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.

418: Whipper-snipper and other local colloquiliaisms

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Today in Panama, outside my office window, I heard the unmistakable sound of a two-cycle internal combustion engine, commonly used to operate motor scooters and lawn trimming machines: weed whackers, weed eaters, whipper-snippers, and other imaginative names for a fairly functional device. Taking a peek out the window confirmed the sound – seven, count ém, SEVEN men, dressed like Muslim women in pants (completely hijabéd in fabric from any contact with grass – in 95 degree weather) were busily mowing, by hand, with these weed eaters, an area of ground I estimated conservatively at five ACRES.

While this is a fairly common sight in Panama, it would be a very uncommon sight in America. In America, where the minimum wage for a laborer is over 7 bucks an hour and rising, there is the impetus to mow maximum grass in minimum time, and equipment is acquired which facilitates that aim. This is not a concept that has penetrated the Panamanian psyche. In fact, maximum work in minimum time is not a concept that has even introduced itself to the Panamanian psyche, much less cozied up to it and taken it to bed. Panamanian work psyche is still virgin territory, totally unpenetrated by anything approximating a work ethic – much less an ethic of efficiency.

It is perfectly reasonable, when you pay a worker twenty dollars a day (or LESS), to give him the cheapest piece of equipment you can find (I have seen men cutting grass on the roadside with machetes – I kid you not), expecting it to take him three or four days to mow what one Kubota triple-swath tractor could cut in two hours.

This attitude of it takes as long as it takes, using the cheapest equipment we can find, permeates this society. It is one reason I ride to and from work in a 20 year-old reconditioned BlueBird school bus, shipped down from America once it was retired from school service there, smartened up with a wild coat of paint (Jesus and a busty, suggestively posed bikini-clad girl jostling for the prime space on the back), tricked out with flashing neon lights and outfitted with a blasting turbo-charged horn, since that is what Panamanians drive with, anyway.

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Well. It does make life interesting, in a drop-your-jaw and stare sort of way…………

 

 

 

 

 

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??