Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Keep It Up: An Anti-List for 2009, part 1

The beginning of a new year means the summing up of its predecessor, usually by way of ultimately insignificant lists that actually lend more clout to their content via context than, say, originality. When I saw MSN's headline, "Best Part-Time Jobs for 2009," however, I was intrigued by its optimism; in an America ravaged by economic hardship (This just in: the adult film industry needs a bail-out? They specialize in money shots!), my most skeptical self thought "best" and "part-time" two halves of an oxymoron. Then, number eight struck me: teacher assistant. As an after school program director, in turn supervising a very capable team of "youth development professionals," I wholeheartedly recognize that "teacher assistant" is the closest anyone might come to comprehending this otherwise overlooked part of a child's day. So, in this case, I'm happy with the peripheral praise and in fact perceive this mention as a promise of positivity for the coming year.

As I just comprehensively detailed in "The Twelve Nights of Russmas," my twenty-ninth birthday has recently come and gone, and in its midst I contemplated drafting a "twenty-something bucket list," things I'd like to accomplish before I hit the big 3-0. Only one phrase came to mind, after much soul-searching and introspection . . .

"Keep it up."

My life is heading in a direction that excites and challenges me daily, thanks in large part to my career, which was a completely unforeseen "X" on the treasure map of my adulthood. I left the nest to pursue ministry and, having never maintained a real job, I latched on to what seemed closest and easiest at the old college freshman job fair: yes, the "teacher assistant." In those formidable hours around my class schedule, while my peers drove for miles to serve crumbling churches in inner cities ravaged by the very distance they had to drive, I rode my bike to our city's own backyard and helped third graders learn single-digit multiplication, or the names of the bones in the body. When summer came, I found out where kids without a backyard go to play, and I got a job there. Fast-forward some nine years later. I'm still working there, at that youth-oriented non-profit* in a management capacity, with not only the pleasure of molding children's lives but also influencing a staff of undergrads in the same position I held nearly a decade ago. It seems like the natural next step.

Keep it up.

When I was home for the holidays, my mom asked if my staff were basically babysitters -- if I was basically the boss to a bunch of babysitters. I decided to say "yes," because if I indulged her in the list of my annual responsibilities, I might as well put the hours it would take on my time sheet (which would be futile in itself, being a salaried employee and all). I could've listed the numerous special activities, community events, fundraisers, staff trainings, and marketing strategies that I facilitate -- but that would've just been from December. If I do my job right, it demands every dimension of the talents my loved ones think I've put to waste or in the ground, skills like drawing and graphic design, or public speaking, or even this, the writing. Thanks to my job, I've M.C.'ed stand-up comedy nights, I've drawn countless caricatures and comics, I've designed T-shirts, and I've been handed the proverbial pulpit from which to preach my perspective on child development and human services. I've even been paid to shop for toys -- definitely a skill I've honed. I'm not bragging -- if you saw the paycheck of a non-profit stooge like me, you'd know I'm not bragging. I'm challenging myself with that year-end list, the very things I need to do to fulfill my three-word bucket list.

Keep it up.

When you find a job that harmonizes your passions, the things you'd do for fun anyway, you put that job on your shoulders where ever you go. Yes, you brag, and in the face of debt and heartbreak, you wave it like the soldier who has painstakingly shed blood for the flag he flies in the battlefield. You don't let it touch the ground for even a minute. Whatever drags behind slows you down; like Sisyphus you push it in front of you, on that incline above you. You keep it up.

A good teacher assistant knows there's nothing "part-time" about sincerely caring for kids. A great teacher assistant decides to find a way to get paid for it anyway.

*Like in my blog specifically about work, Damn Noisy Kids, I'm making a conscience effort not to mention the name of my organization, because I'd hate to inadvertantly misrepresent it through anything I write here. My thoughts on child development, pop culture, and the world at large are not nearly as big and important as the sanctity of that century-old institution! Speaking of which, though, why not another new year's thought of mine at my LiveJournal? Waste as much time at work reading my blogs as I do writing them!


johnny_justice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
johnny_justice said...

Admittedly, I used to ask myself, "Geez, why doesn't Russ take all that stuff in his brains, use his unique ability to communicate it all, and do something with his life? How long can a guy work at an ASP?"

And now I find myself in a very similar position.--minus all that stuff in my brains--trying to figure out how to reach those difficult kids, how to get them interested in learning, and trying to get to sleep at night without thinking about everything I want to try tomorrow at work to make a difference in those kids' lives.

Argh, Crap! It is Friday night and here I am thinking about work! I guess the question I should've been asking is "How can I use my beer-addled brain and my lack of ability to communicate with genuineness to do something with my life? Does Del Taco deliver?"