protecting me from my “dirty running” self.

I must schedule a teacher conference – SOLSC Day #19

I’m sitting at the kitchen table communicating with a student in my ELA class via email when I hear my son’s high school English class is about to start class.  I need to see a virtual high school class in action, so I follow him to his bedroom.  Ninth graders are so embarrassed about everything (even virtual learning).  He was actually running with the computer in his hands to get into another room.  I followed at a slow, tippy-toe jog pace.

As I got closer, I could see his class (Why do they all look so tired?) and his teacher on the screen.  Whoa!  His teacher spoke so eloquently and was wonderful with the students.  And she is so pretty.  He used his left arm, which was not visible on the screen, to shoo me away.  I complied, but I couldn’t wait for the lesson to end and for him to come upstairs.  I have so many questions.

About thirty minutes later, he walked into the kitchen.  I had to sweet talk him (remember he is in ninth grade – I believe almost all ninth grade boys are grumpy, especially in the morning).  I started slow.

“Hey, buddy.  Was that your English teacher?”

“Dad, stop.” He replied.  Already, visibly annoyed.

“Don’t tell your mom, but she’s really pretty.  How old do you think she is?” I asked knowing his mom was in the other room on the computer.

“Dad, you’re disgusting.  I don’t know how old she is.”

“How do I set up a parent conference?”

“Will you please stop, Dad?” He begged.

“I could come in as a parent helper or be a guest in the classroom.  I love to read and write.  I could talk about that.”

“NO, Dad.  You can’t come into my classroom.  Stop being weird.”

My wife came into the room.  “What are you guys talking about?”

“His hot English teacher.”  I smiled.

“Stop.” She said.

“You guys are both weird.” My son said as he left the room to go back to his room.

“You know, he doesn’t know how old you are.” I said to my wife.

“Not surprising.  He doesn’t know what’s going on in English class either.”

Oh, boy.  You know you’re in trouble when your son is struggling in high school English and his mom is the teacher.  Ugh!

So Strange – SOLSC Day #18

I sit at my computer.  My fourth grade daughter sits across from me doing schoolwork.  My older kids will begin their schoolwork when their school day typically begins, which is in about forty-five minutes.  For me, this is the first day of distant learning/teaching, and sixty minutes into my day, I am already bored.  So strange.

I woke up (and will wake up) at my normal time of 5:30 AM during the week.  Today, I sent an email to the parents and my ELA students.  I have already checked if they have responded.  It is 7:00 AM.  They would not even be in school yet, but I wait.  By now, I would have written the day’s science schedule on the whiteboard.  I would have set up the lab investigation for the day.  I would have updated the homework wall (digital and whiteboard).  I would have written the daily schedule on the easel whiteboard for ELA class.  I would be going through my normal routine to get ready for teaching, but instead I sit in front of my computer in my kitchen.  So strange.

I love the idea of helping my children learn math, science, social studies, ELA, art, music, Spanish, and health, but it’s not the same as teaching in front of the class.  My fourth grade daughter has a packet of work and is nearly done with the work for today (she woke up at 6:00 AM).  She won’t get ahead.  She likes to stay on task.  She will be done by 7:30.  My older children will take the entire day to do the day’s work.  They will take a break between each assignment to procrastinate.  The two in high school will get to do some virtual learning with their teacher (today will be the first day that I get to see this because I was at school yesterday).  I can’t wait.  My wife has my son in English class, so it will be odd to see him sitting in front of his computer listening to my wife who will be in another room on her computer.  So strange.

As I finish, the sun is coming up over the horizon and my shoulder.  It sure is beautiful.  I guess that is something that I take for granted during the school week.  Who has time to watch the sun come up when you have to prepare to teach seventy kids?  I wonder what else I will recognize as I work from home for the first time ever.  Well, time to get ready for school.  It starts in ten minutes.  So strange.

Madness of March – SOLSC Day #17

Selection Sunday,


bubble team,

or bracket team,

fill in,

your bracket,

East, South,

Midwest, West,

#1 seed,

#16 seed,

play-in game,

or first round game,

Bracket busters,

Cinderella story,

Upset city,

moving on,

or going home,

Sweet Sixteen,

half-court shot,

buzzer beater,

Elite Eight,

feel good stories,

sadness in defeat,

Final Four,

happy victors,

crying losers,


celebration, One Shining Moment.

The basketball fun would have started tonight, but this year, we can only dream of what could have been (after the year Syracuse had, it is a great year to dream:).  So, I will find a game from the past to enjoy tonight, and even if I know the outcome, I will cheer on the winner.  I will feel the madness that March usually brings.

A day that I will never forget – SOLSC Day #16

9748 steps.  Emailing parents and community members (that I ignored all day) back at 4:30 PM.  Exhausted.  This sums up my school day perfectly. The school day that started with the stipulation that the county will close schools if there is one confirmed case of the virus, and it took until 10:00 AM for this to happen.  2 hours.  When word got out, and at a middle school word gets out fast (I sweat that it was out at 9:59 AM – how did they know?), the rest of the day was a wash.  And really, who can blame an eleven, twelve, thirteen, or fourteen-year-old for this?

The exhaustion doesn’t come from the kids’ wild excitement that school is closed for three weeks (Do they know that we are sending home work?), but instead by the change of directive about how work was going to go home.  I felt like the communication mirrored that of the spread of the virus.  I couldn’t keep up.  But one thing is absolutely certain, I wasted hours devising and creating distant learning plans that can’t be used because of the lack of computers and the uniformity of the lessons with my other sixth grade colleagues.  It is strange because we don’t teach the same way or with the same materials all school year (we do teach the same curriculum and content), so why do we start now?  This is a question that I can’t answer, and one that I will file away with the many other questions that I can’t answer these days.  Now that the uniform plan and packet is complete, one thing is definitely worrying me, and that it, will we need to change the whole plan and do something different tomorrow?  I sure hope not, but if we continue on this new path of normalcy, we will be creating something totally different tomorrow.

As I arrived at home to find my fourth grader already starting the work for the next three weeks (and my high school children stating that they will start it tomorrow or Wednesday – yeah right, they have two parents that are teachers), I am relieved and hopeful that this will work and slow the virus.  I will miss school SO MUCH, but I won’t stop teaching (at home and long distance) and I won’t stop communicating with my students.  We will make it through this, and hopefully, we will all learn something in the process.  In the meantime, wash your hands and stay healthy!

Sunday Walk and Something Positive – SOLSC Day #15

“What is 21 times 18?” I ask.

“348,” Fi replies.

“No, but you are close.” And together we multiply all of the numbers in order to come up with the answer of “378”.  The rest of the walk, she answers multiplication questions of double digit times double digit and triple digit times single digit.  She’s got her finger flying through the air making numbers, and she is talking out each step.

Just minutes before (about a block and a half into our walk), she asked, “What’s wrong, Dad?  Why are you so quiet?”

I just told her that I had a lot on my mind, but what I would have told her if she wasn’t ten years old is that the last few days have been mentally draining.  As a schoolteacher, I walk through my classroom door confident that I can teach my sixth grade community of students all that they need to know about science, reading, and writing.  As a school board member, I walk (drive/run) around my community confident that I have the community in mind with each and every decision that I make.  Over the past few days, all of this has been challenged.

Can I teach my students from a distance and still do it showing them the enthusiasm for learning (and teaching)?  I don’t want to let them down.  Am I making the best possible decisions for my beloved community?  I don’t want to let them down.  I’ve taken dozens of phone calls, texts, and emails from parents in my school community and my home community.  It seems that we are working together, but there are so many unknowns (What will parents do with their kids when they go to work?  How will the kids that need breakfast and lunch get it?  What about the kids that need the teacher to motivate them to learn?  What will they do?).  All of these unknowns are swirling around in my head, and they do not make me feel confident.  This is the unknown for all of us, but at the same time, we want to be our best selves for our students and our community.

So, as Fi answered the last division question (yes, we moved onto division), I grabbed her hand and we walked the last half of the block with smiles on our faces.  Her smile came from going seven for eight with the math questions, and my smile came from knowing that I, at least, have her on my side.  Maybe there is a positive to all of this after all – it means more time with family, and there is nothing wrong with that.

My run through the late 1950s – SOLSC Day #14

Currently, children spend most of their time staring at their phones and tablets and very few play outside.  They are inundated with so much information and entertainment that they can spend hours looking at their device.  Many years ago, neighborhoods were alive with the sound of children playing kickball, chasing each other around, and riding bikes.  The playing all came to a halt when a mom or two yelled, “Dinner time.”  These are fond memories that I have of my childhood.

Over the last three days (runs), I have been reminded of these old times.  Each afternoon, I have run by the elementary school fields and playgrounds to find tons of kids swinging on the swings, playing on the monkey bars, shooting hoops, playing soccer on the side field, and chasing each other around the other baseball field.  I can hear the voices and laughter of the children two blocks before I even pass the school.  It is so refreshing.  It is so positive.  It puts a smile on my face.

See, my neighborhood, and the neighborhoods that surround my neighborhood, could be used as the setting in a remake of Leave it to Beaver or The Sandlot.  Each year, I forget this until spring is around the corner.  The fields and playground next to the school are vacant in the winter, but the minute the day light becomes longer, the temperatures rise, and the snow is melted, the children are back.  The residents are out in droves walking and running in the streets.  The neighborhood comes alive.  And I feel like I am running through the late 1950s and early 1960s.

As I walked back into the house and threw my sweaty hat and running coat (overdressed for a nice 40 degree March “Pi Day” afternoon) into the hamper, I felt good about my run and even better about the neighborhood.  It’s good to know that there are about one hundred kids (including my own) not staring at their phones this afternoon.

A void in my life – SOLSC Day #13

I miss sports.  I hope that I don’t sound insensitive.   I don’t want people to be sick.  I want a healthy nation.  But, I miss college basketball, lacrosse, and NHL hockey.  Every night, the television is on (even if it is in the background, which it usually is because of kids’ homework, laundry, and dirty dishes) and basketball, lacrosse, or the New York Rangers game is playing.

I LOVE sports, but sports is not my life.  I’m not even sure that people who know me from school or in my community know how big of a sports nut I am.  I don’t talk much about sports.  I have told my children countless times that school is way more important than sports.  They play sports, but I stand in the farthest spot away from seeing the field (mostly because I am a board memberJ).  My night is not ruined if they win or lose.  When they lose big games, I tell them that there is way more to life than sports.  I remind them that sports are for fun.  They listen to me.  I don’t obsess about sports (although I do obsess a little about good manners and grades, which are way more important than sports – at least to me).

I love watching sports on television because there is drama, sometimes an underdog, and always an emotion tied to the result.  I will watch any sport – even swimming, triathlon, and track and field (not a huge fan of auto racing).  I have favorite teams that I cheer for.  I’m sad when they lose (more upset about them losing than my kid’s team, which I know is weird).  I LOVE when the underdog wins.  Watching a good match, race, or game helps me unwind after a long day.  I hope that sports come back soon, but I also hope that they don’t come back until we are healthy and feeling good.

Newspaper ink on my fingertips – SOLSC Day #12

Back in December, I picked up the newspaper on the way in to work.  I usually pick it up on my way home, but I needed to stop at the store in the morning, and I knew that it would save me from stopping on the way home. 

The newspaper lay on the front lab table as I taught first period science.  When the class period was over and the students were filing out, a student said to me, “Hey Mr. Starowicz, you do know about  Right?”  He was looking at my newspaper when he asked.   What was he trying to say to me?  Oh, I know what he was trying to say.  He was trying to say that print newspapers are old school, and I took his inference as also trying to say that I’m old, which I am.

Due to the fact that we live in a small city, the print newspaper can be purchased (or delivered) just a few days a week., the newspaper website, is what most people read, but I am not satisfied with only a digital copy of news.  I want a print copy that I can open in front of me on a table.  I want a print copy that I can fold in half.  I want a print copy that I can cut an article out of and post in my classroom (this morning’s article was the front of the sports page – Syracuse Orange’s big win over the Tarheels).  I want a print copy that I can fold up and carry under my arm.  And I want a print copy that when I am done reading it there is a faint black ink mark on my fingertips.  You can’t do anything like this with a digital copy.

So, today, as my newspaper (I had to stop this morning to get a student prize for a science contest) clipping hung on the frame of the doorway leading into my classroom, a student entered during second period (he was on his way to the library for study hall) and asked if he could borrow the sports section to read.  He didn’t care that there was a big rectangle missing out of the front page.  He wanted to read about the chaplain that is currently working with the Syracuse University basketball team.  Of course, I handed him over my copy and told him to pass it along to any other friends that would like to read it.  *I’ll keep pushing print until the digital age takes over for good.

Just curious: Do you read the print version of the newspaper?  What do you prefer – digital or print?