Reflection on Shame, Social Media, and RESA

It’s an open secret that when we post online to social media, we often do so to show our lives through a rose-colored lens. Look how solid my relationship is. Have I told you how good I am at my job? Look at me, I’ve reached another milestone in the game of Life. We carefully curate our self-presentation to put our best face forward online. We want the ‘likes,’ so we post things people can feel good about liking. We’re seeking out dopamine and oxytocin. And you know what? I’m okay with that.
 
Even when we share the bad, it’s the kind of bad that happens to us, not the kind of bad we bring on ourselves. Our illnesses, our grief – we’re calling out for support, and we often receive it on this platform. I’m sorry for your loss. You’re in my thoughts and my prayers. This is also very okay.
 
One thing that we don’t post about as much are the things that make us feel ashamed. The dissolution of relationships. A venture failing. Our insecurities. We want to put our best face forward, and a head hung in shame does not make a good impression. But sometimes it’s important to share, because we all, at some time or another, feel ashamed.
 
So I’m sharing something, not because I’m seeking sympathy or support, but because I want my friends to know I struggle, and that struggle is normal. Right now I’m struggling in my career, something that I consider very much a part of my personal identity. I feel shame about it. And, frankly, it sucks.
 
I have to do a five-part summative assessment in order to transition to a more permanent teaching license in the state of Ohio. I started doing this assessment in 2015, and have since passed four out of five of the parts. I should find out today if I have passed the last part, on my third and final try. If I pass, I can apply for a new teaching license. If I fail, then I can neither renew or advance my current license. I will also not be eligible for a one-year interim license. I would perhaps be able to be a long-term sub for my own job in my district while I did remedial coursework and experience, which would be a blow financially and also to my self-esteem. I’ve spent many hours reflecting on my teaching this year; while I believe I am a good-enough teacher, I am not sure I want to be in a classroom if the state of Ohio does not believe I am a good-enough teacher.
 
Failure was not a familiar feeling to me when I was a student. It took years for me to be okay with it, for myself, as a teacher. It still doesn’t feel good. But it is more instructive for me to confront and overcome obstacles than it is to never face obstacles at all. It allows me to relate better to, and be a good role model for, my students. It challenges my subconscious beliefs on the nature of learning and cognitive processes. It forces me to acknowledge what I truly value in learning experiences. It causes me to increase, or better manage, my effort.
 
I just wish the stakes, in this case, were not so high. Failure can be a constructive and even essential aspect of learning. Dead-end failure that results in loss of opportunity, stagnation, or regression? Not so much.

Differentiating for Myself

pm-mdLast night I painted my nails, something I rarely ever did as a teen or young adult. But I have a special occasion to attend today, and I wanted to look extra nice. I’m a bit clumsy, so a couple of months ago I got liquid latex. What you do is, you put the liquid latex around your nail and let dry before you paint. Then, when I inevitably color outside the lines, I peel the latex off and voilà! My nail polish is only exactly where it should be. It’s like bowling bumpers, but for beauty.

This is one way I differentiate some skill or ability I use as an adult. It’s far from the only one. I also talk myself through difficult tasks when possible, especially when I’m nervous. (This was how I passed my driver’s test on the third try; it was the suggestion of my tester who had just used the strategy herself on her motorcycle test.)

I also differentiate for other adults in ways that are easily incorporated into my routines. I write messages on the dry erase board to help my husband remember things, because a text or verbal reminder usually isn’t enough. I bring extra devices to the trivia night I host for people who either don’t have devices that get online, or for people who do have such devices but struggle to use them effectively during the time limit.

Differentiation doesn’t have to be a big deal; over time it might even become a habit. And better, for the teacher, is that over time it could become the student’s responsibility more than any adult’s. I mean, if the point is that students do what they need for themselves to succeed, it makes sense that they take it on so they can carry it with them through life, adapting where and when it’s called for.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Five

 

It’s definitely feeling like May up in here. A lot of teachers are using their personal days before they lose them, and so our building gets a little more subby than usual at times, particularly Mondays and Fridays. And indoor recess in May is a goshdarn travesty. (This is me, shaking my fist at Mother Nature.)

Lessons:
So I wanted to do something with my classes that tied in with the curriculum from 4-H my afterschool group is using. So I plotted out an open-ended project where students identify a problem or challenge for animals, then come up with a high or low tech solution for them. It involves brainstorming, research, creativity, design, and communication. The only actual requirement is that they create an image of their idea, then write a paragraph explaining it. Some students are writing about endangered animals, others about pets. One student is writing about his own pet, describing the steps his family is taking to identify what they suspect is a food allergy causing their bulldog discomfort. A pair of students started working together on deer; one found the PETA Kids website on hunting, one found an online hobby magazine that lists positives of hunting. Their ongoing disagreement is surprisingly polite as they bounce ideas off each other.

Unfortunately, I took two afternoons off this week (instead of taking one whole personal day). So I didn’t have my Tuesday or Thursday third grade classes. Tuesday was already a week behind everyone else due to the PD day we had the week before. Then, I found out that I also have to do day-long trainings outside my building next Tuesday and Thursday too. So, I will not have them again this week either. (Not something I knew when I planned my personal time off, I assure you.) And that means I won’t have my Tuesday or Thursday afternoons again until… the last week of school.

These classes are also sometimes challenging in the classroom management department; I don’t think a sub could lead them through an open-ended assignment, not without additional support. It’s too much. Or rather, I bet a sub could lead them through, but I want my sub to keep coming back so I won’t ask her to. So I am planning alternate lessons that my sub can do with these kids.

Support: Actually I got really excited when I came back after time off Wednesday, because a sub left a note describing a computer issue a student had. “He figured out to do X,Y, and Z, and I let him, and it worked – I hope it was the right thing to do?” Yessss. A sub who is comfortable enough to let kids try troubleshooting and trust their results. Hearts and stars forever!

Things I Did Well: I got my sub to pick up all this week, and at least one day for me next week. (I am really not super thrilled about missing so many school days in the last month of the year. I think it’s possibly the worst time for subs and sub lesson plans!) I had never met her in person before Tuesday, but I know she picked up for me before. In fact, she remembered that I left her a paper mug and a K-cup of hot chocolate. I joke that I like to roll out the red carpet for subs, because their job is like mine but also harder in some ways. (Maybe easier in some ways too, but it’s not important for me to focus on that.)

Things I Will Do Better: I did not budget my time particularly well on Tuesday, so when my sub came, I didn’t have lesson plans written out. So I scribbled out the schedule and told her about Google Classroom, but I didn’t actually leave the detailed document I would have liked her to have as a safety net. I did better for Thursday. But, I need to do even better next Tuesday because I’ll be gone all day. Yipes!

Cold Prickly: I was the person in charge of giving all the make-up standardized tests. I thought the last one was Wednesday, for a child who had been sick for a week and then came back. He wrapped a day later than most because he had two parts to make up, plus the day he came back there was a class field trip. And who wants to miss a field trip to take a standardized test? If that were me, I would definitely be wondering what my classmates were up to instead of concentrating on math. So we postponed his makeup so he could go on the field trip, which is a reasonable thing to do when you have the time.

But then another student had to make up both parts, and showed up on Thursday to take tests, and it was a bit of a schedule blip that I hadn’t anticipated (no one could have, really).

Warm Fuzzy: So many warm fuzzies this week. First, when I took off Tuesday, that meant I wouldn’t be there for the afterschool program. I got another teacher to sub for me, but the leader of the activity was actually a third grade student. He had pitched some ideas for the afterschool group over the past couple weeks. I shot a couple down because they were too expensive, too time-consuming, or too dangerous, but he didn’t give up. Finally he found a video of a science demo on getepic.com that seemed doable. (In fact, it is something I did years ago at a different school.) He put together a shopping list of materials, I got them for him, and he led the activity in my absence (with adult supervision). He also got rave reviews! I’m so proud of him!

Also, when I was on my way to school on Wednesday, I decided to go through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru to get a treat. (Wednesday is the one day I consistently drive my car.) The line was long (what do you expect at 7:30am?) so I was rocking out to some tunes. When I got to the window, the person said, “You can go on forward, the person behind you is going to pay for your order.” WHAT? Usually it’s the person ahead but okay! Every time my day got a little rough after that, I reminded myself about the kind thing someone did for me, and adjusted my attitude accordingly.

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School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Four

Huh. So I came over to WordPress to write this post, and realized that my post from last week never published. So I’ve backdated it appropriately and published it.

To be honest, I’m a little disappointed in myself for not writing more frequently about other topics. Lately it’s just been weekly roundups. That’s better than nothing, I should hope, but it doesn’t really give me the opportunity to reflect more deeply on a broader spectrum of topics. Part of it is time; I have less free time this quarter. Writing on the blog ranks below sleeping and eating on my to-do list. Part of it is that, while I do reflect every day on my teaching, it’s another thing to organize my thoughts in a way that can be communicated to others. I think I’m going to try to work on that for the next couple weeks.

Lessons: What a roller coaster week! We had a teacher PD day on Tuesday (due to local elections), then mathematics AIR testing on Thursday and Friday for third grade. I also threw my own twists into things, so lessons were not super consistent this week. It made me glad that students are so used to routines that classroom management was almost never an issue.

For the most part, we wrapped up the assignment from last week and went on to do math and literacy activities online.

Support: When it comes to standardized testing, I much prefer the ability to use devices connected to the internet than the old paper-pencil method. It is so much less stressful to distribute materials, and then not the urgent need to collect and send away after. But when something goes wrong, it can be heart-stopping. Luckily, we didn’t have any huge issues this week. Most small issues were solved with reboots. One student in my group had an issue with ChromeVox being on (which was, of course, very distracting for him) but we got that fixed before we officially started.

Things I Did Well: I started to become concerned with the “countdown” we’ve been using on our morning announcements. Since the beginning of the school year, we’ve included how many school days have gone by, and how many were left. It was really useful when approaching breaks, and when we neared 100 days of school. I kept it in because many teachers enjoyed hearing it (maybe more than the students, even!). But as that number of days left became smaller and smaller, I became concerned that it would lead to some sense that they also mattered less and less.

So what to do?

Well, I have also been in touch with our local 4-H office. They provided me with rocket launcher materials so that my after-school group could do this:

Now they have provided us with… an incubator! And 20 fertile chicken eggs.


Now our school day countdown has become a countdown to hatch day (May 23rd, if you were wondering).

Things I Will Do Better: I wanted to better incorporate the concept of the incubator into our tech lab lessons next week. I want students to explore the idea that technology is not just computers and phones and tablets and Internet; it can help animals too. So maybe we’ll use the incubator as a jump-off point and it can inspire research and design through the end of the year.

Cold Prickly: I did not walk to work even once this week. There was always something, either during the school day or right after it, that necessitated me having a car. For example, it was Monday when I drove out to the farm to pick up the fertile eggs — could not have walked there! It was nice to have an extra fifteen minutes to get ready at home (or, on one morning, pick up some coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts). But, this morning in particular, I realized how a twenty-minute walk (fresh air, listening to a podcast instead of music) really helps me get in the right mindset to begin the work day. I really look forward to walking again next week.

Warm Fuzzy: The cafeteria lady has fed me twice today. She runs our school cafeteria by day (today serving cheese quesadillas) and her family restaurant by night (Chinese-American cuisine; she is from Singapore originally). My husband picked up the takeout but he said he saw her working. So she’s fed me twice today!

Maybe I’m just happy not to cook?

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Three

This week has been much better than the previous two, I think.

Lessons: This week I decided to give students an assignment that requires them to take snapshots to insert in their Google Slides. They already know how to Google search for images, and how to manipulate images, so I thought snapshots might be useful to them in the future.

I used another Christine Pinto template/lesson as the starting off point, but I didn’t follow her idea exactly. For example, I didn’t make the slides collaborative; I have done that before and it becomes hard to manage for certain amounts of students. (I would absolutely do it for students working in small groups.) I also upped my expectations of students since mine are older than hers.

Interestingly, students also challenged themselves. It was really obvious to me how different classes have different personalities. One class wanted to share their slideshows with their friends; no other class asked about that. Some students asked if they could use some of the items I have in the lab as props. One student asked if he could take a snapshot with his entire class in it. I said he had my permission, but I wasn’t going to arrange it for him. So towards the end of class, he had to wrangle and direct his own classmates (almost all of whom were willing to participate) in order to take the snapshot he wanted.

Some students asked things like, “Can I draw on the snapshot after I take it?”

I responded with, “Are you asking for my permission, or my instruction?”

The student would say, “Am I allowed?”

I would say, “Yes.”

Then the student would ask, “Can you show me how?”

And I would say, “I don’t know how.”

There are a lot of things you can do with GSuite apps where I’m pretty sure they’re possible, I just don’t know how to do it off the top of their head. And I don’t mind if students explore in a safe setting in order to answer their own questions.

Support: The person who needed the most tech support this week happened to be myself. Snapshots didn’t work in Google Chrome until we changed some of the pop-up and Adobe Flash settings in the browser. Luckily, once I figured it out, it was a pretty quick (if repetitive) fix. When the activity wouldn’t work in Chrome at all, I had the student reopen it in Safari and it always worked just fine there, too.

Things I Did Well: I liked how I handled classroom management this week. But, students were out of seat taking creative snapshots, or taking snapshots with friends, or asking classmates for help because I was already helping someone else. At one point the principal looked in the open door and scolded a particular child for being out of his seat, because from the outside looking in I guess it might have appeared that he was off-task. (Also he has had some issues being on-task in my class in the past, it just wasn’t this particular week.) So I just shut the door for the future.

Things I Will Do Better: I think I am having some weird time management issues. Some of it is outside my control, but some of it is within my control. Especially since we only have like twenty days of school left; I think it’s really important to maintain order as we go into the summer. And that has to start with self-discipline.

Cold Prickly: Because of commitments outside the school day, I did not walk to school as much as I usually do. I drove so I could make it to after school meetings in different locations. Having my car at work led me to, er, have fast food for lunch way way way more often than is typical for me. Man, I am not impressed with my willpower (or lack thereof).

But at least now I have a Yoshi toy from McDonald’s.

Warm Fuzzy: My spouse’s semester is wrapping up (he is a college professor) so his schedule is different, with a lot more grading. But he has used some of his flexibility this week to make some things much, much easier for me. And I am very grateful to him for that.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-Two

Yikes. This was not a banner week to be me.

Lessons: I had to print interims this week, which in the past has been something a little more time-consuming and stressful than it has any business being. Plus, someone gave me a huge box of dot matrix printing paper. So, I linked students to Art Hub for Kids and let them choose what they wanted to draw and color. I swear, the computer lab has never been quieter. The kids grab paper and pencils, pop on their headphones, and follow along to whatever they want to draw. I also provided crayons so that students could color their drawings if they wanted to. I like the site because it has a lot of tutorial subjects that they probably don’t cover in art class, like Pokémon and Shopkins. They can’t simply trace from a desktop, either (which is how I created Lion King artwork I was so proud of when I was their age). They can pause and rewatch videos. Some students used the search engine to find what they wanted; others browsed the site until something caught their eye. Quite a few first graders clicked on ads, especially one that declared they could play Minecraft for free. Better they learn now, in a safe environment, that such claims can’t be trusted!

So yeah, it was a very self-directed week in the lab. So… of course my principal dropped in for an unannounced observation. Yikes. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it yet.

Support: I spilled coffee on my own work laptop on Friday, despite being the person who should probably know better. Coffee also got on the interims I had already printed, a stack of pictures students had drawn during class, and my pants and chair. I guess it was good I was wearing black pants.

I was putting the lid on my coffee cup at the time.

Things I Did Well: I started doing the after-school program this quarter, and I think the classroom management from the school year up til now is really helping the “homework” portion of the program run more smoothly than before. (Plus, not going to lie, I’m relieved that we no longer assign math homework apart from simple facts practice. I had to use Khan Academy to refresh myself before subbing for a math lesson about fractions on a timeline.)

Things I Will Do Better: Spilling my coffee wasn’t my only bad moment this week. I’ve also spent the entire week with a nasty sunburn. I spent most of Saturday outside on a sunny day; I had purchased sunscreen specifically but left it behind when I actually went out. I got it on my face, neck, and chest (when I realized I had forgotten my sunscreen I made a point of keeping my jacket on, despite becoming very warm). My forehead and nose were particularly bad, especially in contrast to my eyes which had been covered with sunglasses. I call the look “reverse racoon.” Anyway, I couldn’t do much for my nose (especially when it started peeling – makeup would have made it look worse, not better), but I wore hats and headbands creatively this week to cover my forehead. It was a good plan, especially when I lifted my school logo ball cap on Tuesday to scratch my head, and a second grader cried out, “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?!”

I also forgot my purse at a restaurant for almost 24 hours. Again, not a banner week for me.

Cold Prickly: So I had a weird week emotionally, I think, and it was affecting my performance in the classroom. Particularly, there were a few times when students’ behavior would have merited a stronger response from me. Instead of handling the issues myself, I got in touch with my principal or other teachers and sort of passed on the problems. It was like, I couldn’t escalate my own emotions, particularly anger, even when it was an appropriate response to a given situation. In fact, I felt like I couldn’t intensity of multiple emotions at work this week, even positive ones.

Then on Thursday I realized I had left my purse at a restaurant after spending significant time searching for it at both work and home. And I was so angry with myself. So angry. I berated myself in the car, and I came home and just laid in bed for thirty minutes, clenching my teeth, near tears. All the mistakes I was making were affecting me harshly, and they were no one’s fault but my own. So I think I was having a hard time being angry with other people because I was spending to much emotional energy being angry at myself.

And then on Friday I spilled coffee on my laptop.

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YOU HAVE BETRAYED ME, BITTER WAKEY DRINK

I really needed a weekend by that point.

Warm Fuzzy: I am looking forward to the March for Science this weekend. I see it as less of a political protest, more of a show of support for a spectrum of scientific issues. As an educator, I feel like it’s important to support scientific inquiry early in life; therefore it’s logical to support science across the board. Otherwise, what is the point? Understanding the scientific method can help us think critically about many things. Some people might believe it needs to remain politically neutral, and in a perfect world, it probably could. But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a world where scientific research needs funding, and policies that ignore its findings could have repercussions that affect our planet in ways we can’t even fully comprehend until we’re facing them.

So while I’m not super pleased that people felt strongly enough about this that a march had to happen, I’m happy it is, because I think it will feel nice to be around like-minded individuals en masse. My prediction, too, is that signs of cheesy STEM jokes will outnumber signs of politically vehement slogans, so yay.

And then on Sunday I have no plans whatsoever, and I intend to keep it that way.

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirty-One

I wish I felt as refreshed after spring break as I was hoping to.

Lessons: Mixed it up this week with students using a menu between websites where students can practice skills such as typing, math problem solving, and so on. It’s the last quarter and I think choice is important to keep students engaged and prevent burnout, while also staving off the feeling that nothing we do now matters as much so we might as well goof off.

Support: So I had to call the company we lease the printers from for support for one of the copiers; a plastic bit had broken off, preventing something from closing properly, blah blah. The tech arrived during bus dismissal so when I returned to the lab after, I saw a note from him on my desk that said, “See me before you leave.” I thought it must have been something I needed to know about the printer… turned out he wanted to show me a woman on the cover of a Christian music album from the 1970s who he thought looked like me.

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Things I Did Well: I started doing the after-school program this quarter, and I think the classroom management from the school year up til now is really helping the “homework” portion of the program run more smoothly than before. (Plus, not going to lie, I’m relieved that we no longer assign math homework apart from simple facts practice. I had to use Khan Academy to refresh myself before subbing for a math lesson about fractions on a timeline.)

Things I Will Do Better: Time management with the after-school program is something I need to work on. I think it’s largely because we’re still just starting out; I haven’t gotten used to the rhythm of it yet, is all.

Cold Prickly: Thursday in particular was one of those days where I question whether I can stay in this career in the long-term. I don’t feel comfortable going into too much detail, but I was witness to something that didn’t even affect me as directly as it affects other people. I found it really stressful even though it, again, doesn’t affect me directly. It was the kind of thing that made me realize how stressful it can be to be a special educator; they deserve the world for what they do.

Warm Fuzzy: I had a dentist appointment this week and I have no cavities. On the one hand, that’s kind of like the bare minimum of adulthood, but I spent a huge portion of my childhood 1) eating candy and 2) terrified of dentists. Neither of those things helped the other out.

School Week Round-Up: Week Twenty-Nine

We had a snow day this week, on Wednesday. It wouldn’t have been my first pick for a snow day in terms of scheduling, but it wasn’t the worst day to have one, really.

Lessons: 
We did our final AIR test practice prompts in the computer lab before third graders take the AIR test for real next week. I know third graders were doing them in language arts too, so I hope they’re not getting too burned out. Hopefully they recharge their batteries over the weekend, and we get them feeling good on Monday and Tuesday next week, because Wednesday and Thursday is when the tests are happening.

Support: Still frustrated with several of the desktops in my lab; I don’t know if some update went through or what, but several of them only had the Finder and Recycle Bin icons in their docks. It doesn’t render them unusable but it it inconvenient.

Things I Did Well: 
I don’t feel like this was a particularly standout week for me.

Things I Will Do Better: I am losing momentum, definitely. I’m looking forward to spring break after next week; I hope I feel revitalized.

Cold Prickly: I don’t like how testing season takes over school. I feel bad about testing in general. I know it’s not how many kids demonstrate their learning best. It’s frustrating to watch them try to fit their square peg selves into the round holes of standardized testing.

Warm Fuzzy: Despite my negative feelings about testing, our school tries to create an upbeat atmosphere. We provide little care packages for kids; we regroup them so they are in smaller groups with teachers they have good rapport with. We’re doing a rally, and other ways to show support.

Snow Day (Let’s Talk About Zelda)

I was really surprised to answer the phone at 6:15 this morning and hear the announcement that today would be a snow day for our district. I was surprised because we had school yesterday when just about every other school in the county had off. And today, very few other local districts have off (some have two hour delays).

I am going to try to grade some assessments (something I struggle to force myself to do, more than doing dishes even). But, I am also going to play more video games than I probably should. Specifically, I will play Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the new Nintendo Switch.

We got this game the day it came out (my spouse and I are both big fans of the franchise; in fact I proposed to him with a Zelda-patterned cross-stich with a ring sewn on). My husband had to go out of town that weekend, so I got quality time on the system first.

And

I

love it.

Firstly, the Switch. It’s much smaller than the Wii U, and you can switch it from being hooked up to the TV, to being more like a handheld console. I prefer playing on the big screen, but it’s cool to be able to have it smaller, so that my husband can catch up on Hulu shows. I even took it to a family dinner to show my twin sister (also a big Zelda fan). It’s still just as lovely to behold on the smaller screen, it’s just smaller. And even using the smaller screen, you can set it up to multiple different controller configurations so that you can do however you prefer. (I like to hold the Joy-Cons by themselves in each hand; my husband likes to use them in the Joy-Con grip.)

Next, the game itself. It really seems very compatible with my gaming style, which is reckless. I tend to rush headlong into circumstances without planning much in advance; then, if I utterly fail, I observe how I fail so that I can base future planning on that. (My twin sister, by contrast, is cautious: she made it through Ocarina of Time without ever dying.) This game does not overly punish rashness; it autosaves frequently and does not force you to save at particular points. There are many situations where, instead of killing you outright, puts you back to your last safe moment with reduced health.

There are many challenges in the game that you can choose to face in different ways. Often there are items lying around, or characteristics of the environment you can use to your advantage if you think things through. You also get some abilities early in the game that you can creatively apply in many settings.

My husband and I are benefiting from watching each other play. For example, I solved a puzzle using the stasis ability and arrows; when he came on the same one, he happened to be out of arrows. Rather than retreat to gather supplies, he managed to find another way to solve the puzzle. I remembered his method the next time I faced a puzzle, and made sure to try other angles than I normally would at first. I don’t think I’d be doing half as well if I wasn’t playing in tandem with a different person who doesn’t do the same things I do.

I also like that there’s not a strictness to the storyline. In previous Zelda games, you had to accomplish goals in a particular order. This is not the case in this game. Yes, there are certain plot points that only get triggered after certain other things occur. Yes, there are enemies you can’t actually beat until you get the right weapons, armor, or power-ups. But the game doesn’t actually stop  you from trying to do things that you’re not equipped to handle. I think an abrupt “game over” screen is how the game designers chose to teach the player that it’s okay to run away from some battles.

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As for the content of the storyline, I think I’ll save that for another post, one with spoiler tags.