Thursday, December 10, 2015

Those who can't

From a project I keep trying to get off the ground.
Yes, I do know the meaning of the word irony.
Be a teacher, they said.

More than 100,000 teachers in California are leaving soon, they said. See, they're grabbing their car keys and out they go, they said.

You'll make a great teacher, they said.

I did. They didn't. They weren't. Meh.

It seemed like a good bet, becoming a teacher. I read the tea leaves, looked up at the sky, felt the vibe. Be a teacher — try to be a good teacher — 10 years, maybe 15. Wrap up a working life.

I lost the bet.

Those 100,000 teachers? They didn't leave. A little thing called the recession. Pensions crumbled below their feet — for which somebody, certainly not teachers, got filthy rich — and they held on to their jobs.

Schools played musical chairs, each removing two or three chairs at the end of the year. Last hired, first fired. Make do with less. Cram each classroom with a few more kids. Yeah, the law says you can't do that, but it turns out you can, and what're you gonna do, make the taxpayers mad? Can't make the taxpayers mad. That's their money, they decide what to do with their money, and they're not spending it on schools, future be damned. Won't be around to see it, anyway.

So I was gone, sitting in one of those thrown-out chairs, after a full year. My five-year plan to become an effective teacher went to smoke and sputter. My rookie year was thrilling and frustrating and hopeful and hopeless. All the time I tore myself up about whether I was doing right by these children.

I went to the district office to see what could be done with me after I got my dismissal. Lady runs her finger across the line on the spreadsheet where my name is. Zero-point-zero. No official tally of my having taught, of credit toward my credential. I did not gain any ground, any traction, anything. I was a thing that happened. Thanks for being the adult in the room all those days, keeping the kids safe, I guess.

You can substitute. You want to substitute? That's all that I can offer, lady says.

I substitute. One school secretary admonishes, "You're too early! You're not supposed to be here this early!" Thank you, may I have another?

Same school, teacher provides no lesson plans, no map from yesterday to tomorrow. No warning: Hey, you're supposed to take my kids to an assembly; I get six competing voices of opinion from the students instead. Don't you have games or activities you bring with you? Most substitutes do, the teacher says later; it's supposed to be an apology, I guess. Yeah, I say back, but I'd rather help you teach your students.

I go back to school for another credential, but it doesn't take.

It still bothers me wondering whether it just wasn't meant to be, or if I quit before the fight even started, as I have done many times before. If only I was 20 years younger, I excuse myself. But I wasn't, and the time and energy I'd have to spend playing Frogger®™ in alien classrooms, waiting out another opening somewhere or the other, seemed better spent otherwise.

It was the first decision I ever made in which age played a role.

So this week, on the way home from the job I have now — a good job, fun and various, challenging and creative, a teensy tiny bit teacher-y — I hear on the radio that our area's largest school district is scrambling for substitutes. The district needs subs so that the full-time teachers can break away for professional training — need them so direly they're raising the per-diem fee and providing extending health benefits to them.
When the school year began, stories popped up in the news about teacher shortages in districts across the country, and that full-time teachers have to cover multiple classes because districts lack the subs to fill the spaces.

That same large district near us had earlier urged students' parents to come in and sub.

Sure, now the teachers are leaving — eight years too late.

How do I feel about that? Let me know, will ya?

Had I waited — and who would really know this? It's not like hedging the market — then I'd have more chance to continue teaching. Had I acted much sooner, way back when I first thought about teaching, I'd have had a long teaching career by now, and be aces at surviving the career troughs and bumps.

But I didn't. I bet and lost.

Eating from my harvest of sour grapes, I can conclude I wasn't cut out for teaching. I was in long enough to say it's incredibly hard, and those who teach do so with courage and fortitude and deeply drawn creativity. They are not well served, not by their community, by the families whose children they teach, by lawmakers, by taxpayers, by the schools that are supposed to mold them into teachers.

Sitting exposed atop an iceberg of dysfunctional society, teachers bear blame for the iceberg. The screwed-up world expects teachers to fix it, and buy their own paper and pencils to do it. Make do with less. And less. But save us. Save us all.

Teachers who teach despite it all are valiant.

Which is why I rode home feeling deep conflict, hearing about a district's for subs so teachers and learn how to be better teachers. Teachers were getting help, yet getting no help at all. They can't go be better teachers unless subs take their place in the classroom.

Part of me wants to rush over and help. I can sub! My sub kit is still there in the garage, one small heave into the truck of my car and I'm ready. Part of me reminds I have lost the spark of courage to do that.

And of course, I can't. I have moved on. As have many teachers, far younger far more creative than I, with fresh ideas and strategies; they've gone to other jobs, which compensate fairly and competitively for their skills and talents.

We don't think educating our children, the most important job there is, is all that important.

Go figure.

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