Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My first strike

Did I ever tell you about the transportation strikes in Paris, back in '07? How we all got up extra early, packed onto one of the few trains that were running, walked miles because our connecting train wasn't running at all, and spent the whole day wondering if we were going to have to walk home or maybe there'd be a bus running for at least part of the way?

So that's one kind of strike. Then there's the teachers' strike.

My first reaction to a strike is to laugh. I mean, really? A strike? Medical, dental, retirement, and how many weeks of paid vacation? And I thought you weren't supposed to skip work when there was work to be done. (Although believe me, I am not one of those people who think teachers have it easy. Oh no. You try herding cats to prepare them for an exam.)

But. Who doesn't have complaints about their job, their boss, or their management, and good grief, all the more so when you work for the government, right? So really the only difference between us and them is that we complain at the water cooler and they complain and strike.

The idea of a strike is to annoy as many people as possible, one of the teachers explained to me, so that there's an impetus to change. But, as I grumbled to myself this morning, why must that mean annoying me? I called my supervising teacher last night, and she only told me that she would be striking, and that I should call the school in the morning to see about my other teachers. See, usually this is how my schedule works: A certain class has English with their teacher; the teacher sends me several (3-14) students from that class. So if the teacher is on strike, the students don't go to class, and I don't have to work. But if I don't know which teachers are on strike, I don't know which classes I have to be at. I called the school at 8:45 this morning to see if those teachers had showed -- they didn't know. I called at 10:15 (my first class starts at 11); they still didn't know.

So I went to school indignant, wishing I could know at least an hour in advance if I was going to be working. *grumble grumble grumble*

It turned out to be one of my favorite days yet. The school was dead quiet, with so many teachers and students gone. I did end up working for my full day, but it was actually a perfect working condition. In my first class, I had three students. We sat and chatted for an hour. The second class I had two students. The teacher and I spent the hour talking with them about Thanksgiving. Also amazing. It was also a chance for the teacher to see me in action, and, much to my surprise/delight/relief, she was really pleased.

Pedagogically, the small classes were brilliant. But we expected that. There was an unexpected effect as well. Since there were only a few teachers in the teachers' room at lunch, I actually had a chance to chat with several people who I'd never so much as exchanged bonjours with. While the other teachers are showing their solidarity in striking together, we back at the ranch had our own little solidarity going on.

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