I Am Not Going Back to Work
By Bonhomme Richard,
today at 5:59 pm
today at 5:59 pm
This was a post I wrote for our CTU teachers Facebook page. I was encouraged to start a blog and post my ideas, so here I am. I will add some of my older posts, too. I have edited the original post to allow for a wider audience but that doesn’t amount to a change of ten words.
History teachers are notorious at digression. That’s because we’re storytellers, and to tell a good story we must first give some background context. Herodotus, called the father of Western History, begins the first of his forty-two books with a digression on why digressions are important to the writing of history. And yes, all that was a digression to what I wanted to write about today. My second digression goes back over 45 years, when I was in the Boy Scouts. I know I was in 7th grade, so I must have been either 12 or 13 years old. We were on a survival hike, called the Kentucky-Lincoln Trail. It was a two-day hike over 32 miles of the hills in Western Kentucky, coal mine country. The first day is a grueling 20 miles while the second is an easier 12 miles. Of course, this was back in the day of canvas tents and steel cook gear, and the only lightweight food was powdered milk and eggs, so every kid on that hike was carrying at least 45 pounds of supplies and equipment. If I recall correctly, I weighed in at about 90 pounds.
My memory of that hike is legendary, epic, and I still carry the scars. Our Boy Scout troop split into numerous groups, each with a dozen or so boys, a couple adult chaperones, and a local guide. The group I was in got lost. I knew we were lost well before the other kids started complaining. The adults huddling around and whispering to each other while making sure we kids didn’t hear them was a dead giveaway, especially when it always happened at a fork in the trail. And their whispering didn’t cover up all the finger-pointing down the alternate paths. It was supposed to be a 20-mile day. One of the chaperones was wearing a pedometer that read 26 miles. We were low on water. Some boys, myself included, were filling their canteens in roadside puddles and dropping giardia pills into their canteens. That’s what you use to combat the giardia bacteria prevalent in deer piss.
And then it rained. I’m not talking about some summer shower, either. Now, to be fair, it probably didn’t drop a deluge on us like the one in my memory, but it was a downpour, and it was relentless. We were all demoralized. The adults were beginning to argue openly and loudly. A revolt was imminent.
I had brought a map. Alone of the boys in my group, I had the frame of mind to bring along one of the topographical maps of the trail. I hadn’t looked at it much during the hike because, like the other boys, I’d put my trust in the adults on the hike. But as we took a break, sitting ourselves down in inches of water that we couldn’t escape, I broke out that map and looked at it very carefully.
I might mention that becoming a geography teacher was no accident, nor was it unexpected. Did you catch that? I just digressed on a digression. Anyway, my dad taught me to read a map very early. I knew every symbol, every number, and what it meant, and not just on road maps. I could read a topographic map, too. Just the year before, I scored a 12th grade learning level on the Iowa Test of Basic Aptitudes in map reading. Yes, back then the Iowa Test tested map reading. Did you catch that? I digressed on a digression of a digression. Anyway, it took me some time to figure out where we were on that map. It also took some time to figure out where we were going and the route we needed to take in order to get there. But that was okay because the adults were having a hard time getting the boys up and moving.
But a problem surfaced in my mind. The way the guide suggested, and the way I was reading the map, did not agree. I didn’t know what to do. I was raised to obey the adults in charge, and the Boy Scouts was, and probably still is, a somewhat paramilitary organization, and you do not buck the chain of command. And yet, I knew right then that is exactly what I was preparing to do. I didn’t want to make a scene. I hate drama. I avoid drama. I let all the other boys get up first and start down the path suggested by the guide. When it was my turn to stand I walked the other direction. Remember the chaperone I mentioned, the one with the pedometer? He was bringing up the rear and asked what I was doing. I pointed down another path and told him, “That’s where I’m going.” He yelled at the column for a halt and called the other adults back there. I was told in no uncertain terms that the column was not breaking up and I was staying with the group. I told them that in that case, they’d have to carry me because I wasn’t walking that other way. They weren’t going to carry me. I showed them my map. I showed them the landmarks that made me believe that my reading of the map was more accurate than our guide’s. They weren’t having any of it. I was, however, an immovable object. I ignored their arguments and started back on my path. Another kid said, “I trust Myers. These guys are fools.” And he ran after me. Then another, and then in two and threes. Pretty soon we were all walking down my path. And that was never my intent.
I don’t like leadership. I’ve studied it my entire adult life, and a good chunk of my childhood, too, though mostly from a military perspective. I’ve read Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Caesar, you name it. I got my masters degree in military history. I understand leadership. I know its theories and applications. But I don’t like to lead. I don’t mind paying the consequences of my own bad decisions, but I feel a tremendous weight of guilt when other people have to pay the consequences of my bad decisions. So I don’t like to lead. And here I was, aged 12 or 13, leading a group through the hills and the woods of Western Kentucky. Long story short, we made it.
I mentioned earlier that I still bear the scars of that journey. Let me tell you how gruelling it was. When we got to camp, of course all the other groups were already there. Most of the boys immediately fell out and just laid down on the grass in inches of water. I knew I had a problem, though. In fact, it was that problem that motivated my earlier rebellion. There was a cold mountain stream that ran through the middle of the camp and I sat down on the bank and carefully removed my hiking boots. My socks were encrusted in blood. I couldn’t pull them off without pulling off the scabs, too, and probably a few layers of skin. So I soaked my feet in that cold stream. I’ll never forget how cold that water was. I still remember it clearly. It numbed my feet. Once I couldn’t feel any more, I carefully peeled off those socks and bandaged my feet. I hobbled through dinner barefoot and went to sleep like everyone else. That night, the blisters formed on top of the blisters that had already burst and bled. New blisters formed underneath my toenails. When I woke up the next morning, all my toenails had popped off except for the two big toes. They’ve all grown back since, mostly, except the two pinky toes. Anyway, I soaked my feet in the cold water again, bandaged my feet, ate breakfast, and walked another 12 miles to the end of the Kentucky-Lincoln Trail. And I’ve never again let other people make decisions for me, or at least not when those decisions regarded my health and well-being. I don’t make a fuss. I don’t like drama. So I just quietly go my own way. I’ll listen to the advice of experts, but it’s my future and I will decide which direction it is going.
So here I am 40-something years later. We are living through the plague. People are telling me how this school year is going to go down. Other people are saying the union has to stick together, whatever our decision. I already know which way I’m going and there isn’t a power on Earth or under Heaven that can move me from my chosen path. I’m leaving out that school-house door. I’ll burn sick days, PB days, grandfathered days, evoke the Family Medical Leave Act, or take a Sabbatical and write a book or earn another degree. I’m going to try to keep my job, but I’m not coming to work in a CPS building full of students. Will that leave a hole in the faculty? I hope so. I hope it’s a hole that’s not easily filled, too, and not because of some ego thing. I hope that if enough holes appear, and the CPS can’t find enough substitutes to fill those holes, that this whole artificial construct will come tumbling down. That’s what I’m going to do. But I’m not going to ask anybody to follow. Because I don’t like to lead. I don’t like to make decisions for other people. I didn’t feel good when writing these words. In fact, I don’t feel comfortable posting these words, because that’s exactly what it sounds like, that I’m asking everyone to walk out. Every teacher will have to search their conscience, assess their and their family’s needs, and make that decision for themselves. I’m near the end of my career. This isn’t a hard call for me. I can retire now and start collecting my pension in February. I’ll turn 60 then. I wasn’t planning on retiring for a few more years, but I can. And I know that many teachers aren’t in that financial situation. But my mind is resolved and I won’t be moved. Sure, things could change between now and then, but given what I know now, and assuming little or no change, except for the worse, I am not going back to work, not inside a school building.