Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why I Liked my Job, Part 1

Notice how the title is in the past tense, even though I am still working? It's because I'm mentally preparing. My last day will be June 28, and then I will be unemployed. Having a good scan recently should be cause for celebration, but all I can think of is maybe I could have hung on at work for a few more months.

But, we all know that metastatic cancer takes no prisoners so it would just be delaying the inevitable. The Principal's Secretary is vital to the school and she can't be in and out with illnesses and tests and, you know...death. It is, heartbreakingly, time to go.

Especially since they hired my replacement.

And, my replacement's replacement.

I have been mourning my loss though. How many people enjoy going to work every single day, where they know they are doing good work, where they like all of their coworkers, where they feel they matter (even if only by helping the people who really do matter) and who, even indirectly, are helping society?

From what I hear, not many.

I like everything about my job. High School Secretary is not a job that you may respect, and it's not highly paid, but there are a lot of challenges. I like dealing with angry parents, who I have a talent for calming down. I like managing the calendar and supplies and being interrupted all day but still managing to do what needs to be done. The subs who don't show up? Annoying, but they give me a problem to solve - I have to figure out how to cover classes, and quickly. The copy machine breakdowns, the kid who needs the band-aid, or something signed right now - the small emergencies that fill my days - every minute is something new. I liked my job when I was in the computer world for the constant problem-solving I did, and I like this one for the same reason.

But, there is one truly special thing that makes me love my job. One I've never admitted before.

One that might surprise you.

I get to talk on a Walkie Talkie every day.

I ask you, is there anything more fun than talking on a walkie talkie, which, by the way, we call "radios?"

I think not.

You know you'd love it too. You get to be a kid again.

There are thousands of things to coordinate on a school campus, and the main players, who work all over, need to be reachable. The Admin team (Principal, Vice Principals) have them, the Secretary (me), the VP Secretary, Attendance Clerks, the Campus Monitors, the PE teachers, and the Custodial staff all have them. They are used for safety and to manage events, to herd cats, to notify of impending doom or to crack a joke.

They are fun.

If you are anything like me, as a kid you had a cheap little walkie talkie that mostly broadcast static but still had the miraculous ability to allow you to talk to your friends from long distances away, like two houses down and from behind the big tree. Since they came in two packs, I'd give one to my friend who lived next door, and after lights out and we all went to bed, she and I would whisper our secrets to each other. It was like magic. And, of course, we'd use proper terminology, because we were just that professional.

Me, "Ann to Lynn, come in"
Friend, "This is Lynn, over."
Me, "I am getting a new pink dress for my Barbie, over."
Friend, "Roger that. I am going to marry Davy Jones, over."
Me, "Negatory, you get Peter Tork. I get Davy. Over."

It's kind of like what kids do now on Facebook. Only not.

In a school you use them to reach people who are on campus but not near phones. That mostly means the Plant Manager (aka Custodian) to let him know of the emergencies that happen every hour on campus. Here is an example of what I say:

"Phil, somebody spilled water in A Hallway, and we don't want anybody tripping." "Phil, we are out of toilet paper in the staff restroom." "Phil, the pest control folks are on campus and need you." "Phil, the election people are here to set up."

We also talk to admin; or, at least, try to. In my experience, lots of admin officials forget to carry radios. I guess they don't match their suits. So, a conversation might be, "Mike, are you on radio? Mike? Mike? This is Ann, Mike, you have a call from the superintendent. Mike? Is there anybody on radio who can go find Mike?"

Fortunately, we have campus monitors who are the eyes and ears of the school. They are the ones who will go get Mike. They are also security: "Nikki, a teacher is requesting you remove a student from room D-2." "Nikki, there are reports of a stray dog running around in the Quad." "Nikki, a student left a book in a classroom, can you let her in to get it?" "Nikki, we have a strange car on campus, can you check it out?"

I know you are wondering, what do people say to me? Well, it's fascinating questions like, "Ann, why are there people in the Large Gym, is there something going on?" "Ann, can you call safe schools and let them know we have kids who jumped in the pool and won't leave campus? "Ann, there is a bird dying on the lawn outside my classroom and the kids are freaking out. Can you do something about it?" "Ann, there doesn't seem to be a teacher in Room A209 and there are kids standing outside the door." "Ann, you have amazing eyes and look ten years younger than your age." "Ann, you are the best school secretary in the entire district, I just wanted to tell you that."

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating.

And, of course, every once in a while a kid will get their hands on a radio and while there are wonderful tricks that could be played - which I won't mention here - none of the ones who find a walkie ever think of doing anything beyond yelling "AHHHHHHhhhhh!!!!" and then laughing. We have some smart kids on campus too, but they clearly are not the radio stealing types.

I guess I like the walkie because being ADD, I find talking on a radio as instant gratification. It's like texting - you get an answer right away. If you don't, you start to worry. And then you get frustrated, because you need them right now. That toilet paper isn't going to refill itself! Then you get worried again; if they aren't answering, something might be wrong (unless it's an administrator who probably just left it on their desk) and you forget that the person you are trying to reach also has a phone they could be on, that they get lunch breaks and, ahem, they might need to use the restroom and didn't take their radio in with them, which means they are not as dedicated as me.

It's so nice to just be able to ask for something without having to hunt somebody down. A PTA person will have arranged for a table on the Quad to sell something during lunch, and if the table isn't there, I know I can just get on radio and Phil will take care of it. Problem solved in 30 seconds. After a fire drill, it's how I know to give the all clear signal. It's just super handy, which I find fun and honestly - sorta magical. Much like I did as a kid talking to my friend from behind a tree two houses over.

We don't use much walkie lingo. We pretty much just call people by name (or job title if necessary) and then ask questions like normal people. The exception is "copy" or "10-4" for I understood. It's so natural to say 10-4 when you are holding a radio, that you don't even think about it.

Yes, silly as it sounds, talking on the walkie talkie is part of my job I will miss. What other kind of careers require two-way radios? Police officers and rock stars, that's who.

I only have a couple of weeks until I pull the sticker with my name off the walkie and say good-bye for good.

I'm not looking forward to it.



  1. Maybe you can take the Walkie Talkie with you as a retirement present. You should ask.

  2. How about those nextel phones. You could get them for the family. If you are in the back bedroom, you could walki talki for water.

  3. We used those nextels at one school. They don't work!

  4. I feel for you Ann. I haven't had to quit yet, but have been away from a wonderful workplace for so many months... Like you, I miss the challenge of getting the impossible done several times a day -- even though these days I can barely make supper. I feel bad leaving my boss to carry my load. I understand about the radios, if they take my blackberry away, I'll be traumatized!

  5. I don't think the walkie talkies would work clear across the country but I swear, I'd get a pair because yes, they do sound like fun. Of course, I have to admit my "walkie talkies" were actually empty soup cans connected by a string... BPA, jagged edges.... FOR SHAME.....

    I'm sorry you are leaving a job you obviously love.....

    Giant hugs....

  6. LOVE walkie talkies. We use to us them on trips when we were kids with two cars and two tents camping. We use them now here at the house when one of us is in the front and yell to flip the switch or shut of the water or... you know. Fun memories which you will have forever...

    Judi in Reno

  7. have solved your "in the bedroom hidden away and forgotten problem"....get some walkie talkies!

    ;-) Great post. I love the minutiae of every day.

  8. I really understand missing your job.
    My district was in process of laying off teachers, so of course they picked the teacher with breast cancer. I actually taught through most of chemo.
    After all I've been through, I do not think I have the energy to now, but it should have been a decision made by me, my doctors, and my family.


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