“I’m just afraid of having a tombstone that says HERE LIES A PROMISING OLD MAN.”
David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest


As many of you know, I earn my primary living through special event bartending. It’s hard but rewarding work, that exposes me to all kinds of unique situations.

A couple years ago, it was wintertime, and I was working a little cocktail party for about 100 people, that was slated to last a couple hours.

As I was bringing a cooler chest of ice in, I accidentally dropped it, spilling its contents all over the entranceway. Luckily there was a floor dryer just a few feet away. if I could just push the ice a few feet, the machine would do the rest. Equally fortunate was that I’d worn my Doc Martins that day, so there was no fear of getting soaking feet while moving the ice.

It was in mid-clean up when my foot hit a wet spot left by the melting ice, and I suddenly found myself parallel with the ground. When gravity applied its magic. it was the back of my head that struck first. It struck hard, leaving me in pain and highly confused.

Picking myself up off the ground, it became readily apparent that I was concussed. But I didn’t have time to be concussed. There was an event getting ready to start in 30 minutes, and I had barely started to set up.

People had invested heavily in the event and they were counting on me to do my part. Furthermore, the catering company was a frequent partner, and their ability to secure future bookings depended on me fulfilling my role. There was no other alternative, but to pull it together and find a way to make it work.

In the service industry, and I’m sure in many others, we joke about playing hurt. Often the hurts are self-inflicted – stayed out too late, overserved the night before, work too many hours. But equally often we are forced to play hurt due to events outside of our control – staffing shortages, overbookings, and such. The profession can be a profitable one but it is dependent on people capable of sucking it up and getting it done despite circumstances.

It’s not a popular thing to say these days, but nearly every bartender and server can tell you a story about working a shift with a low-grade fever and a bottle of DaQuil, or some other over-the-counter medication, close at hand. It may not be pretty but not all choices are between a good option and a bad option.

People don’t work, people don’t eat.

It’s funny how people questioned evolution for so long when there is evidence of the process in front of us every day. People didn’t enter the service industry with the ability to play through pain. Their bodies evolved and adapted, as practices and skills developed in order to meet requirements.

To this day, I can drink a Red Bull at 10Pm and be asleep by 10;30. it’s because the physiology of my body adapted to what was required from it in my early twenties. An adoption that never reversed itself.

On the evening in question, my body kicked in and did what it always does, supplying me with the means to make it through a shift where my head was in excruciating pain, and for the majority of the evening, my thoughts were jumbled. Near the end, the pain receded and the fog lifted.

I made it through that shift like I had so many times in the past. But it wasn’t a celebratory call that I made to my wife afterward.

“I did what always do, I played hurt.” I cried to her after explaining the evening’s events, “But I’m tired of playing hurt. I’m tired of having to do it. I’m sick of playing hurt. I want to have an option not to have to overcome adversity.”

Literally in tears, I sobbed to her about the pain, the frustration, and the anguish of navigating the evening. Maybe at one time, I would have considered the badge of playing hurt a source of pride, but not anymore. The years of going in the well when there wasn’t anything there, had taken their toll.

I didn’t hate bartending, I just hated having to ply the trade under circumstances that would give most people reason to leave.

The next day, I went to the doctor who confirmed that I indeed had suffered a concussion. Two days later I was back at another assignment. Maybe not ok, but well enough to work.

I consider myself very fortunate to find work in my vocation. The job is often a lot of fun. I’ve found an employer that recognizes my skills and treats me in accordance. As I previously mentioned, I often find myself in places I wouldn’t normally have access to, engaging with people I would normally not engage with. Case in point, the Housewives of New Jersey, but more on that once the new season starts.

The parallels between my concussion and the current circumstances being navigated by teachers are not lost on me. The pandemic came along and delivered a strong concussion to teachers and now we are demanding that they continue on, despite pain and confusion. Teaching is another profession that has long been populated by people willing to play hurt, but is now demanding even more.

Talk to a teacher. I mean really talk to a teacher, take the time to earn their trust before just accepting their first response. Don’t just rely on a survey more geared towards serving bureaucrats instead of identifying teacher needs. Keep in mind that conducting surveys under present circumstances is akin to asking a drowning man how they feel about swimming.

Speaking of surveys, the TNDOE rolls out its latest TN Educator Survey today, almost 4 months after its completion.

It comes with trumpets blaring, 40K+ educators participated. Which translates to 50% of all teachers and 54% of all administrators. That means 50% failed to respond, the lowest number in years.

If you can draw conclusions from one half of the population, you can equally draw conclusions from the other half. In this case, I would say you could justifiably release a press release that says 50% of teachers and 46% of administers put no stock in a survey rooted in political manipulation.

All you have to do is look at the quotes in the press release for evidence of what I’m talking about,

“Tennessee educators showed resilience and innovation in delivering instruction to students this past year,” said Erin O’Hara, Executive Director, Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA). “We are grateful that over 40,000 educators participated in the survey during a pandemic. Through their responses, we have reliable data that will help us meet our educators’ needs during these challenging times.”

In case you didn’t know, O’Hara is another one of those ex-Huffman-led Department of Education Alumni who now works for an education consulting company employed by the current TNDOE.  O’hare was the scapegoat for one of many testing snafus that plagued both the Hiffman and McQueen administrations. Snafus that were big enough for someone to be fired, thus forcing the state superintendent to shift blame.

I don’t mean to be picking on O’Hara. She’s a dedicated, intelligent woman but is also indicative of the plethora of people still trying to shape Tennessee’s education policy even though they failed to make a meaningful impact when they had the keys to the car.

The latest survey offers several key insights, that obviously would have remained hidden had the TNDOE not spent millions surveying teachers,

  • Tennessee educators’ top COVID-19 related concern was students missing instructional time during the school year. Teachers indicated fewer challenges for in-person instruction than for remote learning during the 2020-21 school year.
  • Teachers continue to need more support to help meet the non-academic needs of students and families.
  • Despite a challenging school year, job satisfaction and perceptions of school climate remain positive among Tennessee educators – continuing a positive trend that began in 2018.

For the record, send me $100 bucks and a Starbuck gift card, and I’ll give you some equally insightful muse.

It’s worth noting that teachers apparently officially got happy starting in 2018. That’d be the year that Governor Lee took the oath of office. Somehow I think that neither cause nor correlation is at play here. Maybe a little post-equating is at play here.

Do you want to make teachers happy? Find some subs. At some point, it has to dawn on somebody that just holding a job fair isn’t enough. You have to go out and talk to people, you have to streamline the application process removing the financial burdens to applicants, and you have to figure out how to retain them. It ain’t easy, but it ain’t rocket science. That’s just one example.

Here’s another gem from TC’s teacher survey that I’ll toss in for free, nearly 100% of teachers say, “every year they add responsibilities to the job, but they never take things away”.

And no, adding a canned curriculum that forces teachers to modify in order to make it deliverable does not count as taking stuff off the plate.

Amanda Tower, an elementary school teacher in Collier County, Florida, resigned from her position before the 2021-2022 school year, which would have been the start of her 12th year of teaching. Her quote in the Guardian sums it all up,

“I needed a change for my physical and mental health and that of my family, some of whom have conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid. There was a lack of transparency in the reported numbers and the push to do business as normal. It was all far too much,” said Tower. “I did not want to be a martyr. I loved my job. I’ll miss my kids, but I can’t pour from an empty vessel.”

We hear these words repeatedly, but we never listen. Choosing instead to champion all the wrong things.

My favorite quote from the aforementioned TNDOE press release is this one,

Westside Elementary in Robertson County won a $5,500 staff appreciation grant with a 91% response rate in the 2020 Tennessee Educator Survey. Their grant was used to purchase the school’s entire staff with shirts with the school logo to promote unity.

So this is how that worked, Ms. June was upset and feeling prickly because her class was overcrowded, she need to go to the dentist but couldn’t get a sub for her class, and her principal was pestering for some overdue work, but then she got a t-shirt that said “Nirvana Elementary School” and suddenly she felt as one with her colleagues. All who faced similar circumstances.

Are we talking 6th graders here or a group of professionals many of whom have both masters and doctorate degrees. Do we really believe t-shirts count as sufficient motivation?

Do you know what promotes unity? Leadership that recognizes the skills, dedication, and hard work supplied by their staff and treats them in accordance. Not a t-shirt that matches the other 5 in their closet.

Teacher, and other school staffing issues in schools, going even beyond teachers, are only going to worsen. The pandemic has only made things worse. Yet leadership continues to try and sweep it under the carpet. As evidence by the concluding paragraph by Matt Barnum in Chalkbeat,

The data is still thin. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has not seen increases in turnover in education jobs in recent months. But data obtained by Chalkbeat from seven large districts — including Austin, Texas and Clark County, Nevada — shows teacher turnover had increased in each compared to the year before. Many districts, though, said they hadn’t yet calculated updated turnover numbers.

The data may be thin but the anecdotes are getting thicker. But by all means, let’s not take action until the data catches up with the anecdotes. Though that doesn’t feel like a winning equation.

I suspect teachers will continue to find ways to play hurt, some more successfully than others.

I suspect that leadership will continue to pay homage to teachers out of one side of their mouth while trumpeting alternatives out of the other. If you don’t think this whole push for tutors is just another effort to reduce dependence on teachers…let’s talk about a bridge.

I suspect that will continue the same old practices that produce the same old results. After all, a job fair means you only have to sacrifice a Saturday morning and you can always convince yourself that you are being proactive.

I suspect we will continue heaping public praise on teachers for their sacrifice while privately continuing to make the job more and untenable.

Teachers don’t need more recognition for self-sacrifice and they don’t need sympathy. They didn’t sign up to be “rockstars” or “heroes”, but rather professionals committed to making a difference in children’s lives. Yet somehow, we took that commitment and manipulated that sincere desire in order to create a class of martyrs.

Author Chuck Palahniuk once wrote, “The only difference between a suicide and a martyrdom really is the amount of press coverage.”

Chilling words, but are they hyperbolic?

Teachers have gotten real good at playing hurt. Most of them will continue to step into the breach in order to serve our children.

At some point though, it becomes a moral question, if people will always give you what you ask for, are you right in asking for it?

We know how we’ve answered the question in the past, but how will we answer it in the future?


Well SNL has discovered the drama that is a school board meeting. Though I must say, as a long-time observer of the machinations of governance at the district level, I have to ask, what took so long? The craziness has reigned for decades. Before it was COVID and CRT, it was charter schools and billionaires. The more things change the more they stay the same.

The good news for MNPS, COVID cases continue to decline.

Meanwhile, I continue to wait for any meaningful information to be shared in the MNPS parent portal. CAO Mason Bellamy assured me that the “dashboard” as he oft refers to it will be chock full of news and notes..and yet…

I got more to say, but today I think I’ll save it.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish to join the rank of donors, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated. Not begging, just saying.

Categories: Education

1 reply

  1. Can you please talk about how it costs $19 to get a new badge now? Why do I have to pay to get into my work building?!

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