That Little Tiny Voice

*this is a bit different from what I usually post about on this blog, but it’s all connected in one way or another in the end, right?

I have a long history of falling in love, second-guessing my passion, and inevitably circling back to to the same place after a period of denial. As a child, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. It seemed like the perfect job to tiny me: getting paid to be creative, to read, to work with kids  trying to figure out their worlds. As I got older, I pushed down that desire for “more”: I wanted to a be a doctor. A midwife. A health care worker. I hit university, still waffling, still unsure of what would come next.

And then I started volunteering on campus. I got trained to facilitate workshops on issues that mattered to me: sexual orientation; homohatred; making queer spaces more trans- and bi-friendly; sexual violence prevention; safer sex and contraception.  I started to remember little me’s love of teaching. That love started to make some things a bit clearer. I was worried, though, that the classroom may not be the right place for me, as it was the mid to late 1990s, and all I knew about education in that time was the destruction the Harris government had wreaked on the system. I decided that the resurgence of little me’s voice in my head was leading me towards social work and public education. Still teaching, right?

Sidestep for a few years, as my life took an unexpected welcome turn towards parenthood. Back to back babies and a truly miserable relationship shut down all but the survival elements of my brain for a few years. As I became a single parent and got into our new groove, the voice came back. Social work or teaching, it asked. Over and over again. Social work or teaching?

I chose social work. I started an MSW program when my children were 2.5 and 4 years old. I’d wake up every morning at 4, taking advantage of the only genuine quiet time in our household. While I really wanted to write a thesis, to keep my doors open for further graduate work down the line, it just wasn’t possible. So, I took all the courses, focused on health care direct practice and policy, completed healthcare placements, and … worked a lot of retail. You see, while I had the right credential, I didn’t have the “pay your dues” experience required. I couldn’t work shifts. I couldn’t work overnights. I didn’t have a car. Those really sweet permanent jobs in hospitals, in university health and counselling services, in schools? Not an option because I couldn’t gain experience through group homes or child protection work.

About a year after I graduated, I got a part-time job in a disability support non-profit.  There, I facilitated support groups, ran a resource library, and acted as a referral point to individuals and families seeking supports. I did this while still single parenting, working a retail job, and doing some health care office management and data entry support. I was exhausted.

In my fatigue, I started to hear little me voice our love once again. You want to teach. You know you do. I knew I did. But I also knew I couldn’t afford at that point to go back to school full-time. And how could I do teacher certification part-time? And what if I found the money, and applied to the one school I could attend without having to move, but didn’t get in? Enter a US school who had decided to run a pilot satellite campus in my Canadian hometown: a Master of Science in Teaching, two courses at a time, with a practicum in town? Of course, I signed right up. Now, this program was specifically to train teachers for Kindergarten to Grade 6 (not my preferred level), but I was confident I could take additional qualifications courses later on to move into secondary.

So, I went to school part-time for a year. Completed five courses towards my degree.  And then … I saw a job ad. In a city 500 km from home. In reproductive health care policy. For more money than I had ever made in my life (which, in retrospect, wasn’t really that much money at all). Somehow, I went through the hiring process and got the damn job. I picked up my life and the lives of my kids, and I moved us to the big city. I believed that, on top of this being an amazing professional opportunity, my kids would have access to more support and more options in this city.

This brings us to Toronto. Kids now 7.5 and 9. And the job was so good. So so good. The life, though, was hard and lonely. I had so much built-in support at home, and now, while I had many friends, it just wasn’t the same. In my exhaustion, that tiny little voice popped up once again. You want to teach. You know you do. I knew I did. I knew that my contract had a concrete expiration date, so I took advantage of this and once again applied to teacher education programs. I accepted that I’d have to incur more debt to do this full-time, but at this point all three of us were so burnt out that having the flexible schedule school would provide me was, in my mind, worth incurring that debt.

I chose the two-year Master of Teaching program in 2011. While I could have attended a one-year Bachelor of Education program, I once again wanted to have the option of later graduate work, and the MT program has a major research paper (of sorts) component. I also liked that there were twice as many classroom placements, and because it was a graduate program, I could apply for major scholarships to pay for my second year, reducing my overall debt (yes, I did win a major scholarship which paid for my second year). Sometimes one or the other of my kids would come to class with me. They’d often meet me at school after class or at practicum. I was able to set up our lives so that everything was close together, and this was sustainable for us.

I should probably mention that Regulation 274/12 (Hiring Practices) was implemented the summer between my first and second year. Regrets, I’ve had a few.

And then I graduated. And once again, found myself working four jobs. I was a tutor, a GED coach, a day program facilitator, and a private school teacher to one student. I didn’t get into a board my first year out, alas. The second year, though? Success! I was hired onto the Occasional Teacher roster for the elementary panel of the local school board. Once again, not my preference, but work is work, and my baby needed braces. I spent two years teaching in elementary, mostly middle school core French. I continued to apply for the secondary pool and continued to take additional qualifications courses to increase my chances. I had also gone back to school in the meantime, having started a PhD program the same month I started supply teaching in 2014.

In September 2016, I was activated as an occasional teacher on the secondary panel. I’d fallen into my first longterm occasional (LTO) position by November, and completed two more LTOs by the end of that school year. Towards the end of the summer, I was contacted by a VP wondering if I was available to work the first week or two in a position while they worked on hiring a contract teacher. Sure, I said. I wanted to focus on my dissertation proposal, and was counting on the flexible schedule of occasional work, so this seemed ideal.

And then, because it was a complicated alternative placement with a pretty ridiculous (to others) timetable, no one was hired for the position. Because of my wealth of additional qualifications, I possessed every qualification required for the position. It was offered to me, as a contract.

“But it’s too soon!” I said to myself, not out loud, because you don’t say such things out loud.

“Are you sure?” I asked my VP, convinced it must have been a joke or a mistake. Nope. All the i’s were dotted, all the t’s crossed. They had followed Regulation 274, and needed someone in the position.

So, because you don’t say no to contract, I became a permanent teacher sometime in the fall of 2017. Along with more than 200 others. Because enrolment numbers have been increasing, my board needed to hire this many teachers to address growing need. I was also one of many teachers to get surplussed to my school the following spring.

I landed okay! The school I’ve been in this year has been an amazing placement for me. I have felt respected and trusted by students, parents, colleagues, and leadership team. When I didn’t get a surplus notice earlier this spring, I momentarily thought I’d be safe, that I’d still be here next year.

Then the board announced it was implementing bumping: a procedure through which teachers who have been surplussed at their home schools would be bumped into positions where they had the qualifications and more seniority than those currently in the positions.

So here I am: tentatively surplus to the board. What does this mean? It means that I (and 327 other high school teachers) do not have a placement for September. It means we might, we might not, have jobs. We are in limbo. We do not know.

The 328 of us who are in this limbo shouldn’t be. As I said above, our board has been seeing a steady increase in enrolment. Our student numbers are GROWING. But boards across the province are dealing with cancelled provincial student funding grants. They’re dealing with legislation that says high school students get to build “resilience” by being in classes too big to fit enough chairs for them to sit in, and who have to take four e-learning courses by graduation in spite of all research on e-learning documenting that it’s not a good choice for most young learners.

And those teachers who didn’t get a letter on Friday? They’re dealing with larger class sizes, closed Focus on Success programs, reduced Guidance and Library allocations, and fewer/more sporadic on-site Child and Youth and Social Work supports. Are they also “building resilience?”

I don’t know what comes next. None of us do. Maybe I’ll still get placed. With all of my qualifications, I might. If not, I suppose I’ll ask to be placed back on the occasional teacher list. Maybe I’ll have time to finally write a spectacular dissertation proposal. Maybe I’ll tutor.

Whatever happens, I’m not giving up hope. Little me’s voice has been trying too hard for too long to be heard. I’ll not be denying her again.

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