… continued from here ….
When I stepped into the office, the teacher was in the middle of scolding a student and the assistant principal was chatting up a school assistant. As I entered, they both looked at me, and the look they gave me did not inspire confidence. Right away I knew I had made a mistake.
The teacher gave me some advice (once she had hit the student on the head with a rolled up newspaper and told him to stop being so stupid) that I don’t really recall but was along the lines of "Don’t let them eat you alive on your first day." The assistant principal shared a brief story about his first day on the job back in the really depressing 70s era NYC education system and then did his version of a long tour of the school which took all of 10 minutes.
Back at the international teacher training we learned about some basic classroom management rules, the first of which was to never, ever hit a child. We also learned that anything which involved either being physical with a child or making the child being physical was considered corporal punishment. This meant that telling a student to write lines after school, or asking a student to move in class, or just picking up something they had dropped, these were all official no-nos. I began to feel a little bit scared but my youthful optimism won out and I got over my fear.
One of the people I met during this first week was an interesting individual who was an assistant principal at a high school in the deepest baddest part of Brooklyn. He had some encouraging words to say about our students, the first I had heard since being recruited. "These kids can learn, " he said, "and they can do it well. You just need to motivate them, excite them, and grab their interest." He brought in some of his own students, who he convinced to come and meet some teachers during their summer break, and showed us some neat techniques for teaching math, including singing the quadratic formula to get the kids to remember it. I think of all the people I met the summer he helped me the most get through the semester, and I only saw him for two days in the summer.
Very quickly school started and the beginning of the year started with two days of getting ready for school. We were all assigned classrooms, it turned out that there were 12 new teachers that year, all of whom were fairly new to teaching, most of us were not from New York. I was the only Canadian, but there was apparently one "on another floor so you’ll be alright." I spent my first day preparing my classroom which needed a lot of cleaning. I noticed that I had a bunch of ugly desks and saw some classrooms with nice tables, so I made my first mistake of the year. I went to the Assistant Principal in charge of Supervision, even the name sounds ominous, and asked him for some tables, which I did not get. Needless to say, he and I did not get on well that year. Or the next. Or the year after that.
My next day, after I had done as much as I could, I found out what my schedule was. The person in charge of curriculum for the whole school came by our school to give us a pep talk and give us a copy of the curriculum for the year. He handed me a piece of paper with 20 questions printed on it and in a thick Brooklyn accent said, "Make sure they can answer all of those questions by the end of the year, and you’ll be fine." He also took a look at my schedule and immediately walked off with it. He came back about 10 minutes later and gave me a new schedule with M$A, M$AA and M$C on it, instead of M$A, M$AA, M$AA. He said, with my first schedule they’d be looking for a new teacher within a few months, so he was doing the school a favor. He also told me I was lucky, the new textbooks would only take a couple of weeks to arrive.
Apparently M$A meant first semester 9th grade, M$C meant first semester 10th grade, and M$AA meant, all of the students who were whatever age but had no credits in high school at all, some of them after 3 or 4 years. I was really grateful later in the semester when I could hear the shouting and laughing happening across the hall. My M$AA class would come back and haunt me time and time again, but as the year progressed it got easier and easier to teach.