Archive for February, 2010

I’m about to be dwindled…

February 24, 2010

Consider this: If you work hard and do your best you will succeed. WRONG!

I’ve never worked harder in all my life and I’m doing it for half the earnings of my previous job. Whatever happened to success?

I’ve had many jobs in my life, all of them accidental, until now. I have always been rewarded for working hard with better pay and promotions, until now. Now, I’m a teacher. Now I’m at the whim of budget shortfalls, voter attention and contractual obligations. The prognosticators are telling me my outlook isn’t very good. Dwindling revenues, dwindling enrollment and dwindling commitment are all contriving to add my name to the dwindling rolls of the employed.


When I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, I took whatever job fell my way. I’ve had some great ones. I’ve had some crap ones. I’ve done well by almost every employer (Yeah – There was that time when I got a little too cocky with a district manager who didn’t know me well enough to know I was jus’ kiddin’- I was young). I have always earned my paycheck. I landed in the “private sector” after I fell out of college and stuck with every job but that first one with the humorless D.M. for at least seven years. I’m a good employee. I’m loyal.

But what I really wanted to do (besides travel the world with an unlimited budget) was teach. Sometimes it was Math, sometimes Science and sometimes even English. My folks said, “NO, DON”T DO IT!” And they were that emphatic – Dad was a college professor, but also the head of the our local school committee, my mom taught in a different school system and they both became a Greek chorus of “NO” when the subject of my going into education came up. “IT”S CHANGED! DON”T DO IT!” they’d chant. I followed their advice this one time (plus that falling out of college thing made limited my options) and made my way through the businesses of rock ‘n roll, audio, musical instruments, appliances, and A/V. I sold. I bought. I managed. I trained. I decided to finally do what I wanted to do after my last employer moved almost all its operations to Asia and offered me an excellent severance.

Maybe this was the moment that I had been waiting for, like the hero in the movies who experiences terrible trials before he can pursue his dreams. There were no plane crashes or burning buildings to escape, but I did hack through the jungles of the Office of Workforce Improvement (the Unemployment Employment office to those not from Massachusetts).

I went back to school and finished college with a degree in History (!) and a teaching certificate ready to take on educating the children of America. I was confident my magna cum laude ass would be snatched up into the world of academia right away. A year and a half of substituting later I lucked into a position. At the end of that first year of full time work I was let go because of a funding impasse. In August, the word was out that the stimulus money filtered down far enough to cover my old position, so just as I finished doing battle again with folks at Workforce Improvement, I became employed.

Perfect! Just like it was supposed to work. The hero had the job of his dreams fulfilled in the knowledge that he would create a safe haven for kids to learn that the world was a challenging place and everywhere people struggled. The goal was to persevere because you would attain your goal. I would be their the example.

Now confident in my new full time position, I gave it my all. I had my dream job! I volunteered for everything. I stayed late. I baked. I chaperoned. I took more classes; diversity training, geography workshops, developing on-line curriculum. I wanted to give my kids the best 7th grade Geography class they would ever have.

Now, as Year Two is over the hump, the word comes down that the chances of  Year Three are slim and none. The stimulus money is gone and probably so am I. State funding is down and the towns are strapped, so I’ll have to start my search for gainful employment all over again and I will finish this year giving this group a great class. I have just entered their third term grades and I’m still trying to figure out how to get some kids over the hump, so they can finish strong and feel some success, some confidence in themselves that they can learn and that others struggle just as they do. At the end of the year my students will know that there are people in the world who live differently than they do, but still have fun, get sad and all the rest just like they do. Come the end of June I’ll cry (I’m sad now just thinking about it) because I will miss them, but that is every June to a teacher. I’ll have the extra sadness of beginning to miss the great people I have worked with.

When I find my next position (and I will, because I must be the example!) I vow to still work hard giving my new kids the best class they will have because about the only thing that hasn’t dwindled is my enthusiasm for teaching. So consider this: If you work hard and do your best you will succeed. (at least in the eyes of your students).


Right vs. Right

February 14, 2010

I just kept wondering why it felt wrong. Everything sounded so reasonable coming out of the radio. Yeah, gotta agree there. Yup, that’s the way it should work. Then it hit me.

The other day a radio commentator was going on and on about the good ol’ days when America meant self-reliance, a land of opportunity, a place where if you worked hard you would succeed. Nothing wrong there, I’m all for people earning their place in the world. The radio guy kept explaining that America was in decline because creeping socialism and Obama-care picked his pocket, taking what he earned to give to those too fat and lazy to get a job. Government was destroying America’s greatest asset, our ambition. Why shouldn’t he keep what he earns? God bless the child that’s got his own. Seems reasonable.

But here’s the problem: What happens to those who don’t make it? How about the children of the fat and lazy? Worse, how about the spawn of the crazy people? We can all agree that the world is full of crazies, right? Sex crazed crazies out procreating their way into everyone else’s wallets because they know the socialist nanny state will take care of them. The more kids they have the more money they get. Damn logical for crazies to be working a plan like that. Back in the day when everyone minded their own business, the few that would dabble in this dangerous behavior would get their comeuppance right away by either starving, getting a job or maybe some do-gooder at the church might take in the kids. What more could you do? You are working hard just trying to take care of your family and mind your own business. Scraping by makes it hard to be compassionate about others and, really, don’t you hurt them more in the long run by not teaching them a lesson? This is the theory of the Wild West. This is what made America great!

Here’s what hit me: The Wild West “good ol’ days” sound a lot like life in a third world country where subsistence is the norm and gun toting violence is every day stuff. It’s what Thomas Malthus talked about – when the harvest was good well-nourished folks would have lots of babies and just kept at it until the harvest was bad when the ensuing famine would wipe them out. This has been mankind’s history for thousands of years with few exceptions. People so poor and desperate that they will do anything to survive. They will accept any work at any pay so long as it is just enough to keep from dying.

This was the good ol’ days because desperation kept wages low. That way those who paid wages kept more of their worth for themselves. Why pay $10 when you can get it for $2? It is wrong to overpay. Think about it, really; it is good to learn the value of a dollar. Those on the bottom don’t have the luxury of time to think about whether it is good or bad, besides starvation clouds the mind.

Now before you say that this isn’t being civilized, isn’t being civilized taking care of your neighbors? Civilization has a cost. We are a well-to-do nation (I was going to say rich, but we are in a recession) that is no longer part of the third world. Shouldn’t we be civilized? That means giving the less well off a hand up. I mean job training. I mean a quality education. I mean social services. This means taxes, fairly collected and prudently distributed. I mean we should be civilized.

And that is what felt wrong. The libertarian logic is undeniable, but taken to its end it means a return to a feral America, wild and unfettered by empathy. Can’t feed your kids? Great! It will cull the herd. Never taught to read or write? Well, it sucks to be you and I can say that because you’ll never read this so I won’t worry about insulting your sorry ass.