Tuesday, September 02, 2014

First day of school: it's that time of year

Okay, for many northern Virginia locations, today is the first day of school.  All of this recalls the period when I worked as a substitute teacher, from April 2004 until December 2005, and then again in the first part of 2007.  I’ve covered the history of what happened before, but in the long view, I have some more observations.

I did consider, with various degrees of seriousness, the idea of a career switch, to becoming a full time math teacher, for some time. 

I did spend a lot of time, especially in the early part of 2005, reviewing my graduate school math, and actually passed one of the Praxis exams, given at the University of the District of Columbia in September 2005.  There was a lot of hype at the time about “no child left behind”, which tended to draw the attention down to the need for more teachers in the elementary areas and at basic levels, not at the AP level. 
I’ve documented before how sometimes I got drawn into situations, especially with special education, which were more personal than I would have expected to be welcomed into, given my lack of experience as a parent,, or with marriage or courting women.  In the years since, the gay marriage debate might well have changed the spin on how I felt about this angle of it.

The AB (and IB, depending on the school) students were great. I wonder about the speculations about the maturation of the teen brain, however, when on at least one occasion, as a motorist, I’ve had to stop suddenly to avoid a kid I recognized (as a good student) riding the wrong way on a major road in Arlington without a helmet, unaware that a driver who have no reason to look for him coming the wrong way.  Yes, it’s a nice jolt to see that person in a bar  doing well  years later. 

When I considered the “career switch”, I was already deep into the world of self-broadcast of my punditry.  “Those were the days” (as the 1968 song goes) before social media were influential (Myspace was catching on then), but my own flat sites were well indexed in search engines (for free, with no attempts at commercial optimization) so anyone could find what I had to say, on my own.  And people did, as we know from what happened (especially the posting July 27, 2007). 

The biggest problem was the potential that students could discern my own quirky attitudes about others from search engine arguments.  Indeed, I could tell from server logs (on Urchin, and later Google Analytics) that people often did look for edgy things in combination with actors’ names in my movie reviews.   That could be serious enough to create a problem.  If I became a permanent teacher and had the power to give grades and affect colleges and careers (in the generation I grew up in, that could mean keeping a student deferment from the Vietnam era military draft), then the ability to discern my own likes from search engines (even in the pre-Facebook world) could pose serious legal problems  This was part of what I saw as “conflict of interest” going back to the issue I had with the military gay ban (writing a book on it while I worked with the military indirectly) back in the 1990s.

Still, I thought for some years that there must be some way to work this out.  The world might have worked out differently for me had the “Do Ask, Do Tell” books (there were two of them then, as well as “Our Fundamental Rights” from 1998) paid for themselves with pure hard and softcover book sales.  This was the pre-Kindle or early ebook era.  What I did was get hundreds of thousands of page requests by allowing the book text to be offered free, in simple HTML (not even PDF).  It’s actually very easy to read flat HTML text on an iPhone right now; you don’t need PDF.  You don’t really need eBook, unless you have to get paid.  Which is kind of the rub, isn’t it.  In the Old World, the contents of books got a reputation when they sold (most of all supermarket romances and perhaps Stephen King) but they remained fixed in time, limited.  Internet content could change all the time, and communicate attitudes in a way not encountered when publishing was simply “commercialized”.  So had the books generated their buzz for a while, gotten “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” lidted, and then faded, it would have been a different world.  Teaching would have made sense.  Maybe I could have tried to get an Med at GWU and would have taught calculus. I’d be about ready to retire from that now.  But I would have paid my own way, earned my own karma. 

You can look for “career switch” on YouTube and find switches both into and out of teaching.  One video does refer to switching for “laid off teachers”.  It’s all murky.  

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