Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In a parallel universe, would I have done the "career switch" to teaching after all?


As I look back over the past several years, I do wonder if I would (or could) have done a “career switch” and become a math teacher shortly after moving back to Virginia from Minnesota in the late summer of 2003 after all.

In Minneapolis, after the 2001 layoff, I had indeed looked at the idea of substitute teaching, but in Minnesota subs had to be licensed. I looked online at the certification programs at universities in the Twin Cities and there were many (especially at the “U of M”) but they were expensive and time consuming. I did not think about checking out Virginia before moving back for family reasons.

In fact, I didn’t learn that Virginia would hire unlicensed subs until around March 2004 when I saw a “career switcher” paid spot ad on local television. (Yes, broadcast commercials sometimes really work.) I checked, and quickly found that it was relatively “easy” to get hired as a substitute teacher. I stood in front of my first class on April 30, 2004. I’ve covered what happened on this blog, particularly in July 2007.

I wonder, however, if the outcome would have been much “better” had I checked before I came back and started immediately in the fall of 2003 (perhaps before October 1). Why is this credible? For one thing, I could have had a full year of subbing before the fast-track career-switcher classes offered in June then by Old Dominion University. (Again, many schools offered programs, but some were much cheaper and more “efficient” in getting the “180 clock hours” of instruction than others.)

Another thing is that by starting sooner, with some pre-thought before moving back, I might have focused only on my “strengths” (academics in the high school grades only) and avoided all or most of the problems with middle schools and special education that contributed to what finally happened. In the mean time, I would have focused on reviewing my graduate school mathematics background (I have an MA from the University of Kansas) and passing the Praxis (which I took for math in September 2005 and got a good score on anyway). Perhaps I could have aimed toward a second career teaching calculus to promising high school seniors -- but there were dues to pay, it seemed. I admit that when I started late in the spring of 2004, I was in a hurry to get some money in and some classroom hours, and was not as careful about what I allowed on my profile as I should have been. (Within the substitute world, there was a kind of closed “reputation” to think about that now seems to mirror the Internet one.)

It is true that in some cases special education and “public health training assistant” jobs (dealing with severe disability) were offered even when not on one’s profile. And, looking back, it seems that there was a culture of “paying your dues” in dealing with this part of the school system’s needs. This was difficult for me because, as I have noted, I have not been a parent myself and being forced into pretending to be a “male role model” brings up the “existential trap” objections that I have already discussed.

Had I put my mind to this, then, could it have worked? I would have, at some point, had to invest several thousand dollars in certification, wondering if an opening and self-published gay man would really be hired, in a society whose federal government (and Congress) had thought nothing of codifying “don’t ask don’t tell” into federal law. Yes, I think a law like that designed for the military sets a malignant example for civilian life, because I think it suggests that “less competitive men” are not suitable role models. (I’ve covered on these blogs and in my books before past initiatives to try to ban gay teachers, such as Briggs in California in 1978, covered in the film “Milk”.; I have to call it as I see it. As I said in an earlier post, “reproduction rules,” at least sometimes. Legacy discrimination really persists, too. So, really, do I have much incentive to fork over my own money? Hard to say.

Had I “pulled this off,” however, I would be leading a very different life now. I would have had to take all my own Internet materials down. I would be keeping a low profile, earning a living, not “telling”, and, in another sense, “paying my dues” in a culture that, compared to fifteen years ago, may revert back to expecting people to prove they can take care of others (whether they “reproduced or not”) before they are listened to. That could be where we are heading, although it’s still murky. Possibly, after five years or so of teaching (indirectly “reproductive” activity) maybe I would be in a better position to “really” sell my story. I wonder. We’ve always accepted and promoted the idea of unmarried or never-married women as teachers. With men, it’s not so clear. Like it or not, gender still matters when role modeling for the next generation.

I do think that the teachers and administrators that I worked with from 2004 to 2007 (in 2006 I worked in grading binders, but not in the classroom after the 2005 incident discussed here on the July 27, 2007 entry) did learn from me. I brought to their attention many issues about free speech (especially specific areas like censorship, COPA, implicit content, “thought experiments”, and “online reputation defense”), discrimination, and the subtleties of our debates over gender. I did some things (especially regarding my web site) and handled certain situations (as with discipline, backing away from it) in a manner that may have seemed inexplicable to others at the time, although it made sense to me, given the “real world” of work that I had come from. Or, in fact, did my 30 years of urban social “segregation” provide enough “real world” experience for teaching in a reproductive world? I still don’t know. The "alternate universe" movies of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski certainly apply to me.

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