Some thoughts from an ex-teacher…

The last time I set foot in a classroom was December 2002 as I departed to begin what promised to be a far more remunerative career as a small cog in my uncle’s vast war machine. I’m sure I’ve repressed plenty of the memories of those two and a half years attempting to educate the youth of America. One thing I remember quite clearly, though, is that the place was a petri dish. I’ve never been sick as often as I was during those 30 months.

The idea that a month from now most schools can open for business as usual strikes me as absolutely farcical. Even if we accept the premise, which I don’t, that “kids don’t get it,” I’m trying to understand what the plan will be when teachers start falling out. Even under average conditions twenty years ago we couldn’t hire enough substitute teachers on a day to day basis. What they’re going to do when some significant percentage of the staff starts falling out for weeks or months at a time isn’t something I’ve seen anyone address.

I suppose if all we’re collectively interested in doing is attempting to keep up the illusion that education is happening, it might just be possible to open schools as usual. I suspect at the very best, some districts will be able to warehouse students for six or seven hours a day – at least for a little while, until the reality of jamming large numbers of people into a confined, poorly ventilated space set in. 

I won’t pretend that I have a good alternative. Distance learning, tele-education, whatever you want to call it, has obvious limitations and drawbacks – particularly in the early grade levels. I’m pretty sure I could have still done an AP US History lecture via Zoom, but I have no earthly idea what the average first grade teacher would be up against. All of that is before we even account for the subset of people who need schools open so they can go to jobs that don’t lend themselves to working remotely. I won’t pretend to understand that particular pressure, but I certainly acknowledge it’s there.

Admittedly, my interest here is largely an academic one… or maybe it’s the same kind of interest with which we look on the six-car pileup on the interstate. Watching a bunch of grown adults grapple with mass psychosis and intent on their goals in defiance of all medical and scientific realities, is really something to see. 

What I learned this week…

Judging from the ill-informed eruptions across social media, the consensus seems to be that impeachment by the House of Representatives is precisely equal to removal from office. That, of course, is not true and I can only assume that the cheering masses on Twitter and Facebook have now discovered that impeachment is the first step in a two step process outlined by the Constitution for removing an elected official from public office.

So, what did I learn this week? Basically that despite the best efforts I made many years ago and that a veritable army of civics teachers are currently making, the American public is woefully uninformed about how their system of government is supposed to operate. I refer them to the Constitution. I mean it’s the basic operator’s manual, so go ahead and start there and then we can assign some more detailed reading.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Summer. I can’t help but notice in the last week or so that we’ve entered the part of the year when I drive by the local high school twice a day and find its parking lot absolutely empty. I’m not even going to try getting into a discussion about teaching, whether it’s an over paid or under paid profession, or even whether it should be open for business year round. For good or ill, we’re still using the 10-on, 2-off schedule of the agrarian age… and as long as we are I will continue to be insanely jealous of our nation’s teachers whenever I drive past on a beautiful summer morning and find them not there. June, July, and August are truly the only three things I miss about teaching… and if I’m perfectly honest with everyone, I’m already looking forward just a little bit to that day in August when they’re stuck back in the grind with the rest of us.

2. “Working families”-based legislation. I’ve noticed this week that the administration is trotting out the whole “working parents” discussion again. Look, I get that having a job and balancing everything else in your life is at best a challenge and at worst an exercise in futility. For working parents, I can understand that taking care of your kids is your first priority. That’s good. That’s how it should be. On the other hand, since I’ve opted not to go that route, I think it needs said that I don’t consider my own top priority items any less important to me than yours are to you. Every time I hear a politician spout something about making life easier for working families, my middle finger gives a little twitch. How about we come up with a few programs that makes life easier for employees in general rather than just a subset of the group? Trust me, I don’t value paid time off or a more flexible schedule any less than you do just because my dependents have four legs and fur (or scales).

3. Lack of focus. Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous ruling that law enforcement could not unilaterally search your cell phone without a warrant or in the most extreme of emergency situations. Read that again. It was a unanimous opinion of the court. A win for personal privacy doesn’t get much more decisive than that. But we’re collectively paying more attention to grown men kicking a ball or whatever celebri-skank did something whoretastic this week. Whether you agree with my assessments of daily events or not, I’d consider it hugely helpful if we could all at least try to pay a little attention to something beyond what’s “reported” on TMZ or ESPN.

August and everything after…

I was a teacher once, so I understand the generalized feeling of dread that accompanies the end of the summer. The sense of loss in the closing days of August is almost physically painful. Which is why every time I see one of my teacher friends lament the end of summer on Facebook, I smile just a little bit on the inside. Sure, that’s not the empathetic, caring response, but if you came here looking for caring and empathy, boy did you show up at the wrong place on the internet.

I smile mostly because I think of the pain of August as the universe evening the score for those of us who spent the last two months at our desks, while our teaching friends were posting pictures from the beach. While they were in Florida or Myrtle Beach, we’ve been here banging away at our keyboards like so many galley rowers lashed to our oars. Sure, I could have stayed in teaching and enjoyed the single greatest employment benefit ever invented, but that wouldn’t have been good for me or for anyone else really, except maybe people who read blogs. I think if I would have had one back when I was teaching, the posts would have been epic… and would have possibly gotten me fired, since a way with words and an almost boundless forum for your grievances are terrible things to waste.

My point is, I hope all the teachers out there enjoyed their summer vacation, because in between federal holidays and annual leave, I’ve still got about a month’s worth of days off that I have to burn before the clock strikes 2013. I know I’m certainly going to enjoy my time when I get around to taking it. Just knowing that it’s banked and sitting there when I’m ready for it makes missing out on the summer vacation a little easier… because I’m looking forward to the end of August and everything after.