Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Random Act of Kindness

I have been very open about my struggle with depression.  I have come out of the darkest days, but I occasionally find a wound that is still relatively fresh.

I spent 17 years at Hamtramck High School.  I grew up there.  Sometimes I was brilliant, other times, I was an utter disaster.  At no time, however, could any one say that I did not give my all to the kids, and often times the staff, at Hamtramck. 

I resigned at the end of summer, before the first days of school, so I saw no one and texted a few people good-bye.  Since then, I really haven't heard from any of my former co-workers, even the ones I have contacted.  It's a little like I disappeared at the hands of Winston at the Ministry of Truth.  I've tried not to take the silence personally, but it hasn't been easy.  When I first took my leave, I heard from very few people and that just reinforced the notion that I could disappear and no one would care.  Luckily, my new job keeps me too busy to ruminate on these thoughts.  The medicine also helps quite a bit.

Today, I went to my mailbox and found an assortment of junk, a copy of Rolling Stone, and a card from a former co-worker.  This is a person who was always exceedingly kind and was forever complimenting Student Council, which was great because all of my administrators had their heads too far up their own asses to bother with public accolades.  Anyway, the card left me in tears.  I won't quote the whole card, but here is where the tears flowed freely:

"You can feel tremendous with your accomplishment, Toni!  We can see it in all the kids who have passed through Hamtramck and were fortunate enough to have you as an English teacher or Student Council Rep.  You always worked your "tail off" for our kids....I have been honored to work along side you."

He didn't have to write this card.  No other adult thanked me or acknowledged my work.  This was a beautiful thing.  I don't imagine it took him long to do.  A Facebook friend is always encouraging people to commit one act of Random Kindness.  This act touched me deeply, and I will try and reconcile these warm feelings with the cold sense of loss I feel when I think about others.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sharing Our Stories

Today, AFT-MI members turned up in Lansing to talk to legislators about a number of issues important to educators in Michigan.

One of the bills that might go to vote during this Lame Duck session is HB 4639.  This bill would give the EAA the authority to take over schools throughout the whole state.  Currently, 15 schools in Detroit are under EAA authority.  I won't even go into what an unmitigated disaster the EAA is.  Eclectablog has done an amazing job covering this train wreck, please give that site some more traffic.

As for the bill, support for it has been largely partisan.  Many Republicans are eager to expand the EAA's powers to other "failing" schools.  Luckily, the AFT has had a huge impact on stopping the district's expansion.  All the AFT-MI did was transport teachers from EAA schools to Lansing and let them tell their stories to legislators, this past spring.

One of the legislators who heard those teachers stories was Republican Senator, John Poppageorge. He initially supported the EAA, but changed his mind after listening to teachers tell their stories.  One of the teachers told the senator that the EAA was a Potemkin village.  Clearly, that analogy made an impression on the senator, as he repeated the phrase to us today to describe his opinion of the EAA.

We have voices, but they are useless if we don't use them.  Teachers have been under attack across the nation at an unprecedented level over the last several years.  If we engage, even minimally, in the political process and simply tell our stories, even members on the other side will listen.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What IS so funny about peace, love, and understanding?

My very first job was as a dishwasher in a small family-run bakery.  I lasted only two weeks. I couldn't bear the sight of the "bakers" smoking while making the butter cream frosting.

My second job is the one I truly consider to be my first as I held it for a while and I learned quite a bit about the world on that job.

I was 18 years old and attending a community college full-time to pump up my relatively anemic grades.  The Gantos Boutique was just opening, at Wonderland Mall, next to the book store where my mom worked, so I applied. Luckily, I got a job that did not require me to interact with either people or money.  I was hidden in the back, with a radio, a sharp box cutter, and boxes of merchandise to receive. A perfect job for a kid taking classes.

I also had the perfect boss for my situation.  The store manager's name was Patty and she just might have been the best boss I ever had.  There were three people who received the merchandise for this very large store.  A woman older than me, with kids worked from 9-2, I worked from 1-9, and a high school girl worked from 5-9.  The floor staff was a mixed group of woman in their golden years to just out of high school. Patty was completely aware that many of the college students working for her, in particular me, were not studying to go into retail. Because of that, she told us that she wanted to see our report cards.  The same stipulation was in order for any high school students working at the store.  She was adamant that if grades started to drop, hours would decrease. Grades were more important than work, especially if she knew your parents could support you. Because of this experience, I thought that most bosses would treat their employees with common dignity and respect.

Boy was I wrong.

I won't bore you with all the details of all the bosses I have had in the last 30 years, but to say that Patty still stands out as an example of a good one is telling.  My bosses have ranged from mildly irritating (like a rash) to extremely sadistic.  I can honestly say that not one of the principals for whom I worked could see beyond their own ego (I also do not care if any of them see this). 

Now we see controversy about stores being open on Thanksgiving Day.  Open on the only secular national holiday we have, not related to the military.  We, the people of the United States who have have only 10 nationals holidays, second fewest in "developed" countries.  We, the people of the United States, who do not receive mandated paid vacation time.  A holiday that is supposed to be about being thankful for what we have and our love ones has now turned into an ugly day on which people leave their families to go buy crap from employees who were forced to be away from their families.

No one needs a 50 inch screen television, much less wait in line for one on Thanksgiving day.  No child needs a video game system.  Perhaps staying at home on Thanksgiving and playing with said child is a better present.

In far too many cases, we have allowed ourselves to unconsciously suppress our empathy for those in a lower condition that ourselves.  We see it in comments on articles about the poor, or about minimum wage. We are pissed off people and we are going to take it out on someone whom we perceive as lower than us.  Imagine if we decided to take out that anger on people who have suppressed wages and busted unions and bought politicians.  Imagine if we just didn't shop on Thanksgiving.  What would happen?  Maybe we would see that we really do have power, if we decide to exert it. Peace + love  + understanding = dignity.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Another Teacher Leaves the Profession

I cleaned out my classroom, turned in my keys, and submitted my letter of resignation. 

I am no longer a teacher.

I have to admit that with the attacks on teachers in the state of Michigan, it is a move I have contemplated for a while. As I have mentioned before, my school is considered a failing school, so who knows how long we could hang on until the privatization pirates had their way with us.  Frankly, I truly believe they have already done a masterful job of throwing the first shovel of dirt.

The "turn-around" partner, IRRE, was heavily endorsed by the now former principal.  What they have brought to us has, in my opinion, been failure.  Teachers now forfeit three hours of their prep period a week for meetings.  Only the most unctuous of kool-aid drinkers believed these meetings are useful.  The consensus seemed to be that these meetings were ways to simply keep us busy.  Several of us believed that these meetings divided the staff (there were four different groups) in a way that destroyed cohesion. People were always rushing around because we lost our planning time. I feel that the loss of time at work really triggered my depression.

Despite these changes, I stayed.  I loved (still do) my students and they energized me.  My rationale to myself was that the kids are the most important aspect to remember.  Sadly, my depression raged until I took my leave.

I grew nervous as the time drew nearer to my return to work.  I needed help and support if I was going to be successful.  In July, I asked for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. My primary request was to have only two teaching preps in three classes. When I first made this request in writing to administration, the now former principal "misread" my request as a request to reduce my schedule. 

 I re-submitted my request to the new principal. All anyone needed to do was to switch my 4th hour English 10 with another teacher's English 11 and we both would have two preps. Instead, he said that the only option that was available was to take my AP Literature and my English 11 and switch them for two English 9 classes. How that is easier is beyond me, as I had previously informed him that I had already planned out two months of AP. 

Luckily, I received an offer for a labor movement related job.  I took it.

It is sad that so many managers in many different fields have taken to treating their employees like children: to be seen, but not heard.  It is sad that micromanagement is such a prevailing trend.  It is sad that so many employers refuse to acknowledge the basic humanity of their employees.  

I have taken a huge step into a new life and I am excited.  I start tomorrow, while former colleagues suffer through yet another annual video presentation about blood borne pathogens.  I wouldn't trade places with them for anything in the world.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Unexpected Reaction

I haven't written in a quite a bit of time because I don't want to use this as my therapy spot and I wanted to focus on the act of healing and less on the documentation of that healing.  I feel, however, compelled to write after the death of Robin Williams.  I have always enjoyed his work, therefore I expected to feel sad upon hearing of his death.  What I didn't expect was a flood of tears.  It took me a day or two, but I realized that I was crying as much for me as I was for a brilliant comedian who had succumbed to depression.

I have come a long way since I started the descent into the darkest days of my depression.  I can now look back with clarity and shudder a bit.  I can remember feeling that the world would be a better place without me.  I can remember begging a friend to text me one night because I was afraid of my own thoughts.  About two weeks ago, I formally submitted to work a small list of accommodations I was requesting under the American with Disabilities Act.  Not only were three of the four denied, but the most important one was purposely or incompetently misread.  My mood turned immediately dark.  I cried uncontrollably and felt targeted.  At some point, I sat on my couch and mentally cataloged the objects in my house that could inflict damage on my body.  Then, I managed to walk myself back from the edge.  I think pictures of my son helped me. I know that a friend texted with me all day and kept me talking and engaged.

I felt that if returning to rehab and having ample funds for help couldn't stop Robin Williams from killing himself, what would I do when I returned to work in a few weeks?  My mind raced about how I would keep my health, especially if I was unable to convince someone of the absolute necessity of the accommodations I had requested.  I have spent the last year isolating myself from co-workers because that is one of the things that people suffering from deep depression often do and in doing so, found that a only a few people cared enough to reach out.  How will I remain stable in that kind of environment?  I don't know.  I guess I will have to trust that I have developed enough coping skills in the past four months and to push myself to reach out to others when I feel myself sliding.  Maybe I will have to be completely open at work about my struggles, in order to teach others about depression and how to help those who are suffering.

In about two weeks, I will face a great challenge, but as a stronger person than I have been in a long time.  In the meantime, if you know someone who is suffering from either situational or long-term depression, take that person out for coffee or stop by for a short walk.  You have no idea how important that contact could be.

Friday, May 9, 2014

I give this week four out of five stars.

I'm hoping that the first week proves the toughest. My emotions were all over the place and my circular thinking has decreased, but not disappeared.

I have cleared some parts of my house and that makes me very happy.  I'm not looking to live in a Pottery Barn catalog, but I'm also not looking to be a future story on Hoarders.  The public areas of my house look much better, while the private parts still make me cringe.  Taking baby steps will get the place in order and reduce that stress in my world.

I did not meet with my principal.  My union president put an end to that silliness.  She called me with the concerns my principal has, all of which I already knew and was in the process of addressing. My anxiety spiked during the drama, but is now settling back down to a reasonable level.

I finished reading one book.  In a week.  It's a miracle.  I had almost forgotten how much I love to read.  It has been so lovely to recline on the couch, with the cat snuggled into my neck and my brain absorbed in a good story.

I have heard from many people who love me.  It turns out that there are quite a few people out there.  Students, both current and former, and friends near and far.  I always feel a bit like Holden Caulfield when I get those gifts of love, “Almost every time somebody gives me a present, it ends up making me sad.”  I still need to consistently believe that I am worthy of love. I cried uncontrollably, for no reason, after speaking to a former flame tonight who called to just to offer me a smile and love and encouragement.

On the other hand, only one or two co-workers have bothered to check on me.  I'm trying to not let that disappoint me, as it doesn't really surprise me.

I have exercised every day.  Luckily, the weather is finally turning into spring and I can get out and walk.  I've even seen the inside of the gym. Not only does exercise help the symptoms of depression, it will also help my wallet so I can fit into the clothes that are already in my closet.

Overall, the week wasn't too bad.  Next week, I will start to take full advantage of Canada's wonderful single-payer health care system.  I was worried that I would really struggle financially to continue any type of therapy, but I got some good advice, life-changing advice really.

This week would have gotten five stars if George Clooney had chosen me, or if Squeeze had announced a Detroit date.  There's always next week.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

This is an illness

Let's get this straight.  Depression is an illness.  I take medication on a daily basis to control some of its effects on me.  I seek help from a professional.  I engage in physical therapy (regular exercise) in order to regain my well-being. 

My leave happened quite suddenly.  I didn't understand the process.  I thought the leave would take a few days to commence.  It started the day I turned in the paper and that was it.  My caregiver said no work, so I am not to be there.  I liken the whole episode to a car accident.

If I had been injured in a car accident and could not come into work, my boss would never think to ask me to come in the the school to meet to discuss some lingering issues.  Why then, would my boss request that I come in to meet to discuss these issues?  Is it that my boss does not take depression seriously as an illness? Is it that my boss figures I'm physically able, so surely I could stop by the building? 

I don't know.  I asked in the email.  The email in which I responded to all the issues that were to have been addressed in the meeting.

My stress level is pretty high today, but I'll be fine.