THE SINS OF MY PAST REVISITED

“I think about it like this,” Bart said. “We are confined to the present, but this moment we’re living now has, for all of history, been the future. And now, forever more, it will be past. Everything we do sets off unforeseeable, irreversible chain reactions. We are acting within the constraints of an impossibly complex system.” He paused and stared around again. “That system is the past,” he said.”
Maggie Shipstead, Great Circle

 

True confession time. I was the first employee of the Nashville office of Deja Vu. It must have been around 1990 and they had opened a franchise in Nashville. There were some corporate people working, but mine was the lone timecard in the rack for the first couple of weeks.

For those unfamiliar with the brand name, Deja Vu is what used to be called a strip joint, these days it may fall under the moniker of “First Amendment Center”, but the bottom line is that it is a place where woman remove their clothing in front of men for money. Lots and lots of money.

I was a DJ for about a year, spinning the soundtrack that accompanied women as they plied their craft and revealed their wares. At the end of a shift, the ladies were very generous in sharing the proceeds. It was not uncommon for me to walk with several hundred dollars in cash after a 6-hour shift. A small fortune for a young man.

How I ended up spinning the wheels of steel at the shoe show is a story in of itself and best saved for another day, though it is funnier than this one. Suffice it to say that the lure of easy money, and the heady atmosphere, mixed with my nativity,  made for thrilling times. At the initial juncture, I was still foolish enough to think this was all about sex, and as a 25-year-old male, I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Life would teach me differently.

My parents raised me to be respectful of women, and so I readily understood the boundaries between dancers and DJs. (I know that sentence sounds like an oxymoron, but it was the 90’s) This was a place of business, not a dating pool. Once the girls realized that I had no ulterior motives, I was accepted into the gang of renegades.  And what a thrilling gang it was.

Fueled by a seemingly unlimited supply of cash, we felt untouchable by society’s rules. We were the very definition of rebels without a clue, free to indulge in the intoxicants of our choice. And indulge we did..again, .it was the nineties after all.

Despite the thrills, I often got a peek behind the curtains and the ugliness that lurked there. Tales of abuse, addiction, and manipulation were not uncommon. Still, those glimpses could be readily brushed away because they didn’t personally involve me. But rest assured, my time was coming.

About 6 months into my tenure I made the fatal mistake of falling for a dancer. She was new and our relationship started almost upon her arrival. She was young, barely 21 and probably as naive as I was with a back history of abuse. She was also an addict, which was perfect because I was afflicted with a bad case of wounded bird syndrome.

See in my mind, her addiction stemmed from a lack of love. And since I had all this “love” to give, naturally, she’d be healed. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say, that was my first example that love isn’t always enough.

We had a decent run for a couple of months, and I don’t doubt that some of my love was reciprocated, but when you don’t love yourself…

Somewhere along the line, she picked up a sugar daddy. An older gentleman of means who lavished his money on her. This was a bit heady for her, as she now had access to more money and luxuries than at any time in her whole short life. A strip joint DJ was suddenly pushed to the back, and there was little I could about it.

Pay attention now, because this is where it gets relevant to current affairs.

One day during the waning days of our relationship, I was DJing and she was on stage. As she removed her last garment of clothing, her sugar daddy came to the edge of the stage and tossed a $100 in ones at her. They scattered with most of the bills falling to the stage.

For the next few minutes, I watched her crawl around, as naked as the day god sent her into the world, scrambling to pick up all the ones she could grab. It was horrific and to this day ranks as one of the most demeaning things I’ve ever seen one person do to another. It also clarified for me that none of this was about sex, and all of it was about power.

Everybody in the club struggled to exert power over each other by whatever means possible, and any tool useful to establishing that power was fair game for employment. The illusion of us being some random gang of outlaws fueled by a rejection of society’s mores and guided by our own principles was forever shattered.

I left that job shortly thereafter, but have never been able to shake the image of what I witnessed and what it revealed.

Imagine my horror when scrolling through my social media feed and being confronted with a similar visage, but the subjects were teachers.

According to the LA Times,

In a video that (inevitably) went viral on Twitter, public school teachers in jeans, T-shirts and helmets knelt on a shag rug tossed onto the ice and scooped up $1 bills that had been dumped onto the rug. Five grand was on the line. The teachers stuffed the money down their shirts as fast as they could

Five grand. Might as well have been 100 one-dollar bills. Both instances play upon the weaknesses of others to exert power and control.

The mortgage company involved in the promotion, like my friend’s sugar daddy clearly recognized the financial needs of teachers. They also clearly understand their willingness to do anything necessary to secure additional funding to support their students, and instead of using that knowledge to offer support, they used it to exploit.

It’d be easy to look at this as an isolated instance, and “tsk tsk” at the direct participants. But the reality is, we are all culpable here. As a society, we’ve allowed ourselves to facilitate teacher desperation and use it for our own flexing of power. Instead of offering support, we choose to continue to create a culture of exploitation. And at this point, it is so baked into the profession, I don’t know how you correct it.

Tennessee is in the middle of a process that is hypothetically going to change the way schools in Tennessee schools are funded. In order to present an aura of transparency, the governor has created a traveling circus, one that is conducting business sans the promise of increased funding.

This week, the defacto Tennessee Department of Education, SCORE, released its recommendations for Tennessee education initiatives in the coming year. Per the Tennessean, they are,.

  • accelerating student learning and putting students on a path to college and career success;
  • closing the state’s college completion gap;
  • increasing high-quality charter school opportunities and
  • supporting students to be ready for careers.

Oddly missing from the all to familiar report was a call for a need for increased funding. Instead, we were told,

Tennessee policymakers have continued to fully fund the
state’s share of the current formula in recent years, but the $1.7
billion in additional non-BEP, locally funded education spending
clearly indicates that the formula does not reflect the full cost
of educating today’s students.55 While specific technical
methods and assumptions can influence the amounts needed
to educate students, Tennessee has a clear opportunity to
improve beyond previous investments.

and that,

While there is no consensus about the amount that Tennessee should spend on K-12 education, current education funding levels show Tennessee trailing the nation by a variety of measures.

Andy Spears over at TNEd Report sums it up best,

So, these are some pretty nice ways of saying Tennessee schools need more investment. But, so as not to get sideways with Gov. Lee and political types who balk at “throwing money at schools,” SCORE stops short of using its significant power and influence to make a clear, direct call for billions in new investment in Tennessee schools.

In this light, is what Governor Lee’s doing any different than that mortgage company in South Dakota tossing out $5k on the ice and having teachers scramble for it?

Is it that far removed from my friend’s benefactor tossing out a wad of ones and having her scramble for them bareass naked on the stage?

Is Governor Lee not setting himself up as the state’s sugar daddy, throwing a wad of bills on the stage and watching stakeholders scramble to pick up as much as they can for their individual schools?

Maybe it’s just me, but it all feels remarkably familiar.

BREAK TIME

Schools are now officially heading into Winter Break. For most teachers this is a much-needed opportunity to recharge, Thank god no well-meaning bureaucrat has suggested that the secret to accelerating student outcomes lies in holding winter break school, though I’m sure some have thought it. I know, MNPS has the I-ready challenge, but I’m choosing to ignore that.

The classroom has become a constant source of stress, but outside teachers are faced with challenges as well.

One of the most difficult challenges during this unprecedented time for teachers is communicating just how untenable the job has become. What invariably will happen over break, is that a teacher will mention the sheer exhaustion they are feeling, and in response, some well-meaning person, attempting to show empathy, will offer that they understand because they once taught for a day, a month, a year, a decade, or thirty years.

That’s all wonderful, but with all due respect, that experience gives you no more insight into current teaching conditions than playing high school football gives insight into playing it the NFL. This year teachers are being expected to do way more with way less while navigating even more outside obstacles. If you ain’t teaching right now, you can’t grasp the difficulty.

Yes, the job has always been difficult and yes, teachers have always been under fire, but acting as if this year is just an extension of past years only serves to legitimize the demands being placed on today’s educators.

On a side note, if you are currently a teacher and your year has been less stressful than most, don’t use your experience to downplay others. Count your fortune and lend support to your peers.

Tornadoes miss some houses in a neighborhood, if you lived in one of those houses would you use your experience to downplay the level of the devastation suffered by others? Why would you do it here? There is ample evidence that its tornado season for the teaching profession.

A job report by the Boyd Foundation in today’s Tennessean includes the following,

Teachers and health care professionals across the nation have been feeling the burnout of the pandemic, and the job levels in Tennessee show it. There are 23,300 fewer workers in the education and health services sectors than there were in February 2020, according to the report.

Twenty – fucking – three thousand.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona kind of gets it. This week he sent a letter to educators urging districts to use federal money to combat staffing shortages.

“[The Department of Education] strongly encourages you to use funding under ARP to respond to the urgent needs resulting from the pandemic while beginning to plan for the investments needed to ensure that every student has access to the qualified educators and staff they need,”

MNPS doesn’t get it. In a recent meeting between MNEA, the teachers union, and Director of Schools Adrian Battle, the director attempted to downplay the district attrition rate, by putting forth the argument that this year’s numbers fail to paint a picture any different than previous years.

I’d offer two things here. First, by translating everything through numbers, we’ve created the ability to cast a narrative that supports the desired agenda. Numbers are easily, and oft, manipulated.

Secondly, if we wait for the data to match the warnings, are we not in fact waiting to fix the levees until after the town is flooded? We have recent history to illustrate how ell that works.

The bottom line is that the teaching profession is in a state of crisis. A crisis that does not indicate weakness by teachers or a lack of desire to work, but rather one created by our continued willingness to exploit their good intentions. As writer and educator Steven Singer points out, it’s past time we stop exploiting teachers.

The first step in solving a problem is recognizing the problem.

QUICK HITS

Am I the only one who has noticed that former State Representative, and current nanny of Commissioner Schwinn, Bill Dunn is never seen in the same room as the newly unveiled “Riley the Reading Raccoon”? Could it be? Just saying.

The TNDOE keeps acting as if they’ve actually accomplished something by returning 4 schools from the Achievement District back to Shelby County in virtually the same shape they found them. Everyone involved in this fiasco should be deeply ashamed of themselves, yet no one involved in the has acknowledged the depth of the debt they owe to these families and admitted that others predicted this outcome, their own hubris is to blame. You hear that Riley…I mean Representative Dunn? Mark White? Candice McQueen? Chris Barbic? David Mansouri? Yea, I didn’t think so. Accountability is always for someone else.

If you don’t believe that Tennessee Education Policymakers celebrate intention over accomplishment just read the latest missive from the TNDOE that places ACT participation rates over actual scores. Come on down Ms. Schwinn and pick up your participation trophy. You’ve certainly earned it.

Rumor on the street has Chief Schwinn facilitator Katie Houghtlin heading back to Texas. A move that is way overdue in my opinion. If you’ll remember an HR investigation found Houghtlin guilty of contributing to a hostile work place. Schwinn failed to dismiss her long time friend and instead assigned her a new job at a slightly lower salary. What does it say about your leadership when even those who enjoy protected status are exiting?

I’m going to leave with an uplifting story that provides a glimpse into what Tennessee teachers are made of. Joclyn Veile Taylor is an MNPS teacher and last weekend the roof over her classroom was torn off, ruining many of her classroom contents. She discovered the damage, minutes before students arrived for school.

I’ll let her tell the rest because she is much more gracious than I could ever be,

Over the weekend, the storms peeled off the roof of my school. There was a lot of water damage. Walking into my classroom this morning was one of the worst moments I’ve had as a teacher. I still can’t process the damage that’s been done.
In the midst of the craziness, people showed up. Teachers from other parts of the building that weren’t as badly damaged, guidance counselors, janitors, related arts teachers, PTA moms- they all showed up. They helped sort through things and figure out what was and wasn’t salvageable. They helped move basic necessities to the library, so my students had a warm, dry place to learn. They carried damaged items out to the dumpster. When it started raining in my classroom again, they covered things with plastic. And most importantly, they brought hugs, prayers, and encouragement when they were needed most.
I hope I never have another day like today. I hope they get the new roof on before it rains again. I hope the kids didn’t realize how shaken I was by the whole thing. And I hope that they, like I, are able to see the silver linings in all the people who showed up. #findingjoy #joy2021
We owe it to the students, and their families, to do everything possible to keep teachers like Jocelyn in our classroom. Truly amazing.
If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish to join the rank of donors, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated. Not begging, just saying.

 



Categories: Education

2 replies

  1. TC I was just checking in to see the state of the state I used to live in. I just sent a paycheck to one of my favorite States, Kentucky, to do at least something. I have repeatedly said Nashville was not good for me nor I it, but that said I still practice virtual yoga from my favorite studio, and I have yet to find healers of the alternative world like I did therel; the power of the Nachez Trace I guess. But that said, politics aside, when it comes down to it the reality is that many of those who live in that region represent the best of us and the worst of us and with that we have to accept and acknowledge the differences and build bridges vs tear them down.

    With that, can I just say that it is comforting to know little changes there when the rest of the world is in chaos. I still sub only I walk to the school and every day we get Covid notices and we go on. The school is equally dilapidated and the Mayor wants to build a big bright TECH school right down the street while the local ones are fraught with issues such as a lack of staff, from Security, to Custodial and now the Superintendent is leaving after a killer 18 month gig. So if this is the best in the nation when it comes to education makes you wonder why you are at the bottom doesn’t it?

    And now onto something of import. I truly want you to take that first half of this entry and turn it into a critical nonfiction piece asap. This could be easily submitted to Creative Nonfiction or even a feminist site such as Bitch or any that would love a reformation feminist view by the Cisgendered white male. Recovery to redemption as there are two amazing stories there.. I really mean it. WRITE IT.

    Happy Holidays and keep up the fight..

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