Friday, September 17, 2010

She Who Hath a Trade

In August of 2004, my dad fell and broke his hip. He had, by that time, an advanced case of Parkinson's Disease. Part of the reason he fell was because he was confused.

It happened that my sister and her husband had reservations for a vacation in the Rockies at that very moment. So I had to go home and clean out my dad's apartment, because it was the end of August and the assisted living place wanted to move someone new into Dad's space on September 1.

And so, in the course of seeing my beloved father on his deathbed, and clearing out his belongings, I hardly noticed the email informing me that my services as a writer for Gale Group would no longer be required. The email came the same week I was caring for Dad. I happened to stop by the public library to look up my messages, and that was what I got.

Lost my dad, lost my job. Couldn't get either one of them back. Miss them both, but not the "them" they had become in the end. The "them" in their prime. There's a difference.

Well, there was no replacing Dad. But my stomach gets empty every 24 hours, so I had to find a job.

At first I thought I could get more writing gigs, so I applied to be a substitute teacher. By an entire quirk of fate, I began teaching not at Snobville High (where I thought I'd go, since it's within walking distance), but at an old-fashioned Vo-Tech with classes half a day and "shops" the other half. After working for 20 years alone in a home office, I was suddenly surrounded by hundreds of young people from Camden, New Jersey.

I liked them.

Thus I began subbing at the Vo-Tech regularly, and when an English teacher went out on extended leave, they gave me her classes. Then the business teacher had a maternity leave. I, who hadn't worked in an office since 1986, was teaching "Office Basics!" After that, I taught World History for eight weeks.

Then I took a test, along with about 125 other people. I couldn't believe how simple the test was. I had two hours to finish it, and I was finished in an hour. I literally checked every answer. "I must be taking the wrong test," I thought. But when I looked across the room, many of the other people taking the test looked baffled.

Before the test score even arrived, I got a Certificate of Excellence from the test place. Then I got the score. I completely aced a 120-question multiple choice test.

Last year I became a full-time teacher at the Vo-Tech under a provisional certificate. I had to go to night (and weekend) school, and pay lots of money to various individuals and state entities, in order to get a piece of paper that would officially certify me to do what I was already doing. You see, my degree was in writing, not teaching. There's no state in the union that wouldn't see this as an easy way to grab some ducats.

In today's mail I found my New Jersey certificate to be a public school teacher.

Friends, I never thought I would be a teacher. And candidly, if someone had foreseen teaching in my future, I would never have predicted it would be in a school full of poor urban kids.

Most days I miss my old job. It's easy being your own boss if you're motivated by hunger. But just as often, I look around me at all the fresh faces, all of our nation's future nurses, and plumbers, and office workers, and I'm glad to be out in the world, doing some good. Just a little bit of good, and no harm.

The Vo-Tech building was designed by the same architect who designed Philadelphia's famous Museum of Art (the one with the Rocky steps). Above the Doric columns and the mini-Rocky steps at the Vo-Tech, there's a motto chiseled into the facade:


(When the Vo-Tech opened in 1926, it was all-male.)

Often when I go to work I ponder this motto. I was a tradeswoman of words ... and I built a hut. Now I'm a teacher, building a cabin. It's a long push for the estate, but you know what? I'm not hurting anyone, and I'm doing a little good. Let them say that of me, at least.


Alex Pendragon said...

I was in my fundamentals of nursing school when they told me I could challenge the CNA test to be a nursing aid while I was going to school. Just like you, I took this 2 hour long test, finished in under 30 minutes, and looked around to see everybody with pensive looks of intense study on their faces. I got REALLY evil looks as I handed in the test and left. I aced it too.

But I'm still an aide more than 15 years later. Maybe my nurses needed me more than the patients did.

Life is strange.

Thalia said...

Yeah, well, unless your trade is art.


one of my favorite posts by you..and is one of the reasons why I like you so much...goddess bless.

Gruvkitty said...

Congratulations on the certificate. Your students are lucky to have you. I really enjoy teaching, although the for the last 5 yrs, I couldn't get a job to save my life. I've always taught college level art courses, but these days I can't pay someone to let me teach. I've pondered getting certified out here in CA, but most public programs have nixed art. I loved teaching. I hope you find it rewarding, despite the crazy administrative BS!

Pom said...

I have a lump in my throat now. I'm very happy for you - and your students.

sott'Eos said...

On any given day you could make the difference that results in a person who would have been in prison a decade hence, being successful, maybe even owning their own shop. You will likely never see the estates that you are building.

Maebius said...

You are amazing, and I would be honored to be a student of yours. Life is pretty funny, hmm?

I started as an astro-physics major, and swapped to computer science since Physicists were generally "teachers" in their spare time and I didn't want to teach. Now I'm older and setting up to run workshops and events and festival thingies, to share things with people wanting to learn about that stuff. So, I'm kinda considering teaching again too. :)

Kudos for getting your paperwork properly processed!

kimc said...

the politics of it intrudes: we have had a big push by the Cheap Labor Republicans since 1964, and now all labor in the USA is cheap labor, except for top executives, who get way too much.
If wages had continued to be where they were in the 1950s (increasing with everything else), then that "estate" would be self-evident: the American Dream was to have a house, a vacation every year, enough to send your kids to college and to retire in comfort (but not necessarily luxury). The Dream has changed; larded with greed and corrupted by the bizarre idea that giving rich people more money would help poor or middle class people. Why does anyone believe that, now that it has been proven wrong over and over again?

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Congratulations, Anne! You know what they say -- those who teach, touch the future.