Question of the Day: “Why do I prefer not to?”

Melville wrote a story about a non-conformist scrivener who decides one day to stop working. It is not my favorite short story, but if I am being honest, Melville is not my favorite author. Moby Dick took me three months, ten headaches, and the stamina of a champion to read cover to cover. But I digress. The part most fascinating about his story, Bartleby the Scrivener, is where Bartleby refuses to work. He refuses to do anything. He even refuses to leave, but he does not do so belligerently or with malice, no. He merely says the following refrain, “I prefer not to.” It’s beautiful in its simplicity and it completely disarms the narrator. The story has no real resolution and has been hotly debated by literary critics for years. No one can figure out what theme he was going for. Melville really left his message open-ended. Recent events in education have me thinking a lot about the passive-aggressive ways of Bartleby. What was the final straw for him? He was such a hard worker before the break. Was it a slow build and the striping away of the façade that caused his total shut down? Because this is how I feel now in my job, and it leads me to my question: “Why do I prefer not to?”

School gets done now at 1:15 everyday. We enter the classroom at 7:30 am, and we teach without a break until 1:15. My assembly line of classes begins and the next stop is the end of the day. I do get one “prep” period. This is a class period to plan and grade, which is cute to think these 53 minutes could even put a dent in the amount of time it takes me to create and grade lessons these days.

The School Board has made it very clear that we must stay in school until 3:00 pm everyday even though our students are gone. We are instructed to take our 24 minute lunch and then return to work.

But instead I have taken to the words, “I prefer not to.”

I prefer not to work under these conditions.

I prefer to not work and work until the final bell rings at 3.

I prefer to get in my car and leave for the day. This is not allowed, but I do it anyway.

I prefer not to…

How long will this last? It’s hard to say, but I am getting tired of this dull routine of compliance. Like a child forced to smoke a pack of cigarettes, this has broken me of the need-to-please habit. I have OD’d on the thick, dark acceptance.

I feel as if the public education has been more than clear with their feelings about my mental and emotional state. I am an employee who is expected to make all adjustments and all changes at a moment’s notice. This should be done without need for direction, additional reimbursement, additional consideration. These changes should happen without my voicing my concerns or involving the parents. It should be seamless and not require any amount of guidance from admin. I am supposed to do all of this for the good of my students or the good of ignoring the obvious.

But my buried feelings keep surfacing, despite my pushing and prodding them to go away. My feelings keep burping up and all I can say is “I prefer not to.”

Love and Light, all…

Photo by Frank Cone on