Monday, May 13, 2024

Five Stars

 Ever noticed how the very worst overall rating anyone ever has on a rideshare app or a short-term rental app is about a 4.2? Getting four stars out of five is some sin against a person's character. It's all complete nonsense, but it's what the gig economy has become.

As Keya pointed out as I complained about this recently, the idea started to enter the zeitgeist and/or our collective consciousness as we had to rate customer service and unless a server/phone rep/whatever got 9 or 10 out of 10, they were likely disciplined up to and including termination. Yet (at least in my childhood) an 80% was a B, which was a pretty danged good grade. 

Our front row seat for this is now thanks to AirBNB and our cabin outside of Grand Lake, Colorado. While most guests have been great, a couple five-star ratings come to mind:

  • A guest who dismantled a bed and knocked a closet door off the track. Despite writing "...would be hesitant to recommend her" in the review, we still gave her five stars.
  • Another recent guest who had one of the people that stayed with him PEE IN THE BED (A full grown adult) and make no effort to clean it up (On top of other notes that it was much messier than most AirBNB guests) also received a five-star review.
Some of it is borderline extortion. A fear that if we don't review them five-star, they will give us a bad review. The same seems to hold true for the rideshare apps. 

This is where I'm sure people are going JUST RATE WHAT YOU WANT. IT'S YOUR PLACE. Well, we leave all of the renting stuff up to our property manager who does a FANTASTIC job and has a business to run. She has much more experience than we do. 

It has, however, been the norm for quite awhile. Listing after listing on AirBNB has 4.5+ stars. Many we have stayed in have a series of issues that would not be tolerated in a two-star hotel, but it's a 4.8-star AirBNB.

Thanks to this and excellent photography, it's nearly impossible to tell if you're going to get a comfortable place to spend a vacation, or a place that's in the midst of a remodel, or was clearly "updated" by a owner fluent in YouTube and HGTV.

Overall, this has played a role in our family's decision to return to hotels and leave short-term rentals behind. There are a couple hotel brands whose rooms feature small kitchens, but none of the frustrations of AirBNB and VRBO, plus the prices are mostly comparable (And many serve free breakfast!).

I wish I could send a memo to every company, every leader, who is requiring a 9 or 10 from those unsolicited surveys you get after every customer service call. Look, your representative may do a perfect job, and get the irrational "Karen" that just can never be satisfied, is having a bad day, or was looking to start a fight.

I wish I had some grand solution, but there isn't one. We're getting out of the AirBNB game as hosts and will do it much less often, if ever, as guests since for our family, hotels like Embassy Suites and Homewood are cheaper and offer perks. Really, it's my blog and I can vent if I want. 😁

Friday, April 12, 2024

Have a Year

When they announced last spring that Nebraska had taken the Florida-Wisconsin attendance record personally, we knew we had to buy tickets. They were going to play a volleyball match in Memorial Stadium, making it a celebration of volleyball in the state of Nebraska. Not only would the Huskers take on the Omaha Mavericks in a regular season match, but the UNK Lopers would take on the Wayne State Wildcats in an exhibition match. 

Now, Nebraska is a volleyball state. I'd argue it's THE Volleyball State. I remember coaching club in Colorado and every time we'd travel out of state, I hated playing a Nebraska team. I knew how good they were going to be. I did love the challenge, but Nebraska has always been a volleyball state, dating back to the Terry Pettit days (No, I won't go too in depth, because that's not really the focus of this piece). 

That passion for the sport led to the move from the Coliseum on the UNL campus to the 8000+ seat Devaney Center. Nebraska Volleyball's sellout streak is currently 303 straight matches. Nebraska is the only revenue-generating volleyball program in the country (And has been the only self-sustaining women's college sports program in the country). 

In the end, 92,003 people packed Memorial Stadium to watch that match, breaking the world record for attendance at a women's sporting event. I got to share the experience with my wife, kids, parents, and in-laws. One of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Now, I have to acknowledge that is my delineation for this year, but MAN, has women's sports had a year. I could go back to the Iowa-LSU basketball game last April and it'd be fair. It was a great game to watch, but I found myself way more engaged in this year's Women's tournament than the Men's. It was compelling and competitive.

The Women's Volleyball National Championship in 2023 moved from a Saturday night on ESPN to Sunday afternoon on ABC because they knew it'd get the eyeballs. It was up 115% over the year before, setting a record for viewers of an NCAA Volleyball match.

Headline after headline came out throughout this season about Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes breaking viewership records. According to this piece on ESPN, the South Carolina - Iowa game on Sunday averaged 18.9 million viewers, more than any single basketball game (Men's or women's, collegiate or professional) since 2019. For the first time ever, it had higher ratings than the men's game.

Yes, women's basketball and volleyball are probably the headlines, but lacrosse is getting more airtime, softball continues to take more space on ESPN and its affiliate networks. More and more people are realizing the skill and power of these athletes. 

I've always loved women's soccer, because it seemed so similar to the men's game. The athletes are incredible, but the nature of the game made it feel like the speed, power, and precision were similar between the two games. Maybe I was (and still am?) naive to the differences, but I still love watching both men's and women's soccer.

One of the complaints I hear often about high-level basketball, be it NCAA or NBA, is that it's not the same game we've grown to love. They don't call travels, and that superstars get or don't get calls that other players do or don't get. Fans complain about players and coaches griping to refs about calls.

To me, the women's game is the best of the basketball that others seem to miss. They are physical, they're passionate, they are INCREDIBLY talented, and it seems the game is officiated by the rules we're most familiar with. 

In the end, it's time for women's sports to get their due, and this year has thrust the athletes into the spotlight. Sometimes in Nebraska, I take for granted that women in sports don't get the spotlight on them. Husker Volleyball stands next to the football team and that is not the case every place. 

Maybe I am late to the party. Maybe others will tell me that it's too little too late. I'm sure there are names that others will want to call me or call me aloud, but y'all, I'm so glad to be here now, and I'll be doing a better job to pay attention going forward. 

Monday, March 18, 2024

Finally, We Return

 Three Years. It's been over three years (Though not by much) since I last wrote something here. It was semi-intentional because all of my longest-form thoughts since then seemed to be related to the pandemic, or the vitriol in our political world, or some other thing that was related and felt exhausting to write about. It's not that I didn't have opinions on them, it's more that I was exhausted about writing them, and couldn't fathom people wanting to read yet another take on the same things. I needed time away. It wasn't fully intentional, but every time I thought about an entry I just passed.

So, three years on, what do I have to write about? I figured a longer-form update was in order. Let people know what goes on and where I am. Frankly, it's best that it took this long, because I can bring more objectivity to some of what I write here. So let's get rolling.

I teach middle school. I know for most of you this isn't news. However, for some this may come as a bit of a shock. How did I end up here? Most who know me have heard me say that I never in a million years would've ended up here. But here I am. In December 2020, I was teaching elementary school in Weeping Water, NE. Weeping Water is a GREAT little town. It is, however, fairly far from Lincoln. When I left Dorchester, my #1 goal was to reduce my commute time. I failed at that MISERABLY. It turned out that Weeping Water was actually farther from home than Dorchester had been. Long story short, I resigned entirely from teaching and coaching at Weeping Water, intending to pursue something outside of education. Maybe I’ve addressed that elsewhere, but I wrote that three plus years ago, so maybe a complete recap (Skip if you like, let's pretend I'm your favorite streaming service) is in order.

When I walked out of Weeping Water School, I was dead-set on never teaching again. At the time, I really thought it was because there were problems in public education that Covid had laid bare and now that they were surfaced, could not be hidden again, but I think there were other things going on that I likely won't rehash anywhere, but I have to acknowledge at least to myself.

I spent the next couple of months trying to find a job in the non-profit world. I still wanted to be a helper, feel like I was contributing to the greater good, but nothing materialized. Finally, a good friend mentioned there was an opening at his company that he thought I'd be well-qualified for, so I applied. It wasn't a non-profit, but the company did a lot of work with not-for-profit organizations, and knowing his heart, it felt like a good fit. I applied and was working on scheduling an early screener call.

At the same time, I also had a hard deadline for "If I don't have a gig, I need to at least get my name on sub lists for local districts." While Lincoln Public Schools, the largest district in my area, is primarily an online application process (And a frustrating one that I can recount later, if anyone wants to hear), two other locals are smaller districts and I ran to drop off sub packets one July afternoon. 

Later that day, I got a phone call. I was expecting it to be from my friend's manager, a woman. It frankly took me longer than I'd like to admit to get my brain wrapped around the fact that I was being offered a two-month sub job in 7th grade English-Language Arts in one of the districts where I'd dropped of my application to sub that morning. The principal was incredibly gracious and after conversation with Keya, I decided it was the right move.

Y'all. I LOVED it. When I posted on Facebook that I'd spent two months in a middle school and it had renewed my love of teaching, my buddy Erik commented (Likely correctly) that I was the first teacher in the history of ever to have that sentiment. He's likely right, but I loved it. I could tell a long, weird story about my last day at Waverly Middle School that October, but I won't here. Maybe another time.

So then I was thrust back into the subbing pool and picked up a job teaching subbing for a French teacher on a random Thursday in Lincoln Public Schools. While chatting with one of the counselors working lunch duty, I was sharing my frustration with the substitute application process in LPS. She said it's often held up by the state, but I told her I had an active teaching license, and it was just the district. She turned and asked if she'd heard me right and I have a full teaching license. I said I do. She said we need someone Monday. I said I thought I was free Monday. She said, no, starting Monday for the rest of the year. Another weird situation that I can describe later, but she immediately called the Assistant Principal, who pulled me in during my next plan to interview me. I interviewed with the principal after school and started on Monday teaching 6th grade Math and Science for the remainder of the school year at Schoo (Pronounced Sko) for the rest of the school year. I loved it.

But it was almost as long of a commute as Weeping Water or Dorchester had been because it was across Lincoln and through downtown. Though Lincoln has minimal volume slow downs during rush hour, it's not nothing. Waverly had been less than 20 minutes most mornings. Everything else was 30+ minutes. 

There are other frustrations I have with Lincoln Public Schools, so when an opportunity came up at Waverly, I jumped on it. There were two sixth grade English-Language Arts (ELA) positions. I thought I was a shoo-in. 

I. Was. Not. For a series of reasons, I was not the right choice for either of the Waverly jobs (I often joke with my principal that it was one of the hardest rejection calls he's ever had to make) and to this day, I get it. However, I applied, interviewed for, and was hired into my same position at Schoo. It was good. I loved the team, had some great kids, and the drive sucked, but it was okay, I could live with it.

Then I got a call from the Waverly Principal. There was a position the admin team thought I'd be great for, could I talk to them about it? That was Thursday evening and I couldn't talk because I had volleyball practice in a few minutes. When was I free the next day? I drop the kids off at daycare about 7:20, then get coffee. He said he'd call at 7:25.

He did, like clockwork. The job is Careers and Computers. Would you be interested in applying? Yeah, I would, but if I'm a match, I'm going to ask for grace as I navigate a completely different career field than what I'd ever done in education. Yup, great. We need someone positive and fun (And I later found out, a little nerdy) because this role works with all the kids in the course of a year. I accepted when it was offered.

When I resigned in LPS, I was told that they would accept my resignation if and only if they could find a "suitable replacement" if I resigned anyway, it would go to the district to decide how to proceed. Those decisions could include asking the state to pull my teaching license. I submitted my resignation in April.

Thereafter was a month of borderline torture. I called it professional purgatory. The principal at Waverly was reassuring every time I talked to him. We've been here before, he told me, it almost always works out. I was not so reassured. 

It didn't help that the first round of candidates interviewed were garbage. And teaching has seen a SIGNIFICANT DROP in the number of applicants for a given position. Where there were dozens for one position a decade ago, they'd be lucky to have ten now.

On the last day of school, as we're stacking chairs and moving tables to go home for the summer, my principal at Schoo pressed through the enthusiastic sixth graders to tell me they'd offered my job to an excellent candidate who'd accepted. I was free to teach at Waverly. 

I'm in my second year. I teach Careers to 8th graders, Coding to 7th graders, and Keyboarding to 6th graders. I've been back in school for two summers to grow my coding skills. It's marked a huge change in my life, but Waverly is an incredible district and I'm thrilled to have chosen to have my kids go to school here as well. The district is what I've deemed a "Full-size district". It's big enough to have colleagues to bounce ideas off of, there are multiple elementaries that feed into the middle school, and there are a variety of opportunities for all the students, BUT it still has a small-town feel. 

So yeah, I'm likely to retire as a teacher. We still live in Lincoln, and it's a short commute, but it's perfect for our family. I also get to coach. I run the middle school volleyball program which has been wonderful because it's not near as demanding of a schedule for me and I can be home with Keya and the kids more while still getting to work with high-level athletes.

I'm going to try to get to these updates more often. I've tried to brainstorm things that are not so divisive or emotional to post. I'll still do a few of those things, but overall, I hope to get back to what I've done in the past. Thanks for coming back after forgetting about it all these years.