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Grow Up!

My response to a public school teacher

The Teaching Poor: Why I do not love my job

By Audrey Nieswandt

I do not love my job. There: I said it.

As a teacher, this is a particularly perilous public statement. Nevertheless, it is true. Allow me to clarify.

I am a teacher. I am a single parent. I am a grad student. I am a house cleaner, grocery shopper, cook, chauffeur, laundry folder, yard maintainer, trouble-shooter, homework monitor, moral guide, writer, reader and bill payer. No one helps me with these tasks; I am alone in my responsibilities.

I am also the primary income in my household. And that income is not enough.

Don't misunderstand me: I get up. I launch my children into the day. Then, I go to my rural high school and persuade more than a hundred adolescents to read, write and think. It is a joy and a privilege -- sometimes. Other times, not so much.

I am a darn good teacher. I can inspire and cajole and inform and explain and pose questions on 21 different neurobiological levels. I am enthusiastic and encouraging, demanding and optimistic. I've been tirelessly motivating students for 13 lucky years.

I go home and flip on the news: In Technicolor certitude, recycled candidates bask in their enviable wealth and political righteousness. In their empty utterances: not a single mention of education, students, teaching, college or the creeping poverty that is slowly, insidiously leaching into the middle class.

I am a teacher, and I am the new face of the working semi-poor.

We live from month to month, from paycheck to paycheck. It doesn't matter how hard I work, what new ideas I present to my students, what classes I offer for enrichment or how thoroughly I prepare my students: I am paid a salary, divided by 12 months -- no less, no more.

"You're lucky to have a job!" "Teaching is a vocation!" "Think of the impact you have on the future!" These public arguments, like all fallacies, contain some meager germs of truth. My job is one of importance, philosophically. Not economically. Financially, teachers are unimportant. Monetarily inconsequential.

Our great nation does not esteem teaching, learning or education.

We may be losing our house: I can't afford the mortgage.

Did I mention I have an expensive grad degree (and am working toward a doctorate)? That I continue to educate myself in order to better educate my students? Did I mention I am a public employee?

I work with impoverished students: Over half my population lives at or below the poverty line. This year, I received $280 for classroom supplies for these young Americans (intended for 116 students for 183 days of their schooling). This is how we value our youth and their education?

This will be the third year of salary freezes at my school. ("You're lucky to have a job!" "Throwing money at a problem doesn't fix it." "You get the summers off.")

I love teaching. If I could, nonetheless, I would leave. I need to make more money, to ascertain and assure the future of my own children and my own future.

I do not own a credit card; I do not qualify. I cannot purchase another home should I lose this one; I do not earn enough. I am a teacher, and I cannot afford to send my eldest son to college.

The existential questions loom large: Do I work for love or money? What is the true nature of work? What is necessary for happiness? Fulfillment? Survival?

I care deeply about my students. I want them to learn enthusiastically, live joyfully, absorb information limitlessly, to demonstrate superior proficiency and exude exuberant vivacity in their chosen academic pursuits.

I flip off the news, switch off the endless sunshine smiles of these posturing, vacuous politicians. I, unlike them, must live and function in a sad and broken reality called working-class America.

Audrey Nieswandt teaches high school in the Mount Angel School District.

===My response to Audrey Nieswandt.===

I am a teacher. I have no children. I do not have any debt. I am a house cleaner, laundry folder, cook, grocery shopper, writer, reader, and bill payer. I am also the sole bread-winner of my household (which is not a house at all, but rather a rented apartment). And my income, is enough.

Don't misunderstand me: There are days when I don't feel like getting up. But, I do. I launch myself into the day with coffee and self determination. Then, I go to my language school, where I persuade young and middle-aged adults how to read, write and speak in English - because I live in Italy. It is a joy and a privilege - sometimes. Other times, it's redundant.

I believe I am a good teacher. I can initiate thought, conversation, elicit grammar points, and all at once still be well-liked by, not some but, all of my students. I am gregarious, encouraging, supportive, strict, positive and care about the progress of each of the people I teach. I've been teaching EAL to foreigners in Europe for six lucky years.

In class, I assign my students some realistic homework: Get on the internet and print out an article which interests you from "The Oregonian" (a newspaper which was in my family's home for years, when I still lived in the States - the home which we never lost, or were in danger of losing). When they bring it to class, we talk about it, and sometimes - debate. In one such article, there is a woman who basks in her self righteousness, and uses her platform to complain about the world around her. In her whining and wearisome tone, she claims that her school does not pay her enough to support herself or her children (how many of which she has, we do not know). Never mentioning, that the choices which led her to the position in life she now finds herself in, are of her own doing - and no one else's. These choices, so many other Americans make, are now quickly creating a decline, as they insidiously leach into the whole of western society.

I am a teacher. I am the only face of the self-responsible.

I live from month to month. From paycheck to paycheck - as most people my age do, today. It doesn't matter how hard I work, how much preparing I do for my classes, what steps I take to better inform my students: I am paid a salary, not divided by twelve months, but by month to month - no less, no more.

I'm lucky to have a job! Teaching is a rewarding experience! I think of the impact I have on my students! These motivating statements, ones that others and I, tell myself, are true - especially the first one. In today's economic climate, I am lucky to have a job. And I'm lucky to have the job that I have. I would personally rather be teaching, than working at a drive-thru window. My job is one of importance financially and of prestige - not philosophy.

Our once great nation (The United States), however, esteems teachers' unions, sex education and does not encourage learning how to balance a personal check-book or manage a credit-card.

Some people are in the process of losing their houses: Perhaps because they took out loans when they knew they would never be able to afford them.

Some people went to college or University, knowing full-well they would be in debt most of their adult life, if not for the rest of it.

Some people, go back to University to further their education. And while they may have a doctorate to prove their intellect, the fact that they're already waist-deep in debt and are going back to further themselves in the process, proves their lack of common sense.

Some people do not have credit cards, simply because they do not qualify: That is a personal problem. Not a fault of the state.

I work with people from all walks of life. Some better off financially than others. But the students whom I most admire are the factory workers who spend their hard (and I do mean hard) earned money, to better themselves. Some of these young adults, even into their thirties, cannot afford a place of their own, and so they live with their parents, and other family members. Sometimes, these students, even into their mid-forties, are so economically down-trodden, live at home even after they've married and had children.

Yet, these students still pay for their furthered education (which compared to University tuition in the U.S. is nearly free), they pay for their textbooks, they pay for their supplies, and they pay for any additional learning they may need. This is what they think of themselves.

I've asked for raises at my job in the past - and have been declined. But I continue to work in this field. I'm still lucky to have a job, even though I don't get summers off.

I love teaching. If I could, nonetheless, I'd like to be a movie star. I'd like to make more money, and to ensure my future and that of my...well, I don't have children - because I'm not married.

If I did have children however, my natural inclination - as a mother - would be to put my children's welfare ahead of my own. This means sending my own children to college or University before myself, especially if I've already been, and have secured a job. This also means, ensuring them a safe place to live, and without the probability, or even possibility of losing our house.

The proper question to ask is: If I'm not happy with my life, who do I have to blame?

If I choose to have no father for my children, and support them myself, is that my fault, or the State's? If I accept a job, knowing ahead of time (as far back as before attending college or University), how much I will be earning in that particular field - is it my prerogative to complain about the salary after the fact? If I have such massive student debt, that I am in danger of losing my home, is that my fault or my employer’s? If I know I’m already in debt, but I feel the need to go back to school to increase the size of that hole, am I smart or an idiot?

I care deeply about myself. But I am not selfish. I want to have a good life, a safe life, a good home for my children if I ever do decide to have them. I choose to do the right things now, and reap the rewards later. Rather than do the wrong things now, and reap the punishment later.

I fold up the article, and put it in my binder for the next class. I am disgusted with the bravado of this woman and of her inane points. I feel as though I am unique to my kind, and that the breed before me is dying. That I take full responsibility for my own actions and do not pass the buck of blame onto others, is also a dying notion. I tell my students, when they ask me why I don’t live in America anymore, “Because of people like this. I am ashamed of what my country has become.”

I teach EAL to ages two through sixty in Europe.

Posted by ameripean 17:16 Comments (0)

The Wanderer

Getting to know your new friend, the American Gypsy

Seventh century Chinese philosopher Laozi once wrote, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." It's not a joke, nor is it an exaggeration. There is no question that every journey, be it metaphorical or literal, does begin with a single step in the direction of which one is seeking to inevitably end up. I take single steps daily. Sometimes though, I don't know where my intended destination is. I've found myself lost over the years; Lost in a sea of confusion amid all the other millions of people who either know what they're doing in this life, or exude a certain amount of confidence that one is fooled into believing they know what they want out of life, or what they're doing with it. Some people really do know. They knew when they were twenty - hell, they knew at twelve. How wonderful it must be, I think to myself at times, to know (not just at such a young age, but) in general, what you want to do with your life. To know what you're meant to do, and to actually do it.

I can't say that I've had a bad life. On the contrary, I've had a pretty incredible life - and I'm only thirty. I've lived on three continents, in eight countries, and twenty-six cities (three of which were European capitals). I've learned two foreign languages (three if you count British English - which I kind of do), I've dated a variety of nationalities, swum in some exotic bodies of water, met controversial characters, been on Hungarian television, learned how to make real focaccia, and best of all, I've seen that there is worship for the Lord everywhere I've gone.

It is not difficult to see that I've made my way around the block and have lived to talk about it. There have been dangerous moments, boring moments, romantic moments, whimsical moments and, dare I say, even memorable moments. There is hardly a day that passes me by when I don't feel blessed or at the very least lucky for all the experiences I have had over the past ten years of my life. I've been able to do things that most people might spend their entire lives dreaming about, and for this, I am eternally grateful for all that I have, all that I've had, and all that I'll have in the future.

Now, that's not to say that I haven't had my bad days. What is important to remember - and what most people tend to forget while gazing vicariously through my vast amount of photos on Facebook - is that anywhere you are in the world, there you are. It's nice to think that if you lived in Rome you'd be spending all day, everyday at a cafe sipping capuccino in front of the Trevi Fountain. If you did that, you'd have to be working for the Mafia though, as that is the only way you'd have free time to be sitting at the cafe, and the money to spend drinking coffee from a cafe in front of one of the most famous monuments in the Eternal city all day long. It's nice to daydream that if you lived in Budapest, you'd be walking down to the beautiful Danube River every evening, and look out at the famous "DunaPart" lit up at night. It's easy to imagine yourself going to Venice every weekend if you lived just around the corner for nearly two years. But these are fantasies. The reality of living in these places, or any place really, is that you work all day, and therein you aren't able to go wherever you want during the day. When you finish work, you're tired and hungry and want to go home, eat dinner, and soon after, go to bed. Life is not as exciting as that album that gets posted on Facebook makes it out to seem. There are nine to five days everywhere in the world. In some cases seven to ten, or eight to eleven, or seven to four - depending on your schedule.

Which brings me back to those people. Those people who know what they want out of life, and make their way in the world to achieve it. From the time I was a child, I always wanted to be an actress. That didn't really happen. So, when I found myself in Europe at the age of twenty, and without a job, I decided to get my teaching certificate and do that temporarily. I figured it was a good way to get an apartment, have some spending money and travel. I was young, and the world was my oyster. It was fine for the most part the first year, teaching English as a foreign language at two elementary schools. Boring, yes. Annoying, yes. But I got a free apartment, and a monthly income that never fluctuated. Nice, yes.

I lived in a little town in eastern Hungary, the population of which was one quarter gypsy. The year before moving there there'd been a lice epidemic, as the gypsies never bathed. As popular rumor has it, the government stepped in to try and force them to wash up; after refusing to do so they turned around and sued the government citing that they were not allowed to tell them what to do, and subsequently won the lawsuit. How much of this story is true, I really don't know. Knowing the gypsies, and knowing the liberal Hungarian government as well as I do, though, I tend to believe it more than I disbelieve it.

I had no internet in my apartment for the full nine months that I lived there, but somehow I survived. I took up jogging as a pastime, and with diet and exercise, losing weight become my hobby that year. I turned on the TV roughly three times the entire time I lived in that place, and one of those times I was horrified to discover that what I thought was a raunchy Hungarian soap opera on that night, turned out to be a porno on local cable television. Tiszavasvari, or as I later re-named it, T-town, was my first, but definitely not final year as an English teacher. Little did I know that would be my title for the following eight years - and not just in Hungary but in multiple European countries. I soon discovered, that English teaching was not what I wanted to do with my life, but it had somehow been self-foisted onto me. I envied the teachers with whom I worked who claimed to have always wanted to be teachers, that this was their dream and that they were fulfilling it. They loved waking up in the morning to teach irregular verbs with a smile on their face. They enjoyed explaining the difference between "present perfect" and "present perfect continuous", to people who could barely even say "my name is". They also loved telling me what I was doing wrong, and how to fix it, or how shocked they were that I didn't know how to explain this or that in my classroom.

I didn't love my job, but it wasn't all that apparent. I continued to look for teaching jobs though, as that was the only thing I could think to do to keep my head afloat in Europe. I was an Au Pair six times, all from which I was fired, with the exception of two; I was a beer wench and waitress at a restaurant in western Hungary very briefly; I did some video editing work on the side for a fashion photographer in Italy; and I was a reporter for a Baptist organization in Israel. But, I steadfastly kept my title as English Teacher throughout all of these other positions, all of which inevitably came and went.

And now, as I write this first blog, I find myself in a darkened room at 1:35 AM in eastern Hungary once again in my life, desperately trying to stay optimistic for the future, as I don't know where it will lead. Hoping, and of course praying, that the Lord will open the doors He wants to open for me. I, as many people my age now do, look for work on a daily basis, pinch and save where I can, and while it's difficult to do so, tell myself there's something out there for me in the days ahead.

I can't complain though, can I? I mean really, how many people out there can actually say they've had a nervous breakdown while on the French Riviera? Not many I imagine. How many people can say they know that an emergency room in Tuscany is much nicer than one in Veneto? How many people can honestly tell you the difference between a friendly Hungarian and an unfriendly one? That one right there is rather tricky.

Suffice it to say, I have a lot of stories. I have a lot of memories, and I have a lot of pictures. Ha, ha. So what if there are people out there who have had it all figured out from the time they were fetuses? So what if they enjoy their jobs, or at the very least make other people believe that they do? I like my life. As crazy and up and down as it may be, I like it. I like that I don't know where I was yesterday, what I'm doing today, and where I'll be tomorrow. I like the unknown. Perhaps I've become a creature of habit, and traveling is my home, and there I find my heart. Perhaps any amount of stability would be too much of a risk to my psyche at this stage in my life. Or perhaps that is the fearful unknown: Settling down, whether that means with one person, or one place.

Herein ends my first blog. Entertaining stories, anecdotes and photos to come soon.

Posted by ameripean 15:09 Archived in Hungary Tagged italy hungary english traveling american teaching blog italians hungarians Comments (0)

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