… continued from here ….
I didn’t spend every moment of my first semester in the classroom. We would go to a place called Teddy’s in Williamsburg every Friday to unwind. Each Friday, in a ritualistic manner, we would get a bit drunk and complain the evening away. Our students, our school, our administration, NYC in general, all of it was fodder for our discussions. It was cathartic. It kept us sane. During these evenings we also began to meet the other teachers we shared the building with and since most of them had more experience than us, we got lots of great ideas on how to manage our classrooms.
The international teaching group I was a part of included a group of Austrian teachers. They had been preceeded by another group the year before, and were living in a gigantic house in southern Brooklyn. I hung out with a bunch of times, and we basically explored NYC together, had some fun house parties, ate dinner relatively often, and just watched movies occasionally. I was really grateful for their company, for in many ways, because we all had left our home countries, that first semester I felt like I had more in common with them than with the teachers from the US in my school. They also had their stories to share.
One of them worked in a school which had a bilingual program. A Yemenese boy had been placed in this program automatically because he was ESL but was failing horribly. Unfortunately the program was intended for native Creole speakers to learn their classroom subjects in Creole and English in kind of a weird mixture. This boy, at the end of 4 years in the program, spoke perfect Creole and hardly a word of English. I thought to myself, here’s a boy that if someone in the system had cared at all, he would be receiving a proper education.
I loved living in New York City. It was so different than anything I had seen before. Just going to the corner store and getting a really fresh deli sandwich was a treat. Having someone else do my laundry for dirt cheap, or wandering around midtown Manhattan at night time. All of these were really cool experiences which I will remember forever. The sights and smells of the city kept me alive that first semester for sure, and made my time outside of school less depressing.
We also left the city a couple of times that semester. I remember a skiing trip to Vermont one weekend, and a shopping trip to some retail outlet mall in the middle of nowhere. These trips were my first introduction to the American highway system. It was so strange to me that we could drive along these highways and not see any cities or towns or dwellings of any kind for miles and miles until my friend explained that a lot of the highways had these strips of green space left around them. Quite a lot of things were strange to me that year, including my introduction to Canadian bacon.
I’m from the Western part of Canada where Canadian bacon is the same as anywhere else. It comes in long strips and you fry it and as you eat it, you feel your arteries hardening. At a diner one morning, one of my friends asked if I was going to order the Canadian bacon, which I had never heard of. I asked him what that was and he laughed and said I should try it. Apparently Canadian bacon means a thin piece of cured ham which is fried like regular bacon. I can’t see the point, but I’ve since learned it’s a delicasy in Eastern Canada.
My American friends took my under their wing that year and really helped urbanize me. I was still operating under the assumptions of my small town youth. I went to parent teacher conferences in a t-shirt, thinking I would be that hip young unconvential teacher that everyone admires, instead one of the senior teachers came to me and told me to my face how stupid I looked. The trip to the outlet mall previously mentioned was my friend’s offer to help cloth myself in professional attire.