649: College Pathways

You didn’t kiss me when I left.

I traveled two and a half hours over two-lane roads to arrive at this University, where I will spend six days a week this summer working on a research project, attending class, conducting research, and returning to my youth as a responsibility-free college student.

Except…. I’m not. I am not a college student, even though I feel very much the same as the teenager that I was then. The outside does not match the inside, and hasn’t done so for at least the last thirty-five years. Inside, though, inside – that’s pretty much the same person that walked the shaded footpaths at the University of Georgia, Athens in the late 1970’s. But this is Georgia Southern University, Statesboro in 2018, and the silver sparkles in my hair aren’t glitter, and I didn’t add them on purpose just for the wow factor, either.

The sidewalks don’t seem to be as shady as I remember they were, and the South Georgia sun is hot on my neck and shoulders, making me grateful for the travel size sunscreen I slathered on the back of my neck and the cheap sunglasses I’m wearing. Heck, everything I’m wearing is cheap. I visited Goodwill today for a pair of closed toe shoes and another pair of jeans, instead of the old lady teacher clothes I brought with me fully intending to wear while I am here. I probably will wear them, even though they make me stick out from the fresh-faced millennials like the sore thumb that I am.

The trees and shrubs that have been planted along these university walkways have been strictly pruned – this far you may grow and blossom, and no further. The flowerbeds contain lush profusion, all the way up to the edge, where a military haircut neatly ends the clipped foliage like an invisible force field. The expanses of mulched bed beneath the evenly spaced young trees are flawless. No weed seed would dare sprout to mar the unblemished field of uniformly aged, dusty grey-brown chips.

There is remarkably little human detritus to be seen, either, in the twelve minutes it takes me to purposefully walk from the student residence apartment I have been allotted to the imposing brick stateliness of the College of Engineering building. The paver blocks (two shapes, three colors) that make up the walkway I’m on were meticulously laid in a deliberately decorative pattern that required a concrete saw’s precise cuts to match up the paver blocks’ disparate shapes and colors at the edges to produce this ornate and ordinary walkway that borders this ordinary and unimportant side road.

I imagine the thoughts of the stonemason laboring in Georgia’s heat and humidity as he cut, set, and fit these walkway pavers so precisely that so few people will see and use. Perhaps he was missing his wife, like I am missing my husband. And then, why am I so sure that the person was a he? I chide myself on my thoughtless sexism. Probably was a he, though.

It occurs to me, after two days of College of Engineering workshop sessions and research laboratory tours, that these men (and most of them are men) are a lot like professional athletes. They come to work every day and pursue their own very narrow interests, playing at deriving better numbers in the same way a professional athlete seeks to shave a place value off their previous best number. Their projects have impressive sounding names (my brother and I christened one of our backyard forts “The Impregnable Kingdom of Fuller,” even though the rain later proved it not to be). Some of those research projects are probably going to be useful (some day), and maybe even affordable (one day quite some time after that). At least, unlike the athlete or the stonemason who paved the pathway to their building, they mostly work on improving their numbers inside in the air conditioning.

I am here at this university this long hot summer to narrow my own far-flung interests down to an Engineering research project on renewable energy, to construct a prototype, and to derive some numbers of my own that I can take back to my impoverished school district to perhaps ignite some youngsters who can dream and maybe believe that the world does not end at the county line the way their lives have shown them, repeatedly, is true. Perhaps some of them might then set their sights on achieving better numbers in air-conditioned comfort, instead of trying to win the professional athlete lottery against their own genetics, or instead of simply opting to labor outdoors in the hot sun, which they all know is a possibility, however unwelcome.

First, though, they have to believe such a future exists, that it isn’t just another fairy tale like the stuff they see on the TV screen and in the movies which they all know is just make-believe, of course. Then they have to believe it is possible, seeing beyond the effort it will cost and the money they don’t have. Then, the biggest stretch of faith of all, they have to believe they maybe, just maybe, they could do it themselves, instead of watching someone else do it who had more than they had to go on. Faith isn’t easy, and changing your beliefs isn’t encouraged, where they come from.

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641: Counting the Days

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Teachers count down the days left in the school year at least as assiduously as the students do.

And no teacher, EVER, counts the days they are required to report to work, when there are no students present, as work days.

‘Cause they just don’t count as work days.

638: Award

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I am one of ten teachers in my state that has been selected to take a seven-week-long energy symposium with a respected university in my state that is a few hours’ drive away. I will be in the dorm Monday through Friday for my entire summer, reliving the years of my collegiate youth while participating in research into alternative energy cooperatively with the graduate students and professors at the university. I have agreed to create a unit of study for the high school engineering students at my school, implement it, be observed while doing so, collect data, and present at teacher conferences in the academic year to come.

The university also is paying a stipend of six thousand dollars for this learning experience, which I only learned about during the finalist interview. Heck, I was willing to eat the costs for the opportunity, but I do admit that getting the money is better. It will allow me to pay for some things we did remodeling this foreclosure home we bought that would’ve taken me the entire next year to finance month-by-month in the usual fashion. So, I have a stake in doing a good job at the symposium, both professionally and financially.

Plus, the students will be learning what I learn. Win-win for us both.

Wish me luck.

624: Standards and Expectations

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Organizations of people (schools, businesses, etc.) have expectations for their members. Many of those groups have codified those expectations into standards which are actually written down and distributed, to be sure that everyone who is a member (employee) of that group is on the same page, regardless of what is accepted behavior for them outside of their participation in that group, at home, or in other aspects of their lives.

This is completely aside from those professions whose expectations bleed over into private life, like teachers and politicians, to name just two. There, the expectations of professional life are also expected (by the public) to be scrupulously observed in one’s private life, too – despite the freedom enjoyed by others who are able to behave as they see fit outside of work hours. Still, that is a rant for another place and time.

This particular diatribe is for organizations which publish and distribute their expectations and professional standards for their members, in this particular case employees, and then deliberately flout them.

See, professional standards are written down so that there is a clear understanding of what is expected of an employee, regardless of upbringing, culture, or previous practice. Generally, these correspond to a visual and behavioral image the company wants to portray to their “customers.” This includes such common things as what is considered to be professional dress for that workplace, not being under the influence of intoxicating substances while on the job, and others.

Frankly, I don’t care what aspects of professional behavior a company feels important enough to commit to paper, but it they ARE important enough to commit to paper, they need to be followed and enforced. If they are not that important, don’t write them down as rules to follow and distribute that information to everyone. Common sense – which isn’t actually very common (another rant, another time and place).

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Well. The bee in my bonnet today is over the professional dress. It is explained in our employee handbook that employees are expected to dress in a manner which reflects good taste and a professional appearance. This is so that a teacher or other employee LOOKS like a professional to be respected – someone with authority – whether they actually HAVE any authority or not (that, too, is yet another rant for another time and place). So, wearing denim jeans are prohibited, because jeans don’t project that “professional” aura about their wearer to the “customer.” OK. Message received.

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Then, we are instructed: Wearing jeans is prohibited except for Fridays (if worn with a school spirit shirt) or other specified days. Wait a minute. Jeans are prohibited because they are not professional, but you can wear them every Friday if you pair them with a school/company logo-imprinted T-shirt. So, if that Friday clothing is considered professional enough for every week, what’s wrong with being comfortable Monday through Thursday in a pair of blue jeans and a school logo T-shirt, too? Or, is it that you are only allowed to be unprofessional in front of your customers (in this case, parents and students) on Fridays? Does that extend not only to dress, but all those other professional standards, too, where all those other things are prohibited (in writing) that might also make you more comfortable at work? How about a tension-relieving shot of Jack Daniel’s? Why wouldn’t that make the work place more tolerable and comfortable, too? Heck, how about a NAP? There’s actually some research to back that one up for improved employee performance on the job. Other comfortable (and questionable) things come to mind…….

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And, what about those other ‘specified’ days? At my work place, we were just given an ENTIRE WEEK to wear our jeans – and nothing was ‘specified’ about the school logo T-shirt this time. Does that rule still apply, or does that mean all bets are off on the chosen topper for those jeans?

I do understand about giving employees a treat (especially a treat that costs the management not a single penny), and has it crossed their minds that not everyone considers being allowed to wear jeans, contrary to the published dress code policy, to actually be a treat? Apparently not.

So, you are thinking, jeepers, lady – just don’t wear jeans, and shut up. OK. I suppose I can be pleased that we were given the opportunity to show up to work looking unprofessional, not the REQUIREMENT to do so.

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.

592: YOUR problem, not mine

I cannot help the way you choose to think of me. I am sure what you think, you believe is accurate, and it is – from your point of view. Problem is, that isn’t necessarily an accurate location from which to view these events.

Try putting yourself into my shoes for a minute – the person who cared for you much more than you cared in return, and who still cares more for you than you care in return.

I cannot help your views. But I do not have to hang around while you figure out how limited your views are. It’s probably going to take quite some time, and I am not holding my breath on you getting any smarter anytime soon.

Your loss – and by extension – also mine. That’s the sad part – what you deny us both by continuing to believe you are always right.

I already know neither of us is that, and won’t ever, ever be that. You, however, have a lot of learning yet to accomplish, and I am not holding school for you any longer.

You will have to finish growing up all by yourself. If you can.

 

579: The dumbing down of America

My brand spanking new hubs has obtained a job managing one of two employment agencies in our tiny south Georgia town. I have taught high school and middle school (some) for 26 years in Georgia (all over the state). What he is reporting is a confirmation of what I have been observing for decades.

Employment agencies offer their services free to job seekers. Companies contract with them to vet their potential employees, but the company ultimately gets the final say in any hiring, and the employment agency gets a finder’s fee for vetting candidates on behalf of the employing company.

As part of the candidate process, there is a drug screening, an employment application and interview, and a screening employability skills exam. Sort of a very low-level SAT. VERY low level. The questions include: how many inches are in three yards. How many is a half dozen. What is 50% of 150. Plus other similar mind-blowing, difficult, major league, scholarly questions. Most applicants (teens to adults) fail the screening exam.

I have taught high school in my state for 26 years. His results absolutely do not surprise me. And we are getting worse, not getting better- I do not care WHAT the government pundits are telling you about improving test scores.

Our schools took out career/life classes like shop and home economics. They replaced them with curriculum that presupposes all of our students are headed off to college. Yeah, right. The governor of Georgia just released his new “mission goals” for Georgia schools. It includes the statement that ALL Georgia students will earn college or career credit before they complete high school. “•Every child in Georgia will earn college and/or career credit before they graduate high school.” Yeah, right.

Our school’s students get multiple, multiple chances to complete work, including retaking major tests. Try that in real life – unlimited do-overs. Only GOD is that kind. And, as a teacher, I am forbidden by my school administration to assign a score of zero when a student turns in nothing for an  assignment. I have to assign them points of credit – for NOTHING. Last time I checked, breathing was not an academic activity.

What I am allowed to teach in the courses I am employed to teach is mandated by the state government. I cannot teach reading to a child who cannot read. LITERALLY, not my job. I am teaching pre-Engineering. ONLY. Even though I am also state certified in English, grades 6-12.

I try. Invoking the overarching academic goal of literacy skills, I  require my students to write reflection essays in MLA format over their Engineering assignments. I have high school students who cannot write ONE correct and complete sentence, much less a coherent essay. Some cannot even to this day capitalize their first and last NAMES on a paper. I wish I was lying. And this, from native speakers of English. Our Spanish native speaking kids are blowing the American-born kids out of the water. Let’s not even discuss the MATH. I have taught how to figure the square yardage needed to replace the carpet in a room EIGHT SEPARATE TIMES, and still have high school students in the class who cannot compute it correctly. Carpet sellers, you may freely rook customers in south Georgia, because they have no clue you are going to cheat them. Have at it.

And the beauty of this? The government, and most parents, will tell you it is the teacher’s fault, all of it.

Yeah, right.

4 more years.

4 more years.

My mantra.