The Volkswagen Job

Doing my job this year feels a lot like driving the red 69 Volkswagen I’ve been using since my Camry was written off in an accident. In many ways, my beetle is a great car. It’s been painstakingly restored and maintained and gets lots of admiring glances. But reliable transportation it isn’t. It’s plagued with niggling little problems — a leaking seal, a plugged fuel line, hoses rotting from age. The car seems to be coping fine for a while, and then it dies, leaving me stranded. That beetle is the same age as my teaching career. Coincidence? Read on.

Last week I popped into Costco to pick up a few things. It was only when I wheeled my overflowing cart out to the parking lot that I remembered I had the beetle. For a panic-stricken moment or two I felt like I was in a Mr. Bean episode. I hope no one I know was watching as I stuffed packages, bottles, and cases into every possible orifice of that car, dragging the cart around and around the it, feeling I’d never to be able to make everything fit. I drove the few blocks home leaning against the cases of paper towel and tissues that filled the passenger seat. It didn’t make me feel better when my husband and daughter roared with laughter as they watched me unload, reminding me that they generally don’t let me go to Costco unescorted because, they claim, I get carried away.

Like all teachers these days, I often find myself trying to fit all the demands of my job into a space that’s too small. Twenty years ago the librarian’s position at our school was .4 FTE, with a .4 aide. There were 250 students. This year we have 560 students, and my time in the library is still .4, with an aide at .3. Since I took over the library, we have renovated, automated, added two computer labs, and tripled the size of the collection.

My job as a classroom teacher suffers other pressures. In the last few years we’ve become accustomed to computer-generated IEP’s, report cards we print at school, the ever-increasing numbers of students with special needs, the ever-dwindling budgets. I do realize I’m lucky, of course. I’m one of the few left who has a teacher/librarian position, and it’s a great job in a wonderful school.

But it’s a great job like the Volkswagen is a great car. Most of the time, things work very smoothly. But every once in a while I suffer one of those Mr. Bean moments when I wonder, What can I empty, or reshape, or move so I can fit everything I should be doing into this job? The answer to my problem, of course, is more money for my school.
My red beetle is parked for the winter. The bank stepped in to help: I’m now driving a ’97 Mazda 626, feeling that the security and comfort it provides is well worth the debt I’ve incurred.

But I wonder: what do I do about the shortfalls in my job? I’ve already tried to buy my way out of those; I’ve given up five percent of my salary and a much bigger percentage of my life. We all know how well that’s worked. What I want now is the security and comfort of knowing that the Alberta government is prepared to step in and help me. It’s time to retire the Volkswagen. Give us the support we need to properly do our jobs.