Financial plan update

So here’s where I tell you that I’ve already piloted our financial plan to it’s final state, but just forgot to write about it.

Just kidding.

In reality, shortly after I wrote the last post, I ran out of steam. I haven’t read my books yet, and I just this week started picking up where I left off, very much still in the exploratory part of the process. That said, I still think I’ve learned some good stuff.

Continue reading “Financial plan update”

Our financial planning voyage — Part 1

Much like my mortgage shopping voyage, I’m starting from scratch-ish trying to make a financial plan, and I’m hoping to share what I learn in the process, and hopefully other folks can use this as a shortcut to the jump-off point for their own exploration. To begin with, I think my family is in pretty decent financial shape, so this voyage won’t be relatable to everyone. Probably young families blessed with good income. But if you’re in a similar boat, I hope this helps you out.

Continue reading “Our financial planning voyage — Part 1”

Notes on mortgage shopping

I was meaning to post this a while ago, but these are the notes I took when I was shopping for a mortgage and closing the purchase of our first house. It was quite a process. As a first-time borrower, I felt like I was at constant risk of these expert lenders taking advantage of my naiveté, especially given all the stories from mortgage crisis. So, I spent a lot of time reading and double-checking. I try here to lay out what I took away from the process, without biasing it toward any decisions my wife and I made pertaining to our own situation.

Original Disclaimer: These are the notes of one person (me) who has bought exactly one home with exactly one mortgage. I am not an expert. I have no qualifications. I’m just a dude. This might be useful as a starting point, but I highly suggest you do your own research and confirm your conclusions with advice from an expert you trust.

Updated Disclaimer: I now actually work for a mortgage company! I’m not a licensed loan officer, so I’m still not qualified to give advice. But I know far more about mortgages than I did in 2017. I’ve made some slight updates, but the knowledge I’ve gained at work largely has validated my reflections from a few years ago.

Also, note that this piece reflects my experience shopping for a conforming mortgage. It’s the most common type of mortgage, but there are others:

  • FHA loans – these have expanded criteria, to broaden access to home ownership.
  • VA loans – these are for American Veterans.
  • Jumbo loans – these are for loan amounts that exceed the conforming loan limit for the county the property is in.

I don’t have personal experience with these other loan types.

Continue reading “Notes on mortgage shopping”

America, the pitiful

I don’t know enough about immigration to say whether this sort of thing is meaningfully different from previous administrations. But one thing’s for sure, our current administration exudes a hostility to foreigners that is unprecedented, and that perception matters quite a bit.
When I read about this and:
I have to think that if things don’t change, we’re witnessing the self-inflicted end of America’s role as the nucleus of human culture and knowledge.
We’re not becoming great again. We’re decaying.

Public Enemy #1

Capone Chase, who I taught for a year and a half, has been declared Baltimore’s Public Enemy #1. He is wanted for allegedly murdering another young man execution-style on a playground within a couple days of having been released from jail for another crime.

The Capone I taught was a difficult kid, but to imagine him executing a person on a playground is chilling to say the least.

Capone was one of the brightest students I taught, not really in performance, but in raw ability to master new concepts quickly. He attended class only sporadically, yet he passed the High School Assessment for Algebra on his first shot, and by a pretty good margin, as I recall. That’s something a large majority of my students failed to do on their first try, and he did it after transferring to my school mid-year from Patterson, one of the worst schools in the city (where, incidentally, my girlfriend also taught him), and barely doing his classwork.

Capone often came to school visibly seething from something that was under his skin. He had serious issues with authority and handling conflict. He often viewed situations in black and white. He seemed to walk around with a serious victim complex, as though the entire world was constantly trying to oppress him. If he felt like he was singled out, he had a tendency to flip out. I tried hard to teach him that not everybody was out to get him, and that if he let things that annoyed him slide, he’s spend far less time caught up in conflict. But he had a serious tendency to escalate things out of proportion.

That being said, he rarely was disrespectful to me as a teacher. In most cases, he was polite and articulate. The main exceptions were when I needed him to do something he didn’t feel like doing, which would often send him to victim mode, and a tirade of “f’ this, f’ that, why you always picking on me?” Once in that mode, it would typically be very difficult to get him back on an even keel. Over time, he and his best friend at FAST realized they were probably among the “hardest” at the school, and by mid sophomore year, they were too cool to attend much class at all. He quit the basketball team mid-season, after a falling out with Coach Peyton, and after that, he kind of entered a downward spiral of caring less and less about school. I don’t know if I saw him at all in the final quarter of sophomore year.

To me, Capone is a poster child for the type of kid who would likely be on a completely different life path had he been raised in normal, non-toxic environment. He clearly came in the door with some deep baggage on a daily basis. Like most of the kids I taught, it was difficult to conceptualize what his out-of-school life must have been like. But I saw it wear him down over time. Poverty almost seems too quaint a word for years of corrosive home life.

It’s easy to imagine an alternate universe where Capone excelled in high school and would be enjoying the summer off between first in second years in college. Not on the run from the law, having allegedly shot a man in the head. In a playground.

End of the journey

This past Saturday, I traveled back to Baltimore for the moment I poured my blood, sweat, and tears to see: the graduation of the first class of Friendship Academy of Science and Technology, better known as FAST.  Being that my students are no longer students, it’s probably safe at last for me to explicitly identify the school where I worked (as if it were ever a big secret).  Given how hard I worked with this day in mind, to have it finally arrive is, hands-down, the proudest moment of my life.  My hat is off completely to my coworkers who worked much longer and harder than I did for this day to come, to all career teachers out there who educate far more young people than I did, and to Errol Duncan, who didn’t get the chance to see his work come to fruition.

We fought some truly epic battles as a staff to try to establish a culture of scholarship and success.  I can’t even describe how hard we worked to get keep our students in uniform, to march them down the hall in quiet, straight lines, to stamp out profanity, to require respectful behavior toward peers and staff, to demand punctuality, to enlist parent support.  We spent countless hours meeting together to strategize how to work with individual students and how to build effective systems.  And that’s not even mentioning academic instruction, let alone the High School Assessment tests the students had to pass to graduate.

By the numbers: from an early roster of mine, it looks like at one point, the original FAST 9th grade class numbered 95 students. The graduation program listed 59 graduating seniors.  Among those were about 48 students I taught, and 36 of those were students on that early roster, whom I taught for two years, some as early as Summer Bridge.  Seven came from my infamous homeroom, Class 901, whom I saw for almost 4 hours a day, every other day, my first year teaching.  Looking at those early rosters, I feel a mix of emotions.  On one hand, for those 7 kids that managed to make it to graduation from my homeroom, I feel nothing but respect.  I know I wasn’t the greatest teacher in the world, and yet, they managed to persevere through my ineptness and abysmal behavior from some of their peers.  Of the whole group of seniors, it looks like a lot are college-bound, a handful with some serious scholarship money.

On the other hand, a lot of names I had high hopes for weren’t in the graduation program.  By my recollection, only one of maybe a dozen English-language learners that I taught made it through.  Many of those kids were the sweetest, most resilient, most respectful children I had the opportunity to interact with.  They had come to America as refugees or immigrants, only to be plunked down into Baltimore City Public Schools.  It’s unpleasantly surprising, because I felt like FAST did a really good job of providing for them.  To be fair, many of them transferred away or moved and may have gone on to graduate somewhere else.  But I know for a fact that two of my most promising immigrant students became pregnant and dropped out.

All things considered, I’m still extremely proud of what my students accomplished, navigating the minefield of adolescence in Baltimore to finish their high school educations.  I never thought graduation day was going to be completely perfect.  How could it be, given the challenges?

June 17, 2008.  That is the date of the first post in this journal, and the beginning of my journey as a teacher, which paralleled that of my students.  From one of my first posts:

The biggest things I plan to internalize are to establish relationships with the students, the other teachers, the administrators, the corps members, and the community, to not succumb to negativity and defeatism, to never waver in setting high expectations for the kids, to be respectful and humble, and to be prepared to work relentlessly.  I’ve got a lot of learning to do these next couple of months.

And this much has been impressed upon me more than anything:  the experience of teaching in inner city Baltimore is going to be extremely tough.  I’d say all of us are somewhat scared to death, and we’d be fools not to be.  But we’re also fired up, and even after a just a couple of days, we’re already starting to band together and dig in.

Wow.  Overwhelmed as I was, that’s actually pretty much spot on.  If nothing else, I did a good job of absorbing the most salient points, because those are things I really did try to keep in mind throughout, even if I wasn’t always successful.  In some sense, it’s hard to believe that four years have passed.  But I’m extremely thankful today that I kept this journal to go back through to relive the experience, and remember what it was like to not know all the things I’d come to learn.  Hopefully there are lessons in here for some future teacher to learn from.  To be fair, there wasn’t much of my blood involved in the experience, but I think the copious sweat and tears more than made up for it.

Even though I intend to maintain a lifelong engagement with education, I think it’s finally time to close the book on my education journal.  I may continue to add new entries to this journal when something education-related catches my eye, but there likely won’t be much else.  Looking back, teaching is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life.  As this journal can attest to, I barely made it through two years.  I am absolutely awed by anybody who makes a career of teaching or school administration.  What I do as an computer/electrical engineer is supposed to be “hard”, but it doesn’t even chart in comparison.

Don’t be surprised if there’s a Volume Two sometime in the future.  Despite a recurring dream (okay, slight nightmare) where I’m sucked back into school as a last-minute permanent sub, I don’t see myself ever actually teaching high school again.   But I definitely plan to coach again.  And maybe, just maybe, I might find myself in higher ed, education policy, or school leadership when I’m done with the corporate world.  It’s certainly not on my 5-year plan, but never say never, right?

My, how they grow up!

About a week ago, I had the pleasure of going back to my old school to see how things were going.  My old students are all seniors now, and the school that I helped found (weird, huh?) is now a full house, with grades 6-12.  I must say, the experience of going back left me with mixed feelings.

First of all, it was really cool seeing the students again and my old coworkers.  My old students are really starting to look like young adults.  They’re working out plans for after graduation. 

Yet, it was frustrating to be see that they’re still lacking a certain something.  I think that “something” is perspective.  I’m worried that most of them are in for a very rude awakening when and if they finally get out of Baltimore.  Many undoubtedly will delay that reality check indefinitely by simply not leaving the city.  That feels a bit patronizing to write, because many of my students deal with reality that I couldn’t have imagined at their age, and probably still can’t.  But reality has many levels, and the one about which they lack perspective is the reality of how a person makes it to middle class career success. 

If they had perspective, they would be feeling a massive sense of urgency.  They would know that the game clock is down to the last few seconds, that it is time to be making some spectacular moves to get ready to compete on the next level.  Instead, I saw students meandering aimlessly during class hours and doing everything but being productive.  Above all, I feel sad to see that we failed to establish a culture in the school that was fundamentally different that the prevailing culture of the school system.  I don’t want to throw salt on my old school, but that’s the reality of it.  We worked our asses off. and we couldn’t do it.  In the year in the half since I left, my coworkers kept carrying the torch and new people came in and hit the ground running.

Speaking of the teachers, morale is about what one would expect at the tail end of the brutal grind that leads up to winter break.  They’re worn out and frustrated with the system and with the countless things that aren’t going as they should.  I got to sit in on a few conversations about how to solve problems that shouldn’t exist.  But it’s Baltimore City, and unless you’ve seen the schools first hand, every assumption you might have about what a school has and how it must work is probably not even close to reality. 

I pitched in a couple of suggestions, but to be brutally honest, I felt a massive sense of relief that tackling these problems is no longer my responsibility.  I feel a little guilty about it, but I’d be remiss for saying it.  There’s an unhealthy level of general absurdity everywhere you look.  Usually, it’s kind of an ephemeral absurdity that plays out in the details, but sometimes you run right into it, perhaps in the form of a half ripped sign saying, “DOOR MUST REMAIN CLOSED AT ALL TIMES”, barely hanging off an unwatched, slightly ajar door to the outside world.

The school itself has seen some changes too.  Millions of dollars had been spent to make some pretty impressive renovations to the building.  So there are some really cool things going on.  Clearly, a lot of people are working to make the place better.  Unlike me, they still have the energy to fight the good fight.

In any case, it was good to be back.  I want nothing for the best for all the students, teachers, and staff.  I’m looking forward to visiting again.  It’s actually quite enjoyable to see everyone, and it’s good to remind myself of what’s really going on, especially now that I am so disengaged from that reality on the ground.