Saturday, July 19, 2014

Is the juice worth the squeeze?

I feel that I've been careless enough on here that my financial situation, if it's not known, can at least be guessed at.

I've made some questionable choices over the years, but each year there seems to be some reason or another to not deconstruct my life to try to improve it (i.e. go back to school, change careers, etc).

With employers feeling justified to keep their employees at permanent part-time status, it means that most people without a full-time job probably have to work multiple jobs.

However, there are some loopholes that employers are exploiting.

For instance, temporary positions are fine if they're full-time.

Also, employers are able to "smooth" hours across the entire year for some reason.

This means that at YSU for instance, I work an estimated 36 hours per week during the semester (since they cut us to 3/4 full-time due to the minority number of part-timers that work in the summer).

This last spring I was prompted to take three jobs that were ostensibly part-time, but all three ended up being full-time positions.

YSU of course, always present and clocking in at the aforementioned 36 hours per week average.

Then I took a position as a long-term substitute at St. Christine Elementary School and Cardinal Mooney High School.

I hope no one reading this has any delusions about how much teachers work.  The 35 hours per week in those schools were at least doubled out of school.

And then I managed to secure a position that if my financial means were not what they were, I'd be happy to do for free, but which immediately went from a hypothetical 20-30 hours a week in the interview/vetting portion to stretching every ounce out of 40 hours per week every week.

Amazingly enough, this position not only was a dream position in terms of the content, but it also became the first job to pay me an amount that made me feel good about myself.

But, well, I was then working 100 to 140 hours every. single. week. Some weeks I got less than 20 hours of sleep.

Thankfully, there were natural breaks.  The 8th and 9th graders started the year first, then YSU picked up, and then I got the third position sometime in February.  Not to mention the not-so-occasional snow day this year.

All told, I only maintained an 100+ hour per week schedule for about a month and a half, and an 80+ hour per week schedule from the second week of January until the second week of May.

And yet, the 100+ hour time practically killed me.

I drank coffee by the pot, started using instant coffee as flavoring to regular coffee, smoked strictly for the nicotine when I needed, took caffeine pills, and the constant sleep deprivation and being out of the house from 7 in the morning until 9 at night meant that not only was my body craving extra calories for energy, but I was eating constant junk and fast food. 

I gained 50 pounds and there were more than a few times during the 100+ hour sprint where I began collapsing and literally feared for my life.

I no longer have the bright-eyed optimism for the teaching field that I once did. To be fair, I already didn't at the beginning of the year, but one year of witnessing teachers below college in their natural settings knowing what I know now...

I mean, I know that there are bad teachers out there, but when confronted with actual obstinance against learning BY teachers. I couldn't handle it. That's like a doctor hurting her patients. That's like an artist destroying art, an arsonist firefighter, a criminal cop.

And I wasn't doing any of my students at the college or junior high/high school levels any favors by not putting in the time needed. I justified, I always justify, by convincing myself that my "winging it" is probably better than most people that are prepared, but even if that's true that doesn't make it OK.

(But even if I only had one job, would I put in that time? I mentioned earlier that this new job is the first time I've ever felt like I was being paid an amount that didn't make me feel like shit.  Could I justify that much time for a position that by itself meant that I was going without food more often than I had it? I still don't know the answer to that now that I am a quote-unquote experienced teacher.  I know when I was a kid starting out that I absolutely wouldn't have put in that time because I didn't put in that time then and I definitely wasn't going hungry living on my parents' dime. . . but I was a lot more arrogant back then.)

The beginning of this year was a nightmare to me.  I am grateful for the employment and being able to pay bills, but was it worth it? Have I done irreparable harm to my body? Did I make a difference in either of the school districts I substituted in?

I know I didn't change the atmosphere or attitudes of the teachers at either institution, not that I tried as hard as I should have.  I kept my head down unless spoken to and fell hook, line and sinker for the few so-called teachers that pretended like they cared only to find out that they actively didn't care to the point that they felt it was their job to hurt the students.

I doubt any of the students at Cardinal Mooney felt that I was a good teacher or that they learned something from me. So what was my tenure there for? A giant waste of time for everyone? Did it help at all? Did I help? I don't know. It was just a stop-gap for kids without a teacher. I let the brick wall of the establishment beat me when I shouldn't have cared about a theoretical future position and done what I thought was right and damn the consequences.

I just didn't have the money necessary to be able to have convictions.

In "When the Last Sword is Drawn", it makes it pretty clear that providing for your family is more important than doing the quote-unquote honorable thing. I completely agree, although it had never been put in such startling clarity for me before.

My paycheck was more important than upsetting the establishment. Maybe the academic ennui had beaten my optimism down, but I truly doubted that I could change anyone's mind about how mathematics should be taught when they were so set in their ways. At the time I viewed it as a flaw in others, but. . . When I realized that certain individuals only pretended to care, or convinced themselves that they cared without real merit, it was like hitting a brick wall. I let it bother me more than I should and I probably gave up more than a little when that house of cards came down. Any chance I had of leaving an imprint with the teaching populations at that point obliterated to zero. I didn't have the energy to fight for what was right. I'm weak.

As for the other school . . . I am not going to be arrogant to the point of saying that I made a difference with anyone, but just being given the opportunity to be in the classroom with the students at St. Christine's was a breath of fresh air.

Here were students, maybe not excited for math class, but that actually thought of themselves as students. Willing to learn. And I tried to teach.

The times I felt like I wouldn't be able to last through the position, the times my fiancee begged me to quit or to stop caring and stop pushing myself so hard, if it wasn't for the students at St. Christine's I would have quit. I didn't want to abandon them. I didn't want to ruin math for them by making them switch to another teacher.

But still, it could have been so much better than it was. How arrogant to think that I would have an effect like that? Would anyone have even noticed if I did quit?

They were the best students I've had in the last 10 years of teaching. So when the question came up about filling in as a day-to-day substitute, I of course accepted gladly even though the pay was right around minimum wage (which is probably more than I was being paid as a long-term substitute with all the extra work there was to be honest). The school called me in once and then never again.  Was I that bad?

Regardless, I am grateful to those students. I could have come out of this experience a lot more soul-crushed and it's thanks to them that I'm not. Whether I actually helped or not may be debatable, but at least I left feeling like I helped. I wish I could have done more.

Once I was only working two full-time jobs I started to recover physically from the stresses I had put my body through. 80 hours felt like a vacation at first, but I was glad when I could finally work a single job, rewarding in both spirit and pocketbook.

And now that's coming to a close.

. . .

And I have one and a half jobs lined up for the fall, the first month or more of which I'll also be still at the current position.  And it probably won't be enough, and because of the way teaching is, I probably need to find something now.

Meaning that I'll have to go back to working 100+ hours per week, and that's only if I'm lucky.

I am so blessed for this position. So very lucky.

I don't want to go back to the nightmare of working 3+ jobs. I don't want to go back to not having time for anything but work.

And this time around, there's probably not much hope of getting another class like the ones I got this year. Even my YSU engineering class was one of the best classes I'd ever had the chance to teach and my other YSU class was small enough that it was completely manageable. 

So I guess I am going to start applying to some places.

One year of success. Not even. Eight months.

One year of feeling like I'm not an asshole for having the job I have.

Eight months of feeling like I could finally have a real career.

It was nice while it lasted.