I can not change what I tolerate

This morning I yelled. But big. At my dogs, at my cat, at my house, at my students.


I adopted a cat (Betty) a few weeks ago because of the mice. Not into mice. But my big dog (Toby) stalks her and my little dog (Jacob) alternates between ignoring her, stealing her toys, and barking his head off at her. Things have broken (teapots, my pepper plant, wine glasses…) as Toby chases her into the kitchen. This morning I set myself up in a spot in the sunshine to do some coursework and, after a few forgot my coffee, pen, post-its, battery is dead need the charger, trips back into the house I finally settled in to do my readings for this week’s class discussion. Then Toby darts into the house and I hear a crash. I’m guessing that Betty, thinking it was safe (dog-free) ventured out of her hiding spot on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets and into the house. Toby must have heard this, at which point he chased her back up on top of the fridge, where her food bowl was, which she hit and it crashed onto my ceramic countertop, hitting the coffeemaker, and so I was left with coffee soaked cat food all over the place. Then of course Jacob came in to eat it so I yelled at him, Don’t even think it, but he did, and I threw a towel at him, so he jumped away right into the dog bowl full of water, spilling it everywhere, including on a vacuum cleaner which is impossible to dry with all of its parts and wires.

So that is when I yelled at the dogs, cat, house, my life. One of the things I yelled was, All I do is clean up what is left after you creeps (ok, the actual word was different but I prefer not to repeat it here) destroy my house and I do the same thing at work. Everything’s a mess! Everywhere!

The other day Jacob tore apart a down comforter in my bedroom. Take a moment. Imagine the scene.

Yesterday I only taught 2 periods and managed to get myself all worked up over the blatant disrespect I witnessed in some of my students. Students feeling they could just sit themselves down at any computer and use it – including teacher computers – without permission. Students taking things from my desk or from the top of a pile of my books on a table in the hallway. Not even just to look at or to borrow. Taking. Students leaving newspapers, plastic wrappers, napkins, broken pens, wherever they last were. Students having their own conversations while other students/teachers are addressing the group. Then continuing even after the class is stopped to get silence for the speakers. I have other students also complaining about this, that they can’t focus in class because of a chatty climate of disrespect. I walked into my classroom after lunch and just about lost it when a student was sitting at my desk, checking her email on my computer while behind her I saw written on my white board a student’s name with a few different phone numbers and the caption – Man whore, call after 12.

I am exhausted. I was supposed to go to a New Year’s dinner with my family last night but instead I stayed home. I went to bed at 7:30. I was so tired I could not imagine driving. I didn’t think it was safe.

What is tiring me out is that I am acting reactively. Responding reactively to these annoying day-to-day activities requires way more brain power, brain power that should be conserved for more important activities, than if I approach my life proactively. Instead of yelling at my students, my dogs, my house when something goes wrong, I need to prepare for things to go right. If I tolerate the disrespect, if I tolerate the canine craziness in my house then I certainly can’t change it.

So what can this look like?

At school. I’m starting over on Monday. As if it were day one. Since a third of our students are returning students I assumed that the climate of respect that we worked towards last year would continue. It is mainly those students however that are acting as if my classroom was their private gaming hall. I love that my students are comfortable with me but they are too comfortable. They need reminding and the new students need more structure than I provided them based on my initial assumptions. I need to set them up to succeed, not to get into trouble. At the same time it saves me from turning into a crazy teacher. By exploding once in a while and not changing systems, it shows that I tolerate the behaviour for a while, until I get angry, and then I tolerate it again until the next time. I can’t change my environment if I tolerate what is going on in it.

At home. I need to keep my house tidy. Some things broke because they were on the counter instead of away in a cupboard. But mainly I need to crate Jacob when I am not at home. I don’t like crating dogs, I prefer to teach them where to be and how to be. But that’s not working so much with Jacob. By allowing him to roam the house even after he eats the comforter, poops in the living room, destroys a kleenex box I am tolerating the destruction. And when I don’t want to be interupted I need to tie the dogs up so they can’t dash into the house all goofy-like to chase poor Betty.

In myself. I get frustrated at myself for being so tired and not having the time to do what I want, for having a messy house, for not being able to find that brown blazer I want to wear 5 minutes after I was supposed to leave the house in the morning… I’m hoping that some of the changes I make at home and school will help in this area as well. At least, I’ll start on those two areas and see.

You’re in control you know. It’s your life and it’s up to you to make it what you want it to be. Tolerate nothing. You are in control. This is your life, not a dress rehearsal. – Jim Donovan

Phew. Needed to get that out there.
Enjoy your day. And now that I have cleaned up the coffee flavoured Chicken Soup for the Kitten Lovers Soul and broken glass from my kitchen floor, wiped up the water from all over the dining room, and tied the dogs to trees in the yard, I am ready to get my reading done. Just in case you are interested, it’s on the reliability of oral histories for my course called first nations peoples.

****note added just after posting….****
As I returned to my spot in the sun outside I noticed that, though I could hear Jacob yip, I couldn’t see him. He is now stuck under my deck. He managed to get under it and get his leash wound around something under there. I need to take apart part of the deck to rescue him. Looks like I won’t be getting to my reading this morning.

Reasonable Accommodation

I have mixed feelings today. I am an empty tree, today.

An Empty Tree from Garrowby Hill by tricky ™ on flickr

An Empty Tree from Garrowby Hill by tricky ™ on flickr

According to my collective agreement (of teachers of the school board where I work) if I want to take days off for religious reasons I need to request the days from my school board. Apparently this rule began last year, my first year at the board. Which I did. And after a few emails back and forth with human resources I was told that I would receive an official letter about the holidays, and that it would entail some kind of arrangement that would not result in loss of salary. Which I received. Today. That letter was somewhat different. The official notice is that yes, I am granted the leave, however I must make myself available for emergency substitution or another arrangement with my principal to make up the time I am taking off.

To me, that does not sound like leave without loss of salary.

I showed the letter to the head teacher in my department who was angry. Who went to speak to an administrator (not the principal, he wasn’t in) about it because he felt it unfair. Wrong. He walked away from the administrator in reaction to a statement about multiculturalism and how we can not accommodate everyone in a multi-cultural society.

My logical reaction – and by logical I mean the reaction that came from my head and not my heart – was this letter that I wrote this evening:

I received your letter regarding my request for leave to observe the Jewish high holidays and I must say that I am left feeling confused, insulted, and disappointed.

My confusion comes from the inconsistency of how the school board has granted such leave during my 2 years here. Last year I made the same request and was granted the leave to observe my holidays without having to make up the time. This year, while I have indeed been given the permission to not report to work on those days, I am expected to make myself available for emergency substitution or other work in order to make up the time you are granting me to observe the holidays, keeping in mind that these are not minor holidays, they are the most important holidays of the Jewish religion. Last week you wrote me an email that the requests would be granted without loss of salary, however being asked to work extra time entails that this leave is actually unpaid.

I feel insulted that, as a teacher who regularly arrives to work at or around 7:00 each morning and very rarely leaves before 5:00 pm, sometimes as late as 6:00 or later, I am being asked to make up time missed so that I can observe my holidays. Indeed, I am not able to fulfil the make-up time commitment as I spend my time at school, including recess, lunch time, and after school, with my students.

I understand that our collective agreement does not automatically allow us leave for religious holidays as perhaps it has in years past, however I do not understand the logic or compassion of the school board’s position on the matter.

The word that best sums up my feelings about this matter is disappointment,

Tracy Rosen

My gut reaction, however, was shaky. When I first read the letter from the school board I felt…wrong. Wrong for being Jewish. I felt that I needed to defend the reasons for the holidays. And I felt wrong that I felt I needed to defend my Jewishness. As I write this that wrongness is coming back to me and I feel emotional. I feel that the school board is being petty, and I also feel that I am being petty. The wrongness is attached to a feeling of being told that my religion, my culture is a privilege, an extra-curricular activity like a vacation. And it is attached to me feeling ashamed about that, feeling shame that maybe I am asking for something unreasonable. Feeling the need to defend how much energy and how many hours I put into my job as if that makes up for the fact that I am asking for time off to be true to my religious culture. And attached to the fact that my head teacher felt the unfairness before I did. For real.

I shared my responses – both logical and gut – with a colleague of mine who is in the same situation. He is livid. He is ready to go see our principal on Monday morning and put his job on the line. He says he refuses to be put on the bottom of the totem pole because of his religion. That unfairness and tolerance (Don’t tolerate me, just accept me) is not acceptable. That he refuses to be put into the situation where every year he has to beg for time off for a religious holiday and then work extra hours to make up for it. That by not fighting these things Jews (and others) have been persecuted and prosecuted (hated and killed) over centuries.

I love my job. I hate these feelings that this response from my school board has brought up in me.

I have mixed feelings and I feel shaky. My head hurts.
I feel like an empty tree.