I’ve been thinking about my first semester as a teacher a lot recently. I had a very difficult start to my profession, perhaps some of you can relate. I can honestly say that the only thing that kept me in teaching was the money I owed my parents to move to NYC, and the cost of repaying my student loans. At one point during the semester I was ready to throw in the towel and quit. For some reason, I didn’t.
I grew up in British Columbia and spent most of my young adult life in Vancouver after moving their for university from my small town home. In 2002 I finished my teacher training, and found that getting a job was going to be very difficult. So after a friend pointed out an advertisement the New York Department of Education had posted in the newspaper, I decided to take a chance and put together my student teacher portfolio and resume. I showed up at a hotel, looking professional in a new suit and with my ideas about education ready to share. I easily got a job in a difficult school district in something called the Chancellor’s district.
At the beginning of August I moved to NYC after receiving special permission from the UBC Faculty of Education to graduate early, having compressed my summer courses into a single 3 week session. NYC was hot, it was August and I was not ready! I had some time to rent an apartment because I was in New York early, so I promptly got myself ripped with a cockroach infested apartment in Williamsburg.
We had a week of training ahead of time where we given some preparation to what we were going to experience, and we were encouraged to go visit our school and find out what it would be like. I was in a cohort with a few hundred international teachers, and nothing the NYCDOE could say would whole prepare us for our experiences in inner city Brooklyn.
I arrived at my school and it was a gigantic block, it looked like a prison. Bars on the windows, horrible peeling paint, depressing atmosphere. I had some trouble finding my school in the building because there were three schools in the building and no signs pointing to any of the schools, at least none that were obvious. Eventually I found the unmarked main office for the school and had a chance to talk to one of the teachers and the main assistant principal for the school.