Wednesday, May 29, 2013
How It Feels
I didn't go into politics - or even business, for that matter - for a reason; one that, if you know me, you probably already know: I do not have a poker face. I am not at all good at, as they say on Saturday Night Live, strategery. I don't like office gossip or sneakiness or favorite-playing. The way I prefer things to be in my work place is when, as my dad used to say, it is what it is - because what else would it be??
Unfortunately for me and for a whole lot of other people who live and/or work in the same school district I do, though, we have been involuntarily drawn into a situation over the past couple of years that has come to involve a lot of the undesirable aforementioned things.
As a result of the citizens of the city voting to give up their school district and the resulting imposed adoption of that system by the county school system, people in my area are talking about budgets and politics and outsourcing and other things that have regrettably become a very large part of the equation in public education. One thing I haven't heard much talk about in meetings or in the media, though, is how it feels to have been swept into this maelstrom.
This has been the most difficult, most stressful year of my nineteen-year long career with the county school district. I am proud of the efforts of many of my coworkers as we've entered into what can only accurately be described as a battle. At times, I've felt sure that I want to do everything in my power to stay with the district, to continue the work I've started, and to try to control what I can in hopes of protecting my coworkers and friends - and ultimately, the students. But, at other times, increasingly as the actual date of the change approaches, I feel as if I am in danger of going down with the ship. Like a lot of my coworkers, my health and my personal life - and my overall happiness - have suffered a lot during this past school year because of the impending "merger" - a term, by the way, that really gets to a lot of us on the receiving end of the punches. To merge means to join forces, to unite, or to team up, and to me that implies that an action is taking place between two roughly equal bodies, a situation which, in my opinion, this is not. Always a fan of running metaphors, I liken what's going on here to a runner that has dropped out of a race who later asks an accomplished runner if he can train with the better runner. One of them needs improvement; one doesn't. One needs help; the other was fine on his own - and, in fact, is likely to be slowed down if the less skilled runner joins him on training runs, even though the faster runner may still be willing to take on the job of coaching the slower one. It isn't a merger; it's more of an adoption.
In the district of people who did not get a vote in this decision, our leaders and our administrators are scared for their own jobs, for their livelihood actually, and it feels like there's an "every-man-for-himself" mentality that I have never before felt in this job. Watching the process unfold in slow motion over the course of this school year has felt a bit like Chinese water torture, and in many ways I am glad to see the year come to a close, although I feel a distinct sadness at the same time that my job and this school system - both things that I have loved and have put my heart into since I was 25 years old - will certainly never be the same after end of this school year.
Everybody knows that educators in this country generally don't make a lot of money. They don't win Oscars or Pulitzer Prizes or get big raises or promotions or even get much recognition by their bosses or their "customers," unless, of course, a scandal of some sort is featured in the media. The rewards we get come quietly and often only if we are looking hard for them, but most of us are lucky (and diligent) enough to see them, and we are glad to have this as our chosen career. We realize that there is no other profession that would allow us to have such a part in shaping the minds of children in this way and to impact their future on such a personal level. Teaching is about so much more than teaching - and I don't mean politics and jerrymandering and elbow-rubbing; it's about the power of relationships. It's about the connection that can be made between one person and another person or between a person and a lesson, a link that can only be developed when the learner knows that the teacher cares about him or her. When a mutual respect has formed between the teacher and the student, that's when the best kind of learning occurs.
But in an environment when educators are scared for their jobs, when school staff members know that they and/or their coworkers and friends may end up on the chopping block at any moment, when program cuts aren't a "maybe" but a "when," it's hard to be positive every day. It's hard to focus on the lessons that need to be taught - and on the children who are the most important part of the equation. From either side of the argument about what's fair or who deserves what from the limited funding available in the district now, one thing is for sure: teaching and learning have been hindered, and that doesn't feel good to any of us.
This is mostly a blog about grief and perspective, but I guess it's also about enduring and overcoming life's challenges, and I guess that's what has to be done in this situation as well.