At some point during the summer I realized that I needed more information than simply a one-page contract promising me a position in the schools, and since I wasn't getting any answers from anyone through email or phone I decided to go up to New York and see what I could figure out for myself.
I crashed at a friend's place in Delaware and drove to Princeton, NJ every morning to catch the train into the city. I've blocked out any memory about exactly how long that commute actually took each morning, but it wasn't pleasant. I literally spent hours either in a car, train, or subway.
Not that I actually knew where I was going, because, I may have been on the New York subway ONCE before I decided to navigate it myself. Are you cringing for me at this moment?
Being from the DC area I was very accustom to navigating the metro using the color system- it's either a red, yellow, green, or blue line. And as long as you know what color you are on, and what direction you are going you are usually good to go. Not so in New York. Which would be ok except they make the maps in color. So it looks like you want the green line- but you can wait and wait for a green train to come, and all that will blow past you is a train with a number.
And then there are the express trains. I've still not actually learned how to determine if a train is an express train or not. I'd be so thankful to figure out exactly what number train I wanted that I'd pop into a car only to find that the train was racing by the exact stop I wanted, OR, was going to take an hour to get to where I wanted to go in the Bronx because I hadn't gotten on an Express train.
I was late to every single job interview I went on in NY.
The first school I went to look at was in the Bronx, so I started my day off in Delaware, made it all the way to New York City, found my train- realized it wasn't an express train- got off, went back to where I could get on an express train- rode the train to the stop in my nice white, interview pants and my neatly pressed interview shirt- I might as well have had a bow in my hair. I climbed the stairs into the Bronx air only to realize that I had no idea how to actually find the school from the subway stop. None.
I contemplated doing my DC "not a tourist" move of just walking around the block quickly as though I know exactly where I am going just to get my bearings, but alas, I realized that every single person on the street had stopped what they were doing and was staring at me.
Yes, I was the little lost white girl in the Bronx. Not knowing what else to do I looked around the street and chose the largest of all the men staring at me. I walked straight up to me, ignored the snickers of anyone else, and asked where the school was. He gave me the most welcoming smile and said in the loudest voice (for everyone who was staring) "That's my old school! You just go to the end of the block, turn right, go two more blocks, and you can't miss it!"
As I thanked him and left I could feel all eyes from the street following me and my naive innocence all the way to PS.
The school itself was great, although I was shocked to learn that everything was dictated by the administration- everything was uniform, from what went on the bulletin boards to what centers children did on which days in the individual classes. Each student's work on the bulletin board had a sticky note containing the corresponding standard for that task. But hey, I wanted to teach in NY public schools, and well, if that's what they wanted that's what I'd do.
Except that the school wasn't actually hiring.
They'd sent me to the Bronx to interview with a school that didn't actually need to fill any positions. I didn't even see the principal that day, but instead took up some poor teacher's time during her planning period. I'm sure she wanted to kill me.
But it was only day 1 and I was sure it was just some simple mistake. I enjoyed my tour, walked back down the sidewalk past all the men, waved at the man who had originally helped me, and boarded the train back to the city. I was suppose to meet with my future roommate and the realtor showing us rental properties at a coffee shop near Times Square. Of course, when I got off the train it was pouring down rain- and I didn't have an umbrella. But I did have white pants.
And so, I walked through Times Square, in the middle of July, when it is packed full of tourists, with completely see-through, soaking wet, white pants.
And yet I still wasn't discouraged.
Eventually I dried out and the realtor began showing us apartments.
Have you ever looked at apartments in New York City? Apartments you can afford on a teacher and a social worker's salary? Because if you have, you know what I'm talking about and you don't want to re-live the memory. But if you haven't, well, you can't even imagine.
The first place we saw was a 6 floor walk-up. Which was fine, we were buff. Except that the living room of the one bedroom apartment was about 4 feet by 4 feet- (and we'd need to put some one's bed in the living room since there were 2 of us) and the bed room was actually even smaller. There was no room for a bed, or for a person to actually sleep laying down. The bathroom was in the hallway of the building. Our realtor actually yelled at the super "You call this a F-ing one bedroom" and walked down the stairs, with us, trailing behind her, thankful that she was as horrified as we were.
So if that was bad, it had to get better, right?
The other apartments we looked at over the course of 2 weeks did actually have room for a bed in the bedroom. Not much else, but there was room for that. We quickly learned that we would not be able to afford any apartment that had a full-size fridge, or a full-size cooking range. We stood in apartment after apartment asking where we were suppose to put our ice cream since none of the fridges had a freezer. Our realtor explained that we'd need to eat it all in one sitting, but since we'd be so stressed with our jobs we'd want to do that anyway, and since we'd have to walk up all those stairs it wouldn't cause us to gain any weight.
But wasn't that what your first year out of college was suppose to be? Living on a shoe string, making do with what you could afford? It'd be an adventure. Even our future of sleeping standing up while eating full containers of ice cream couldn't depress us. We were ready for this.
Meanwhile I made it down to the New York Board of Education in Brooklyn. I quickly learned that all that is wrong with education lays in the depth of the Brooklyn Department of Ed.
My first visit there, when I could still be horrified with such things, I waited in line behind all the other seasons teachers who were attempting to renew their licenses. The lines could last for hours, and most of the time we were waiting in line to wait in yet another line. On this first visit I fiddled with my paperwork as I listened to the man in front of me get reamed out by the man behind the desk for being a day late on his paperwork. No matter how hard he tried to explain that he was a day late because he hadn't received his paperwork in the mail from the board of ed until yesterday, at which point he came down immediately to turn in this needed paperwork, the man behind the desk didn't care. He continuously yelled "Get a new job! I don't care if you've taught for 10 years! You're late! You're expired! Go get a new job!"
Looking back I can't help but hope that man did go and get a new job- one where he was respected and thanked for his work instead of screamed at in the midst of a bureaucratic mess.
I spent a lot of time at the Board of Ed in the next 2 weeks- sometimes being yelled at for things I didn't understand that I'd done, or hadn't done, or would do, or wouldn't do, and some times meeting with very nice, helpful educators who wanted to make sure I got a teaching position in the schools. These people continued to send me out to individual schools for interviews with principals, or to job fairs around the city. However, they never seemed to communicate with the actual schools about whether or not they had openings. Because by the time I'd navigate my way through the subway, march myself down the streets (desperately trying not to look like a tourist as I wound my way through Harlem) I'd learn from the school that they were not hiring, and were not sure why the Board of Ed was still sending them people. At times I would not be the only person in line to interview- others who had also found their way down to the school offices only to be told that they school wasn't interviewing that day.
Once I did arrive at a school that was actually trying to fill a position- except that the position they were trying to fill was 8th grade and I was only certified to teach K-6.
I also attended job fairs along with other people who had also been offered early hire positions with the school system. We would stand in the narrow, un-air-conditioned high school hallways desperately hoping to talk with a principal or two that was actually hiring.
Most of the principals did not show up, and the ones that did only stayed for an hour or so- although the lines to interview with them were longer than that. As we waited I chatted with the others in line- some were veteran teachers who had spent years in other school systems. I could understand giving a brand new teacher the run -around, but successful teachers? Teachers who would enter a classroom knowing what to expect? They should have been fast tracked to positions. As we stood there waiting, with sweat dripping down our faces, they lamented that they were giving up on the public schools and trying for private because, as they put it "this is ridiculous"
I later learned from one of the more helpful people at the Board of Ed that the city had made a few mistakes. First of all they'd hired too many people on early contracts. They had thought more teachers were going to retire than they did.
Second of all, they'd moved to a new office and had lost a box of our contracts. About 100 of us- the "out of staters"- had contracts sitting in a box somewhere in a New York City office building, but there was otherwise no record of us on file. They did have our emails so they could tell us that yes, they still knew they had a legal obligation to offer us a job, and they planned to fulfill that obligation.
I was one of the few "out of staters" who was able to make it into NY to attempt to navigate my way through the process. Some were waiting in Europe to hear when to report, and were getting more and more frustrated. Many, like me, had stopped looking for other jobs after being offered the contract and with the new school year looming we all felt doomed.
At one point when I was meeting with someone they gestured to a large stack of boxes sitting in the hallway. "We think your information is in one of those boxes" she explained. "But we don't have time to look for it now"
"But don't worry, even if you don't have a job when school starts, you'll are guaranteed a job and a paycheck from New York City Schools. We'll find something for you, even if you don't start with the rest of the schools"
It was about then that I started to worry.
to be continued....