CSotD: Welcome to Upside-Down Australia

If Australia were not on the other side of the globe, this would be the first day of Autumn there. As it is, it’s the first day of Spring and their first day of Autumn will be March 1.

Point being that, while I’m all in favor of knowing about the equinoces (well, it should be spelled like that), it’s hard not to think about Autumn about the time the leaves start turning and the kids go back to school and Labor Day bookmarks the season which began with Memorial Day which is also not the start of Summer but ought to be.


Case in point being today’s Big Nate. There are any number of back-to-school cartoons this time of year, but this is realistic enough to give me a bit of the heebie-jeebies.

We actually didn’t know our homeroom teacher in elementary school until we walked in the door.  I remember one particular year that was a sort of Scylla and Charybdis, because there were three homeroom teachers and two of them were what we called “mean.”

Now that I’m older and have worked with schools for 25 years or so, I know “mean” isn’t a professional term, of course. The term is “toxic.”

I had a conversation with a teacher once who said that, when you know there’s a toxic teacher in the grade above yours, it’s an annual confrontation with your conscience about who you send there: Do you send good, bright kids hoping they’ll overcome it, or do you send kids who seem hopeless anyway?

If you send the good kids to one of the two good teachers, you may be starting them on the road to glory, while the toxic teacher may well lower their sights and their dreams.

Meanwhile, sending a “hopeless” kid to a good teacher might mean putting them in with someone who will push the buttons you couldn’t find and turn them around completely. The toxic teacher will simply confirm their destiny of failure.

Lincoln Peirce has been a teacher himself and I’ve watching him work with kids. He’s genius at it, in all the ways you can’t teach a teacher to be. He’s a Mr. Rosa.

He (and, for that matter, Jef Mallett over in Frazz) has to use a deft touch in depicting his “mean” teacher character, because she has to be a foil for the kids but not genuinely toxic or she becomes too depressing to be funny.


Back at the turn of the century (this one), Mark Pett had a good insider teacher strip called Mr. Lowe, and his depiction of Mrs. Jade reminded me of another conversation, this one with a school superintendent who said every administrator has a list of toxic, burned-out teachers and counts off, like a prisoner making marks on his cell wall, the days until their retirement.

They’re not bad enough to challenge their tenure and fire, but they are more than just lousy teachers for their 25 or 30 kids each year: They bring the entire building down with their grumbling and their general resistance to whatever fire their colleagues are trying to spark.

I knew such a one for whom the day finally came when she was set to retire. There was a big party for her on the last day of school with a sheet cake and lemonade and speeches, and if she didn’t identify the source of all that joy, it was certainly there anyway.

After which she piled her boxes of stuff into her car and drove home, where she found a message from the central office on her answering machine.

There had been a miscalculation. She had to teach one more year to qualify for her pension.

It would have been hilarious in a comic strip.

Nobody laughed in real life.

Anyway, if Nate were to get Mr. Rosa for a homeroom teacher, that would be the end of the strip.

No grit, no pearls.


Juxtaposition of the (Labor) Day

(Gary Varvel)

(Signe Wilkinson)

We still, as far as I know, haven’t heard from Dear Leader about the recent re-calculation of hiring figures, which took away his advantage over Obama in job creation.

I didn’t expect him to bring it up himself, but it does seem like something a good reporter might scream a question about, as Marine One’s blades whop-whop-whop the air.

But then I also haven’t heard what’s happening to the meatpacking executives in Mississippi who hired all those undocumented workers. (My policy would be to put their children in cages in order to discourage them from illegal hiring practices in future.)

Between them, however, Varvel and Wilkinson kind of sum up this Labor Day.

There are more jobs than people to fill them and I haven’t seen the spike in hourly pay we hear about from economic theorists, or, at least, I haven’t seen anyone offering the kind of pay where you could work 40 hours and afford rent.

We’ve got the spectacle of panhandlers standing next to “Help Wanted” signs at intersections, but most of those people asking for handouts are not psychologically in a place where they can hold down jobs, except in a kind of sheltered-workshop setting, and not always then.

As for the closing of Hahneman and the Philly South Refinery, it puts a total of 3,500 people out of work, a number of whom have specific skills and nearly all of whom have specific economic needs that won’t be fulfilled with a spatula and a paper hat.

The health workers can readily find work, mind you, provided they don’t mind selling their homes, moving their families away from a part of the country where they’re lived for generations, leaving behind aging relatives and forcing an equally skilled spouse to give up a good, solid job.

No problem.

And, hey, look:

The world is full of opportunities!

In fact, I’ll make a better offer: Turn one of my stories into a graphic novel and I’ll pay you three times as much as Shaq. (Adjusted to a percentage of our respective annual incomes.)

Good luck!

2 thoughts on “CSotD: Welcome to Upside-Down Australia

  1. I’ve been looking for work since October. It’s hard to believe there are jobs going begging. OTOH, I am over 60…

  2. As long as lighting television studios, flipping burgers, designing rocket engines, serving as assistant district attorney and stocking shelves are all lumped as “jobs,” we won’t see where all these vacancies are.

    But I have my suspicions, and, as suggested, I think they involve spatulas and paper hats.

Comments are closed.