The Silver Lining of an Unfortunate Situation

I share a lot of things on this blog. I’ve given you some insights into the difficulties I’ve had in the past as well as some of the things I’m working through still. But one thing I don’t really talk about is my professional life. I am not a full-time blogger (because, you know, bills). I actually have a regular job that I love working as an ESL teacher and Student Advisor at a college in Ontario. I don’t get too specific about it for reasons that I’m sure you understand, but today I found myself writing about a situation I’m dealing with at work and wanted to share it.

I’ve been employed by the college for more than 7 years and in this time I have come to know some amazing people. My fellow teachers are a constant source of inspiration who motivate me to be better. I’m very fortunate to see so many of them as friends rather than just co-workers. But hands down, the best part about my job is the students who sit in my classroom each day. I am fortunate enough to teach a diverse group of students from all different cultural, language and religious backgrounds. Every day is a learning experience not only for them, but for myself. I know it sounds cliché, but it truly is the people that keep me coming to work every single day.

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Unfortunately, I haven’t seen my students in class for five weeks. If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you may have noticed some of my posts mention that I have been on strike at work What I mean by that is, all faculty members at all colleges in Ontario are on strike after labour negotiations broke down back in October. More than 12,000 employees and 500,000 students have been anxiously waiting to hear news that would bring us back to the classrooms. While a resolution has not yet occurred, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

For five weeks, there has been a lot of negativity around the subject. People seem to have strong opinions about it whether they are directly or indirectly affected. Whether they are students wishing they were in class, community members frustrated by the traffic delays or faculty themselves feeling discouraged by the situation, it’s been a very trying time for everyone.  So today, I’m not here to take a stance, or make a political statement, or even outline the issues – after five weeks, it won’t be hard for you to find information about it if you’re interested. Instead, I wanted to talk about the side of a strike that most people never hear about – the silver lining, and you might be surprised to discover there are many.

When people hear that I’ve been on strike, their response is usually “Oh, that must really suck”, “You poor thing” or they simply offer a shrug with a look of pity across their faces. Sure – it’s been hard getting up in the mornings when it’s still dark outside to start my workday an hour and a half earlier than usual. Walking the picket line in the rain and snow and blowing winds hasn’t had anyone jumping for joy. Sifting through contradictory news reports hasn’t inspired a lot of faith or left faculty feeling confident. And having to listen to students as they explain how frustrated and annoyed they are to be wasting time and money has been heartbreaking. But, it hasn’t all been bad.

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A generous breakfast on the line

The support from the community has been inspiring. We’ve had people who started out as strangers come visit us on the line and leave as friends. They’ve come to show their support, drop off some hot chocolate or treats and offer their words of encouragement. One gentleman stands out in my mind. About a week into the strike, a car approached the picket line. A man stepped out of his car and said, “I just wanted to let you guys know that I support you all and everyone I talk to is behind you all 100%.” He was a parent whose son was a college student affected by the strike. He spoke about how he was a retired teacher in the secondary school system and had been in our shoes before. He took the time to hear our message and ask questions. Then, before leaving, he pulled out a tray of baked goods and some hot coffee. His kindness and compassion meant a lot to us. Knowing we had the support of people in our community made that chilly day a bit warmer.

IMG_20171110_093052Being in a different environment, where everyone is working towards the same cause, has allowed me to develop closer relationships with my co-workers. We often get so busy and focused on what we are doing that we forget to take the time to reach out to our colleagues and just chat. It’s been nice to reconnect with the people I work so
closely with. In these past five weeks I’ve turned co-workers into friends, and strengthened relationships with many. I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much more about the amazing people on my team. I’ve learned more about my colleauge’s knitting and crochet business, swapped recipes and travel stories and gossiped about the latest season of our favourite TV shows. I’ve listened to parents beam about the accomplishments of their children, stories of meeting their spouses and falling in love and the trials of balancing work and personal commitments. Through all of this, I’ve come to see these people in different ways – I’ve come to see the person instead of just the teacher.

IMG_20171110_111339What’s more, there is greater sense of community among our college faculty as a whole. This experience has also allowed me to expand my network and meet new people. I would have never had an opportunity like this to interact with so many people from different areas and departments of the college, and for that I am grateful. We often get comfortable in our own little bubbles and due to time constraints don’t get the chance to engage with members of our school community. All of that changes, however, when you find yourself spending a great deal of time with people you don’t know. When you’re braving the cold together or commiserating over how unfortunate of a situation it is, you’re bound to get to know one another and make new friends. These days, my mornings start off with coffee and conversation with my new friends from the Counselling and Graphic Design Departments. As the day goes on, I catch up on the daily updates from people within my own department as well as others from Mechanical Engineering, Game Development, and Dental Assisting. We chat, laugh and share stories all while working towards a common goal. It’s been amazing to see how an unfortunate situation can bring people together.

IMG_20171110_111222_717.jpgI’ve been reminded of what it is like to be a student. It wasn’t that long ago that I was a student struggling to complete all my assignments, work part-time, maintain my GPA and satisfy my extracurricular commitments all the while trying to keep my head above water. Many students have courageously opened up about the anxiety, depression, worry and fears they are experiencing while their academic career is in limbo. It’s been sad to see it all unfold, but it has reminded me to put myself in my student’s shoes. When I was going through school, it would have meant a lot to have a teacher tell me that they understand what I’m going through and show a little compassion. Going forward, I believe this experience will make me a more understanding and empathetic teacher.

It’s also been lesson in inspiration. People from all departments of the college have been more than willing to share what they’ve been working on, their ideas for in the classroom, suggestions to improve planning and pieces of advice. I’ve often walked away from conversations feeling inspired and ready to implement my newfound wisdom into my own lessons. The collaborative atmosphere has shown me what is possible when we open ourselves up to innovative ideas, communicate with each other and take risks.

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Finally, being on strike has been a very humbling experience for me
. I’m the type of person that likes to have things in control and orderly, but this strike has quite literally put my entire professional career on the line. Everything has been uncertain from how long it will last to what  the outcome will be. Being on the sidelines, waiting for a resolution has at times left me feeling helpless, but it has reminded me to have faith. Some things are out of my hands and I just have to be optimistic and trust that everything will work out the way it’s supposed to. It hasn’t been easy and there have been some restless nights, but I’m working on it.

So, while a strike is typically not described as a positive experience, I’ve chosen to look for opportunities to learn something and grow. I’m very hopeful that I will be back in the classroom next week, but until then I am going to keep reminding myself that it could always be worse.

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