Slaying Dragons

April 23, 2008 at 6:15 am Leave a comment

April 23 is Shakespeare’s birthday (probably) and the anniversary of his death (certainly). It is also the International Day of the Book, on which it is traditional (apparently) to bestow a book upon an unsuspecting friend or relation. The first public school in the United States was founded on April 23, 1635, and 350 years later to the day New Coke would be born.

April 23 is also St. George’s Day. George was a Roman – well, he was from what would become Turkey, so that’s a loose definition – and he’s considered one of the most venerated martyrs in all martyrdom. I tell you this not because I identify with the martyr-i-ness of it all, but rather to draw your attention to a fable you may have once heard: that of George and the Dragon.

The story of George and the Dragon involves our hero (that’d be George) and our villain (Mr. Dragon), the latter of whom has eaten all of the town’s sheep and started in on the children. When it came time for the king’s daughter to be offered up to his lizardship, George just happened to be in the neighborhood and swooped in for the rescue. The dragon (and aren’t they always cast in such a vicious light?) charged his endangered snack, George called upon God to protect him, and the dragon was stricken by a spear. Then, because it wouldn’t make sense just to finish things off the old-fashioned way, George had the princess throw him her girdle so that he could put it around the beast’s neck.

Exhibit A (Medieval Girdle):

Exhibit B (Slightly More Contemporary Girdle):

Tangentially, trusty ole Wikipedia tells us that girdles has some pretty special characteristics in myth and literature:

The girdle became a sign of virginity, and was often considered to have magical properties. Monsters and all types of evil are recorded as being subdued by girdles in literature, a famous one being the dragon slain by Saint George. Marriage ceremonies continued this tradition of girdles symbolizing virginity by having the husband take the wife’s girdle, and prostitutes were forbidden to wear them by law in historic France. Often in literature, women are portrayed as safe from sexual or other attack when wearing a girdle, but suddenly vulnerable if it is missing or stolen.

Now, I’m not going to publicly speculate as to why George wanted that girdle off of that princess. I’m not going to speculate as to why the dragon was magically subdued by the girdle round its neck and allowed itself to be led off to its exhibitionist slaughter. I’m going to assume that we’re talking ornamental belt as opposed to support/body sculpting garment, but I’m not placing any bets at this point. I also don’t know whether George got the girl, or just the girdle.

What I’m getting at is that the story of George and the Dragon has taken on kind of a mythology. The idea of a dragon slayer is pretty big in our collective imagination, doncha think? To this day, to “slay a dragon” is to conquer something bigger than ourselves in the name of goodness. It’s gone all archetypal and crap.

(I always want that word to be “archetypical,” but maybe that’s an entirely different concept altogether.)

April 23 of this year is, more or less, my last day of full-time student teaching.

Student teaching is not a dragon, unless it is a hundred-headed dragon with claws as sharp as administrator evaluations and breath as foul as parents’ tempers. If it were a dragon, it would be, for the most part, a rather nice dragon. The problem is that you never know exactly what each of the 100 heads is doing, and you never entirely know which are friendly heads and which are fire-breathing heads and which heads are smoking at lunch and which heads are whispering answers to other heads. You’re never quite sure which heads to trust, and when you find out the hard way it is inevitably a head you thought you knew and could rely upon. And I wouldn’t say that I’ve slain it, per se; rather, it and I have come to a bit of an understanding. My metaphor is stretching beyond repair, so let’s assume for the moment that student teaching is something else. Let’s talk for just a moment about what student teaching IS, if not a dragon.

Imagine that you want a job, and you think you know what job it is that you would like. In order to be eligible for this job you have to have a sizeable chunk of college education, above and beyond a BA. So you get that education, and then you go out to a job interview. Now, if you’ve ever been on a job interview you know how stressful it is, how tense you are and how you sometimes don’t even realize it until it is over and you can breathe again. Job interviews are cardiac exercise all on their own.

The thing is, this job interview is a bit different than anything you’ve experienced in the past. It begins at 7 AM on a Monday when you show up at the job site, dressed in professional clothes and surrounded by the human equivalent of a wild animal refuge. You meet someone who already has your job, and they start off the interview by telling you to take some time to observe the job – see if it really suits you, see if you can learn a little bit about the job first.

You do this for a couple of months, spending the equivalent of a part-time job sitting on the job site soaking in the atmosphere and the responsibilities. Throughout the course of this segment, you are asked to respond to several questions in the form of multiple-page written essays.

Then the second portion of the interview begins. This portion of the interview consists of this: you are told to start doing the job. For a while you are supervised by the actual employee, but then they leave you. Sans experience, practical training, and in some cases materials or support, you become a full-time entertainer, guide, technical support technician, juggler, counselor, analyst, motivator, administrator, secretary, and trainer. This is not make-believe – you are REALLY doing this job, and you are REALLY responsible for things that go wrong, and the business’s welfare REALLY depends upon your performance. Throughout this portion of the interview you are scrutinized, evaluated, judged, poked and prodded. People seen and unseen consider your appearance, demeanor, rapport, knowledge, age, vocal projection, office layout, organization, sense of humor, reflexes, likeliehood to become pregnant within the next year, imagination, interest in pre-collegiate athletics, professionalism, warmth, responsibility, and odor.

This is not the hard part.

The hard part is your clientele. This portion of the interview drops you into the pit with a minimum of 100 clients. Each client is assigned an hour of your time per day, with about thirty clients per hour. Each client believes his- or herself to be the most important. Their questions, concerns, and demands cannot wait turns. They demand impeccable responsibility and superhuman speed from you, but are seemingly incapable of reciprocating with even the most approximate sort of personal accountability. They expect you to add “personal assistant to ME” to your set of hats, one hundred times over. They talk over you when you talk, they read or sleep or pick their nose when you try to help them, they fail to show up when you plan something for them and show up with an hour of questions just as you are locking the door to go home.

It would not be so hard if the clients were easy to dislike, or even to feel apathy toward. Unfortunately, if your interview is at all typical, you will quickly fall in love with every one of your demanding, impossible clients. Caring about other people is exhausting. Caring about one hundred people like your clients, each of which you see every day, is near fatal.

Of course, all of the above takes up only 40 hours of your week. The other part of the process is the 20-60 hours outside of the “official hours” that you must spend weekly preparing, adjusting, undoing, and evaluating what you do “on the clock.” This is not something that you can choose not to do; if you don’t spend the 20-60 at home, the other 40 hours are completely impossible.

Did I mention the pay for this job interview? Not for you, of course. Who gets paid to interview? No; I’m talking about the multiple thousands of dollars you dish out for the privilege of getting this interview.

So then, nine months later, instead of having a baby you have finished your interview. You’ve somehow managed to get through it all without swearing, oversleeping, having a sick day, having a bad mood day, or flashing cleavage. And through some act of divine intervention, you still love your clients. You still want the job.

Interview completed, nine months later, you get the news…

There isn’t actually a job available.

Oh, there might be at another company, doing a similar job, on the other end of town. And if not, there is almost certainly a position in a rural town somewhere – maybe three hours down the highway, or ninety minutes up a twisty snow-covered mountain road. Don’t worry, though, you can always temp for a year or two until something opens up. And people quit or retire from this profession every year – in droves, as a matter of fact. Then again, there are always far more people entering the industry than there are openings, so it may be a long wait. Thanks, though for all the great work you’ve done this year!

That is what student teaching is like. The longest, hardest, most expensive, least certain, most nervewracking and outrageous job interview of your life.

(Of course, it’s an apprenticeship too, and by far the most valuable educational experience a prospective teacher could hope for. But this is a post full of hyperbole, so we’re not worrying too much about accuracy. Besides, it’s not like anyone has read this far anyway.)

As I was saying, that is student teaching. It’s a dragon to slay. And I appear to have kicked this dragon’s butt.


Entry filed under: JOB HUNT, MISCELLANEOUS. Tags: , , , , , , .

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The Bee’s Knees

This is the teaching journal of a student first-year second-year THIRD-YEAR (!!!) English teacher. I am writing this blog as a reflection for myself, a way to keep friends and family updated, and a sharing-ground between other educators online. I love comments!

I am striving to maintain anonymity on this blog so that I may more freely interact with my fellow edubloggers. If you know who I am, please help me protect my anonymity in your comments. I use pseudonyms or initials for everyone I write about to preserve their anonymity as well.

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