Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I want to tell you about my Husband

Warning - I'm about to get all political, which I don't usually do. But politics is hitting too close to home for me to keep quiet about this anymore.


There are any number of things happening in the world that make me want to crawl back under the covers and pretend the world isn't turning outside...the earthquake, the tsunami, the nuclear problem (all happening in a place I once called home, which, well, see my previous post); the new war in Libya (look, we've spent eleventy-gazillion dollars fighting wars in the middle east, only one of which (Afghanistan) did we have any business whatsoever getting involved in.)

I'm very seriously thinking of becoming a Quaker. That might seem like a non-sequitor. It's not.

But the thing that is making me the most upset, because it is affecting me most personally, is the idea that seems to have sprung suddenly, and out of no where, that public school teachers are Public Enemy Number One.

I don't usually get political on this blog, but this isn't politics to me. You talk smack about public school teachers, you are talking smack about a man I happen to be very much in love with.

So today, I want to tell you about my Husband.

My husband gets up at 5:45 every morning, so that he can be at school by 7:00 AM. If he doesn't have a meeting, he leaves school at 3:00 PM. If he has a meeting, he might not leave until 3:45PM.

He has 22 minutes for lunch. 22 MINUTES. It takes him 3 minutes to walk to teacher's lounge, so, really, he has 16 minutes.

My husband gets home in time to meet our kids as they get off the bus at 4:00 PM, and he helps them with their homework.

After dinner, my husband grades papers. He teaches English and Science, and between the two, there are many, many nights and weekend afternoons and early mornings where he grades papers for three hours. Many of these papers, based on the indecipherable handwriting I have personally observed, appear to have been written by a right handed lemur writing with his left hand, possibly with his left hand encased in a cast.

During the summer, he is required to use his own money to pursue a Master's Degree. If he doesn't work towards a Master's Degree, (and after his M.A. he will have to pursue continuing education) - his teaching certification will not be renewed. During his other free time, when he isn't grading papers or working on continuing education, he must put together lesson plans and curriculum plans. (Because the district he works in doesn't have a curriculum director.)

So, let's see, 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM is 8 hours...plus 2 to 3 hours per night, let's say 10.5 hours per day. And probably six hours per weekend. So, let's say, conservatively, that he works 10 hours per day on the 187 days per year he is contracted to work - that's 1870 hours. Then let's say, also conservatively, that he works 6 hours per weekend, approximately 30 weekends per year. That's another 180 hours. And let's not forget the hours he must put in during the summer, on his own dime, towards his Master's Degree, and putting together lesson plans and curriculum, so, again let's say, conservatively, 10 hours per week during the 10 weeks he has "off" in the summer. That's another 100 hours. Add those up? 2150 HOURS. Guess who has a FULL TIME JOB? MY HUSBAND. Full time and then some. SO PLEASE - stop screaming that teachers don't have full time jobs. It makes my head want to explode.

My husband's job is teach 16-17 year olds enough chemistry and physics and geology that they have a working knowledge of these things. It's also his job, as an English teacher, to teach them how write in an intelligible way.

Special education has been phased out in his district, so, among his students are several severely learning disabled students, and also some who don't speak English as their first language.

He has some students who has to remind, over and over and over again, to stop hurting themselves in the middle of class, and to not eat the chemicals that are part of the labs.

In spite of these challenges, my Husband is GOOD at what he does. He is a good teacher. He is good at helping children understand difficult concepts. If you ask him what part he loves about being a teacher, he will tell you it is the time when his door is closed and his class is full and he is teaching his kids. If you ask him why he became a teacher, well, that's a very personal story, and it's not mine to tell. But I can tell you that his reasons were compelling. He might have gone to medical school, or he might have become an engineer, but he chose to become a teacher because that's what he cared about.

He is not a miracle worker.

He is not a social worker or a psychiatrist but he is expected to act in these capacities as well.

The fact that his union has asked for him to be paid a living wage and for him to receive health insurance (for which we DO pay a portion) - is not him "fighting for things he doesn't deserve". (Thank you very much (NOT!), FOX contributor Tracy Byrnes, you horrible, wretched two-faced, abominable, low down shameful talking head, for that ridiculous assessment of what teachers are concerned about.) (In case you missed it, you can see Jon Stewart's piece here.)

My husband is not the enemy. My husband is teaching children how to understand chemistry.

Please - get off his back and let him do his job.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

World Turned Upside Down

One afternoon when I was 24 years old, I left my office on the 4th floor of a five story building in Hitachi City, Japan. I was on my lunch break, and I walked to a department store called Isejin to get something to eat. (Department stores are probably not good lunch choices here in the US, but in Japan, at the time at least, the bottom floor of a department store was likely to have a grocery, a ramen noodle stand, and a bakery.)

When I returned to my office building after lunch, I walked into the elevator, hitting the button for the 4th floor, and the elevator began to rise, and then...

The elevator stopped, and the lights went out, and the elevator car began to shake violently, and it tilted for one brief and horrible moment, smacking against the walls of the elevator shaft.

I clung to the railing inside the elevator and I was pretty sure I was going to die.

Seconds passed. I don't know how many. It felt like a lot, but it was less than 2 minutes.

The lights came back on, and the elevator continued its ascent. When the doors opened, three of my co-workers were standing in the vestibule, staring at the elevator. (I believe they had been standing in the door frame between our office and the lobby, seeking the soundest structural place to wait out the earthquake, and then they stayed there when the realized the elevator was moving and someone must have been stuck inside during the earthquake.)

I stumbled out of the elevator and grabbed my friend Riyako's hand. She squeezed my hand back. "Jishin," she said, her eyes wide. Yes. Earthquake.

I took the stairs for the next four months.

I experienced a few more earthquakes during the time I lived in Japan, and while only one was anywhere near as frightening as those moments in the elevator, they still scared the crap out of me. (My husband slept through that one, he has no memory of me dragging him by the hand to stand in doorway of our apartment building in the middle of the night, or of watching the lamp hanging from our kitchen ceiling sway back and forth.) (I wish I did not have that memory myself.)

There is something indescribably terrifying about what happens during an earthquake - that the ground, the earth, the very thing that is supposed to be IMMOBILE and SOLID and RELIABLE, is shaking violently. There really isn't anything to hold onto when the ground beneath your feet begins to tremble. So you pray that it passes, and that it's small and that it isn't "the big one".

When I turned on my phone yesterday morning, there were two emails at the top of my inbox, one from our friend Keiko and another from our friend Miho. Both were short, "I am okay."

But you have two emails from two Japanese people that you hear from a few times a year, both saying, "Hey, I'm okay." You KNOW something bad happened.

The images and news stories are horrifying and I cannot wrap my head around it. Trains? NOT RUNNING? IN JAPAN THE TRAINS ARE NOT RUNNING? If you've never been to Japan, the gravity of this statement might be lost on you. I cannot even begin to describe the Japanese rail system in a single blog post, but the adjectives generally used to describe it are "precise" and "punctual" and "efficient" and "reliable" and "like clockwork".

If you get on a train in Tokyo, and the schedule says it will stop in Sendai at 4:17 PM, it WILL stop in Sendai at 4:17 exactly. They are not late, they do not fail to arrive. It is admirable, this efficiency. And the Japanese people rely on these trains. They are used by TENS OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE every day.

So to hear that they ARE NOT RUNNING and that FOUR OF THEM ARE MISSING - (FOUR TRAINS ARE MISSING. MISSING!!) - I cannot even begin to fathom the chaos.

I have had to stop watching the footage coming out of Japan. Because while I know that Keiko and Miho are okay - so many others, so many other people I cared about and have lost touch with - I don't know.

We've lived less than a mile from the beach on the Pacific Ocean, south of Sendai, north of Tokyo...I don't imagine that area could possibly have come through this unscathed.


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