You might have noticed a “whoosh” sound and a gust blowing across the city at the end of June, the exhale of 70,000 teachers at the end of the last day of school. To quote the spiritual (and MLK), “Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank the Lord Almighty, Free at Last.”
Decades ago when charter flights to Europe were cheap and really favorable currency exchange rates prevailed teachers would board the charter, “Air Obscure” and spend a summer wandering around “the continent.” And, maybe, bring back a Volkswagen Beetle!!
Now, of course, it’s teaching summer school to pay off the credit cards.
After the pressures of preparing kids for standardized tests/Regents, dealing with principals fearful of his/her own job, a mayor who bashes teachers and a national wave of anti-teacher, anti-public school acrimony, you need time off. (See Frank Bruni in the 8/19 NY Times)
Finding a beach to lie upon and sip adult beverages, a remote trail to hike, a share in a house on Fire Island or the Hamptons, a college classmate who lives across the nation with a spare bedroom, or, just lolling around the city and visiting museums and galleries and Farmers Markets, you have to decompress.
You may be decompressing, your mind never wanders far from school. Every time the media reports a kid who is shot, or does the shooting, you check it out; it might be “one of yours.”
It’s mid-August and the texts/e-mails start mentioning the beginning of school. While the first “official” day is the Tuesday after Labor Day you’ll be in next week. Getting your room ready, an orientation for new students and parents, getting together with teachers on your grade, all “voluntary,” but, hey, you want to make sure school gets off to a good start.
Teachers in your school may have had their tenure extended, with no explanation. While no one will admit it is probably because the kids didn’t do as well as the mayor wanted on standardized tests. Excellent observations by supervisors, parents are happy, too bad!! The kids didn’t do well enough. Is it time to start looking for another job?
A story related to me by a long term teacher,
“After a disagreement with the principal he blurted out, ‘with your salary I could hire two teachers.’
Later, when I asked, ‘Would you really excess me to hire two teachers?’ He avoided an answer, ‘You can be a real pain in the ass.’
I thought, ‘I’m not the only one …'”
“I was catching a smoke during a summer school break when a few of the network crew pulled up with a woman I never met, our principal, a nice guy but overwhelmed, had left in June.”
“Good morning Miss Jackson,” (it was nice that they knew me), “She’s one of our stalwarts,” (Yup. more than twenty years and on maximum salary)
The woman they were ferrying immediately asked, “Has the staff received training in the Common Core?”
“Absolutely, the network has run excellent, informative sessions.” (Smiles from the network crew.)
“Do the teachers implement the Core in their daily lessons?” (Why was she quizzing me?)
“What is your greatest challenge?” I pointed across the street, “the projects – gang infested.”
“There’s nothing we can do about that, I mean in school.”
I thought, “Poor attendance, and the violence. Too many fights.”
“Yes, I noticed you have high rates of suspension – we’ll have to reduce the suspensions.”
I guess we only warn the kid if the gun is a small caliber, I thought.
At that point a kid pedaled by on an expensive bike wearing the “uniform,” a hoodie. He nodded at me and mumbled, “Good morning Miss”
“That was nice,” said the maybe new principal, “do you know him?”
“Yes, he’s been in my class.”
“What’s his name?”
“His street name is the Assassin.”
She looked aghast, “Why do they call him that?”
I blurted, “I think it’s what he does.”
“I have to get back to class,” I put out my smoke and rushed back to class. I think we’ll start a poll, if she ends up as principal, how long is she going to last.
Hundreds and hundreds of schools, all in zip codes with high poverty rates worry about their future: school closings.
Hovering in the wings are evaluations by test scores – should I be a teacher, or, a test prepper?
Nervous, not sleeping as well, an occasional bad dream about school – that increasing anxiety, but, teachers look forward, with trepidation, to the “first day.”
The last year of Mayor Mike eases the anxiety.
Those smiling faces, the kids whose only chance of freeing themselves from the culture of the projects is school. A classroom that brings stability to their lives, at least for the school day: two meals a day, a caring and supportive teacher, maybe opening a window into a new world.
When that kid sees us in the street and mumbles, “Good morning Miss,” we glow inside.
It’s worthwhile, until we begin to worry about those credit card bills.