598: Failure

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Nobody likes to fail.

Nobody likes ADMITTING that they failed, much less the painful process of actually FAILING.

The constant mental re-plays…if only I had done THAT instead, it would have changed the outcome……why didn’t THAT occur to me at the time, so I could have done something differently……why did I not recognize that as a RED FLAG? Heck no, at the TIME, that red flag was a glowing, rosy PINK flag……..sheesh. Gotta get rid of these glasses.

And then comes the sneaking, stealthy, sly subconscious. The DREAMS about failing. Not necessarily the specific thing I failed at, oh, no! These are horrible, inventive fantasies; dark, macabre imaginings of all the OTHER ways I could possibly fail at something.

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Such as – dreaming of being a waitress (yes, I, too, did this in college) at a pizza-cum-sandwich shop – and getting ALL the orders wrong, having to apologize profusely to all the incensed customers, take all the blame, and give them their food for free – which I know is going to come out of my miniscule paycheck, of course. FABULOUS dream. Can’t WAIT to have it again. The groveling, you know, that’s what excites me the most.

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Then there’s the nightmare about the trip – I get to the airport, after having meticulously packed (and pre-weighed) my bag for this international flight, and discover my purse (with the passport, of course), is missing. Instant panic. WHERE did I leave it on my journey to the airport? On the train? In the taxi? OMG! The flight departs in an hour! Or, (alternate variation on this theme), the bag I carefully packed and weighed to comply with all the myriad regulations for flying (which I looked up online prior to getting started packing, just to be sure), ISN’T in compliance, after all. And now I must choose, standing at the inspection table surrounded by harried passengers, which items to discard so they will actually let me get on the flight using the ticket I have paid for. Should I ditch the shampoo? The tampons? The evening gown? The sandals? The sunscreen? AAUUGGHHHhhhhhh…………! Meanwhile, the clock is ticking down to the time they will close the boarding gate, and I will be…..LEFT BEHIND. With no refund of monies paid.

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Or the teacher dream: supervising a field trip and having something go wrong when I am responsible for twenty something (or more) students and chaperones. I am scrambling to fix whatever thing has gone awry, and doing a perfectly miserable job of it, because, of course, this is a FAILURE dream, and nothing I do in one of those dreams works out to my advantage. Ever. And usually, it involves a copious amount of my favorite thing – groveling to all and sundry as I meekly confess my culpability.

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Or my personal favorite – I am fleeing a menacing, pursuing presence through all the halls and rooms of an infinite decaying, crumbling mansion….for hours and hours, all the while knowing that the terrible pursuing menace is going to corner and catch and murder horrifically. Yup. Personal favorite. I usually wake up trying to scream from that one, panting like I’ve just run the Boston Marathon.

Bad enough to fail in real life, when I am conscious. Failing in my dreams is infinitely worse – the dream failures seem every bit as real as the real-life failures, and I can have more than one of them per night. Subconscious self-torture. Whoopity doo.

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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.

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.

479: Gimme, dammit

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I want some.

I want some care, concern, and affection from a significant other – and a significant other would be nice while you are at it. I want it NOW, today, right this very minute. (stomps foot and pouts)

I have spent years – YEARS, I tell you – being primarily concerned with the well-being of others: students, friends, coworkers, husbands, children, the dadgum PETS, and even the freaking houseplants. I am pathetic. And responsible. And mostly an adult, which is sucking the life right out of me (some days I’m whiney, too).

I wish I could get away with rolling about on the floor, drumming my heels and screaming, but at the advanced age of 5(mumble, mumble), I would look ridiculous, and would certainly throw out my back, as well. WHY is piching a hissey fit something allowable only to toddlers, who don’t have NEARLY the justification for pitching a fit as us mature adults do? Ye gods.

When is it MY TURN?

360: The Difference Between Poverty and Wealth

That title sounds ludicrous, right? Everybody knows the difference – one has money and one doesn’t. One has plenty and one not enough. Simple, right? Not really. You see, the difference here is in the offspring of the poor and the wealthy.

I am a teacher, for more than twenty years, most of which was spent in public USA schools, in urban, suburban and rural areas of Georgia. That means, for those of you who are not familiar with that environment, that I am intimately acquainted with the offspring of poverty. A significant percentage of our school populations were receiving free and reduced lunches.  These were students in my classes, and the students of poverty had some fairly common issues.

First, most of them had maturity issues. Oh, yeah, they were grown, and would TELL you they were grown, but mature? Please. They were clueless about delayed gratification, logical critical thinking and problem-solving. They were often street-smart, but woefully book-stupid. There is a clear distinction between ignorance and stupidity. We are all born ignorant, and that state is fixed with education. Stupidity is a choice, and many of my students were so choosing.

There is an analogy I often thought of when I saw them in groups. Fishermen who fish for crabs take along a washtub to throw the crabs they catch into. The sides of these tubs are not tall, and the crabs can, with a little effort, climb out. But the crab fishermen never need to take lids for the washtubs to keep their catch, because the crabs themselves perform this function. When one of the crabs reaches up for the edge of the tub to freedom, the other crabs reach up and pull the escaping one back down into slavery and certain death. I saw my students do this to their classmates as they glorified thug style, denigrating education and “looking and acting white,” as if being educated was automatically not something a person of color or poverty could ever have – or would ever even want, and applying strong peer pressure against any student who actually dared to apply themselves in class.

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Many of them were raising themselves, because their parents were either working two jobs and gone all the time, trying to make ends meet, or their parents were drunk or stoned and out of it that way. That’s if their parents were still (or ever) married. Either way, their parents were essentially no-shows. They never heard no, because there was no one around to say it. It did not help to make for dedicated students.

I remember the gifted middle-school child in my class when we were researching careers. She asked me why we were studying this stupid stuff, because when she grew up, she was gonna go on Welfare like her mama. I thought, honey, at that point, there is nothing I can do for you, when that is the height of your ambitions – even if you were born with intelligence, it won’t take long to snuff that out of you.

Here lately, however, rather than working with the children of generational poverty, I have moved overseas from the USA and am teaching at private, international schools. These children are from some of the wealthiest families in the country. They have their own chauffeurs. What I discovered, contrary to what I thought I would find, is that these children of the ultra-wealthy…..have exactly the same issues as children of extreme poverty.

I was shocked when I realized this….because I expected that they would have different issues, and would have many varied experiences that children of poverty could never have experienced, and to some extent, that was true. These kids knew how to travel and shop. That’s about it.

What I learned is that children of wealth..essentially raise themselves. Mom and dad (assuming they are still married, too), are off on business trips or pleasure vacations all over the world. The maid, or nanny, or chauffeur could not care less about raising a quality human being, and deferred to their little masters in every way in order to keep their jobs. They never heard no, because there was no one around to say it. Even if mom or dad were at home, there was a maid to cook, clean the room and messes, so they never actually did anything useful like chores, or laundry. And much of the time, mom and dad were just gone. Boarding school didn’t help, either. My poor little rich kids were almost identical in stupidity and immaturity as their poverty counterparts.

Now, it is one thing for a person who has nothing, to choose to be stupid and lazy – they have nothing to lose. It is another thing for the offspring of one of the richest families in the country to make those choices (and they did), because they had LOTS to lose. I used to try to tell them they needed to work harder than the others less fortunate, because they needed to know more than their employees (accountants, managers and brokers) so they would know if they were being cheated. I never seemed to make an impression.

So what’s the difference between wealth and poverty? Not much, it seems…..

351: )*(^&&^%@^%)&$@@ PEOPLE!!!

I once took a group of High School students to Washington, D.C. for a student vocational group national competitive conference (the Technology Student Association). One of the off-conference things we did was to visit the Holocaust Museum there. We had previously seen the Mall, and the Smithsonian, so I was fed up with all the other people (doing what we were doing) who were in my way.

As we passed through the Museum commemorating the unthinkable numbers of people who were slaughtered, represented by heart-breakingly pathetic, sad little piles of personal items: discarded, confiscated eyeglasses, or toothbrushes, and shoes; some new, some very worn, some large and some appallingly tiny……the idea was implanted very irrevocably that these humans were killed just because they were in somebody’s way -a somebody who had, at that time, the power to remove them, and no conscience to prevent him from doing it.

It has been many years since that eye-opening, mind- and attitude-altering tour. Powerful impressions do fade over time, and I was just recently contemplating how that “people are in my WAY, dammit” viewpoint creeps back. I see it every day while I and everybody else is driving….Panamanians, Moroccans, Romans, Dominican Rebublicanos, and Americans (heck, let’s just indict EVERYbody) clearly demonstrate that road rage mindset on the road: others, regardless that they are engaged in their own personal life business, which may or may not be as pressing or as important as MY personal life business, are obstacles in my path towards accomplishing my goal. It’s Hitler on the road….isn’t it?

And what about those people (who are employed by the government, usually) who are doing their jobs, obeying the incompetent idiots who are their supervisors, who are causing me inordinate amounts of stress, aggravation, and general-pissed-off-ness when I am trying to get something done because they are doing their tiny little mind job like they were told to do it? OBSTACLES IN MY WAY. meh.

I’m not saying I like this personal revelation about myself and my attitude towards others, mind you, but like AA, recognizing the problem is the first step in solving it – assuming I want to actually work on solving it – which is another issue altogether.

336: Following Directions

As a teacher, I give my students directions to follow to complete assignments in class. The directions generally specify such things as hand-written or word-processed, what size font is acceptable, what formatting protocol is to be followed,  the expected length of the paper, and other such things. Along with this page or two of directions, there is a rubric that will be used to score the final product, so students can see what will be evaluated, and how the assignment will be scored.

I do this because there will be directions that they have to follow in order to complete many tasks as adults – this is real-life training. to get a license to drive, there are procedures to follow, documents to bring, and steps to complete. If you do not read the directions, you will make many wasted trips, and perhaps will never attain your goal, the license to drive you were working on getting in the first place.  When you visit the doctor, often you will be prescribed medication – and told when to take it and how much of it to take for however many days. If you do not follow the doctor’s directions, you may not get well, and may even have to go to the hospital.  Sometimes the directions are very important! If you do not mix the infant formula according to the package directions, and sterilize the bottles like you are instructed to do, you can make your baby very sick, and perhaps even kill your beloved child, all because you did not read and follow the instructions.  Sometimes directions matter VERY much.

Now, as to following directions for class assignments. Just because you did your papers one way last year, with another teacher, does not mean that this year, with a different teacher, things will automatically be exactly the same. It usually means that things will NOT be the same! Not reading your assignment directions is a very foolish thing to do.

I advised a co-curricular youth vocational organization for over ten years as a public high school teacher. This organization sponsored state and national competitions each year, and my chapters, in the schools where I taught, prepared carefully each year to participate in those competitions. I would run copies of each event’s rules and instructions and give that copy to the student or group of students who were competing in that event. I warned each group to use those rules as a checklist, and to literally mark off each rule and instruction as they prepared their competitive event display or project, to be absolutely sure that we did not forget or overlook any tiny detail that was specified in the rules.  As a result, my competition teams and students consistently scored very well in the competitions, and brought home many trophies. We actually won some events because other teams got disqualified for not following the rules of the contest, and our teams won because our students DID read the directions.

This was excellent training for my students – and we got used to winning trophies because we were very careful about following the rules. We were NEVER disqualified, because we read the directions!

Now, if I can impress upon my current students that this is the way to do things – we might get a better quality student, and better assignments! Perhaps I need to sponsor competitive events like we used to do for these students, too. This is an idea that might work!