A Brief Note on What Actually Makes Teaching Worthwhile

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Teenagers are a tough bunch to teach sometimes. They are inconsistent, moody, smelly, obstinate, and often highly resistant to your best-intentioned assistance. You measure your victories with them therefore in small ways. Fewer eye rolls. One less fist-fight. Moments of personal responsibility.

Today, one of the Grade 8 students I help with Math stopped by my office to tell me he got a 90% on his most recent quiz. This was significant to me in a few ways. The first is that he started the year hating my guts. The second is that my office is on the opposite side of the school from his class, meaning he had to make an intentional trip to share his success with me.

This is success for me.

Not the mark. Not the quiz. Not the Math.

Just that one kid was proud of himself for doing well, and that he wanted to share it with me.

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False Dichotomies

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There is an odd argument that keeps popping up in my Facebook feed these days: to have children or not, and the evidence or experience of “fulfillment” that follows.

There are two extreme ends of the argument. The first is that you can’t actually have a fulfilled life unless you have children, and that your life is a selfish mess without them even if you don’t realize it. The second is that children destroy your marriage, your freedom, and your will to live a full life.

I don’t get it.

I mean, you can’t experience both a life with children of your own and a life without it. You can have different seasons in your life, but that isn’t the same as having fully experienced one at the exclusion of the other. So at best, each side is building an argument predicated on assumptions or second-hand information and opinion. They can talk about the emotional fulfillment they have experienced personally, but I guess I can’t follow their logic as it is supposed to apply to everyone else.

Part of the reason why I call it a false dichotomy is that I think you need at least four solid categories to talk about people and their children (or the lack thereof). And even this is a serious oversimplification when you consider the length and breadth of just one human life, with all its twists and turns.

kids chart1

Want Kids, Have Kids

I’m in this category, so it’s really the only one I can talk about from direct experience. The extremely abbreviated version is this: my wife and I decided that we wanted kids, tried for a while, went to a fertility clinic, experienced some wonders of modern medicine and science, and had our Abby almost five years ago. Nora followed two-and-a-half years later.

Our lives revolve around our girls. Cliché as it sounds, I genuinely do not remember what it was like to not have them around. And yes, I would say that we needed the two of them, that we needed kids, to feel like our life was meaningful and fulfilled.

Does that mean that I think that everyone who doesn’t have kids is living a life without meaning? Nope. I have to create things to keep from going insane (case in point). That isn’t true for everyone else, so if they choose not to blog I can assume that they do so because they don’t need it to be mentally healthy, not because they live in an empty, lifeless ball of sadness and don’t know that blogging fixes everything.

Don’t Want Kids, Don’t Have Kids

I know a few people in this category. I remember one person, years ago, telling me that she never felt like she needed kids because she had taught for the last twenty years. “I fill that need for kids through my students,” she told me. “I watch them grow up and I am part of their lives. I don’t need my own.”

To be honest, I have a lot of respect for people who recognize that they don’t want to be a parent and then who don’t give in to the unreasonable societal pressure to have kids. Being a parent is hard. It’s life-altering, no matter what you think it will be or how hard you try to keep your old life. Everything revolves around your children. You have to be a lot less selfish with your time, your energy, your money, your resources. But that doesn’t mean that people who choose not to have kids are selfish at all.

Again, I’m in no way suggesting that it is a selfish choice not to have children, just that there is a different set of demands on you as a parent than as a non-parent. And if you know you don’t want to do something, or that you won’t be good at something, why would you force yourself into it, especially when the stake are so high for the other people involved?

Is having and raising kids an important and fulfilling task? Of course it can be. Is it the only important and fulfilling task a person can undertake? Seems pretty narrow-minded of anyone to try to say yes.

Don’t Want Kids, Have Kids

I wish—dear God do I wish—that I didn’t know so many examples of this category. Not any of my friends or family, thankfully, but just through having been a teacher for almost a decade. And in this case I’m not talking about people who had “surprises” and then realized that they loved being a parent. This is the ongoing refusal to accept the role of being a parent, an act that kids pick up on much earlier than any of us realize.

This breaks my heart. Almost, but not quite, as much as the last category.

Want Kids, Don’t Have Kids

What can I say about this one? I’ve already blogged quite a bit about my wife going through fertility treatment, about friends who have spent years trying and failing to conceive or having miscarriage after miscarriage. I know so many people who have said to me that they want to be a mother or a father, but they haven’t found the right person to share their lives with, left it too long, discovered a medical issue, or whatever it happens to be.

As with people who don’t want to have kids, there are lots of ways to lead fulfilling lives, so again I am not suggesting that if a person in this category never has children they are doomed to a bleak, meaningless existence. But I do empathize when they want to build their lives around a child and that child isn’t there.

What does it all mean?

The best answer I can come up with is this: nothing. It is silly to say that a single category of existence is the only one with any real meaning and value. The argument is so flawed to start that there shouldn’t be silly pro and con articles about it, any more than there should be Kardashians. It’s just further proof that people want to extrapolate their personal experiences to everyone else. Probably so they can find some meaning and fulfillment in their little lives.

Sick Days

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So, I got sent home from work the other day.

It turns out that I have become “that guy.” The one that tries to “power through” because he “isn’t contagious anymore anyway.”

It isn’t my fault, though.

I had already taken the previous day off. That matters, because the first school I worked at frowned sternly at taking any time off at all for any reason, up to and including illness-bordering-on-death, funerals for immediate family, and weddings. Yep, weddings. Booked your nuptials before being hired and want to take a few days off before and after the big weekend? NOPE! ONE DAY BEFORE AND ONE DAY AFTER! NO MORE!

I wish I were making that up.

I think that four years under this culture, that taking time off for illness was at best a deliberate inconvenience put upon the office and at worst an attempt to defraud the owner and principal, left me really hesitant to ever take a day off. Now that I’m working in the public board, where the right to take a day off to get healthy is protected by my union, I’m still finding myself feeling like staying at home is… I don’t know… bad. To take two days off in a row, even though I was still running a fever of 103 degrees seems madly, deliriously irresponsible.

It’s a weird bit of guilt to carry around, more than five years after I left that place and all its insular, unaccountable employment practices. It’s like realizing that a long-since-ended dysfunctional relationship still makes you buy skim milk.

Drawing Lines

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I don’t know where to draw the line between limiting the amount of negative news information that comes rushing in to me and cloistering myself with elaborately constructed iTunes playlists. Today I decided (for the first time in a long while) to bring my iPod on my commute (when I normally listen to the radio).

I felt guilty for not hearing morning radio show news updates.

It was nice, mind you, to actually enjoy the music instead of tolerating it, but I definitely felt as though I arrived at work today without knowing what was happening in the world. A the same time, I was blissfully unaware of any celebrity gossip; it bothers me that I know so much about the Kardashians, a family made famous by getting a clearly guilty man off of murder and making sex tapes. I don’t need any of that in my head.

How well informed can I be before I can’t tolerate CNNs constant stream of “expert speculation” makes me want to climb in a hole and cry? Is it okay to not know how many people were blown up today? Is it okay to not know the second a sex scandal breaks?

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Last Resort

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Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

Isaac Asimov

Violence (and the threat of violence) is what people fall back on when logic, reason, courage, caring, love, and compassion fail to justify their position;

when what they espouse is so profoundly without merit that it cannot support its own dead weight; when truth cannot be found in their message;

when any reasonable human being would turn away from their premise.

#JeSuisCharlie

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I’m going to show up and pretend like I haven’t been gone for half a year…

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I mean it.

I’m not going to expound on why I’ve been gone.

I will however encourage you to get good coffee. Really good coffee. The best coffee you can get short of living in one of those equatorial coffee growing regions themselves.

coffeecologyI was first turned on to Coffeecology when my wife and I went to the Mulberry Street Coffeehouse on James Street North. The coffee I had there was, far and away, the best I had ever had this side of the Atlantic. We bought half a pound of ground dark roast on the way out to take home.

But it turns out that Coffeecology is willing to do you one better, for free no less, by biking your coffee order to your door, leaving it on your front step, and taking your empty containers and labels away for reuse. Without equivocation, this coffee is as good as it gets. It’s roasted within days of delivery, comes in a bunch of varieties, tastes good enough to convince my wife to start drinking it black (when she never, ever drank coffee before that), and is all kinds of socially/environmentally certified in its production.

For less than half the cost (yep, did the math) of buying Tim Horton’s swill every morning you can drink Coffeecology every day and actually enjoy coffee the way it was meant to be.

We’re having it now with pulla, traditional Finnish dessert bread that I made with my elder daughter. At 4 1/2 she is just old enough to be a help without making a massive mess. I’m sure I was about her age when I started helping my pappa bake in earnest.

That’s what is on my mind tonight. Really good coffee, homemade bread, and my girls. There are worse nights to be had.

Copied Directly From My Facebook

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Even ignoring the fact that I am a teacher and my wife works in health care, I could never vote for a candidate or a party that works so hard to further hurt the poor, the old, the sick, and the already marginalized, seemingly solely for the benefit of the rich.

Part-time jobs without benefits that leave workers below the poverty line are not real jobs. Private industry will not help you pay for your cancer treatment. It will not improve the quality of your child’s education. It will not improve social services for the newly arrived, the orphans, or the widows. The people that are in need the most will be the ones most ignored by a Conservative government.

And the longterm costs of a selfish, unhealthy, poorly-educated population reared under the tutelage of a business-first philosophy will far outweigh any supposed money that Hudak claims will be “put back in our pockets.”

When you vote (and please, no matter who you support, vote), consider what happens to a society that casts aside its most vulnerable to support its most powerful.

#anyonebuthudak

Boycott

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When the last Olympic games rolled around, I felt like I couldn’t watch them in good conscience. I mean, when the host country is actively encouraging street gangs of homophobic thugs to go out and attack people because of their sexual orientation they probably shouldn’t be hosting friendly international competitions. Neither should anyone be patronizing their events, I think.

In a similar way, I need to not watch this weekend’s UFC event.

"The whole fight we have women in one room, men in another room, [Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate] come on and all the women just f****** gather around the TV like it's the f****** Kardashians coming on."

“The whole fight we have women in one room, men in another room, [Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate] come on and all the women just f****** gather around the TV like it’s the f****** Kardashians coming on.”

The fight card is headlined by a guy named Matt Brown, a fighter that I used to genuinely root for back when he was a member of The Ultimate Fighter Season 7, where he was fighting (and winning) a division up from his natural weight class. He was a scrapper and a brawler, never looking like championship material but always up for a good fight.

A little while ago, however, he tried to do an “edgy” podcast and said this:

I just think this, if I’m [going] to pay $60 for a [UFC] Pay-Per-View to watch women fight, they should at least be topless.

It was part of a larger rant where he put down the entire concept of women’s MMA (something that his employer, the UFC, actively promotes).

I’d be willing to ignore his comments if he had made some kind of attempt to fix the damage from what he said, perhaps acknowledging that it isn’t the 19th century and that only a Paleolithic moron would still delineate between “male” jobs and “female” jobs, but of course he didn’t do that. Instead, the UFC issued an apology on his behalf:

Matt Brown has apologized for the comments made on his podcast, and we have addressed the matter with him. His comments don’t reflect the views of the UFC. There’s no place for discrimination within our organization at any level. The UFC is built on principles of respect, and any statements to the contrary are not acceptable.

And admittedly, the UFC has come down pretty hard on any fighter that has demonstrated sexist, racist, or homophobic attitudes in social media, even going so far as cutting a fighter on the day of his fight because of a recently uncovered history of domestic abuse. Their track record isn’t perfect (and they have certainly been more lenient with their bigger stars), but compared to organizations like the NFL or NBA, the UFC looks pretty damn progressive.

What was Brown’s response to this?

I have spoken with the UFC about the UFC Fighter Conduct Policy and what is required and expected of me as a professional athlete under the terms of my promotion agreement. The UFC has a policy of inclusion and respect for all people and I understand the importance of being more aware of my actions and words.

That, right there, is the definition of a non-apology. That is the equivalent of saying, “I was just told what I did made my boss mad so I won’t do that anymore.” No concern for fellow employees in the UFC he just demeaned. No remorse for blatant misogyny. No attempt to take personal responsibility for effects of his comments. Nothing.

Just a reference to his contract.

I really enjoy watching the UFC. I trained in and taught MMA for years (alongside many talented, hard-working women), and I have followed it as a professional sport since the late 90s. I watch every free event, and despite not having the disposable income to justify buying many PPVs in recent years, I still closely follow the major events in all the top organizations.

But I can’t legitimately watch an event headlined by a guy that not only talks like that but doesn’t seem to know (or care) about the effect. I know that it doesn’t make so much as a dent in the UFC’s profit margin. I know it won’t stop Matt Brown from headlining another show. I know it makes effectively no difference what I do in regards to this event or its success.

I guess I choose not to watch for my own sake.