No Guarantees

I came home yesterday and found an email waiting for me.  The email was a confirmation of my first field placement as a student-teacher at a middle school.  I’ve been waiting for this news and I was really excited to see where I’d be working.

Then I saw the address.It was some school in Milwaukie, Oregon.  With foreboding, I did a quick google maps search.  The school was about 11 miles away and would take about 30 minutes to drive to.  11 miles doesn’t sound like much, especially to someone like me who grew up in a rural community.  But in a city, even a small one, 11 miles can be like a journey around the horn of Africa.  I have to drive from my home in the Southwest into Southeast Portland using the Sellwood Bridge.  From there, I wind my way through residential streets almost to the 205 interstate on the far east side of Milwaukie.

And you know something? I was pissed.  The more I googled the madder I got.  I could find a dozen or more schools in Lake Oswego, Tigard, Tualatin, Beaverton, and Portland that were half the distance and drive time.  Even a school in Downtown Milwaukie would have been closer, but my placement is practically in Clackamas.

So there was a dilemma: tough it out, or try to change it.  Now, this is complicated because each grad student needs a placement.  Many of us, myself included, need two (one in the fall, one in the spring) because we are going to be authorized for different levels and each level requires a placement.  My university is in the process of making about 400 placements all together for student-teachers.  A lot of this is an exercise in flexibility as we navigate this complicated process.  If I really think about the numbers without considering all the other closer schools, 11 miles isn’t THAT far, and 30 minutes isn’t THAT long.  I’m excited to get to know this new community and start student-teaching.  I’m trying to be patient and go with the flow.

On the other hand, it’s not just 30 minutes.  It’s 30 minutes, one time, one-way in ideal traffic conditions.  I shouldn’t have to point this out to the placement coordinator, but I also have to drive home.  I’ll be in the school about three days a week so the total weekly drive time is likely to exceed 3 hours.  That’s 3 hours a week of sitting behind the wheel, not accomplishing anything, driving to a job I don’t get paid for, spending money on gas, putting miles on the car, for about 5 months.  By the way, I’ll also be taking a full load of grad courses, working part-time, and sharing the car with my fiancée.

Beyond all that, the thing that really bothers me is that I expressed my concern about this exact issue a number of times at various information nights and interviews with faculty.  Other students asked about it, too, concerned that they’d be placed across the river from their homes, either on the west or east side.  In every case, the answer was always the same “the coordinators work miracles and it ALWAYS works out.  You won’t be placed across town because there are students on the other side who also want placements nearby.  We have TONS of schools that we partner with to make it work.”  I was pretty skeptical about that answer so I emailed to coordinator months ago asking if I should be contacting any schools myself to ensure a nearby placement and expressing (yet again) that I wanted something nearby.  The response: “there is nothing you need to do to pursue placement.  I’ll handle it from here… I will pursue something further west.”

And then last night I get the email.  I spent hours (literally!) crafting an email.  This was no easy task; being diplomatic is tricky when you feel you’ve been lied to after months of taking prerequisite classes, applying to the school, the grad program, for financial aid, getting fingerprinted, taking 4 National Evaluation Series tests on math, reading, writing, and English, filling out paperwork, taking out loans, buying hundreds of dollars worth of textbooks, checking off every single stupid requirement and writing checks every step of the way.

In the end, I was happy with the email.  It was polite but direct.  I expressed “concern” and gently reminded the coordinator that I’d requested something in the Southwest and tried to bring up some of my concerns in a brief, clear, and friendly manner.

10 minutes after I sent it, I got a blasé response saying that “There are no guarantees about placements… 30 minutes is not considered an unreasonable commute… Maybe you can carpool with someone?”  She also told me that she’d contacted school districts in my area “with no luck.”

That’s it!?!  Not considered unreasonable by who?  No guarantees about which school I’d be placed in, sure, but there were definitely guarantees I’d be kept in my geographical area.  Carpool?  Are you telling me other students within a reasonable distance to me (say a few miles radius) are also being placed at that exact school?  I’d be wiling to bet almost all those students live on the East Side.  And as for all these school districts: I’m sorry they don’t want someone to come in for free and help out an overworked teacher in exchange for a little on-the-job experience.  I don’t know what to tell you about that, but it would seem that problem is not unique to me.

I’m just frustrated and I wanted to vent it through writing.  I know that (maybe?) I’m overreacting.  I should just let this go, but letting things go is not easy for me.  I’ve been working my butt of since last November and, ultimately, I’m the one doing all the unpaid work, taking on all the debt, and completely burying myself in an intensive one-year program.  It’s really easy for someone not in my position to tell me “well, I tried.  Deal with it.”  But, from my perspective, I don’t want to take on any more time constrictions than I already have, for fear of burning myself out.  It makes me worried what might happen when I get my next placement at the high school level, when I’ll be at the school full-time; will I be driving a “reasonable 30 minutes” five days a week?  As it has now been pointed out to me, “there are no guarantees.”  And That’s why I’m concerned about those 11 miles.

photo credit: half alive – so zzzz via photopin

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