Working Class Hero

If I'm a little tired this weekend--and I am--there's a good reason for it: I'm back at work.

That's not an entirely accurate statement. As most teachers will attest, we do not spend the summer months avoiding work. Some of us pick up different jobs--leading tour groups, or serving at summer camps, or doing volunteer work at libraries, or waiting tables--and some of us merely take on new tasks at home. I myself have spent the summer at work on the latest draft of my novel A Raven for Doves. I finished the draft late on the 25th of August, or possibly early on the 26th, and after my in-house copy editor was done with her pass over it, I made the last corrections on Labor Day. It's now sitting on an agent's desk, which of course means I'm now checking my email with a completely unreasonable frequency.

So yeah, I've been working. 115,000 words' worth of work.

But for the last two weeks, I've been working differently: first, I spent a week attending faculty meetings, and after Labor Day we plunged straight into Camp Week, the opening orientation and organization activities for new and returning students. Camp Week is a lot of fun, but since it puts me in direct supervision of students through four straight days of outdoor fun and indoor competition and exposure to heat indexes well over 100 degrees, it's a little draining. And on Monday, I go back to class. But again, with a difference.

Last year I worked four days a week at Seven Hills and spent my Wednesdays either writing, running errands, catching up on grading, or occasionally having a bit of fun. Not this year. This year I'm full-time; though my schedule gives me at least a bit of planning time every day, I'm not going to have the luxury of sleeping in on Wednesdays in order to recover from my labors on Monday and Tuesday. Still, though I'm teaching four sections, my preps have dropped from three to two--8th grade language arts and 6th grade US history--and I have my own classroom again. Better still, my new classroom has a dropped ceiling, which means I stand a decent chance of being able to hear what all my students are saying.

I'm hopeful that the lessons I've learned about middle-school teaching can be applied with relative ease, and that the preparations I made last year can be reused this year. It'll be sad to lose that extra day to get things done, but the 35% raise kinda makes up for it.

And as I think about it, Kelly and I did have one other project this summer: finishing our binge-watch of Parks and Recreation on Netflix. We watched the DVD of Season One a few years back and were not much impressed, but Ian & Adriana insisted that we needed to push ahead, that things would get better, that the arrival of Ben and Chris (whoever they were) would turn the show into something special. And by gum, they were right. No matter how improbable the show's events were, there was an endearing and unrelenting positivity in it--a refusal to accept cynicism as a philosophy. Sure, things went wrong, even badly wrong, for many of the characters, but defeat was never defining to anyone--it was merely one element in their various histories. And partly because of those histories Parks & Rec soon became one of our favorite shows ever.

Parks & Rec was, at its core, that familiar entity, the workplace sitcom, but it was not an ordinary workplace; it was a workplace where the work mattered. It didn't always matter all that much, but it mattered: "small, incremental change every day." That was Leslie Knope's philosophy of public service. And that philosophy made the people doing it feel as though they mattered as well.

In the finale, Leslie quotes Teddy Roosevelt: "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing." One of the best things about teaching is that you know the work is worth doing. People remember their teachers, good or bad, because teaching is, ultimately, important to the people being taught. Society may not celebrate you, or offer you gobs of cash for your efforts, but for any particular student, in any particular year, what you do is of great importance. And that's something I'll do my best to keep in mind as I dive back into the classroom.

So. Let's go to work.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on September 10, 2016 11:55 AM.

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