Sunday, June 26, 2011

Deep Cuts Vs. Scratching the Surface

It appears that our household is due for another Summer of Uncertainty; due to budget cuts, Audrey was one of 85 school support staff laid off last week.  It's touted as sixty-some positions, but since none of them are full-time, it works out to be significantly more carbon units that actually end up unemployed.

The same thing happened last year and it was far more upsetting to her then.  She did end up back at the same school in September by the start of the school year, as a number of people had assured her she would.  This year she is more annoyed than anything else.

Part of her annoyance stems from how arbitrary the whole thing feels.  Beyond the fact that the Alberta Government is cutting school budgets hither and yon, but are still building new schools like there is no tomorrow (watch for a press release announcing the development of robotic teachers!), there is the issue that who gets laid off is simply a matter of seniority; the longest in are the last to get cut.

Obviously a line needs to be drawn somewhere, and seniority is no less fair than having some biased or ignorant individual decide who is worthy and who is not, and it is certainly more fair than drawing lots for the available positions.  That being said, Audrey has wondered aloud why she tries so hard, when there is no reflection of her additional efforts in terms of when she might get called back to work.

It's a moot point, really; she is no more able to 'phone it in' or do a lowest common denominator job than I am able to move items through psychokinesis, and don't think I haven't tried.  Her compassion, her honesty, and her work ethic all make it impossible for her to do anything but her best, especially where children are involved.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Last week, a sixth grade girl that Audrey talks with fairly often said to her casually, "Wouldn't it be funny if me and (a classmate) were both 16 and got pregnant at the same time?"

They were in the computer lab sitting back to side, so Audrey turned Josie (not her real name) around so they could talk face to face.  "No, it would not be funny," she told her.  "Why did your mom have to give you up?"

Josie scrunched up her face.  "'Cause she was on drugs."

"And a person on drugs is not ready to look after a baby, right?"  Audrey replied.  Josie nodded, and Audrey continued  "A girl who is 16 isn't finished growing up yet herself, she isn't nearly ready to raise a baby."

"I guess you're right," said Josie, and the two of then went back to what they were doing.

This was on Friday, and the conversation played itself over and over again in Audrey's mind all weekend.  She simply couldn't be sure if she'd gotten through to Josie or not.

The following week, Audrey asked the office for permission to address the class, and after getting it, she told them her own personal story.

How when she was 20, before the two of us had met, she had gotten pregnant.  How shocked and surprised and embarrassed and confused and afraid she was, all at once.  How she'd had to tell her family, and then her friends about what had happened, and how difficult that was.  How she'd had to make her own choice about what to do, and decided it wasn't this helpless creature in her tummy's fault that he or she had arrived unexpectedly, and that since she wasn't ready to raise a child, the only other option would be to give the baby up for adoption.

She told them how difficult the pregnancy was, knowing that in the end, the life within her would be have to go elsewhere in order to be with a family who could love him and raise him up right.  How saying goodbye to that baby boy was one of the hardest things she'd ever done, even with the security of knowing it was the right decision.

Audrey's story at least has a happy ending.  We ended up making contact with the adoptive parents years later, after moving back to Alberta from Ontario with our own daughter, and eventually got to the point where we felt it was time for our two families to meet.  That was five years ago.

Bryce's family are wonderful people, and we are better for knowing them.  His parents are smart, professional, hard working people with a very strong faith, and they have raised a simply excellent young man, and a wonderful daughter as well.  The picture above shows us visiting him at Fort Edmonton last summer, where he has used his mixed ethnicity as a springboard to create a  pseudo-historical persona named Kona.  Kona is a Sandwich Islander, who, like many others, followed Captain Cook back to British North America and took a jobs with the Hudson's Bay Company.  Bryce loves history and hopes one day to teach, and the fact that there is no blood connection between us does not stop me from thinking of him as family.

The fact that Bryce's story turned out so well almost undermines the point of Audrey's tale, but it does not take away the fact that there are so many places where it could have gone horribly wrong, and this point was not missed by the class.  Afterwards, Josie came up to Audrey and said, "I'm the one who made you tell that story, aren't I?"

"Yes, you are," said Audrey.  "Do you understand now what I meant when I talked about being ready to have a baby?"

Josie nodded, and gave Audrey a huge hug, and has been reluctant to let go of her ever since, as the school year draws to a close.

There was no incentive for Audrey to share such a personal story, and it certainly isn't a part of her job description, but she saw a need and a means to fill it, and that was that.  It's not like this is an exceptional circumstance.

She has spent the past year assisting a sixth grade boy with autism.  He has very severe behavioral issues and difficulty with language as well, so to say it has been a trying year would be a real understatement.  The most discouraging aspect is being unable to know if you are getting through, to know that you are making contact and having some sort of positive effect.

This year, on her birthday, this boy traded in a bunch of the credits he'd earned for reading and good behavior in order to pull some items from the trinket box as a gift for Audrey.

I'm no expert, but this would appear to corroborate some sort of connection at least, and all the royalty themed accessories would seem to indicate relatively high esteem, too!

Audrey also wrote a card for every child in her class, and finding something positive to say in each one can be extremely challenging.  In one card she wrote how she was hoping that the recipient would learn how to choose the right thing to do, and how she was praying that the leg issue that recently hospitalized this girl would get better quickly.  Shortly after giving the card, the girl passed her a piece of tightly folded paper:

When Audrey showed me the letter, I pointed to it and said, "This is why you work so hard and go that extra step, and worry and fret.  It's not about what you do, it is about who you are."

And this is why, despite all the frustration and unpleasantness that comes with The Summer of Uncertainty, we are certain that before too long, Audrey will be right back where she belongs: helping children.

1 comment:

  1. That Audrey is wonderful is no news to me & mine and it is inspiring to hear about her efforts - thanks for this post Stephen.

    I really don't know How to fix the public education system but it sure looks broken to me. I'm a firm believer in a meritocracy and seniority-based anything rubs me the wrong way quite often. But what else? Any other teachers in the audience? I would be interested to hear more views from the folks in the system.