On what should be the fifth day of work on my 2014-2015 contract, I’m sitting at home. And I’m wearing a staff t-shirt from the first school I taught at. As a pyjama top.
Back then, I wore the shirt every Friday. Most of us did. I wore it because I belonged to something. I was part of a group. I was a teacher – and easily identifiable as one for at least one day of the week.
On the other days I made sure to carry my keys and ID badge at all times. You know, so I wouldn’t be mistaken for a student. Again.
But these days, I wear this shirt because it’s comfortable. I barely think about the fact that it’s a staff t-shirt. It just happens to be one. But I don’t need to wear a staff shirt to show others that I’m part of this amazing group of people called “teachers.”
They can figure it out without me uttering a word.
Yesterday, I had my bathtub reglazed. It’s really glamorous, I know. But as the tradesman was leaving, he said, “I see you’re a teacher. Think you’ll be back at work this year?”
And I gaped at him a little. I mean, how did he KNOW? I looked down. Nope, wasn’t wearing my PJs. And I hadn’t mentioned being a teacher. The only thing we’d talked about were dogs – as mine was simultaneously trying to bark at and lick him. But I found my voice and replied as optimistically as possible: “I sure hope so! We’re having a vote to support binding arbitration on Wednesday. Hopefully that will help get us there.”
Then, I closed the door behind him, and wracked my brain. Had I talked about being a teacher? No. Had I left lesson plans in the bathtub? Definitely not. So how did he figure it out?
As I wandered back to the bathroom to admire my newly painted tub, it made sense. The bathroom is in front of my office. Which is filled with boxes. And poster rolls. And binders. And games. And DVDs. And bags of props. And a copy of The Outsiders, turned into a rainbow with post-its. The room is filled with papers in French and English, and French Revolution projects.
I’m clearly a teacher. I didn’t need to tell him that.
But then I started to curse myself a little. How had I let him leave without explaining what binding arbitration is, or what article E.80 is trying to do to our rights? Why didn’t I point out that the $375 million for class composition that the premier keeps referring to is the total for five years, and that it’s really just the status quo? I should have asked him if he had questions and clarified where I could. I should have made sure that he understood that the “twice as much in wages and benefits” mantra that the government keeps using actually includes Educational Assistants and counselors as a “benefit.” I should have… I should have…
My brain was firing off all of the things that I should have told him. It was going so fast, revving so high, that I had no other choice.
I popped it into neutral.
Not neutral as in uninvolved, mind you. Neutral as in I needed to change gears.
Because this strike stuff is mentally exhausting. Completely and utterly. It’s like I’m simultaneously in front of a class and a jury. Every day. And I can’t push forward in high gear all the time. Nobody can.
So I took a break. I recharged. I got ready for today – for trading my staff shirt for a picket sign.
And I hope that all of you out there are remembering to do the same thing. To play with the dog. Or put away all things social media. Or make a nice meal and watch some Netflix. Whatever makes you happy. Contented.
Because in the fight to save public education, the first rule of lifesaving applies: save yourself first.
In this prolonged battle, we’ll be no good to anyone if we aren’t good to ourselves first.