Where Do We Go From Here?

Bienvenue, mes amis.

It’s been a while since I posted. Pretty much broke that promise of regular updates. The only thing consistent is my inconsistency.

As you have likely gathered, the school year is in full swing and I am, as per usual, up to my neck in work. Don’t take that as necessarily a bad thing, because I do, truly, love what I do…but I do put in some ridiculously long hours and I am grossly underpaid for the work I (and the vast majority of others in the profession in this state) do. Just because I get paid poorly, though, doesn’t mean I’m going to slack off. I could, but I won’t. Believe me, I’ve had enough terrible jobs for terrible pay where I effed around so much I should have been fired a thousand times over. I would push that envelope just to see if anyone would ever fire me. It pretty much never happened (there was one case, but I did get to cross off the “you can’t fire me! I quit!” routine off the bucket list).

I love what I do. There were really only ever two things that called to me and I could see myself doing for a living, and one called way more than the other. I love working with young people. I love exploring new ideas and concepts with young adults. I love to smell the lean calories burning as I challenge every perception of life and world the students have ever had. I love that my students, on the whole, hate me and my class while in it, but love me dearly and thank me for putting them through Hell after it is over. I love my job.

I really don’t mind the completely insane hours, either. Yes, there are times when I wish I wasn’t putting in 80+ hours in a week, but at least it’s a purposeful 80 hours. I’m not spending 70-80 hours slinging freight at the Walmart where I have 20 different supervisors who never worked a day’s hard labor telling me I need to cut labor costs and drive sales or I’ll be looking for a new job in 3 months. I’m also not paid nearly as well as a Walmart manager, which is truly sad, but that’s the way of things.

As pretty much all of you know, North Carolina is a horrid place, especially for education. There are some bright spots in the state, such as Asheville and Raleigh, but those do not, even remotely, outweigh the craptacularity that is the rest of the state. No level of awesomeness in Boone can make up for the utter shittiness of Fayetteville. Unless you are wealthy (or content living in abject poverty), North Carolina is not a place to be. I was discussing this with some other teachers as the year was starting and I made the declaration that the bottom is going to fall out of this state within the next 10 years unless major, sweeping changes are made.

There was a study recently conducted by Public Policy Polling (an admittedly slightly left leaning polling firm) that said prior to the 2010 Tea Party madness and, really, the 2012 election of Pat McCrory and his cronies, North Carolina was in the top 10 of state favorability. Per PPP’s findings,

While southern states generally found themselves toward the bottom of the list, North Carolina was an exception. It polled among the ten most popular states in the country, with 40% of voters rating it favorably to only 11% who had an unfavorable opinion.

There has been a drastic shift in the two years since that initial polling data. The favorability has dropped to 30%, a loss of 10%, and the unfavorable vote has more than doubled, going from 11% to 23%.

While still above water with a +7% favorability, that 7% ranks NC right at 40th place for popularity nationwide.

40th. It dropped from top 10 to 40th place. The commonality? Retroactive, regressive, caveman policies of a dangerous Republican-controlled legislature and governorship, an approach to “small government” that made it so small it could fit in any woman’s naughty bits, which, as we know, is exactly where government belongs.

The ludicrous abortion restriction law was passed by the legislature as an amendment to a motorcycle safety law. Gov. McCrory had pledged during the campaign that he would not sign into law any additional restrictions on abortion. So much for that one, Pat.

Add on to that the insane loosening of the gun control policies and practices here, such as easing the regulations on conceal/carry and expanding the places where a concealed weapon could be carried…not a good situation. I mean, come one, there is absolutely NOTHING bad that can happen in North Carolina in, say, March while at a bar with a legally concealed weapon. Nah, nothing happens in the heart of the ACC in March or April. There aren’t too many colleges of note down here. People’s allegiances aren’t that strong. Nothing crazy could happen, and certainly not with alcohol involved. What ever could go wrong?

And then you get to people like us – the teachers. We are all paid the same statewide. We receive state salaries. Some counties are able to pay a little extra in supplements in the summer, but not all counties pay well. Cumberland county, thankfully, pays a decent stipend. That stipend has been the only reason I survived the last two summers without spiraling into debt or having to borrow huge sums of money.

I am now entering my 3rd years in the state. I have received no raises, which is somewhat expected, and will not get one, at the earliest, for another 2 years (or 3, depending on where you draw the lines – year 6 will be the first raise, and it will be, hold on to your hats, $1,200).

At my current salary, which is $30,800, I make just that much too much to be classified as poor and, thereby, ineligible for most forms of public assistance. My take home pay, after taxes, deductions, etc., comes out to $1735/month. And we do only get paid once a month.

I really want you to let that roll around in your head a little bit.

I never entered teaching to get rich. I know it’s not a career that pays well. If I wanted to get paid, I would work for some multinational and focus only on the bottom line without giving a damn about how I got there. I never really wanted before, nor do I now, to be rich. I’d like to not have to worry if I’m going to make it to payday, but that’s nothing exclusive to me.

Hundreds of thousands of people, many with families, are living day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month. I don’t stand alone in living so tight against the budget. It is a systemic problem in this country. And, for what it’s worth, you can really trace most of this back to the Reagan years and the necessity of the double income household.

I’m good with my money and, thankfully, living alone. I can make my $1700/month work, but barely. Sure, if I’m up against it I can cut out some leisure activities/pleasures, such as television. I don’t need TV, but I enjoy having something to relax to when I come home each night. I could eliminate plenty of small creature comforts to make ends meet if I had to. I am thankful that I am not in that position.

I am also not getting much ahead of the game. I’m paying down some debt, sure, but not paying down others *cough* student loans *cough* because I just can’t. Even if I cut out things like TV and my Netflix subscription, I cannot afford to pay my usual bills, buy food, and pay my full student loans each month.

I really want you to think about that.

That isn’t taking into account all of the stuff I pay for out of my own pocket for my students or our school. This year our school has moved to a new photocopy policy – we can make as many copies as we want…because we’re buying our own paper. We were given one case of paper (5000 sheets) to last the year. Once that’s gone, we’re on our own for making copies.

In the grand scheme of the year, an extra case of paper is, what, 45? 50 bucks? That isn’t so bad, really. Except you can’t pay 5 dollars a month for 10 months to buy the paper. And when you’re spent to your last dollar each month, it makes things a little difficult. Again, I am eternally thankful that I can manage my money well enough that I can afford a few extra each month and still be OK. Not everyone is in the same boat as me. Paper is just one small thing, but it is emblematic of a crumbling state that is so in tune with its own dogmatic bullshit that it is willing to destroy itself for some alleged higher purpose (that purpose, apparently, is to become the first negative tax state where lawlessness runs wild and women, blacks, Hispanics, and teachers are second and third class citizens).

I buy sanitary wipes and cleaning products for my classroom out of my own pocket. I always keep a stash of peppermints on my desk for both myself and the students. Those, while cheap, are not free. I have to purchase my own manilla (or, if I’m feeling fancy, colored) folders for the kids. I have to purchase lined paper for my classroom. None of these are huge purchases, but they do add up.

I could very easily say “No, I’m not giving you guys folders to use to submit and organize all of your materials for your research paper(s),” but does that really accomplish anything? No, it doesn’t. That’s just being difficult for the sake of difficult. And I know I’m not the easiest person to live/work/coexist with, but my kids don’t deserve that. I even recycle the folders when possible. I’ll apply the white out and write in new names each year. You want to know how bad it is? When the students see me doing stuff like this and say “Geez, the struggle is real for you, Mr. [name redacted].” Have I mentioned that we’re a Title I school and are approximately 80% black and Hispanic, and the no. 1 criteria for admission is the student must be 1st generation college attendee? Our kids know that the struggle is real…and when the students are offering to buy stuff for the classroom, you know your state fucked up along the way.

So, why don’t I just quit and leave? It really seems simple, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t that simple. Don’t get me wrong, I am personally miserable here. I hate the idiocy of the state and being poor, but I love our school so much and I love what we are doing for the kids in our community. I love my coworkers and, really, I know that I, along with the rest of the staff, am making a difference in the lives of these young people. No manner of dislike for the state and the town in which I reside can be greater than the reward of the job.

So, no, it’s not such a clear cut thing. I do desperately want to get back to PA, Pittsburgh in specific, but I do have a known quantity here and it is, as Raymond Carver put it, a small, good thing. I’m OK with making my life my job. Our kids need it. I don’t have to balance all the things many others do. I don’t have a wife or girlfriend. I don’t have children of my own. I don’t have to worry about finding the balance between the hours for our program and the hours needed for home life. I can work 70+ hours a week without much of a problem. I’m not a social butterfly to start, and I really don’t find much redeeming about Fayetteville. I’m OK with focusing on work on the weekends and each day during the week. I’m OK with it because it serves a purpose.

And that’s a big deal. For years before coming to NC, I was in perpetual pursuit of purpose in my life. Teaching does give me purpose, and that is the biggest, most powerful factor for me. Despite my ongoing battles with loneliness and depression and so on, I’m never weakened to the point of breaking because I do something meaningful.

But, still, we are grossly underpaid and overworked in this state. And NC is a right-to-work state, so, there’s no union representation. Whoever would have guessed where there are no unions the workers would be badly abused? We’ll ignore the laughably poor pay we receive. The state of North Carolina is doing away with tenure for teachers. Are there some who abuse tenure rules? Sure. But there are just as many terrible teachers who keep their jobs because they have a winning record as a coach. Let’s not pretend like this is a one-way street. The state is taking away what little job protection we had. Until a few days ago, they were also going to do away with Master’s pay (those with a Master’s degree or higher received a slight increase in salary), but, magically, Gov. McCrory found some money in the budget to continue paying those with advanced degrees. Because, you know, when you have a recruiting and attrition problem with professional teachers, the first thing you want to do is take away job protection and incentives for continuing your education and improving your practices.

This state truly does not know its ass from its elbow and it is quickly going to realize it must pay the piper. As it continues the ideological spiral downward and outward, we need to ask ourselves “where do we go from here?”

Notes:

The PPP poll can be found here

The North Carolina salary scale can be found here (pdf file)

Additional reading:

The blog, Teaching Speaks Volumes, is incredible. I highly recommend you spend some time there. This post caught my attention over the summer and I’ve been stewing over it for some time.

The blog “Making Our Way” also caught my attention as our school year was getting underway. A truly remarkable and moving post here, which said a lot of what I and so many others wanted to say but couldn’t find the words.

All Things In Time

Wow. That month went by fast.

Since the last update, and that was late October, business has picked up around these parts. The good news: I have really settled into my job and there’s much less insanity surrounding the day-to-day life. I’m still perpetually behind the 8-ball, but that happens. Contrary to popular belief, teaching does not afford a large amount of free time. The last few weeks have been a non-stop barrage of research paper drafts and workshops and staying at school until 7 p.m. I wish I were joking, but it is common for me to be at school, either grading papers or tutoring, until 7 at night.

I don’t want that to be taken as bitching and moaning, though. I love my job. I absolutely love what I do. I am very, very happy with my life right now. All the things I’ve wanted for years — the things I’ve shown patience and sacrificed for — are all coming about in fair turn. I am looking forward, though, to going back to Pittsburgh for Christmas. I did not make it home for Thanksgiving, as our break from school was shortened (we had school on Wednesday, which was poo), but I plan on being in Pittsburgh for a prolonged time at Christmas (read: 2-3 weeks, depending on travel days). This semester is coming to a close very fast. This week coming up is the last traditional week for my juniors (who are taking senior-level courses) because they all have college finals the following week. I’m proud of the work I’ve been able to do, especially with a shortened time frame. These kids lost out on over 6 weeks of instructional time and (most) have risen to the challenge.

Griggsy, too, has undergone some changes. He’s also found himself amongst the employed. Sadly, his employment is largely keeping him dead to the rest of the world. Hopefully he, too, will get settled in and can find a few minutes to share with us his stories.

So, that Sidney Crosby guy is pretty good, right?

 

 

I will be the first to admit, and many saw, that I was wearing thin on patience with Sid prior to his return. I was conflicted because I’d been willing to give him the time and space needed to recover and didn’t want him rushed back, but at the same time he really needed to get into the game. He either was going to play again or he wasn’t, and he needed to make the choice. Thankfully he chose to get back in the game. I cannot even imagine what it was like for Sid, though. Someone with that level of drive and competition having to sit on the sideline all that time…and then get close to return but always consider if another hit like Steckel’s happens it could be the end of the career. I didn’t envy his position, but at the same time, he needed to get back for numerous reasons.

He needed to get back simply for the moral victory to show that concussions can be recovered from if handled properly (I’m looking at you, Boston). He had to come back for the people of Pittsburgh who waited for his return patiently. He needed to get back for his teammates. He needed to get back to lift the NHL. Like it or not, he is the face of the NHL. It’s nearly impossible to market Ovechkin lately, and there really isn’t a player you associate with the post lock-out NHL more than Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin.

But Sid came back. And he made the whole hockey world sit up straight. Much like Tupac, all eyes were on Sid. And he didn’t disappoint. After not playing in a competitive hockey game for 320 games Sidney Crosby returned, on a relatively calm November night, and scored two goals and registered two assists against the New York Islanders. And the world was back in balance.

Of course, there are some who say he came back too early or that he needed to get a stint in Wilkes-Barre to get up to game speed, but I think everything happened as it needed to for Sid. He came back and scored on his first shot. It couldn’t have happened any other way. Of course, the naysayers and roustabouts all had a field day with the second game vs St. Louis, but the team is more than Sidney Crosby and it was a failure as/of a team that ultimately lost that game. And then things seemed like they should be against the up-and-down Ottawa Senators. Good teams like the Pens should completely manhandle bad teams like the Islanders and the Senators. They should find themselves in solid competition against teams like the Blues.

It all comes down to playing a full game. There needs to be preparation for each game. There need to be smart plays. There needs to be passion, too. Sometimes the Pens go a little light in those areas because they are a gifted team with a LOT of top-tier talent. Sometimes they get the wake-up call, sometimes they don’t. Thankfully it’s a long season and when playoffs roll around it isn’t a one-and-done system.

Tonight the Pens face off against Montreal. Presumably Brent Johnson will be in the cage. The magic is gone from Johnson’s game. Let us hope that he can recapture it and get back to the level we know he can play at, otherwise this could be an incredibly long season for the Flower. All things in time.

Failtown – Population: Me

I feel like such a chump. I have not been writing as much as I would like lately, which is unfair to both myself and to all of you. Thank God for Griggsy. He’s been covering up for my punk ass the last week with his Gripes and his unreal look at the Pirates.

I have been doing quite a bit of work behind the scenes in my personal life lately. Nothing has changed, which is a disappointment. The previously mentioned job in NC did not pan out, which is a big time bummer. The job with the civil service is, well, a job with the Civil Service. I did well on the exam and now just need to wait and hope for an opening. Other than those, the job field is, erm, sparse. I’m well aware that this is a unique sentiment and there are a lot of people hurting looking for work. I’ve even been debating about making a career change because things are so hard right now in Education, but I just can’t do it. There are no jobs/careers out there I want to do outside of teaching. I just love it too much to leave, even if it means sticking it out for a while without permanent work.

I do have a few other things cooking. I am looking to pick up another job in the evenings/weekends while I keep working in the schools during the day (and do my night janitorial job on the weekends). I will, hopefully, be moving ahead with life over the next few years as I am, somewhat begrudgingly, planning on going back to school to begin working on my Master’s. I’m debating a few different programs and different schools, but I’m pretty well sold on the general umbrella study of Special Education. I’m going to make my decision over the course of the next month or two. I’ll talk to the schools I’m looking at and see what kind of packages they can put together and go from there.

The pond project, too, is at an end. I am completing the final part of the project this week. The waterfall is the final major obstacle. I have the supplies and have a plan. Once it is completed I will get some nice photos and post those soon enough. I am hopefully going to finish the last of the work on Friday so I can celebrate by watching some Steeler football.

I do have a few other hopeful odds and ends on the horizon, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. The next few years are going to be some interesting times. I’m looking forward to the challenges and being able to spend them with all of you.

-Walt

Fearless

I had a number of things I wanted to talk about, but I’ve been having a bugger of a time putting things into words today. I started writing a different entry this morning. I just haven’t had the focus I needed to put into words what I was thinking. Unfortunately, that feeling is nothing new to me. It has been one of those things I’ve had to deal with before and I like to keep reminding myself how much it sucks. Good for a little perspective at times.

Originally I was going to post about my pond I’ve been working on (I promise I will and will post the photos soon), but it felt a little lazy and disingenuous, especially when compared to some of the other things I’ve discussed. Outright I didn’t have the concentration or ability to work on a new Pens Preview. I really enjoy writing those, but they require some serious focus and dedication to examining details and working through tons of stats and various numbers. I’m feeling edgy right now, no way would I be able to write one of those.

Then I saw something that got me going. Grant Imahara of Mythbusters fame Re-tweeted a link to a video early today. He linked to this video.

Generally speaking I avoid listening to commercial radio and/or Pop music/Top 40 type stuff. Just not really my style (that, my friends, can be another post where I get on my snobby soapbox about the lack of talent, or more appropriately, the inability to sell a record based on talent because the consumer is a tasteless assclown). Honest to goodness, the most exposure I get to pop music is when it is covered by the people on Glee (haters gonna hate). The most exposure I had to this song was from Glee’s rendition of it or the random and sparse occasions when I would be in a shop or someone else would have a radio tuned to a top 40 station. With such limited exposure to it I never really considered the lyrics or, frankly, who the artist was. I had to look up that the track is one of Pink’s songs. What makes that even more depressing is that I really enjoyed Pink’s 1st record and was so-so-to-happy with her second major release. She just kinda fell off my radar as time went on, but that’s nothing new to any who know me.

I watched the video and I really enjoyed it. So I watched it again. Then another time. Each time I was noticing something about it, but it wasn’t about the actual video of the people featured in it. I was noticing the lyrics to the song. As mentioned previously, I don’t often find much value in pop music. In all likelihood this song, too, will be forgotten in a relatively short stretch of time, but I wanted to give it a few moments of my time because it speaks to something I like in my music, literature, etc – it empowers.

You may laugh, and I may look like a fool for saying so, but it is a song that I feel is something of an anthem for people, or at least a rallying call. Obviously there is a party element to the song, but I see it all as a carpe diem type mentality. More importantly, I see the call for individuality and being oneself. The repetition in the chorus calling for all the underdogs and those who are “wrong in the right ways.” This is a common thread with those of us who are a one-off type personality.

I am an odd bird. I don’t deny this. I pride myself on being, well, a little strange. Those who have come to know me over the years can attest to the fact that, well, I’m pretty darn weird. Not a bad weird or a creepy weird, just…odd. I don’t often see things the way others do, nor do I often have a popular opinion on things. I am a self avowed geek of all trades. I don’t deny it and I was one of the few who embraced being an oddity at a younger age. It worked for me and I try to encourage people to be themselves in this life instead of what other people want them to be.

The song, however, really caught my attention when I saw it paired up with the video of the cosplayers from the Comic-Con. Comic readers, cosplayers, video game players, etc have been at the fore of groups deemed socially unacceptable and generally seen as a strange underclass of weirdos that nobody likes. I grew up reading all types of comics. I am a video game collector. I’ve been to a number of E3 conferences. I go to toy and collectible shows. I’ve even been known to dress up for events before in costume (William Howard Taft being one of my more famous appearances). I know the looks I’ve gotten from people for being, well, all of those things I listed. They are even more shocked when they actually talk to me and realize I am sociable, rather intelligent, don’t smell like dirt that’s been humped by a hobo, and cast a wide net when it comes to things that interest me.

This video, though, got me really thinking about how these people, my people, really are wrong in all the right ways. We don’t belong but we also don’t really care. We are, as the song says, a bunch of “dirty little freaks.”

The people featured in this video are everything I like to see in others and like to see in myself when I can. These people are fearless.

They know the type of reactions they get from the general society and just how many people could possibly see them lip sync-ing to a Pink song on Youtube and they all said “fuck it” and just went with it because of being sure of who they are and what they do for themselves. I admire the Hell out of all of them for doing as such and I wish more people were confident in what they do in this life. It is like the old saying of sing/dance like nobody can see you. Just go out and do your thing. Be yourself. Be empowered. Be fearless.

I know that some of this has been poorly worded and phrased. I apologize for that. Like I said, I’ve been real edgy and unable to focus. Additional apologies as this has gone from one idea to the next. It’s been one of those days. In light of yesterday’s events and the milestone marker it was, I’m surprised I’m as together as I am. I also want to take a moment to thank everyone for their kind words and their thoughts over the last few days. I know I allow myself to get down about things and sometimes lose the perspective that I do have a number of good people in my life who genuinely care about it. It doesn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated, even if I am terrible at expressing it sometimes. But that’s who I am and you all have accepted me for who I am, just as I try, try, try to accept all of you for who you are.

Fearless. Not cocky, not covering up shortcomings, not a sleight of hand. Unafraid of what criticism may come and being in one’s glory. What a feeling. I hope I can continue to be fearless about things in my life. I hope you all, too, get to experience that. Be without fear and you will live forever.

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