Five Years Out: Why I Will Not Go Back to Teaching in Public Schools


Teacher

Teacher (Photo credit: tim ellis)

When I moved up to Canada from the United States, I had a vague plan of someday returning to my teaching career. The effort required to flip my Iowa credentials and obtain a license to teach in Alberta, while time-consuming and somewhat mindlessly strewn with the odd hoops, wasn’t onerous.

But that was nearly five years ago. Observing my daughter’s Canadian public education, I don’t see many differences between Alberta specifically, or Canada in general, in terms of the delivery mode or the education machine. The government at the provincial and federal levels are indifferent to the true purpose of public education. They treat the enterprise as an afterthought in terms of funding and seem disinclined to following the lead of truly progressive education leader countries like Finland or South Korea. Parents, by and large, look at school here the same way they do in the states. First, its cheap daycare and second, it’s fine as is. Raising taxes to provide better services, or heavens forbid, decent wages/benefits for educators is universally regarded as unnecessary. Unless the yearly budget cut axe falls on their child’s school and then it’s the fault of government for not allocating properly.

The school year is riddled with pointless days off dubbed “professional development”, but in reality are just busy work days filled with oddly planned workshops or presentations that more often than not have nothing to do with what teachers or students really need. The year has been stretched to the point where summer (which is in short supply anyway up here) has shrunk to a point that it’s in danger of disappearing completely.

There isn’t quite the widespread disdain for the teaching profession here that there is in the United States, but I have been privy to more than one acidic conversation between mothers where all the old tropes about teachers having too cushy an existence have been trotted out and sagely agreed upon.

My Iowa license expires at the end of the year. If I want to preserve it in any way, I have to do something like yesterday to make it happen.

“You don’t want to go back to teaching,” Rob pointed out when I brought up the license thing again. “There are other jobs in the world. You can do anything, you know.”

And while it’s wonderful he thinks so that’s not quite the reality. I can’t do nails, for instance, nor can I keep books or operate a forklift. Most of the growth industry up here right now surrounds the tar sands. Heavy physical labour. Specific operational skill sets. Brutal shift work. Travel.

“They have an opening at my plant,” Rob told me recently. “How do you feel about data collecting and aggregating?”

As he read me the description, I am sure he could feel my entire brain glazing over.

“Well,” he conceded, “maybe not.”

My dream job has come open once a year at the city’s small museum. I nearly applied last summer but Dee was still a bit too small to do the latch key kid thing. It will be just my luck if the job doesn’t come open this coming fall and even if it does, I know I am vastly overqualified because they are really looking for university students to fill it. It’s teaching, sort of. The museum has an educational history program for the grade four’s and five’s. The position was helping set up and train the volunteers and provide on site supervision. Curriculum, training and kid wrangling. Any one of those things I can do in my sleep after twenty years as a middle and high school teacher.

And it’s history!

I love history. I should have been a history teacher but they are a dime a dozen in the States because coaches need jobs to justify their being kept on. I can count on one hand the number of Social Studies teachers I knew who weren’t male and who didn’t coach a sport. The only other teaching position that was more coach/man heavy was physical education.

Now that I am contracting with the city to teach yoga, I have a few actual contacts, but the job needs to come up again. But that’s another post for another day.

Today is about not going back to the public school classroom. I haven’t quite been able to find the right words to explain it. Sure, there is the general teacher hate and disdain for the profession, but there is also the reality of what it means to go back and do the job.

People don’t really get what a teacher actually does and why it is such stinking hard work. A writer/blogger friend of mine recently ventured back into the classroom and wrote an excellent post explaining what I have not been able to quantify for myself:

I have been spending nine to ten hours at the school each day, not because I am being paid to do that but because that is what I needed to do to get a handle on the job, the classroom, and the curriculum.

And, like so many years ago, it makes no difference. I can wear myself out, but it doesn’t matter. I wanted things to be different but they are not.

So I will go into school later, come home earlier, and take better care of myself. This is just a job.

I want it to be more, but it’s not.

This is why I didn’t want to go back to teaching.

And of course, she is totally correct. Nothing about doing the job has changed since 1987, the year I went into the classroom for the first time. Parents are still parents. Sometimes helpful but mostly in the way. Children are still children. Whether they are ten or 13 or 17, what makes a child a child is the same as it always was. Properly raised children are still a joy to teach and badly raised ones are still mighty pains in the ass and obstructions to other children’s learning. Administrators are strong and hands off, trusting that the teacher is competent and providing whatever back up they can, or they are micro-managing brown-nosers whose main concern is the next rung up the ladder.

Sure, there is a bit of play in the grey areas. Where human nature is concerned, there is never really pitch black or snow-white. But mostly, teaching is a job and when that happens – you are done.

And I am done. My last stint was helping drop-outs retrieve credits in order to graduate. They were petty criminals, gang members and misfits. Some were pregnant and entangled with bad boy baby daddies. Some were addicted to drugs and unable to get through an entire day without slipping off to a nearby park to smoke a bit of weed. Some just didn’t fit because their strong personalities and native wit made it difficult for them to just “play the game” and get out. I battled counselors, vice-principals. my own colleagues and even the kids themselves in an effort to do my job. I did it well. But it was just a job. I resented the added work. I was tired of the games I needed to play in order to do it. It was soul killing.

“I should get a job,” I told Rob, during our most recent discussion about my going back to work.”You shouldn’t be the only one slogging off to a soul killing job everyday.”

“The difference is,” he replied, “is that I am paid handsomely to have my soul crushed.”

Teaching is not a handsome financial opportunity to be sure.

So, I will teach yoga. I will write. I will “house keep”. Maybe I will snag that sweet little museum job in the fall. But the door on public school teaching is now officially closed. I have left that building.

America: Home of the Freely Intolerant and Bravely Prejudiced


Fair & Balanced graphic used in 2005

Image via Wikipedia

Last week my husband turned down a work opportunity that would have relocated us to the Gulf Coast in either Texas or Louisiana. Horrorifically hot, humid weather aside, what truly renders both locales less than optimum from a residential standpoint has far more to do with politics, religion and stupidity than anything else.

Having been born and raised in the Midwest, I find the US’s deep south perplexing and more than a bit backward redneck anyway. The East/West Coasters may make fun of those of us in the “fly-over” states, but we have more common sense than the rest of the country as a whole and though we aren’t as “cosmopolitian” we also aren’t as steeped in “isms” as they think. That distinction is reserved for The South.

Neither Rob nor I care much for the weather here. It’s too cold for too long and our summers are hit and miss. A warmer climate is a powerful attraction  and has a selling point, but after the last few weeks of observing the increasingly noxious Republican primary and its pungent political fallout – there is really no question of subjecting ourselves or our impressionable young daughter to the  sexism, racism and police state mentality that is rapidly filling in the empty core of  America’s values, which were of dubious quality to begin with.

First take the GOP mud match to the nomination. We actually watched a few of the debates, which always begin with the candidates introducing themselves as if they were on a game show. In their spiels they rattled off their religious credentials, martial status and ticked off progeny like contestants at a Mister or Missus America pageant. Only Ron Paul had the grace and sense to smile self-deprecatingly as he did so, but I got the feeling that he was the only one who realized just how meaningless the whole thing was in light of what is truly at stake.

Religion increasingly has become a cornerstone on which everything rests. Despite the fact the Founders specifically tried to avoid building a new country on any specific faith tenets, the US seems committed, at this point, to becoming some sort of theocracy, which wouldn’t be such a horrifying prospect if the proponents of the idea weren’t hell bent on embracing every archaic, intolerant and prejudiced idea ever written in the Old Testament. Their ideas on women are Medieval and I won’t be at all surprised, given their new strident opposition to contraception, if they don’t soon decide that each municipality set up red tents on the outskirts and insist that menstruating women start using them. I’m not kidding. That’s about the only aspect of femaleness that Conservatives haven’t voiced a bat-shit crazy opinion on and I am sure it’s coming. After all, the use of tampons is ripe for euphemism and condemnation, don’t you think?

And the racism thing. Back during the 2008 Democratic primary, I commented that Obama’s victory over Clinton was only proof that when faced with two “evils”, Americans would go with the lessor. Clearly they were less racist than sexist and given the recent Komen debacle followed by the Catholic Bishops’ hissy fit about contraception, sexism is still in the lead, but racism is not far behind.

The irrantional attacks on the President, which are based on nothing factual, are so obviously about his being black. And it’s not like the guy doesn’t have obvious and glaring flaws – his whole-hearted endorsement of the police state thing for starters – but his “critics” insist on concentrating their ire on issues that aren’t or issues that are the result of something the last President (or even the one before him) should own.

Over the weekend, singer Whitney Houston died. Poor thing. Why is it that the most fragile and least able to cope end up rich and famous? Drowned in a hotel bathtub, according to the speculation. Xanax, booze and hot water shouldn’t be mixed. Xanax is an evil little drug that really shouldn’t be as widely prescribed as it is. Incredibly addictive. Not something a “former” cokehead should be allowed to take unsupervised in any case.

But her death provides an excellent example of my point about racism in America being very much alive and probably as stinky as it ever was. The Fox News site posted a story on Houston’s death. Just the facts, m’am and oh my god, the comments. The “N” word abounds and any racial stereotype you care to recall spews forth in comment after comment. 5000 of them.

Because she was black, and because she was a “she” and not a “he”. I am sure Michael Jackson didn’t provoke as much prejudice ire, protected a bit more by his gender.

We can’t raise Dee in a country so openly hostile to women and minorities. Nor could either of us stomach living in areas of the country that are far more open with their contempt and close-minded attitudes.

Rob remembers vividly from their time living in Kansas in the early ’90′s, the difficulty of being open-minded and not particularly religious. Texas and Louisiana are a lot farther south. Texas couldn’t be less tolerant of equality and there is no way we could allow Dee to go to school in a state that doctors non-fiction textbooks with fiction. Louisiana is even worse. The public school system might as well be scrapped entirely as under-funded as it is. Rob knows no one at the plant there who sends their children to the local public schools*. Private schools flourish down there for good reason.

And Dee isn’t the slightest bit Christian. Which is a problem if we are looking to live in areas that are mindlessly so and rabid in their quest to convert the “heathens”. While Rob and I can easily withstand the pressure and even the disdain. It would be harder for Dee, who is quite stubborn but just as sensitive.

I find it all rather sad that my native land has become a place where I can’t raise my daughter, and it’s not that Canada is without issues. People here are prejudiced too and probably more so than they are sexist (that exists simply because we are humans in a world with a long history of sexism), but it doesn’t invade the politics to the same extent. It’s also actively frowned upon whereas in the US, anymore, that’s not really the case. Being anti-female, in fact, seems almost to be a prerequisite for public office and is certainly not discouraged among the Evangelical Christian set or the conservative minded where public policy is concerned.

I was raised small town Iowa Catholic. I was taught that as a girl I had “a place” in society and in my church. That place was one of subservience and I was mostly supposed to be silent and accepting because some things just were the way they were. God willed it so.

But I never accepted that and I was increasingly less silent as I grew up. Now, I am not silent at all. Men have no business or right mucking about in aspects of femaleness that they couldn’t understand even if they cared to try. Women should actively resent and rebel against this meddling and the mindset that implies that women are dirty in some unspeakable way and that we are too dumb to be left in charge of ourselves. Because that is what it gets down to. Religion long ago, and for purposes of control/power, deemed women dirty and dumb. The politics of contraception are just another avenue of this prejudice that evolved purely to benefit men and to allow them to be dominant at the expense of everything and everyone.

Poor America. The rest of the world is waking up and catching up. Soon the only countries it will have anything in common with will be third world theocracies and dictatorships and that will be a sad day indeed.

*Although I will grant you that some of the reason that the “elite” there send their kids to private school isn’t academically driven. They want better educational settings to be sure but they also don’t want their kids going to schools where black children are half or better of the student populations.

Disconnected Reality in the U.S.


What’s the big news today in my homeland? Black Friday shopping rage and football. You won’t find headlines on the growing possibility that the U.S. might be getting ready to start WWIII via Syria or on the impending collapse of the Euro and the likelihood that this will push the world’s economy over the cliff – again.

So just how out of touch with reality are people in the United States?

Anxiety is apparently not at all good for the tender souls in the States because while Time magazine treats adults in other parts of the world as thinking beings who need to know about the sweeping changes that are taking place and transforming our times, they shelter Americans with puffy fluff that is better suited for the pages of O Magazine or Cosmo.

It will be interesting when Americans wake up from their turkey and all night shopping induced comatose states, but in a Chinese curse kind of way, I think.

On Being Thankful


83rd ANNUAL MACY's THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE 201...

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade by asterix611 via Flickr

It’s not Thanksgiving here though the dreadful traditional shopping orgy that follows has permeated Canadian culture to the point where it rivals our own consumption holiday on Boxing Day. Today is just Thursday and while the Christmas lights are decking the house and Dee has set up the tiny pre-lit tree she’s had since she was three in her bedroom to act as a festive night-light, there is nothing particularly holiday about today.

Our own Thanksgiving is on a Monday, which might seem odd but three-day weekends with a holiday at either end make far more sense than sticking a holiday in the middle of a week and trying to pretend it is a four-day weekend. It’s not for most people and many people don’t even have Thanksgiving off either when you consider that those in retail will be going to work in the middle of the night to accommodate Black Friday gluttony.

I haven’t shopped a Black Friday in five years and I can’t say I miss it. Alright, I miss having lunch out that day, but that’s about all, and eating lunch and having a chai was about all the consuming I did on that day anyway. Thanks to my peculiar habit of starting my Christmas shopping pre-Halloween, I was normally done before Thanksgiving. As everyone else madly lunged for the bargains, I was just looking and sipping my tea and thinking about where to eat lunch. The highlight of the day was spending time with whoever I happened to be shopping with – BFF, Sis, Mom, and very rarely DNOS, who would rather have stakes driven through her arms and legs than go shopping just about ever.

It was all about the lunch. In Dubuque, we went to the Mining Company. Mushroom burgers, baskets of fries or chicken taco salad. When the shopping venue was Jordan Creek Mall in West Des Moines, Cheesecake Factory – which is also where Sis and I went when we took bus trips down to Kansas City to Christmas shop in the downtown.

Shopping with Dee means Kelsey’s and out and about with Rob on a shopping trip could be anything quick, Wendy’s or Timmy’s.

On Thanksgiving itself, I never had to cook. The first Thanksgiving meal I made was for my first Canadian Thanksgiving, and I needed Rob’s help because I had no idea how to cook a bird. Zero. Putting together a large meal for many people was not even on my list of skills. I faced a steep learning curve that first year of marriage. It’s somewhat amusing to look back at it now when one considers that I was 43 with a five-year old and a previous marriage of six years under my belt and I couldn’t cook a dinner of note to save my very soul.

The purpose behind days of thanksgiving is reflection, taking stock and recognizing what you really have.

First thing this morning, I walked into the office to find my freshly showered husband chatting at the Bell customer service rep about issues with our data plan, I realized all over again what a magnificent mate I have, wrangling with the little issues might seem a little thing until you stop to think about the fact that life is built on a mountain of little issues.

I was reminded a bit later during my chat with CB earlier today that whatever our short-comings, we are blessed to still be in contact. Not every everyone stays connected to some or all of their siblings over the course of their lifetime.

During our conversation CB mentioned that he’d chatted with Mick on Facebook that morning, and I am reminded that I have two of the most amazingly awesome grown daughters.

A snowy white owl Christmas tree ornament at Chapters today reminded me of Dee and her little tree and how both make me smile.

Facebook was littered with updates from this relative or that old friend, marking the day and wishing well.

It’s just a Thursday. Even in the States, it’s just Thursday. But, despite Nickelback’s marring of the traditional NFL game in Detroit, which at least held to the tradition of the Lion’s losing, it’s a glorious day and one I am for which I am thankful. Those thanks are numbered in people.

All Roads Lead To Minneapolis


Minneapolis

Image via Wikipedia

At some point, coming or going, where a trip to Iowa is concerned, Minneapolis looms large and essentially unavoidable. A metropolitan area that all but defines the term “urban sprawl”, we found ourselves once again attempting to circumnavigate it with as much expediency as possible on our return trip to Canada last week.

Coming up I-35 and entering the interstate labyrinth from the southern edge, it can easily take well over an hour to break free. Compounding this was Rob’s quest for another two bar stools for our new kitchen breakfast nook. The pricing on everything under the sun hovering just below insanely cheap in the States, we’d found two chairs at the Pier 1 in Dubuque and determined that another two could be secured in another store in Michelle Bachmann territory.

Dee is an extraordinarily intrepid traveler for her age. Broken to the backseat during her 5th year and first in Canada by the vast expanse that is Alberta specifically but Canada generally, she can ride six to seven hours with nary an “are we there yet?” But a week of intense spoiling by her grandmother softened her a bit and the endless city of Minneapolis quickly mushroomed into a Groundhog’s Day experience.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“Minneapolis,” Rob said.

30 minutes later her attention wandered back to the seemingly unchanged landscape.

“Where are we now?”

“Minneapolis,” I told her.

And 30 minutes after that?

“Are we still in Minneapolis?”

“Yes, we are,” Rob said.

“Well, I don’t know why they call it Minneapolis,” she announced a little while later. “There is nothing ‘mini’ about it.”

“Minne is a native word,” Rob said.

“It probably doesn’t mean small,” I added.

“Probably not,” Dee agreed.

Because America’s Kids Deserve to be Hated On Too


Child labor, can't we try to stop it?

Image via Wikipedia

“I was coming home from kindergarten–well they told me it was kindergarten. I found out later I had been working in a factory for ten years. It’s good for a kid to know how to make gloves.” – Ellen DeGeneres

It’s not just women. The Right is equally at war on American children as well. They’ve been strangling the public education system with a steady pressure and two hands around its neck for nearly a decade though the campaign itself began with the over the top alarmist Nation at Risk in 1982.

Currently, our Congress – already a year overdue at setting the budget for the current fiscal year -  paper cuts what’s left of the K-12 budget in an attempt to bleed it to death so slowly they won’t be suspected of murder when it finally keels over. As their minions in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana work to destroy what little influence over educational practices and curriculum teachers have left by stripping unions of their right to provide input into the profession they’ve earned university degrees to be allowed to practice, Congress ignores the real budget issues and the public goes along with it.

“Of course you are right,” they nod sheepishly. “How foolish of us to think that it was Social Security or a bloated Pentagon at fault? It’s those greedy teachers and our free-loading children of elementary school age. They are the root of this financial nightmare that prevents us from shopping at will and ignoring public policy issues. But what to do? If not school, where can we warehouse our kids during the day while we hunt for work or pretend we love our mind-numbing, ever lower compensating jobs?”

Missouri stepped up to the plate first with a proposal to lower the age at which a child can apply for a work permit from 14 to 12 and eliminate the need for 15 year olds to have a work permit at all. At fifteen, one is certainly old enough to work at will.

Utah followed with an inane state’s rights ploy* that doesn’t question the awfulness of child labor, just the federal government’s right to forbid it.

The states should be able to decide for themselves**.

Really.

A state like Michigan, perhaps? Where the Governor is asking for the right to declare martial law and replace duly elected school boards, city/town councils with anyone he deems fit – whether that be his out of work brother-in-law or some shill of the Koch brothers?

Do you trust the states to act in the best interest of the people or themselves and those who bought them their jobs through campaign contributions?

In other parts of the world, where women have no rights and children are sent to work instead of school (when they are not being sold outright into some form of slavery) and governments pretend to hold elections but the people are not actually represented – we, the self-righteous people of America – point an accusatory finger and say “Bad totalitarian regime.”

Did anyone ever notice that only one finger points and every other is waving back at us?

*Let’s not forget the states were just fine with slavery, Jim Crow, rules that forbade a married women from having her own bank account as late as the 1950′s and weren’t as keen on ERA as they were for the incredibly unnecessary amendment to forbid flag-burning. The states also are big on the whole idea that women need to be treated as though they are retarded once they are pregnant. Let’s not place too much credence on their ability to do the right thing without federal incentive.

**The states will argue that they are rightly giving control back to parents. My maternal grandfather and the husband of one of my cousins were farmers and worked their kids as though they were hired hands from a young age. Not chores. These children were not just helping out a bit. They were farm laborers on par with adults. One of my cousin’s sons actually died because he was given work to do that outstripped his age and size. Even now the exceptions for agriculture border on abuse when they don’t completely cross the line. Do we want to move the line to ensnare more children?