Saturday, 26 October 2013

What do teachers do?

I'm going to stray outside of the triathlon world for a minute. The government of Alberta has really given little or no thought to education recently. We live in the richest province in the country and class sizes are growing and wages have been frozen. It is for this reason I'm seriously considering leaving the profession and pursuing a career as a firefighter. I wanted to explore what it is that I even do for society that the government would disregard my profession. We've all had teachers so there is a cursory understanding of the job. You plan lessons, you do marking, you take attendance; all the really exciting stuff. But it's the things you don't see that make a teacher's legacy. Being a teacher is not glamorous, it is not heroic and at the end of the day you don't have anything to show for your labour. I think that's probably the worst part of my job. The lack of evidence.

One of the summer jobs I held going through university was working on a concrete crew putting in sidewalks and bus pads. In a way I got more out of that job than I do out of teaching. I still drive past certain locations in town and proudly boast that I put that sidewalk there and it's still standing. Something I did is tangible and can be used. I don't have that in teaching. Not very often anyway.  I've yet to walk down a hallway at a school and overhear a student explaining to a classmate that "the way Mr. Hackett explained the Industrial Revolution was life changing." At best I'd get to hear, "at least that class wasn't too terrible."

I think some of the greatest things that teachers do go unheralded because the people who need the help the most have no one to tell. If you're one of the thousands, or probably even millions, of parents that ask your child what they learned at school on a given day you're already ahead of the game. The fact that you cared enough to ask puts your son or daughter in a position of power. There is a force at home echoing the desire of the teacher to "get to class and get your work done." I can't express how deflating it is as a teacher to make a phone call home to inform a parent that their son or daughter needs to make some changes to either their behaviour or their work ethic and to get the impression that it is just not a priority in that household. I often liken educating a student to creating a diamond out of coal, it requires pressure from all sides to transform; if the pressure is only coming from the teacher with no parent good. Vice versa, if the parents are really pushing their child and they're not getting the support they need in the good. It must be a concerted effort from all sides for that child to succeed.

The students, I believe, that get the most from a teacher are the ones that have nowhere else to go. I've been told that I'm a popular teacher and that kids like me. That's really cool and makes my job a lot easier. However, I estimate that in my 10 years of teaching somewhere between 2500 and 3000 students have passed through my class and I suspect I've only had a dramatic impact on less than 100. That is because in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada we're very lucky compared to the average population of the world. We are a rich, safe, healthy nation with well below average concerns. This means that most of our students come to school clothed, fed and rested. For the average student in Edmonton they can walk into any classroom and be taught by some of the best educated teachers in the world and it wouldn't matter who it was. This allows us to give a little extra time to those that really need it. The ones that maybe slept on the street the night before, or the ones that had their parents spend the last of their money on drugs so there's no food in the house. This is where teachers earn their money.

There are a few great days for teachers; having a student come back, look you in the eye, and sincerely tell you that they were on the wrong track but something you did hooked them and actually changed their life. I've had this happen three times and it is an amazing feeling. It can be something as innocuous as having welcomed them every morning, or it could be a more meaningful gesture like finding them clothes or food, but whatever it was, the actions you took made such a profound difference to this student that it changed the direction of their life. This is not humbling, quite the opposite in fact. It makes you feel like a friggin' super hero!

In addition to those visits I've had a few students that have picked me to share some of their darkest secrets. This can be a very tough situation for both of us. It might be the death of a parent, a pregnancy scare or something that needs to be dealt with criminally. Regardless, these are the things that you aren't taught how to deal with in university but are the most important moments of your career. It is these few opportunities where your instincts and decisions can have a lifetime impact for a very vulnerable person. I can only hope that my tutelage and mentoring have led these young people in a positive direction. Whether it was just being a sounding board for their anxiety about becoming a parent or helping them navigate the government system to get assistance to leave a bad home situation, the role I played was a crucial one in their life.

It is not always as simple as dealing with a student's personal problem. Without a doubt the saddest and most meaningful day of my career was the day I was asked to eulogize a student. Craig played on my football team the year prior and apparently I had made such an impact that his mother felt I would do his memory justice. I was honoured to be looked at in this light, that something I had done put me in high enough standing that I was asked to speak at his funeral. It was surprisingly easy to write Craig's eulogy; in retrospect I think it was because I had taken the time to get to know him so the memories I spoke about were my own and were meaningful. This is one of the moments when you understand your impact on your students.

I find it funny that, essentially, I am paid by the government to teach a group of students a certain set of curriculum and do all the associated planning and marking. And I carry out my charge dutifully and to the best of my ability. However, the greatest impact I have in this world almost never happens during a time that I'm being paid. It is almost exclusively outside of the classroom. Whether it's a lonely student that finds me outside of class time, during my volunteer coaching, or on a trip to Europe to see Canada's World War I and II battlefields, that is when I have my greatest impact.

If you're in a position where you start to question, "why do we pay these teachers so much, they just teach our kids some basic things and then go home at 3:30. Plus they get the summers off" pat yourself on the back because you're probably a really good parent. I'm being serious, if the only role a teacher plays in your child's life is that of educator you're doing most of the heavy lifting and you should be commended. However, you need to know that there are going to be a number of students in your son or daughter's class that do not have the privileged upbringing that your child has. There will be teachers that are making secret deals with the cafeteria to feed them, or bringing clothing from their home so that they have a warm jacket to wear when it starts to snow. You won't know about it because these teachers will just do these things because it's right and it's what needs to be done so that child can learn but it is happening.  

Friday, 11 October 2013

Fellas, a little decorum in the locker room. PLEASE!!!

For any of my female readers, be warned that you are going to get an inside look at a male locker room. You can't unread this!

For the past 6 weeks I have been a member at a nice gym and have the luxury of accessing the Plus locker room. This is really a nice place work out. We have a steam room, leather chairs to watch the big flat screen TV,  free shaving supplies and all the towels you could ever need. However, some of the fellas in this swanky establishment have decided that they've been contained too long and that from now on they will let their freak flag (and other appendages) fly.

The steam room is in the locker room. The sign on the door states that using a towel is required. PHEW, I thought, I don't need to see a bunch of hot sweaty dudes with their business just flopping around. WRONG! The towels are apparently for sitting on in the steam room. Once you've sat down it's no big deal, I guess, to just let it all hang out. I've seen plenty of man meat having been on sports teams for years and years but in that context it was usually just in the showers and when guys were changing. But this is an attack! It would take a simple flick of the wrist to cover your junk with a piece of cotton and really, is it so critical that your dork get its daily dose of steam?

There is one violator in particular that makes me especially uncomfortable. In all my interactions with this guy he's been very cordial but when the towel hits the floor it's a different story. This gentleman is heavily tattooed and AGGRESSIVELY pierced. Like, really aggressively. He uses the steam room as his yoga studio. His very hot, steamy, NAKED, yoga studio. Usually it's just odd poses over in his seated position but occasionally he finds the need for some full on stand up yoga and downward dog produces unsightly backsack. C'mon man! And the flashing jewelry on your shlong causes a natural instinct to see where that light was coming from. You know where it's coming from? The very tip of the problem! I am intrigued. How do you pee straight with that? Are you condemned to a lifetime of seated peeing? That's the greatest part of mandom, the standing pee is a birthright and one of the proudest moments of my life was when my son graduated to this from the emasculating Winnie the Pooh seated potty. I cannot foresee a situation where driving a piece of steel through your wang is an upgrade. If you claim that it makes sex better, YOU WERE DOING IT WRONG BEFORE!

This need to let it breathe has apparently "extended" (see what I did there) into the TV area. A number of these aged fellas do the courtesy of laying a towel down on the furniture but once again feel the need to be open with everyone about what they're packing. Just sitting there, watching TV, naked. I've heard men do most of their thinking with their downstairs member, maybe as you age you do most of your viewing with it too? I dunno. I'm really not a prude, I just don't see the need for unnecessary nudity (by dudes). I'm not asking you to wear a 3-piece suit in the locker room, just a quick towel wrap.   

We're all in this together fellas. I know I'm no treat to see sans clothing but I'm almost always covered and I do my clothing changes faster than a Vegas magician just to avoid any unwanted exposure. If you just commit to a little coverage and absolutely ZERO naked conversations we can all be friends and get on with our day.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Check In October 2013

For those that have been following my journey I really appreciate the support I've gotten from so many of you. I thought I'd just do a quick update into how my training has been going so far.

I'm just over a month from Ironman Arizona and I'm absolutely exhausted. My coach, Jeremy, has me doing some pretty intense workouts. Most of my weekday workouts feature intense periods of sprinting and these are hammering my legs. Additionally, I've been lifting weights and doing abs every weekday so I'm putting in about 2-3 hours of training every day. Much like the illustrious Ron Burgundy I don't have much time so I have to sculpt my guns at the office.

On top of this I referee hockey and this year I was promoted to refereeing Jr B hockey (players 18-22 years old). This requires a great deal of skating as well as traveling to small towns around the area so my time is very full. I still find the travel a little stressful after last year's moose hunt. My friend Tyler and I were on our way to officiate a senior men's hockey game a little over an hour from our hometown and about 15 minutes from our destination we struck a moose that was just standing in the road.

This stretch of road was so dark that we had no chance to avoid this big dumb animal. I said, "MOOSE!" and we hit it almost instantly. Fortunately there was no oncoming traffic as we spun into the opposite ditch.

Shockingly Tyler and I were unhurt except for a scratch on Tyler's hand and his capped front teeth popped off a couple of days later. Most likely from the airbag. However, there was glass EVERYWHERE. In my teeth, hair, ears, the cuffs of my pants. The worst part was the moose hair. It came through the windshield and smelled like hell. 

 I called 911 and then after explaining what happened the dispatcher  asked where we were. I told her I thought we were about 20km from Athabasca on Hwy 2. She replied, "our GPS shows you about 200 m past Range Road (blah blah blah)." I said, "then that's where we are!" Was she testing me? What the hell? 

It was so dark that after the police arrived and put out pylons to divert traffic the first semi trailer that came by ran over all of the cones and the RCMP called for another car to come with flashing cones. During this time the local official that was waiting for us had been calling to get updates on our situation and finally asked "what do you want me to do about the game?" I finally had enough and I said "I don't give a F&$@, we almost died."

Finally the RCMP got us loaded into the police car, with our hockey bags. Apparently someone in town had run over a light post so the cop had a traffic light in the trunk so there was no room for equipment. If you've ever been in the back of a police car you'll know it is not spacious. We were crammed in there pretty good. This experience has stayed with me and since then I hold the wheel a little tighter and drive a little slower.

I started a new job in September working at Centre High. This is the school for all students in Edmonton to go to after their 3 regular years of high school. My position is split between the Emergency Response Career Pathways (ERCP) program and Phys Ed. In PE my role is to assist with anything they need and if they're all working, I can work out. This has been awesome. I lead by example and get many of my workouts completed during the work day. The ERCP program is AWESOME. Block 1 we do physical training with them every day and it's intense. These students are all interested in careers as police officers, fire fighters or paramedics and we hold them to a high standard. We started with 83 and after pushing them hard for a month are down to a very committed 56. Block 2 the students are instructed by working professionals in the various fields and if they complete levels 1 and 2 can graduate the course with their gun license, H2S gas, SCBA cert, first aid, and EMR certification. They also get to participate in a "live burn" with the Edmonton Fire Department where they get fully kitted up and sit inside a simulated garage fire that reaches well over 1700 F. What an unreal job I have.

I joke with my wife that I'm basically the world's crappiest professional triathlete. Working out 3 hours a day, drinking smoothies and creating more laundry than my wife can hope to keep up with. When I work out I sweat. I sweat a lot. I have to take a shower towel with me to the treadmill to try and mop myself up as I go. This means I need more wardrobe changes than Liberace and packing my gym bag in the morning looks more like I'm preparing for a week in Vegas than a day of training. 

Despite my exhaustion I'm putting up the best times and lowest body weights I've ever experienced. I'm holding steady at just under 255lbs and this includes some added muscle from lifting. If I can maintain or lower the weight I will be 20 lbs lighter than Ironman Coeur d'Alene last June and 30 lbs lighter than my first Ironman. Thursday I again set my best time for a 10Km run finishing in 54:20. I was very proud and despite being completely obliterated I walked toward the change room basically strutting and as I passed a particularly cute blonde I saw her shoot me a funny look. I looked down to see what she was looking at and saw a trail of blood from my right nipple down to almost my waist. I was riding such a high I didn't feel it... until I got in the shower and the water hit me. KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS THAT HURT! (Note to self: read own blog about run training) 

It's funny, I'm actually worried that I'm having so much success in my training. The skinnier and faster I get the more my focus is shifting from "just finish" to goals that are more time oriented. I've always made fun of the athletes that cross the finish line and then pout about their time. I was always sick about seeing someone finish an Ironman and not be proud. That's not what it's about for me and I hope beyond hope that I don't become "that guy."