Tell me the truth

Victorian teachers have been embroiled in a conditions and pay dispute for far too long now. On Wednesday night I got email from the union saying this was the deal I’d been waiting for. The union has maintained all along that their pay claim of  12.5% over 3 years was a fair deal. The email said they have won because “Teachers will get 16.1%-20.5%”.
But it turns out that these figures have been fudged.  Each individual pay level will get around 11.25% increase. The union spin relies on teachers getting promoted up the pay scale – so that the pay in our pockets will go up by that much, but it would have gone up by almost that much before the deal. In fact, the deal has also made it harder to go up the pay scale, which is a change I support, if it is well managed. Seniority should not be determined by longevity in the profession.
I am more than happy with the deal. The government wanted us to increase our teaching load for any pay increase, and I physically can’t work harder than I already am. I’m also happy that progression up the pay scale is not guaranteed. But I don’t like being lied to, and that email, and all subsequent press releases, are actively deceitful.

Some people tell me stories,
wasting all my time
Some trying not receiving someone else’s lies
It’s my time, yes, it’s my time
So, why don’t you tell me?
Why won’t you tell me?
Why don’t you tell me the truth about you?
Midnight Oil, Tell me the Truth.

The original pay claim was not for 12.5% assuming we go up the pay scale. It was for each pay level to rise by that much. So don’t try to tell me that this deal is better than you were arguing for. Don’t try to tell me it’s a 20% rise. Tell me the truth. I’m happy with this deal. But I don’t like being lied to.

It’s all about politics. Everyone I have ranted to about this has said “Of course, the union has to make it look as though they have had a big win. That’s what’s important.”

And it bothers me that we all accept that. Of course, they have to make it look better than it is.

Really? Why is that? Why is it that our union leaders, our politicians, and our bosses need to make everything look better than it is? Why is it that we are happy with being lied to?

Why isn’t the union comfortable with saying “we won some, we lost some. We didn’t get the pay increase we wanted, but we have done a better deal on promotions than the Performance pay that the government wanted, and we fought off their insistence on an increased workload. We think this is a good deal in the current climate.”

Instead, they lie to their members and hope we won’t notice.

This is the Australian Education Union we are talking about. In theory, at least, they represent teachers. As teachers, we are supposed to be setting a good example for our kids. If I were still teaching critical thinking, I would use that email to show how you can lie without legally lying. Great example, guys.

This, too, shall pass

Today, around 2 hours after I picked up my girls from school, my 6 year old, JB, had still not paused for breath in the rapid fire, stream-of-consciousness chatter that started the moment we met at the gate. (I was going to say “conversation” but that implies a certain give and take that was noticeable in its absence.) I found myself remembering with a kind of fond, slightly desperate nostalgia the time when she was 2 and we wondered if she would ever start to talk. Back then she was shy and clingy. She never wandered far from her parents, and she never, ever talked to anyone she hadn’t known for her entire life.

Today she roams free, talking confidently to anyone within earshot (and earshot is much further than you would expect). She is happy to approach people, whether kids or adults, she has never met, and when on holiday with her 10 year old sister, it is JB who approaches other kids to ask if they can play, or talks to shop assistants, or answers the kind questions of strangers.

Back when she was 2 she suffered from undiagnosed silent reflux. She rarely slept. She screamed during the day for reasons we couldn’t fathom. She cried at night until we were beside ourselves with distress and exhaustion. Doctors told us she had a sleep problem, or we had an anxiety problem, or there was nothing wrong. Just surviving from one day to the next seemed like an unrealistic pipe dream some days. My mantra became “This, too, shall pass.” I spent a lot of time reminding myself that she wouldn’t be 2 forever. That there was light at the end of the tunnel. That sleep would one day be within our grasp once more. And that a social life would some day be more than a distant, hallucinatory memory.

Listening to her chattering today I suddenly realised that this had, indeed, passed. She wasn’t two anymore. Now she sleeps. Not infallibly, but almost every night. Now we are more likely to be woken by her older sister’s anxious nightmares than by JB’s reflux. Now my main cause of distress is not JB’s sleep but her sister’s intense emotional distress.

Today I bumped into a very wise friend, who was bringing her baby in to work for a visit. She told me a story about a niece who was just like my ten year old. She used to be paralysed with distress. Her parents did much the same things we are doing, and now she is coping just fine. It dawned on me that I am still looking for an instant fix to a lifelong problem. I wanted JB’s reflux/sleep problems to miraculously disappear overnight. (Or during the day – I wasn’t about to be picky!)

My fondest conscious wish is to teach my ten year old the coping skills I am still learning at 41. So that she can manage her anxiety and not be paralysed by it. So that she can encounter adversity, be distressed and keep going. Unconsciously I want what every parent really wants, deep down. I want her to not be distressed. I want to make all possible sources of trauma miraculously disappear. I want to wrap her in the softest of cotton wool and protect her from everything.

And yet, in the wise words of Dory (from Finding Nemo) “You can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him!”

In reality we are teaching her coping skills. And I have seen her use them. Today’s meltdowns are tomorrow’s object lesson. I can’t make the meltdowns stop, but I can teach her the self-awareness and mindfulness skills to survive them and use them to grow.

As a newly fledged high school teacher I bonded strongly with my first cohort of students. Last year they graduated, and at the start of this year I looked around at my next class and thought “in a couple of years they’ll be gone, too.” It brings some perspective to the trials and tribulations of both the teaching and the parenting year. Crises come and crises go. If I spend too much time fearing tomorrow’s potential dramas I will fail to appreciate the joys today might bring.

This, too, shall pass. Tomorrow will doubtless bring both joy and sorrow, and we will all survive and grow. That’s worth remembering.

Someone else’s bad day

A few days ago I was buying gelato for my girls. The lady who served us seemed a touch impatient and gruff to me, but my 10 year old whispered to me “She’s really nice, and she’s pretty, too.” As the waitress handed me my change, I decided to pass this verdict on.

“Apparently the official assessment is that you’re really nice, and you’re pretty too.” The waitress blushed, and then smiled happily, thanked us and rushed off. I think she was a little embarrassed and startled – it seemed to me as though she was at the tired end of the day, and this compliment came out of the blue. As we walked off I looked back to see that she was grinning to herself as she wiped the benches.

I’ve been trying to teach my girls to see the other side of any situation. My 10 year old, especially, tends to take things extremely personally, and it’s a useful exercise to think about reasons why people say or do things that have nothing to do with us. We have a lot of conversations that run:

Miss 10: “But Mum, she bumped into me and didn’t even say sorry.”

Me: “Well, can you think of any reason she might have been distracted? Could she have been upset about something else?

Miss 10: “Um… well… I think maybe she had a fight with her best friend.”

Me: “So how might she have been feeling?”

Miss 10: “ooohhhh…the poor thing…”

And suddenly it’s not Miss 10’s fight any more. Now she’s feeling empathy rather than angst.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this and trying to apply it in my life as well. That driver who cut me off in traffic? Maybe he was rushing to his sick child’s hospital bed. The woman who shouted at me as she drove too close when I was riding my bike? Maybe she had just lost her job. The guy who pushed in front of me in the line? Maybe he has spent all day caring for his aggressive father who has dementia. The kid who didn’t give up her seat on the bus to an elderly lady? Maybe her home life is a nightmare and she is so used to escaping into her own head that she doesn’t see the people around her. The co-worker who is making your life miserable? Maybe her Mum is dying of cancer.

And praise will come to those whose kindness
leaves you without debt
and bends the shape of things to come
that haven’t happened yet.
Faster than Light, Neil Finn

We rarely know what’s going on in the lives of the people around us, especially the ones we encounter briefly at the shops or on the road. I love the expression “live each day as if it’s your last”, but I reckon it could use some work. Maybe it’s more important to “Treat everyone you meet as though they’re having a really bad day.”

What if instead of leaning on the horn and giving that rude driver the finger, we could take a deep breath and think “well, maybe the poor sod is having a really rough day,” or “I’m glad my day hasn’t been so sucky that I’m taking it out on the people around me.” Leaning on the horn and shouting, justified though it might be, could be the trigger that pushes him from “bad day” to  complete meltdown. We all have days where we’re too close to the edge, and not proud of our own behaviour. It’s much easier to judge someone else’s behaviour than to excuse it, but maybe it would make us feel better to think about the back story – what could have made someone behave that way?

What if, instead of reacting to the anger, we passed on all the compliments we think but rarely say? “I love that dress.” “I’m really impressed with the way you handled that situation.” “You look great in that suit,” “You did a really good job today,” or just “That coffee you made me was awesome.”

Maybe we can go from making those bad days worse to spreading a few more smiles. And the great thing about a smile is that it’s contagious.