Just another blog about another dysfunctional relationship.

I have never been in a physically abusive relationship, but I have been in some seriously fucked up interpersonal collaborations with other people. They all eventually came to an end, so I guess I did something right eventually – or if I didn’t do something right, I still got the necessary results (in spite of myself, as I like to say.) The kind of shit I generally get into falls into a sort of weird passive kind of destruction. I suspect there are a fair number of people who would say I bring it on myself, or I create the circumstances that lead to the drama, either by my consistently poor choices in men, or my tolerance of truly shitty treatment. I like to say I am an optimist. Most of my friends would say I am in denial. Either way, the point is I have a pretty solid repertoire of experiences in which I stuck around and took a lot of costly, painful, and ultimately unnecessary shit.

Lately, I have been feeling some familiar feelings along these lines. But this makes no sense because I am in a really good place right now… my life is feeling really balanced, I am doing all the things I want to be doing, I have amazing people in my life, and great adventures awaiting me. And I am totally and completely single, so, what is this niggling feeling about? Why do I constantly feel judged, criticized, pressured, put down, and taken advantage of?

Last week as I got on the train to go to work I was thinking about this precise conundrum: Why did I feel like I was in a bad relationship?

[One week ago, on the Richmond Line]

I was grading papers – as I often do because, no time. A woman sitting next to me asked, “Are you a teacher?” I looked towards her and said, “Yes.”

“It must be a tremendous amount of work,” she continued.
“Yes.”
“It is so wonderful what you do. So important.”

At this point I looked at her. Smartly dressed. Some sort of security badge attached to a lanyard (only mildly complicating her attire), and, most notably to me, she seemed to not be schlepping a metric shit ton of work back to the “office” with her. I considered this as I looked at my huge bag, which I have made a conscious New Year’s resolution to carry on my right shoulder from now on because at least I should have symmetrical lateral deltoid, trapezius, and middle back pain.

“I have the utmost respect for teachers. Honestly, so much respect,” she said as she made a move to get up and exit the train.

“Thanks,” I said.

I looked back at the papers in front of me. They were shit, frankly. After weeks of covering the topic of world exploration and completing an insanely complex simulation, my sophomores had been unable to take the time necessary to form complete sentences that could express their ideas and knowledge about what they had learned. And it had been so much work. It was still to be so much work.

The man sitting across from me said, “So you’re a teacher? Me too.”

I looked up at him. He looked nice, like we all try to, but he was tired. And not just like, ‘I could have used a couple more hours of sleep,’ tired, but wholly fatigued. Although his freshly pressed shirt and kind face belied it, I could see it behind his eyes as he looked at my heap of shit, and then his own.

“What do you teach?” He asked.
“Social studies,” I answered.
“English.” He replied.
“Ah.” I nodded.

He told me where he taught and asked me about my school. We traded some comparative details, and then he said, “It is really hard, isn’t it?”

“What, the work?” I asked.
“No, all of it.” He said.
“Yeah, I guess. Yes.” I said.
“You know there is a war on teachers,” he said. “We are at war. And we’re out there, on the front lines. But, no support.”

I looked at him.

“Think about it,” he said. “We’ve got to protect and grow the most important resource, the kids. And everyone agrees, they are so important. But they don’t give us any support. They lay down their strategies from far away – imagine someone doing that in a real war, not listening to the field general. Anyway, and there we are, taking all the hits. No flak jackets for us.”

“She liked us.” I joked about the woman who had exited the train.
“They all like us,” he said. “That doesn’t pay my rent.”

I got up to get off the train and said, “Yeah. It is a war.”

Another man standing next to me, who had been listening, said, “Well, you can always quit.”

I looked at him and got off the train.

I walked towards school and thought about the morning commute. I couldn’t decide what would be a better theme song, this one, or this one because these are the things I like to fill my head with when life seems too real. Of course, neither of those songs work because what teacher on the planet works from nine to five?

Are we at war I wondered? Is it bigger than my own dysfunctional relationship with work? I work in the most highly respected and singularly devalued (literally) profession in the world. And more and more it starts to feel like the proverbial oldest profession in the world. (Except then we would be getting paid better.)

But I worry that this will sound shrewish, or that people might misunderstand and think I hate my job and say things like the guy on the train: ‘If it is so bad why don’t you just quit?’ (Obviously those folks are unaware of the complexity of abusive relationships, but whatever.)

The thing is, I do not hate my job. In fact, most of the time, most days, there are things I absolutely, without qualification LOVE about my job. I am not sure I could find a day where there is not something, even if it is infinitesimally small, that made me think, ‘Yeah, okay, this is good.’

I also am pretty good at my job. Now here one runs the risk of sounding like a jackass, but I am a good teacher – not that you would know it from the evaluations I have received at my most recent school – but I choose to look at more holistic and empirical data from nearly 20 years and 2,000 students and their people. And I am a good enough teacher to know when I have done an excellent job, and when I have sucked. And both have happened, and both eventually make me better at what I do.

Am I in an abusive relationship with my job? The more I thought about that question the less sure I felt. I thought about the other teacher on the train. It is not *my* job… it’s education. I am in an abusive relationship with my profession.

That just might make it a war.

According to someone on the web who thinks they are an expert here are some signs you might be in an abusive relationship:

  • A sense that you have to fit into someone else’s perception of what is right or wrong in order to be loved. √ Well, this certainly speaks to the enforcement of current education policy and of course the teacher evaluation process….
  • You feel confined. √ Let’s face it, people who go into teaching are probably relatively okay with structure, but the limits placed on teachers recently regarding movement, salaries, or even day-to-day things like extra duty certainly feel confining.
  • There is always something to fix in the relationship. √ Never good enough. And everyone let’s you know this. Daily. Just read the newspaper or turn on the news.
  • Your needs are not met in one way or another. √ I know it sounds redundant, but how are we supposed to get by on these salaries? Or even if we get by, how can you feel good about the hours and hours you put in such a “respected” profession when you make pennies on the dollar to all the private sector professionals around you?
  • You’re never going to be good enough. √ Never. “Those who can’t do, teach.” “Teachers are lazy.” “Teachers are brainwashing our kids with their liberal agenda.” (I am always curious how it can be both.) We give too much work. We don’t give enough work. We do not grade fast enough, or give enough feedback, or are too critical. *Sigh*
  • You feel trapped. √ This is an issue, but not because of fear, because if you change districts or states, you lose all your retirement and years – yes, in my profession you actually can lose years of experience. That is the weirdest thing I have ever contemplated, in a professional context anyhow.
  • You find other ways to satisfy yourself to keep your mind off how unhappy you are in the situation. √ Most teachers I know struggle to find the time to do anything for themselves. Until they hit the wall then it becomes necessary to ensure this reality. I am not sure this is bad… unless it is just to avoid reality. It certainly has been.
  • When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad it’s horrible. √ Truer words have not been written about my profession.

According to Psychology Today these are the signs you are in a dysfunctional relationship:

  • Assignment of Blame √ The problems in education are systemic – even a cursory look would tell you this. Regardless of this, all the players in the game look to point the finger. Usually at the teachers.
  • Threats of exile or abandonment √ It is the pink slip way of life.
  • Dominance/Submission √ The system’s way or the highway.
  • Grudges √ Yep.
  • Ownership √ Yep.
  • Disloyalty √ Yep.
  • Winner or Loser Arguments √ When people believe it is a zero sum game, this is what happens.
  • Snapshots versus moving pictures √ Did I already mention the teacher evaluation process?

Well, that certainly looks dysfunctional. I recalled the train conversation again. We are at war. And it is not me against my school, or my administration or my kids or their parents. We are at war against a society that has intentionally devalued education (insert conspiracy theory of choice here). We are at war against a system that disparages anyone who wants anything for free, but expects teachers to provide their services thusly.

This is not a dysfunctional relationship because it is not a pas-de-deux. It is a war because the participants on both sides of the equation are legion. It is a war. We are at war by choice or circumstance.

We are at war. Without a defense budget, without support, and we are fighting an overwhelming and ironic adversary: ourselves.

Advertisements

Oops, I did it again.

…we have a deeply held anti-intellectual strain in our culture. It’s OK for schools to teach the basics or, even, vocational skills that lead directly to jobs. But studying history, literature or philosophy has always been suspect. Why would anyone want to study such subjects, goes thisunconscious logic, if not just to feel superior. They are not practical, not good for anything other than providing a sense of entitlement and elevation above the mob—except when they actually do train students to take places in the finance industry or advanced technology or any other area that promises immense financial gain. 

If you Google schools are failing you will get “about 49,300,000 results [in] (0.21 seconds)”. So, with all apologies to Britney Jean, here I am writing about work again. Oops. I cannot stop thinking about it – even on my vacation. And I don’t need to be thinking about it right now because I worked 16+ hour days for the three weeks heading up to vacation to ensure that I would not have work to do over this vacation. But it doesn’t really matter because as long as there is school to return to in January, even if I don’t have papers to grade, I certainly have work to do. It never really goes away…. even in summer, and oh, I love  hearing people talk about teachers and their summer vacations as they wax poetic about how nice it must be to have so much time off. Yeah. It takes about three and a half weeks to lift your head up again after the mad dash to the end of the year, and then when you are able to focus on the fact that you are not responsible for day-to-day presence at school it is time to revisit the entire last year and start making lists: what worked, what did not work, what you need to do better, what adjustments to be made, what materials will be required, what new books and articles you should read, what re-certification work needs to be done, what conferences to attend… Ahhh…. summer. And then school starts. And by the way, it starts in the summer. 

So, it is not that strange that as I sit and try to figure out the best way to help launch our brand new Interdisciplinary Project, one of the cornerstones of our Small School (within the large school) that combines the students English, Anatomy, and History classes for three weeks as they complete a major research project represented by a gallery worthy art installation, that I feel frustrated by the reality that no matter how hard I work, or how amazing the project that the group of people I am working with comes up with – we are still labeled as failing.

Failures.

That is so inspiring.

Right?

If schools are failing, there are a few painfully obvious questions that come to mind. 1) What does success look like in terms of our schools? 2) What does it actually mean when we hear and say that schools are failing? 3) Why are schools failing?

Continue reading

Teachers.

“They” say that everyone we meet in life is a teacher. This may have some degree of validity beyond the new age-y feel, but as a teacher, I sometimes, (like right now)prefer to actually acknowledge that there are real, actual specific Teachers in our lives that deserve to be recognized as such. To this end, I am thinking on my teachers today, and one in particular who many will have the chance to bid a formal farewell to this afternoon, though I will not be able to do this. I have experienced a range of emotions surrounding the reality that I cannot be there to participate somehow in this memorial, and I have come to the (necessary?) conclusion that it might not be that important because maybe I do not need to be physically there to acknowledge the tremendous impact that Gary Hausladen had on my life. Maybe I can just take a moment to be in my own little space with this knowing that privacy in no way diminishes the magnitude with which I would like to scream from the tops of the Sierra that I took the road to the UNR Department of Geography as a result of all of Gary’s subtle (and not really so subtle) encouragement, and that truly has made all the difference. He changed the game for me.

I met Gary through another one of my mentors who left us too soon, Kendyl Depaoli. Thinking back on the completely serendipitous occurrences that led to our meeting makes me smile. In short, it goes a little like this: I moved to Tahoe to be with a boy and had no job and one year of teaching experience under my belt. I had no real idea about applying for jobs and appropriate timelines and such and I saw an opening for a social studies teacher at Procter Hug High School in Reno. I got dressed and drove to the school. I had no appointment, and no real plan. I met Kendyl who was one of the VPs there. And I got a job. Over the next year, Kendyl guided me through the politics of the WCSD and gently shepherded me towards her goal – a geography curriculum in the WCSD. She sent me to a summer institute where I encountered the potential of geographic education, and the illustrious Dr. Hausladen.

And so it began.

A result of simply being in a particular place at a particular time – a geographic coincidence – made a formal geographer out of me.

I have lots and lots of stories about Gary. I am sure everybody does. They all make me smile, and that is not hyperbole. I really cannot recall a time – even when I thought I was crying, or dying – that Gary did not make me smile. He encouraged my tenacity when I needed it. He encouraged my confidence when it was flagging. He encouraged my debauchery at times mostly appropriate. He encouraged my curiosity always, and most significantly as I have come to appreciate, he encouraged me to see connections among ideas, and to acknowledge my intellect in a world where that is not always popular. I loved that Gary thought he was brilliant – he was – and that he thought that of me as well. Maybe I am, too. Time will tell.

photo

This is one of my favorite pictures of Gary, along with his lovely wife Marilyn, and a spry young waiter named Neil. I took this photo on our summer institute trip to Alaska at one of our formal dinners. For whatever reason, Gary had taken such a shine to Neil – and had a way of pointing out Neil’s characteristics in a way that allowed for truly compassionate hysterics. Neil was, errr, quite the character. Completely over the top in every way, and how he ended up serving us aboard the Semester at Sea boat, I will never know. But I know that he had big dreams of a life off the boat, and I only know this because Gary got him talking. And talking and talking and talking. Eventually, and I have no way to say if this was a result of Gary’s encouragement, though I would hardly doubt it, Neil went AWOL from the ship. Literally tossed his bag over board at port and made a run for it. I still don’t know why this story makes me laugh so hard – but I reckon it has much to do with Gary’s suggested input and beautifully off-color commentary on the entire proceedings. I have no idea whatever became of Neil.

Another of my favorite Gary days was the day of my thesis defense. I was not excited about my defense and was positively put out that I had to actually put up flyers and promote this “public defense.” I was completely irked at the idea of strangers coming to see this production. No matter, Gary (and Paul as well, to give full credit all around) took particular joy in my discomfort surrounding this event. They may deny this, but I know it to be true. They were correct in their assertion that my thesis had a larger public appeal than most, but still. Really? Public? Whatever.

Anyhow, it was fine in the end, as I imagine they – the puppet masters, knew it would be. Following the defense, I went to lunch with Steve, someone I do hope will be in Reno this afternoon, and proceeded to start drinking margaritas. As the second pitcher came, my phone rang. It was Gary. I had to get to the Break Away right away. Yes, that is correct, the Break Away. But, we had just ordered drinks… what to do? In a moment of true Jedi brilliance, I asked the server if we could get the margaritas to go. To go? He said. How can I give you the margaritas to go? You could bring us big soup containers, I said. He looked at me and said, You are right, I could do that. And Steve and I drove to the Break Away with two liter containers of margaritas, complete with straws.

On arrival, Gary and Paul were at the bar with a man who claimed to have worked at Area 51 (my thesis topic) on several assignments. Get over here you have to meet this guy! He said. The guy did seem to know some stuff, but in hindsight, I think he might have been full of crap, he just seemed to be trying a bit too hard, challenging what I said, posturing a bit. No matter, Gary was so excited… Then, What is that? He asked about the giant styrofoam containers we were carrying. We got margaritas to go, I explained. You what? To go, I said. And suddenly Gary made me the star. As he so often did, just when I needed it.

There is so much that I could list in a random collection of my appreciations of Gary, but there is no need. I feel lucky that I get to have them at all. Today that is enough. It must be enough.

Gary was, as I said, a game changer for me, and those are few and far between in a single lifetime. He told me to write. He acknowledged my talents. He pushed me way, way out of my comfort zone. He offered all variety of support for what I did and what I do. He introduced me to “all the right people”. He showed me how everything – absolutely everything – is geographical, a challenge I offer my students every year, and they have yet to find something that is absent some element of geographic influence. He told me, repeatedly and with the appropriate amount of irony, that repetition is the heart of education. And he was right. He was a bright and shining personality, with all of the good bits and challenges that comes with such traits, and he lived. Boy, he knew how to live. I am grateful for the privilege of having been one of his students of geography, pedagogy, and life.

Tonight I’ll raise a glass to you, Dr. Hausladen. You rule.