Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sustainability; or, the Midlife Crisis of a Worker Bee

Koyaanisqatsi is a 1982 art film on the theme of the frenetic and suicidal pace of modern Western life.  I had to watch it in Intro to Film class in College.  It's worth watching, even if you are not an environmentalist or neo-hippie... and for the record, I am not.  I often think of it on days or during weeks like this, where there is no let-up of the stress and it is hard to see any positive results for my hard work.  Those blurry images rushing by, that impending sense of doom.  The 7th grader who lost the make-up final exam.  And this was even before Quarta got sick.  People at school were telling me, "well, she was lying down on the cot for awhile... she didn't want any lunch... but she went back to class."  Not until after Tertia's first orthodontist appointment and forking over a 4-figure down-payment for that whole process, and then she got sick.  So, it looks like Steve will be staying home with her tomorrow, because I sure can't.

On the subject of hard work, I consider myself a worker bee.  Definitely not a queen bee.  I dislike queen bees and their close cousins, the bossy and domineering types.  You may not know it, because I have been well-trained to be polite to everybody, but if you are the bossy, domineering, queen bee type, I am humming "Prima Donna" inside my head when you are around.  Seriously.  Long, long years of being in the chorus at work here.  Support staff, auxiliary teaching staff, yup, been there, done that.  I don't even rank high enough to process with the important high school teachers.  It doesn't bother me... except when it does.

It's probably a mistake for worker bees like me to go on vacation, especially to places like Disneyland.  We start to get ideas above our station, and resentment starts to build.  We start to do the math.  Like how my annual salary now, after 13 years of teaching, is less than half of what I earned when I was fresh out of college, also working at one of those jobs that could be described as a ministry -- so what I'm saying is that I didn't earn a whole lot then.  And if I saved every penny of what I earn now, my entire year's salary would be enough to pay for one third of Daniel's yearly college expenses (and he's at Grove City, remember, so that's a lot less than other places).

And yet, for what I earn, I'm being asked to put in an additional 20+ unpaid hours of grading, correspondence, or conferences during some weeks.  I have to somehow bring new students up to speed with the class and keep the stragglers from straggling too far behind.  Of course, my own daughter is not smart enough to be at my school, but other kids, the ones who average less than 40% on quizzes -- somehow I have to make sure they don't get discouraged.  I have to catch the cheaters, and there have been several of them lately, and follow up.  I have to make the class appealing and fun enough so that the students like it.  And then there are the smart ones whose parents want them to take the Latin SAT or AP test -- after 8th grade Latin finishes.  I'm not sure how to break it to them -- in one way I'm flattered that they think 8th grade Latin with me is the equivalent of a Senior AP Latin course, but I'm not really a miracle worker.  Eighth grade Latin at Cedar Tree means you are translating edited passages from Caesar's de Bello Gallico in the Henle Latin 2nd year book.  That's pretty darn good, but if you want 3rd and 4th year Latin and all that goes with it you would need to expand the program into High School.  And if I were going to teach such a program, I'd want about triple what I'm getting now, and the flexibility to take time off to take care of my kids when they're sick.  Maybe I don't need to sacrifice the best interests of my own family to teach, but it sure feels like it on days like this.

Where was I going with this?  These are my own, personal issues, born out of 13 years of very tough, very frustrating work, and triggered by a rough couple of days (that aren't over yet).  But I think Classical Christian Education has arrived at a turning point where, put very simply, it needs to grow up.  I know there's a clause somewhere in my employment contract that says I am not supposed to be critical of my employer, my students, or their parents.  And I'm not intending this to be a rant.  I like all these people, I love my work, and I think I'm good at it.  But it's not sustainable.  I would discourage my best students from considering a teaching career in Christian schools, because it simply doesn't pay enough to support even a young single in today's world.  At my stage of life, it's not really about the money... thankfully, Steve's job is stable and he is a good provider.  I taught several years for no pay other than my children's tuition.  (Yeah, I know, I'm a sap).  More positive feedback would be awfully nice.  More family-friendly flexibility would be ideal.  Health benefits, maybe even sick leave, less of the reflexive "blame the teacher" policy.  I already get a basket of flowers every June.  Realistically, though, the only concrete measure of my success is the paycheck I draw, and that will continue to be small.  Because charging more in tuition would mean fewer students.  I can do the math.

Oh well, I need to go to bed.  Maybe the space cadet will have found the missing final by tomorrow and I can get my grades in.

What I really need is the time to devote to some kind of stress-relieving hobby.  I hear knitting and quilting are really fun.

1 comment:

Lynette said...

I would be frustrated, too. It's good that you love what you do, because it would be unbearable otherwise. I hope your daughter feels better already.