Nice Ninjas and a Growing Job Portfolio

Coming back into the classroom after recess, Ms. D. told me that I had been reassigned for lunch. They needed me to be a lunch lady from 12:00-12:45 for the mainstream kindergarten classes and then I would take my own lunch. My tasks involved wheeling the garbage can over to the kids, where they could dump their pizza crusts and snack bags. Then I was to supervise the chaos on the playground for thirty minutes.

As I held open the school doors for the sixty or so children to race out into to the frigid jungle gym, another lunch person shouted at me: “Watch Danny! He’s not supposed to play. He has to sit at that table and play with lego.” Two tubs of colorful blocks were shoved in my arms.

Danny saw me approaching and gave the universal body language for “fuck that!” He crossed his arms and scowled at me. I tried to move him but his feet were firmly anchored to the ground. Another lunch person said, “okay, just make sure that he doesn’t move around.” She whispered that he just had an operation.

So, I guarded Danny in the corner of the playground, and he continued to glower at me. I tried to lighten the mood and said, “dude, come on. Legos are fun. Let me do it with you.” Like a five-year old boy really wants to hang out with an old lady with crazy hair.

He said, “you call me dude again and I’ll take you out.”


“You call me dude again, and I’ll take you out.”

“Well, that’s not a very nice thing to say!”

“Ninjas say that.”

“Not nice ninjas. Nice ninjas don’t say rude things to grown ups!” And then we proceeded to argue about the social skills of professional ninjas.

That was a snippet of my day yesterday. I’ve been subbing in the local elementary schools on Thursdays. I get away from my computer, the kids are adorable, and I burn a ton of calories hoisting children off the floor all day.

Working in the schools is just one part of my growing job portfolio. My freelance writing and research gigs are the most profitable and take up most of the week. The online vintage bookstore is great for late afternoons, when my brain is kaput. I’ve got my labors of love – the newsletters and blog – and a draft of a book, which is picking up steam. And it’s all suddenly taking off. When I finish this blog post, I will package up two books for the post office. Then I’ll figure out a newsletter topic, make revisions of an article, hunt down subjects for the research project, write that newsletter, and set up the bookshelves for a photoshoot of a huge library of brand new hardcover books. At some point, I start shopping for tubs and faucets, because the mid-50s pink bathroom is finally going to get replaced.

Income-wise, my hustles and ventures are starting to add up in time and income to a real job. But it’s a job where I have completely control. I decide what I’m going to do every day. If the boys need help, they get priority. And the variety of tasks means that I never get bored.

I always liked Marx’s concept of a communist society, where a person could do one thing in the morning and another in the afternoon.

For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

If you could piece together your perfect job portfolio, what would it look like?


11 thoughts on “Nice Ninjas and a Growing Job Portfolio

  1. Oh my, you are making me tired

    But your basket of activities seems liking it’s feeding your life and I appreciate the Marx reference (that it exists, and that I wouldn’t have heard of it absent your blog)


  2. Yes, it really is a meaningful and personal commitment to making your community better and I have a tremendous amount of respect for you walking the walk.


  3. I’m not sure that I want anyone to respect me for doing this job, anymore than any other job. I like working with kids. I need to get out of the house. I write about schools, so this experience is making me smarter. It’s fine.

    I’m working with in a room sometimes with five or six other aides. A few of them are like me — formerly SAHM or younger moms who need a job that conforms to their kids’ schedule. But the majority of them are doing it as a job — they don’t have a college degree and a minimum wage job is all that’s available to them. This is their income. And then they go do another job in the evening — bartend or work the cash register at the supermarket. They don’t get vacations. They don’t get health insurance. It’s actually disgusting labor practices.

    After taxes, I make $99 per day. It’s minimum wage. Before taxes, it’s like $120 or $130. I’m sure that the other subs know exactly what they are earning.

    Anyway, those other subs wouldn’t want this job to be looked at as charity work, because that mentality depresses their salaries and benefits.


  4. Oh, I respect all the people who do the work. Do I respect people who do some jobs more than others, yeah, definitely. Do I respect people for doing work for which they are underpaid, no, not particularly, though I think that is a part of the labor system for caregiving.

    The labor practices around caregiving are deeply broken and I don’t see where the solutions are going to come from unless those who receive the services organize around making the labor practices better.

    And, as you pointed out in your other article, special needs services are needed for schools to function for the children who don’t receive the services as well.


  5. I am a fan of that approach to work, and feel like I get a bit of the experience in the summers on those days when I do a lot of gardening and yardwork, and then read to prep for a class or do research, and maybe organize a talk or something social. In the winters I have to cook, and that’s been my activity lately. I made a new recipe for shepherd’s pie, some sourdough, and a chocolate cake with applesauce and buttermilk in the last couple of days.

    Working with little kids can be really fun and rewarding, especially if you only have to do it for a limited period of time. I would add that to my labor portfolio. In grad school I worked as a volunteer tutor at the elementary school and it was very enjoyable, though sad to see some kids struggling so much. But if you have to do it every day and be responsible for the hardest cases, not so fun. I have a friend who was laid off from our university a few years ago, just barely eligible for retirement, who is now teaching at the local high school, and it is grueling. She used to teach many sections of remedial comp, so was used to dealing with the students who really have a hard time with writing, but this is very hard for her.

    On another topic: You’ve probably run across it in your research, but I just got an ad for the Minnesota Independence College and Community (


  6. I find it stressful to spend any length of time with little kids, though I can also find it fascinating, I am exhausted afterwards.

    There are people who find time with children rewarding, and on more than a short term basis. The characteristics I’ve noticed is that enjoy trying to figure out how to reach each student, including the one who is struggling and they find a great deal of reward in making a difference. They can still be exhausted, but some of them even manage the exhaustion well by pacing themselves and finding other ways to recoup. Those people are the great teachers and I really do admire them, in the way that I admire someone who is the fastest on the field or can dance beautifully or write a really great explanation.

    I do not think these teaching skills, the willingness to do the work, for the pay that can be afforded for work that cannot be significantly scaled up are common. And, I think that people who do that work while maintaining their own health and happiness are even harder to find and that we make it very very hard when we make the work so grueling that it becomes a job of last resort.


  7. A teacher said the other day to me that “she is never not around other people” when she is working. That is a significant demand on many of us (though there are people who may enjoy it, too).


    1. Well, gosh, that’s true of a *lot* of jobs – not just teachers (bus drivers, fast-food workers, waiting staff, hairdressers, personal trainers, nurses, etc.)
      And, surely, would be one of the factors that you’d think of before embarking on a career.
      If you want a job with a significant degree of non-people-interaction time – then you’d be looking for very different type of work (actuary, trademark attorney, rubbish collector, animal shelter worker (assuming you’re OK with pets, not people), computer programer, lab technician, etc.)


    2. Yes, indeed, there are jobs other than teachers that require being around people all the time in different ways and these kinds of details of actually *doing* the job matter a lot.


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