Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Teacher's Girlfriend

As the long-time girlfriend of a teacher, the start of the school year fills me with not a little anticipation and anxiety.  It used to just mean the fall was here, that the bus would be packed once again in the mornings and afternoons, that stores would have amazing sales on office supplies.  Now, it means a whole different slew of things.

Being in his fifth year as an honors U.S. History and American Lit high school teacher (at his alma mater, in fact) in one of California's most dysfunctional school districts, Nate is both prepared and unable to prepare for whatever the next nine months may hold for him us.  Sure, his lesson plans are ready to go, he has healthy after-school routines in place so that he can separate work life from home life, and he goes to bed about two hours earlier on average.

But there's no way to plan for those pushy parents who believe their kids are going to write the next great American novel when they can barely string two sentences together.  There's no way to prepare for those entitled students who believe they can and should be able to cheat their ways into Ivy League schools.  There's no way to fortify your work against administrators who are just trying to shove their loads onto others so they can leave school early.  And in a school where the demographic has so drastically shifted over the past two years from being historically black to being predominantly white and middle- to upper-class, there's no way to insulate yourself against the race and class tensions which pervade the environment.

And as Nate's partner, there's even less I can do to help him.  I can accept that, with the school year starting, I now share him with more than a hundred other people, more than a hundred assignments he has to grade after he gets home at night.  I understand that our weekends consist of -- if we're lucky -- a Friday night date and a Saturday full of errands before he starts working again Sunday morning.  And I know that I'll worry about him when he can't sleep at night because of the stress, because the to-do lists and curricula won't stop running through his mind.

But it's never easy.

He does wonderful work -- and he's a fantastic teacher.  But his job isn't easy.  With more resources, a better teacher to student ratio, a cleaning up of both the district administrators and the teachers union, higher pay, a damn contract under which to work and argue for rights, maybe things would be better.

But until then, welcome back.  School is now in session.

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