Over-educated bouncer/cleaner wanted

Mr Hose was said to be a well-liked teacher; he was rated 3.8 out of a possible five on the controversial ratemyteachers.com website.


I was supposed to have a meeting at 2.00pm today, but on the way I noticed a large group of students hanging about outside after the bell for the start of last spell.  Feeling like a lone police officer approaching a pack of boy racers at 1.00am I strolled over and asked the students what they were doing.  Some of them tried out a variety of smart remarks, and I tried to move them on.  They ignored me.  I barked at them.  They ignored me, and then began to make fun of me.  Being made fun of by smarmy teenagers can be quite testing, but I am quite good at ignoring it these days.  Another teacher came up, gave a cursory growl and then wandered off.  By the time I decided to go and get some help the crowd of students had, if anything, gotten bigger.

While I was looking for help another teacher had evidently stumbled across my pack of students because they ran into the staff room and told us to get outside because there was a fight.  I dutifully trundled back out to discover that things had escalated in my absence and even more students were milling around, circling the embers of a scuffle.  I suppose there were six or seven teachers there by this point and perhaps 20-25 students.  The most striking thing about this incident which just dragged on and on and on was that the students completely ignored all of us teachers.  The warring groups continued to antagonise each other, the spectators calling out taunts and insults would not move on, or be dispersed, and more and more students seemed to gather.  One of the protaganists had to physically shoved away from the scene all the while screaming at the teacher in a highly affronted way: “You can’t touch me!”  Never mind that she was trying to beat someone up.

My sense of futility at the end of this was overwhelming. 

I went to my meeting twenty minutes late with it all still going on.  In fact the end of the meeting was interrupted by the girl who had been protesting her rights storming into our building and throwing furniture around.  I went out of the meeting to make sure she wasn’t attacking our office staff, and quietly picked up the tables she had thrown over while she glowed in a red hot rage in the corner of the room, her hands balled in impotent fists (“breathe, breathe” the office lady calmly advised her).

It was without surprise that I heard on the news on the way home that a teacher had been stabbed by a thirteen year old.  I am pleased that Mr. Hose is ok and wants to go back to work, and I thank NZPA for giving us his ratemyteacher score (3.8 out of 5).  If he had managed a 4.2 he probably would have got off with a karate chop to the throat.

The meeting I was delayed getting to was to set up a special literacy programme to help Year 10 students who are way behind in the their reading and writing.  It has taken me three weeks to try and get the thing going, and all of the teachers at the meeting have given up their time to make it happen.  It represents a lot of effort on their part to take on this project for the twenty odd kids who are struggling at the bottom of the heap, and the returns will be hard earned.  Whatever.  It’s worth a crack.  Somehow these kids haven’t really “got” reading yet, and at age fourteen this is really their last shot before NCEA.  Most teachers actually do give a damn, and I am always irked by angry comments on blogs and on the radio that suggest teachers are asking for trouble in some way.  Talk about a demoralising job.  If the community fails to support us then we really are screwed as a profession.  As it is we are barely holding the line with some parents.

On the other hand, sometimes I don’t think we do ourselves any favours.  When I came home today I read this via the DimPost: an editorial in the Dominion Post entitled Teachers Need to Get Real

There has long been a suspicion that reality stops at the door to the teachers’ staffroom.  The Post Primary Teachers Association’s ludicrous claim for a 4 per cent pay rise for secondary school teachers lends credence to the theory.

The odd thing about this editorial is that while I actually agreed with its initial point, I disagreed with everything else in it.  While we were having our PPTA meeting sometime last year and people were putting forward all the things they wanted for the next pay claim (the one the Dom Post is referring to), I actually thought: “we shouldn’t ask for a pay rise because the economy is  stuffed”.  To be perfectly frank I hate belonging to groups that decide things in meetings by a show of hands.  It is has always been proof to me of how the democratic process can leave you feel unrepresented.

Anyway, after a strong start, the editorial rapidly skates out over thin ice:

The present pay structure does not allow schools to differentiate between the performance of good, indifferent and bad teachers. They are all paid on the basis of their years of service and the responsibilities they hold.

If teacher unions are as serious as they say they are about wanting to keep good teachers in schools, they should work with the Education Ministry to devise a formula that allows schools to pay great teachers what they are worth and send a message to poor teachers that they should review their career options.

Paid on the basis of how experienced they are and what responsibilities they hold?  What a crazy system.

I love the line “devise a formula that allows schools to pay great teachers” in the next paragraph.  It makes it sound so easy.  Maybe we should use ratemyteacher. 

How would you decide who the great teachers are?  On student results?  That sounds like a recipe for disaster; shifting our education system towards a teaching-to-the-test system.  Or perhaps you have teachers evaluate each other and turn staffrooms into nasty political battle grounds.  Or maybe we should make it a popularity contest with students and parents?  What would it be like to teach in a school where the teachers were all paid different rates for the same job?  Apparently this would be a way of giving crap teachers a big hint that they should leave.  Sounds like a good system in a country where people are lining up outside the door to get a job in your profession.  Teaching in New Zealand?  Not so much.

It might just be that, in teaching, it really is best to pay based on experience and responsibilities.

The Dom Post editorial has one final insight to offer us on teachers,

[Some] are worth their weight in gold. It would be almost impossible to overpay them. However, there are others who go through the motions for a weekly pay cheque and a third group who are simply not up to the job.

Much like the offices of the Dom Post I imagine.

Or any workplace.

Bloody humans.  If only they could all be perfect.

Throw them out of the temple (but not too far)

For awhile my wife and I had a lot of disposable income.  We lived in Japan, and were fairly well paid and had no expenses beyond the obvious ones of rent, groceries and utilities.  It was rather nice.  Of course we, like most Japanese, also lived in a small apartment, so there was a limit to the kinds of things that you could buy.  You couldn’t buy furniture, or large appliances, but you could buy an awful lot of meals out, and clothes and books and CDs.  But Japan is a funny place.  Its modern culture is wasteful and consumer driven, but it’s traditional culture is simple and contemplative.  You might find yourself spending a week eating out, and a weekend regarding a zen rock garden.  Of course Japan is not alone in this contradiction, most societies have this conflict inside them, and I suppose that many people do too.  I certainly do.

About money I have two contradictory impulses.  It is as if inside me are two different people: a pretentious aesthete who quite likes beautiful, expensive things, and a puritanical socialist who wants to stand on the aesthete’s throat.  If I am contemplating a major purchase I would rather pay more for quality or aesthetics than save money and get something of lesser quality or beauty.  On the other hand I abhor junk, and mansions with endless rooms, and needless gadgets, and TV, and capitalists in private jets, and the inequities of pay for different kinds of work.  You know, the usual stuff.

These two people inside me fought their biggest battle when we came back to New Zealand from Japan.  We came home after visiting a few places in Europe.  One of those places was Rome.  In Rome we went to the Vatican, and this of course meant going to St. Peter’s Basilica.  One of my enduring memories of visiting that place was going up onto the roof above the entrance to look back across the Tiber over Rome and discovering that there was a little shop on the roof of St. Peter’s.  Inside the shop were piles of religious souvenirs, postcards, and rosaries.  It was staffed by three or four nuns.  We bought some postcards and sent them from the shop so that they could have the Vatican post mark stamped on them.  At the time I don’t remember finding this shop on the roof of St. Peter’s particularly shocking, but somehow it came back to me when we arrived home in New Zealand after our five years away and tried to set up house.

For all our disposable income in Japan I realised we had lived fairly simple lives.  We hadn’t had a car, and we had rented an apartment that had two small rooms and a bathroom.  We had a sofa, a coffee table, cushions for the floor and two futons that folded away during the day.  That was all really (aside from the books and CDs of course).  Coming home and facing the prospect of buying a mountain of things for an enormous house (actually, not so enormous, but it seemed that way to us at the time) was overwhelming.  My dominant thought was: “Why do people need so much crap?”  And then I was reminded of the shop on the roof of St. Peter’s.  If even at the centre of the Catholic universe there were some nuns flogging plastic statues of Mary then it’s no wonder that people have so much crap in their lives;  everyone is pushing it on you.

The spiritual and the worldly are always forced to sit together in the end, and they are always uncomfortable bedfellows. 

I heard Philip Pullman talking to Kim Hill yesterday and one of them said there was a terrific paradox about Jesus and the Church.  On the one hand without the church the message of Jesus would have been like water poured into sand, none of  it would have stayed, but on the other hand although the church provided the vessel that allowed the message to survive it has proven to be a very lavish vessel indeed and one that Jesus would not recognise as connected to his beliefs.  So the two go together, the otherworldly and the worldly, in an unhappy and permanent jostle for the souls of men. 

Because I was looking at this website in order to listen to the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., I stumbled across Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural address.  It is pipped into third place on the website’s ranking of great American oratory by I Have a Dream, and JFK’s inaugural address, which is probably fair.  FDR’s speech is terrific over its first two-thirds, but loses a bit of oomph towards the end.  However, judged by the criteria of which speech heralded the biggest changes coming to America, FDR’s speech certainly wins for it was the prelude to the New Deal, and a call to arms against the Great Depression.  This is the most famous section,

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

He goes on to outline the problem that faces America,

In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunk to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; and the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone. More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

And whose fault is this?

Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

Unsurprisingly, FDR’s speech, like most American oratory, has recourse to religion.  In particular it draws on the famous scene where Christ throws the money-lenders out of the temple.

Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They only know the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

Yes, the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of that restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

It’s good stuff, but I noticed something as I read through the speech, and then read through his first few fireside chats: Roosevelt might appear to be raining fire down on the heads of capitalists like an Old Testament God let loose in Gamorrah, but he is not actually spelling out the end of capitalism.  He is talking about a massive expansion of the state and a massive reform of the monetary system, and he is also talking about jobs, and work, and industry.  In short, he is talking about the restoration of capitalism.

Wisely.  I grudgingly admit that he does this wisely.  Every now and then capitalism needs to be beaten back into its cave with a heavy stick, but do I think we could do without it altogether?  Unfortunately, not.  I don’t know why I say unfortunately.  Probably because aspects of capitalism make me sick, and in some senses it is a sick system, but it is also a system that has eased the suffering of a great many people, and, honestly, what is the alternative?  I have read Hayek and can admit the truth of many of the things he said.  Money does make you free.  If you have it.  And what would we get if the spiritualists took over from the money-lenders?  Its all very well to wander the country spreading your vision of the world, but someone has to tend the crops.

But then, but then,

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the end, I suspect that social idealism and capitalism are two great and mutually necessary competing forces within a healthy society.  If either one becomes overwhelmingly stronger than the other then society sickens.  If capitalism takes over then society’s sense of community begins to fail, and if idealism takes over the physical well-being of its members deteriorates.

Something about the soul of young men cries out for grand ideas that explain everything.  It’s always a bad sign when you think you have an idea that explains everything.  Much better, usually, to muddle through.  So kick the money-lenders out of the temple, because heaven knows they’ve screwed everything up again, but we better leave the door open because they’ll be back – around the time we want a flat screen TV for the tabernacle.