27 February 2014

"TIme May Change Me But I Can't Trace Time" Part 14 of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

Yours truly in Paris last May.


“Walking on water wasn’t built in a day.” - Jack Kerouac.

Great now what do I do? I’d been a public school teacher for 20 years. I was 54 years old and my skill set was limited to teaching editing and writing. It took me all of about three weeks to set my next course in motion. I would teach ESL to adults. I had a very good if somewhat foolish reason for reaching this decision: it would allow me to move to Europe and teach there. Perfect. I sort of forgot the part about having a wife who was not ready to pull up stakes and changes continents on my whim. It took me an embarrassingly long time to see that we weren’t leaving any time soon. (I hasten to add that this plan could well be set in motion when the missus retires.)

Be that as it may going back to school to get a TEFL certificate (Teacher of a Foreign Language) is one of the wisest decisions I’ve ever made.

Through my coursework at UC Berkeley Extension I met some wonderful fellow students (many in my age group) and had some truly grand professors highlighted by Dr. Sedique Popal one of the best people I’ve ever met -- let alone took classes from.

But while I was taking classes by night and weekend I would need to bring in a bit of cash. So I took my vast teaching experience to the fetid cesspool that is the Oakland Unified School District (Berkeley Unified and I were done with each other) and began the easy and impossible task of being a sub again.

Substitute teaching has the considerable benefits of not requiring one to grade papers plan lessons or attend meetings. But the rest of the job can be either frightfully boring or just plain horrible. Not to mention depressing. But that’s if one contemplates it and once I left whatever site I was at for the day I managed to put the work day out of my mind.

Students have always treated substitute teachers like they are the lowest form of society and when you go into a hell hole like Oakland it can be particularly bad. If a school was especially bad I simply crossed it off my list. Oakland is a big district so there were still plenty of schools to be slightly less miserable at. The response of administrators and staff to the mayhem that could take place with a sub in the room varied. Some schools had a zero tolerance for misbehavior and dealt with ruffians swiftly and efficiently. Others took their sweet time with mealy mouthed responses and at still others you were left to twist in the wind. At one high school there was all manner of insanity going on in a classroom. I spotted a vice principal passing by and told him of the miscreants and their misdeeds. His response: “leave the teacher a note she’s pretty good at following up.” He then went on his way. Suffice to say I never showed up at that madhouse again.

Some of my better subbing days were at a continuation high school where the students who couldn’t hack it in the regular schools were sent. The creme de la creme in reverse. All the rotten apples in one place. It no doubt sounds counterintuitive to suggest that this was a nicer place to be assigned but it was. Many of these kids had parole officers most had had some sort of scrap with the law and all had far far better things to do then with mess teachers even if they were subs. Most students simply didn’t show up. Those that did were either there for social interaction or in rare cases to work towards their graduation. Most subs would not go to the school which meant I got plenty of gigs there. The students would test me. They would try to bully me and when they saw I didn’t scare would leave me alone. The way to earn respect is to not flinch and  I didn’t. Students had no end game if they tried intimidation. They were never going to hit you because that would mean expulsion and jail. So I got a reputation among the students and the pretty much let me be and I let them be.

Finally I got my TOEFL certificate and was freed from the drudgery of subbing. I could actually teach again.  Really teach. My own lessons to my own students in my own classroom. And this time I’d be with cooperative mature appreciative students. Bliss.

In July of 2011 I started working at an international language school in San Francisco. I am still there today. The first few months working there was like a long protracted orgasm. Students from all over the world -- most between 18-25 but of all ages beyond -- who were polite kind smart and happy. To teach happy people! My co workers were the nicest people on the planet and funny clever and full of mirth. The boss was totally supportive of teachers and a regular human being with a soul and heart. This was a school?

Some of the initial euphoria has died off now two and half years later and many of my original colleagues have moved on as has the boss. But the new boss is equally grand and the new teachers are wonderful too. I’m still treated to delightful students. Thus far I have had students from at least 41 different countries.

Since leaving public school teaching I’ve finally resumed writing regularly and this blog is but one example. I’ve completed a second novel (the first done while I was teaching has been rejected too many times to count and I believe the primary reason for this is that it is no damn good) which I am readying for publication and a prolonged stint on the best seller list (a fella can dream). I’ve also made progress on a third which will become an international sensation (again dreaming is right not a privilege) and I have started writing poetry as my poetry blog proves.

There has also been two trips to Europe which have -- among other things -- caused me to fall madly in love with Paris. I know I’m not the first. A long overdue sojourn to Finland is up next.

During my last year of public school teaching my father died. Though he was 92 it was too soon. Dad had lived 91 healthy happy productive years before a fluke fall caused a head injury from which he died ten months later. Aimo Hourula was a remarkable man and I miss him still. He was beloved by both his sons and six grandchildren in addition to countless others. The man knew how to live. Dad pursued life with energy and enthusiasm setting an example I hope to follow.

Two years ago my big brother died much much too soon at the age of 64 as I recounted on this blog the day it happened. I can only hope to be half as good a man as he was. Mom had died in 2001 a few years before I was able to forgive her for unwittingly putting me through hell. When my big brother died I was left the sole survivor of the family I grew up in. It was and still is a weird feeling. At times I feel desperately alone. I am extremely fortunate to have a family of my own. Nothing means more to me. The kiddies are grown and I must say the missus and I did a good job or raising them.

Tomorrow this series concludes.

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