603: Work, and more work

I go to work every day, even when I am ill, because it is harder to do all the preparation work beforehand than it’s worth it to be out sick, especially when I am actually sick. I have stopped going to the doctor and dentist on school holidays, though. Usually, if school is out, the doctors and dentists are also closed, anyway, and occasionally I NEED a day off when I actually am not sick – that is worth doing the prep work for.

Lately, I have been finishing my straight eight, and donning working clothes to put in another shift remodeling our newest purchase: a new-to-us, but not new house. We have gutted the kitchen in preparation for the installation of new cabinets, counter tops, trim, and appliances, and have installed the new flooring and painted. The new ceiling and lighting fixtures, and the floor molding, go in after the cabinets are installed.

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Lately, we have been on our knees…not praying exactly, unless you count praying that this piece of flooring will install properly in line with the others already laid. It is a good time for reflection on the vicissitudes of life, when you are on your knees, praying or not. I heard once that being on your knees is the most powerful position you can assume – and I assume they were thinking of prayer. I do tend towards a less than pristine mindset, and being on your knees is good for lots of various things, including prayer. Nonetheless.

I think the next few days I will work on painting. I can do that standing up. I’ve been on my knees dealing with those stubborn flooring planks a little too much lately.

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549: School

Jennifer Johnson, a teacher at Evergreen Campus of Health Sciences & Human Services High School (HS3) in Seattle, WA, works with students in her classroom on May 20, 2014.

Jennifer Johnson, a teacher at Evergreen Campus of Health Sciences & Human Services High School (HS3) in Seattle, WA, works with students in her classroom on May 20, 2014.

Being a teacher is a very mixed blessing. Yeah, I know what everybody says about teaching, how we are not paid enough, and how the job expects you to basically perform at God level, and how everything that happens in somehow your fault (as if you can control the choices that other people make on a daily basis). Yeah, I know.

Actually I went into teaching because I like teaching, because it was steady income, and because of the time off. Considering how much time off there is in a year’s contract, the pay isn’t horrible. Few other jobs get as much time off. No, we are not paid for our time off. We are paid for approximately (depending on the school system and their instructional calendar) 190 days of work. To keep us from starving during the summer, school systems now divide our 190 days’ worth of pay into twelve payments. THAT equals a fairly mediocre income, considering all the certification and licensing requirement hoops that teachers must jump through to qualify. But for approximately 246 days of the year (190 plus the weekends) of work time, it’s still not too bad.

Still, no teacher works a 40 hour week. If you are a teacher working 40 hours a week, you suck as a teacher. Period. Efficiency be damned, there is far too much to get done in that 190 days for you to be able to do a quality job in 40 hours a week. EVERY teacher worth their salt works far more than 40 hours a week during the months that school is in session, and often works even more days during their ‘vacation’ during the summer for certification purposes – or chaperoning student groups on summer conferences.

It is no fun being the world’s scapegoat. I know intimately how the USA feels, accused of being the root cause of all evil on the planet. Apparently, in my dedicated career quest to make a difference and improve the lives of countless people, I am considered just an inept, bumbling fool, ultimately responsible for everyone’s poor choices, and certainly not a professional educator striving mightily each day to inspire and motivate other people’s children to be and do better than they were and did yesterday. Ministers, missionaries, and priests are nodding in rueful acknowledgement of that truth. Let me ask you this – how am I supposed to fix in one hour a day what the rest of the world has screwed up in the previous hours (and years) before this kid walked into my classroom? The fact that I work on it again, and again, and again, each day, is a testament to my dedication and stubbornness. Or my complete and total idiocy – I am not sure which some days.

457: Thanks, WalMart!

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I am discovering America, riding as a guest passenger (ID’d, permitted, photographed, and insured) in a company-owned big rig driven by my newly-CDL-certified husband. He used to work in heating and air conditioning, but driving the truck pays better, and has better benefits, while costing him less as he lives out of the truck.

I am also discovering what it is like actually to be a long-distance truck driver. There are roads where big trucks are not allowed to drive (unless they are actually delivering to a business on that road), there are bridges too low (or too weak) to allow a big truck to pass (and not all are so marked), and big trucks are not allowed to park just anywhere when the driver’s allotted driving hours are up for the day.

I did not know it was so complicated. There are new federal laws (thanks, Barack Obama) that specify how many hours a day a driver can drive, how many breaks are required, how many hours they can drive in a week, and how many mandatory rest hours they must take. And these mandatory hours do not take into consideration where in the USA on the road the driver might happen to be when the time is up, either. There are reference books that list truck stops and rest areas where big trucks can stop legally for their required rest times, so that drivers can plan in advance (mostly) where they can stop – assuming that there are no traffic jams, accidents, or mechanical difficulties that occur to delay them from reaching the “safe” place before their minutes are up.

Plus, drivers pick up already-loaded trailers to haul to their destinations, or, they sit and wait while the shipper loads their trailer “live.” The DRIVER is responsible for the weight of the load that the shipper has already loaded for pick up. Or is loading while they wait. There are strict limits on the load they can haul, and the DRIVER is fined if the load is too heavy as weighed at various weigh stations located all over the country on nearly every big truck-drivable road. The trailer’s rear set of wheels (called the tandems) can be adjusted forward or backwards on the trailer to help distribute the load’s weight as measured by these weigh scales. So, often, the driver has to find a certified scale and check (and pay for the use of the scale) that the shipper has not overloaded the trailer they are hauling, or the driver has to pay the fines when they get caught at the Department of Transportation weigh scale on the road – and the violation goes against the driver’s license.

Well. I said I was learning a lot. Drivers do get paid pretty well, but they are responsible for, and put up with a lot, for that pay.

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One thing I am seriously learning to appreciate is WalMart. That chain has a store in nearly every reasonably-sized town in America. They have HUGE parking lots, and usually, there is space for a big truck to park and wait out their rest hours somewhere to the back or side of the lot, out of the way of shoppers. And WalMart is reasonably priced for the inevitable things that drivers and their certified guest passengers (like me) need for the road. Truck stops also have stuff drivers need, they just charge handsomely for it. What the truck stop has that the WalMart does not have is a shower and laundry machines. Otherwise, WalMart beats the truck stop hands-down. The food is better, less expensive, and there are healthier, lower-calorie choices. Plus, WalMart has personal care items (tweezers, pharmacy, over-the-counter medications, baby wipes, paper towels, gallon jugs of water, etc.), a deli (yum), a bakery (ditto), restrooms, hardware for minor repairs, an automotive department, clothing (new socks, anyone?) and lots of other stuff, like greeting cards for everyone’s birthdays.

Being on the road is not all bad – if you can keep the snacking to a minimum!

218: Burnout

There is one problem with trying to do your best all the time, and being willing to help others when they ask: burnout.

This week at school, a student I was tutoring every afternoon for months (for pay, at her mother’s request) was referred to me for after school tutoring (at the school’s request – no pay) three days a week. Plus, I got an additional 30 minute duty added today, too. That extra two hours right there increases my face-to-face contact time to twenty-four hours a week, and I am contracted for only twenty-five, even though I am required to be present at school each week for forty full-time hours, plus a forty-five minute after-school activity. AND, I will be at school today for extra hours after the school day for parent-teacher conferences. Tomorrow, many of my students will not be at school because of a field trip, and next week, another field trip will take most of my students for Thursday and Friday, again. We have a bake sale this afternoon for the parent conferences, and a clothes drive going on, too, PLUS a play that I (as the art teacher) have been asked to help paint sets for. Jeepers creepers, folks, I am NOT a spring chicken anymore.

That does not mean that having all this varied activity is bad, because it does make each work day different (which is actually a rather good thing). Plus, variety IS the spice of life, right??