Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer's going...going...goiiiiiinnnnng

Summer's coming to a close for teachers across America...and as much as we love what we do, it's always a huge relief to finally arrive at June, July, and August.  Some folks have the idea that teachers don't work over the summer;  but actually that's the time of year when we get some of our most productive work completed.

When I first started teaching (1976!) I took home piles of work each night--papers to grade, lessons to plan, professional articles to read, paperwork for special needs children--and spent a couple of hours every evening finishing what didn't get done during the day.  Summers were for workshops, casual time with colleagues, and a lot of serious soul searching.  You'd think after 20 years I'd get better at that, but I still carry home files, articles, lesson plans, and paperwork--most of it can be condensed on my laptop but it's still all there.  And I don't know a single teacher who leaves her laptop at school over the summer...all that information comes home with us, and we stab at it, dig in it, work at it, worry over it, and plan with it.  The good part is we can do that in our pajamas, we can plan at 2AM or 2PM, we can do it with a margarita in hand, we can use our grandchildren for guinea pigs as we practice some of our lessons, and we can just relax because we're not being "tested." We're not punching anyone's clock but our own.  But to say we have the summer "off" is just not accurate.

Teaching is an art, not a science.  It is a profession of inquiry.  We must question ourselves first and foremost, so we can make sure what we are teaching is relevant for our students.  We are our own worst enemies in that regard.  We question everything we do.  There's a great book out there called The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer, and it's all about the painful and necessary conflicts that teachers face every day.  It's all about the self-doubt and self-discovery that's part and parcel of the teaching profession. For almost every teacher I know, teaching is a mission, not a vocation.  It's what we're called to do.  Whether we're teaching in the biggest classroom on campus, the library, or the smallest classroom on campus, the principal's office...we're committed to what we do.   Summer gives us a chance for reflection and personal growth.  Don't worry, they're not paying us for those three months. We take the pay we're given for 9 months of work, and we stretch it out over twelve.

So for the next fifteen days, we're spending some time with the families we miss too much during the school year, we're hanging out with friends whom we miss too much during the school year, we're getting the rest we miss too much during the school year, and we're saying a few prayers for the children headed our way.

Sharpen those pencils, stock up on new crayons and glue, find a pair of cool shoes and a trendy backpack, and we'll see you in a few!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It' s Off to Work

When my kids were little, one of my father’s favorite expressions was, “Get a job.”  We used to laugh about that, because the kids were only 4 or 5 years old, and they told him they were too little to work.  But I’m grateful for the sentiment shared with me and my brothers and our children.  We were always taught the value of work. 

We were not taught an entitlement mentality.  God didn’t owe us anything, our government didn’t owe us anything, our community didn’t owe us anything, and our family didn’ t owe us anything.  The maxim, “A day’s work for a day’s pay,” was lived out in our household.  We were taught to work sick or well, old or young, happy or sad, grumpy or jolly.  And part of that maxim meant you worked even when you didn’t like your boss, you didn’t like the rules, you didn’t like the hours, you didn’t like your coworkers.  We understood that all of those workplace traits could be adjudicated by a simple process—choose a new career path, choose a new job, or work within the boundaries to make it all better. 

The poet, Rumi, asked, “Why should I stay at the bottom of a well, when a strong rope is in my hand?”   The rope we held onto, and hold today, is our work ethic.  We were taught the value of work.  No one needed to throw us a rope:  we held the rope our parents created in our own hands.  

I can remember my first jobs--walking the dog, cleaning the toilet, dusting the furniture, washing the dishes.  There was no pay for completion.  You did those tasks because a family and household required it.  We were gradually offered an allowance for doing “extra” family jobs, and we transferred that idea to the neighborhood, realizing that not only my mom, but my neighbors, would pay me to babysit, to mow their lawns, to pick their weeds, to rake their yards.  We equated freedom to go to the movies, buy a birthday gift, or get a new outfit to the amount of work required.  If I mow one lawn, I can buy that record.  (Records were these plastic disks that played music on a machine called a record player.)  I am so grateful for learning the value of work at a young age.  I worked at summer camps and  restaurants when I was a teenager.  I learned how to weigh a 4 oz. cone at Dairy Queen and how to center my condiments at McDonald’s.  I learned how to typeset a newspaper, operate a switchboard, and teach Red Cross swimming lessons in college.  I learned how to keep track of aviator flight hours, order aviation parts on an MS-DOS machine, and prepare executive correspondence when I could not get a teaching job.  I learned how to create arts and crafts to sell as a stay-at-home mom, and kept other people’s children so I could remain at home with my own. I taught children of all shapes and sizes for 24 years, and continue to do the same. I have a hard time planning for retirement, because the idea is foreign to me.  I admire folks who work into their eighties and nineties, because they are having so much fun.

I have little patience for those who are able but unwilling to work.  4.3 million Americans are on welfare.  Does that mean 4.3 million Americans are unable to work?  47 million Americans are on food stamps.  Does that mean 47 million Americans cannot earn enough to buy a day’s groceries?  6 million Americans collect unemployment.  Does that mean 6 million Americans want to work and can’t find jobs of ANY type?  4% of our fellow citizens are on welfare—does that mean 4% of our fellow citizens are unable or unwilling to work?

Deuteronomy spelled it out more than a few centuries ago---15:11—there will never cease to be some poor people in the land; therefore I am commanding you to make sure you open your hand to the needy and poor in your land. 

I second that emotion—the needy and poor need our hand in our land.  But I do want to clarify the definition of needy and poor.   If you cannot work, I will help you all day long.  But if you can work, and help yourself, that is YOUR obligation, and not mine. 

Did you know that in 40, I said FORTY, and I mean FOOOOOOOOORTY states in our country, welfare PAYS more than an $8.00 per hour job?  Sit with that statistic a moment.  Say what?  Say WHAT?  No wonder illegal immigrants flock to our marketplace.  They understand that $8.00 an hour is better than $0.00 an hour, and are willing to do the work to leave the ranks of the “needy and poor.”

Did you know that there are 9 states where welfare pays more than $12.00 an hour?  Some college graduates start at a lower wage.  Where is the motivation to work in those 9 states?  Did you know that in 7 states, teachers may as well stay home because they could collect more in the welfare office than in the classroom? 

These statistics, frankly, piss me off.  I’ll go to work every day of the week to pay my taxes, and will gladly agree to see those taxes help the needy and poor.  But do I want to do that for those same people forever? 

Did you know that of those 46 million folks on food stamps, more than 20% will collect those benefits for more than 5 years?  Are you telling me that in 5 years, you cannot collect the training, experience, or job development skills necessary to find work?  That is simply unbelievable.  Just walk down to the Texas Workforce Commission.  IF you want to work, they will freely teach you how ALL DAY LONG until you’re gainfully employed.  Do I think you should pass a drug test to collect welfare?  Absolutely.  Do I think the able should collect welfare indefinitely? Absolutely not. Do I think you are entitled to welfare?  No way.  It was never designed to be an entitlement, it was deemed a necessity for the few thousands who are unable to work, not the few millions who refuse to work. 

The thing that makes most working Americans angry is the same thing that has been making folks angry since benchmark biblical days.  James asks us in 4:1-8---

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Here’s the thing:  the only thing that will get us out of this mess is to change the culture.  Let’s start valuing work, like our parents, and their parents, and the generations before this me-me-me generation.   The truly poor, needy, injured, and disabled want a hand-up, not a hand-out.  If you’re not unable to work, then work you must.  But if you cannot work, I’ll work for you.  And if you’re too old to work, we will take care of you.  If you’re too sick to work, we will take care of you.  If you’re too hurt to work, we’ll help you get better. And when you’re well, you’ll return to work, and pay it forward. 

By definition, entitlement means “the right to do or have something, to qualify, to confer a title, rank, or honor.”  It is an honor to work, and I’m grateful that I can. 

I am grateful that the lessons that were sown into me during my childhood have stayed with me.  All of my children work.  All of their children participate in this microcosm of the workplace that we call a home and family.  We attach high value to work.  My father was raised on a farm;  he understood that if he didn’t work, he didn’t eat.  He worked all his life, and over time, he learned to work smarter, not harder so that he had accrued enough money to retire on his own income. My mother was raised by a single parent;  she understood that her mother needed support to make it, and she worked after school from the time she was 14 years old until way past the point when others would have stopped working.  She enjoyed going to work every day, and grieved the day she was no longer well enough to go to work. 

Work gives us pleasure and purpose.  It’s not a chore.  Work gives us a sphere of influence;  a way to change the world one paycheck at a time. Work is where we build and refine relationships that matter.  Work is a privilege, not a punishment. 

See you later.  I gotta go to work.