My Whole Life is Work
I basically do almost nothing that isn’t work. In my case, almost nothing that isn’t related to teaching. Even when I’m not marking or planning classes, I’m thinking about my 174 students and about how I’m letting them down. Occasionally I think about how exciting it was when I taught something I know nothing about and it went reasonably well.
I am in my last year as a high school teacher. I was hired by my board of education in 1993. In June 2020, I will have reached a factor, calculated on my age and number of years teaching, that will allow me to retire with an unreduced pension.
I am counting down the days until then. I hope I make it without becoming ill.
It should have been a great year. Last year was a great year. I had a total of 120 students, and three different courses to teach. I enjoyed pretty much every minute of it.
I love teaching. I love teenagers. I love teaching English. I especially love teaching senior English, and that’s what I was usually given.
I assumed this year would be the same.
Then there was an election in my district and a conservative government won a majority victory.
This new government promised to balance the province’s budget. Once in office, they came up with a scheme to finance their plans by firing 10,000 teachers and packing more students into each class.
Fun times. Over twenty young, dedicated teachers in my school lost their jobs or were moved to other schools.
Those of us who were left over had to take on all of the courses those absent teachers were supposed to teach.
One of those teachers was a young woman with a theatre and dance degree. I am teaching her drama classes. I have an English degree and one course in teaching drama that I took in 1990.
A Spanish teacher is teaching her dance course. Oh, and there are four different levels of dance in the class to be taught simultaneously.
The Latin and fashion design teachers also now have three or four levels in each of their classes.
If there are not enough classes in a given subject, then students are out of luck, even if they need a course to graduate.
My remaining drama colleague basically has to tell me how to teach each new unit in the freshman drama course I am responsible for. Luckily for me and the students, she is very patient and explains how to do things that a real drama teacher would know how to do instinctively.
Sometimes it’s kind of fun, like when I pretend to be possessed by the ghost of a little girl who is haunting the school and the students buy it and ask me questions about why I became a ghost.
Sometimes it’s horrifying, like when it’s Friday afternoon and the kids are too wired to practice their choral dramas and instead just run around the room playfighting with me fruitlessly yelling at them to go back to the circle and listen to instructions.
Mostly I am exhausted. I am teaching three English courses that I have taught before, I am teaching the aforementioned drama course, and I am teaching a course on the history of film.
I have never studied film in my life. I learned what I could during the summer and now I am one or two prepared classes away from having nothing to teach. Luckily, someone gave me a collection of handouts that allow me to pose somewhat successfully as a film teacher. I watch the films I have never seen before on the weekends and hand out photocopies in class as if I made them up myself. It’s Sunday night and I still have to watch the 1925 Russian silent film Battleship Potemkin. I’m sure it will be at least as enjoyable as the German Expressionist film that I watched last weekend.
Needless to say, I have no social life.
I come home every day after work and fall asleep. Then I wake up, have dinner, and get back to work making sure I am prepared for the next day.
My husband now does all of the shopping and 90% of the housework. I cook a few meals now and then.
I make plans with my friends and then cancel them. I schedule a violin lesson and then reschedule it for the following week. Or the one after. I practice two or three times a week instead of every day like I used to.
Music is something that used to keep me sane and give me something creative to do outside of my demanding job. Now it is just another stressor in my life. I attempted to play the theme from Schindler’s List five times today. Each time it sounded so awful that I stopped and decided to try again later. It never got better and I reluctantly put my violin back in its case.
This is what happens when governments decide that teachers have it too easy and that the state is spending too much on education.
There is a growing backlash against this government’s education cutbacks, but by the time they are reversed, the damage will be done. Talented young teachers will find other occupations, older teachers will burn out, and a generation of students will get a substandard education.
This is not the way to save money.
Time to watch this week’s film. Hopefully it will be on Youtube and I won’t fall asleep in the middle of it.