Friday, February 24, 2012

Keeping Heart

It's that time of year again.  And that time seems to come earlier each year. It's the time of year when I am so frustrated, overwhelmed, and annoyed by petty small things (mostly other adults that I work with and all their concerns that seem, to me, to miss the big picture), that it's hard to care.

You see, I'm a teacher.

A public school teacher. In North Carolina: a "right to work" state. "Right to work" seems to be a euphemism for exploiting workers, at least from this side of the fence.

Since I have taught in other states--Alaska, Kansas and Kentucky, namely--I have a wider view than some.  I know what it is like in other places.

Some things about my career choice are rough all over.  It doesn't pay well, especially not when you consider the level of personal commitment, education and variety of skillset it entails to teach successfully. I'm only half-joking when I say that I can only afford to do this because they pay my husband very well for his work. I know we'd have a lot less nice things if we had to rely on only my income.

It's also a truly staggering load of work each and every day. Each day I am supposed to prepare five forty-five minute long lessons on a variety of topics that include technology, differentiating my presentation for a variety of learning styles, background knowledge levels, academic skills and interests for 130 people.

With only 90 non-supervisory minutes per workday, I am supposed to also make contact with the families of these children with the good or bad news, collaborate with all the other staff that supports them in their learning (gifted learning experts, exceptional children experts, other subject area teachers, school counselors, school nurse, family welfare experts, autism specialists, hearing impaired support staff, etc., etc., etc.), evaluate whatever work the children produced that day (for 130 people), and handle my own "secretarial" stuff (making copies, responding to emails, submitting paperwork, etc.).

Some things about my job are harder in North Carolina than they were in other states.  Unions, for all the negative impact they have on the field (protecting poor teachers and making it hard to fire them; hamstringing potentially awesome programs for fear of setting precedent), also have some tremendous positive impact on my work conditions and I have sorely felt their lack in my six years in North Carolina. My non-supervisory work time is not nearly as protected.  The structures for giving and receiving criticism of my performance are not nearly as balanced.  Things happen all the time that leave me in a stunned silence. Can they really do that? Yes, apparently they can.

So, why do I stay? And how do I fight the bitterness so that it's a good thing that I am staying?

The obvious answer is the kids. There are plenty of frustrations involved with children, but they are the good kind of frustrations.  When I am frustrated with a child, it is because my heart is involved and I want so badly for him or her to find success, to "get it", to learn to use their strengths and safeguard against their weaknesses.  These are frustrations that inspire me to great heights and bring out all my strengths.  These are frustrations I am successful in combating often enough to feel like I am good at my work.

It's not just the kids though. I really truly love learning. I love thinking about the ways ideas connect, and being surprised by new connections.   Maybe there are other fields where I can be paid to live the life of the mind all day, but I haven't found them.

I love the trappings of school as well. I like awards ceremonies and book fairs, school plays and events, showcases and projects.  I love trying out new technologies and seeing what young people can make out of them.

If I'm honest with myself, the very difficulty of the work is part of the appeal for me. Thanks to my Mom and Dad and the way they raised me,  I'm a workhorse. I delight in checking off large numbers of items from my to-do list.  It gives me a sense of accomplishment.  I like feeling like not just anyone could do what I do.  I like the feeling that my work is big and important.  I'm not sure I could feel that way in other fields. 

On a bad day, I think, "You hated school when you were in it. Why are you still here?" On those days, I am tired, overwhelmed and feeling put-upon and unappreciated. I mumble to myself and my children suggest that I should take a walk.

But on a good day, I think, "School is my home. It's where I belong."  Yep, I'm just that nerdy.  And I'm good with that.  Here's to more good days!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Our Latest Shakespeare Date

It was time for date. T & I hadn't been out alone in too long. It doesn't have to be all that long to be too long for us.  More than a week is too long. We have this horrible buildup of too many unfinished sentences and a lack of quiet moments. Children are lovely, but they can make it hard to have a conversation and conversation is at the heart of our attraction.

So, we talked about what to go do. Luckily, we live in a great area of the country full of wonderful things to do.  We thought about going to see a double feature big screen showing of Bela Lugosi's Dracula and Lon Chaney's Wolfman at the Carolina because I am a big old movie fan and T's appreciation is growing.  But babysitting was going to be a problem on Friday night.  

We thought about just walking around Franklin Street looking at stuff and talking, but T's got a foot problem right now, and it was supposed to rain. Walking was going to be a problem at the art museums, too, and no one had anything we were really drawn by right now and hadn't already seen. We didn't really want to just go eat.

Then, T had the thought that we hadn't seen a play together in a while (this is how lucky I am--I have a husband who has "theater" in the top five list of places to take me on a date night).  Fiasco Theater was doing a production of Cymbeline at Duke.  Shakespeare. Shakespeare that neither of us already knows by heart.  Perfect!

Shakespeare is special to T and I. 

First off, we are both tremendous word nerds. We drive our tween crazy when she wants help with her vocabulary homework because we can go on for fifteen minutes about the various ways a word might be used and where that word came from.  We email each other articles about new language items we see on the Inter-webs.  We quote from Much Ado About Nothing to flirt.

Second, we are both romantic saps. We're a collective sucker for happily ever after.  But at the same time, it has to be a believable happily ever after.  We're not an easy sell.

Then, there's the coincidences of Shakespeare for us.  Our first real date (the one where we both went in knowing this was going to be a date and not just friends getting together) was on Shakespeare's birthday.  Our first couch-movie together was 10 Things I Hate About You. Our first dress-up date was Twelfth Night at Playhouse in the Park.

Cymbeline, by the way, was amazing! It was a lot of fun to hear echos of other plays and other lines that I knew better. I figured it would be worth seeing, because I have enjoyed every Shakespeare production I have ever seen--even the bad ones. The writing is that good--it's hard to kill if you have any talent at all.

And Fiasco Theater is a group of six very talented and versatile actors, who each played multiple roles in the production. One man was the king, the doctor, and Cloten the oaf/villain.  Another was a servant, the long last Prince, a rich Italian host, and a pompous Italian general. One of the women was the evil stepmother queen, the runaway kidnapper of princes, and a couple of different men.

Costuming was simple. Additions of jackets, hats, or small props were made on stage as actors transitioned from one role to another. The actors made the transformations with body language and voice. Costuming was just a nod for the less observant audience member. Or maybe they just like to play dress up a little.

All six actors were also amazing singers and musicians and the production made wonderful use of this with a variety of music--madrigal, martial and bluegrass--all worked naturally into the show.

The untangle at the end, the reveal of who everyone really was and how they relate to each other, was brilliant.  I laughed aloud to the point that I snorted.

So, another wonderful date, brought to us by William Shakespeare, and Fiasco Theater. Thank you!