Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Knowing the People in the News

As some of you know, before I went to journalism school, I was an English teacher in a Bronx public high school for two years.

I'd always wanted to be a teacher. In college I went to significant trouble to take all the courses I needed to acquire State and City certification to teach in public schools. My experience as a student teacher at a school that served inner-city kids was a transformative one. I had seen poverty and disadvantage close up, and very much wanted to do something about it. When I moved back to New York, after a few years in Boston, to finally start teaching (and expand my social circles), my goal was to get a job in an inner-city school. I was happy to land a job at John F. Kennedy, which at the time had a reputation for being a stable place to work (that is, not a blackboard jungle) while still being a place where I could feel I was making a difference to kids who didn't have much.

I stayed at Kennedy for two years, which means I stayed in the New York City public school system one year longer than about 30 percent of new teachers, and about the same length of time as about half of new teachers. I have been thinking about blogging about my experiences there, because the fact that I failed to make a career of teaching is still, actually, a trauma for me. The fact that, despite my enthusiasm, despite my talent, despite my knowledge of my subject matter, and despite my professionalism, the public school system virtually chewed me up and spit me out is still really painful to me.

I knew it was time to quit when, during February vacation of my second year, I visited my sister in California for a "vacation" (having brought a large stack of papers that needed grading), and in the middle of the week, spent about an hour doubled over with stomache pains, groaning "I don't want to go back. I don't want to go back." My sister made me look her in the eyes, and said "Sarah, you. have. to. quit. your. job."

I think often of my students and wonder what has happened to them. I think about the kids who are at that school now, roaming the factory-like halls and attending class after class, and wonder how many of them feel like the cogs in the wheel that they are. Perhaps I am being unfair. The school has a new principal, there has been a turnover in staff . . . maybe things are better. But I doubt it.

Anyway, one of the only good things about my two years there was my boss, Morris Schulgasser. He was the Assistant Principal for the English department. He oversaw all 30 English teachers, set our schedules, observed us, ran the department meetings, handled all the crises that came up every day, made sure there were books available for us, etc.

Morris was just about the best boss I've ever had. He is smart, fair, and has a sense of humor. He took neither himself nor his job too seriously, but did work tirelessly to help us do our jobs. And, in the conferences we had after his observations of me, he helped me become a better teacher.

So imagine my surprise when I read a New York Times article that started with his name! It's in today's Education section. "Cheating, but not by Students." Thank God, Morris comes out looking like the really amazing administrator that he always was.

I know almost every single person mentioned in that article. It's so strange, reading that story and being able to match faces to every name. I used to sit in the same library as they, grading Regents in just the type of process they describe. I was there.


Anyhow, expect some blog posts in the future in which I try to process (and memorialize) my time as a teacher. Time to tease out the trauma and learn something from it.

No comments:

Post a Comment