If I Could Stay

Kagan Strategies:  Get the kids moving and fully engaged.

A group of newer teachers went all the way to Texas to attend a conference on how to use timers, numbered seats, color coordinated seating charts, and spinners to randomly choose kids to participate.  I love the refresher…but my, oh my, how I’ve wasted all this time teaching when I could instead package everything teachers have already been doing for centuries in a pretty little book.

My desk full of books, bears and Starbucks cards

I am grateful for this opportunity to teach outside of New York.  It feels good to be treated like a human by administrators.  The staff looks out for each other.  It’s nice to have parents show their appreciation with books, candy and Starbucks.  It’s been really nice having small comforts like a kitchen in the lounge, birthday lunches and Teacher Work from Home Days.  The professional development opportunities have been meaningful and considerate of our time.

And kids are really kids.  I’ve got tons of sweet ones, bright stars, goofy jokesters and a few who make the day feel long,   What I am truly grateful for is this chance to see the stark difference between the haves and have-nots. The inequalities are simple, yet, vast.

1) The Copy Machine:  After running off copies of a packet, I sat in the lounge stapling them together.  One of the English teachers on my team walked in and asked, “What are you doing?”


“But the copy machine does that!”


She walked in another time while I was correlating copies and burst out laughing.

The next day before starting our Content Team meeting, she said, “We are starting today with a copy machine tutorial for Nancy.”

I explained how I made it through 14 years without a copy machine.  In New York, the teachers pooled together money to buy a copy machine and maintain it.  I didn’t think I could afford the “Copy Machine Membership” so I used a high-power printer and bought recycled ink to make copies when necessary.  I got the printer and paper through a grant. The Ink cost about $50 per year.

2) Field Trips:  We took the entire 7th grade on a trip to the Newseum in DC this past week. Over $5000 was spent on 8 luxury buses for a quick 30 minute ride. Students toured the museum with parent chaperones while I monitored the whole thing.  We passed out vouchers for students to eat $13 of whatever they wanted from the cafe and then watched as they broke out $20’s for ice cream, coffee, and trinkets at the gift shop.  Several teachers that came along spent the day relaxing in the cafeteria, reading magazines because we had more than enough chaperones. I spent the day running up and down 6 floors of exhibits checking on all 15 groups of 11.  Ok, running down 6 flights and taking the elevator up…

In New York, transportation on trips is via yellow buses that sometimes cancelled at the last minute. There were never enough chaperones, so the morning of each trip was usually me begging an administrator to allow an aide to come along so we wouldn’t have to cancel.

Then there were the black plastic bags my students would show up with.  They were usually full of junk food (chips, soda, and maybe a bagel).   We would bring the free lunch they were entitled to on every trip, but no one ever wanted to eat it.  So I’d have the buses drop us off at Burger King, 3 blocks away from school.  They’d scrounge up all they could for dollar menu fries, burgers, and chicken nuggets.

Most of our trips were either free or under $12 or we wouldn’t get enough students who could afford to go.  I miss their grateful little faces after every trip.  Not a lot of teachers would do the work required to take them out.

Miss my NYC Kids

3) Parent involvement:  in Ozone Park, I remember sitting at my desk for hours on parent/teacher conference night, waiting for someone to stop in.  But so many parents don’t speak English and many more don’t work 9-5 hours in the city that never sleeps.

Here, they don’t even schedule a parent/teacher conference night because parents are in the school all the time.  I walk into picture day and there are parents all over the place.  I walk into the book fair and there are parents all over the place.  Our trips have both moms and dads volunteering.  On Valentine’s Day, I had several “candy-grams” from kind families.  For Christmas, I made a huge wishlist that parents and students kindly fulfilled.  The community has an extremely positive relationship with the school.

Based on the number of  parent emails and conferences requested because Timmy’s progress report was not favorable so let’s ask the teacher what she’s doing wrong…I’d say parent schedules are much more flexible around here.

I don’t miss the torture of standardized tests and data collection that pervades the school environment in New York.  It exists in Virginia, but it’s way more relaxed and up to the teacher to design and use it.

If I could stay, I’d be very happy.  I could teach another 15 years in this environment.  But this principal is set to retire in a few more years.  I’ve never met anyone like her.  She sets the tone for success, kindness, and work-place happiness.  And she’s from New York! Can we make more principals like this please?

My Fellow English Teacher and I on the terrace of the Newseum in DC
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