Not Just a Job

One of my jobs these days is tutoring student athletes. I took it for a number of reasons; I need the money, it looks good on resume/CV, it has flexible hours - but mostly it was for the money; the Pontifex Niger got to get paid. I am as poor as a church mouse these days, and not one of those non-denominational megachurches, either. Tutoring pays the least of my three jobs, but to my surprise, it's the best job I've had in a long time.

The students are all struggling to balance school with major sports commitments. They lift weights, they practice, they go to therapy for injuries, they watch game films, they attend meetings - and THEN they go do their homework. On the weekends they have games, so they often travel extensively. They are almost universally exhausted, and frequently they are not the most serious or attentive students.

Despite that, I really look forward to working with them. I have always enjoyed teaching, but this is a unique challenge. Usually, they come to see me because they are struggling in a subject. Most often it's Sociology, but I'm also helping some with Women's Studies, English Comp., and general academic writing. Their scholarships sometimes hang in the balance, so it's very rewarding for both of us when their grades begin to improve. Once they have a little taste of success, they start coming to tutoring sessions with more eagerness. They begin to see that they can master the material, and they start to see themselves differently. Many believe that they're "just an athlete," but once they begin to see Bs and As on their work they start to believe they can graduate. That kind of energy is infectious - even after putting in 12 hour days with them, I come home in a good mood.

The job is not without its frustrations, though. I am struck by how poorly some of them were prepared by their high schools - and not just high schools in the U.S. We like to bitch about the failings of the American education system, but I've seen international students who were no better off. It's easy to see that the battle between sports and academics began for most of them many years before they arrived at Black Vatican U. They need help now because someone years ago made the decision to let them slide, to pass them and let them just be jocks. It angers me, but I try to turn that anger into the energy to help them be better students.

This is just the latest in a long line of revelations that have pushed me to make some new choices. My exposure to the work of Jonathan Kozol, meeting Bill Ayers and hearing him speak, knowing Education majors like Mandy, G-Fresh, and SciFi Heroine, meeting all the candidates for State Superintendent during campaign events this year, and now this job - it's all pushing me toward Education as a career. Yes, I still want a PhD, but I think I have more to add to the field of Education than I ever would contribute to Sociology.

I have an appointment with a counselor in the College of Education next Wednesday. I'm looking into the Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Certification Program, to see how long it will take - I am still planning on leaving this town before next fall. If it can be done in that timeframe, I'm off to Financial Aid to see if I can afford it.

My Place

Soon my time at Black Vatican U must come to an end. I know - I've said that before, but this time, I mean it. Once this thesis is defended and I've taught a class or two, I will have mined this place for all it has to offer me, aside from future letters of recommendation. As I plan for this departure, I am troubled. I don't know where to go.

You see, I have plenty of experience in living where I am not wanted. Not me personally, but me as a liberal, a Democrat, a non-Christian, a queer ally, and one of those damned elitist academic types. After almost a decade of being a politcal and cultural outsider, I'd like to find a place to live where my views are closer to the median.

I want to teach, either at the secondary or post-secondary level, without having to constantly pander to fundies and fanatics. I want my taxes to primarily fund social programs that build local communities, and not the defense budget. I want to live in a place that respects and supports the arts, multiculturalism, and the practice of the world's religions. This place should have ethnic diversity, and it should be celebrated. I have no idea where this place is.

In fact, I've been thinking for years now that this place is no longer in the U.S. Throughout my adult life I've been consistently stepping to the Left, while much of America has been stumbling to the Right. Even as we elected a black Democrat to be POTUS I knew it was too little, too late. As the GOP and the Teabaggers shriek about Socialism and Fascism, I find that he's nowhere near as far Left as I'd like. I want him to socialize medicine, empower labor, regulate the hell out of banking, and put the nuts of the corporations in a vice. I'm not just marching to a different drummer here - I'm in a completely different parade.

When I try to match an actual country to my fantasies about this place, I always end up looking at places like Sweden or Holland. Do I really have to learn a new language and move overseas just to live among my kind?