Sunday, September 25, 2005

Two Posts in One Day!

So, I just had my car towed. It was impressive to see Francisco, the tow truck driver, maneuver his truck on my little car-lined street and get my car smoothly onto the trailor in ten minutes time. While hooking my car up to all sorts of contraptions with hooks and chains, he gave great advice about what to do for the variety of dents and dings my car has acquired in the past year.

As we talked, it came out that I was a teacher. I immediately had Francisco's full attention, or rather, he had mine because he was a man with a message. As a product of New York City public schools and a father of four children, he wanted me to know how important it was for me to not give up on my students. He gave me surprisingly sound advice (as opposed to the typical un-asked-for advice of random strangers.)

Some made me a little angry: "You just have to deal with the fact that New York City has lower expectations. If your nine year old student curses, that's normal. If he's smoking, that's normal, too."

Some made me proud because I'm already doing it: "You have to talk to their parents so much you're like a part of their family. If your students see that Ms. so-and-so isn't in it for eight hours and eight hours only, then they'll be willing to do more work for you."

Some made me sad: "You know, I work fourteen hours a day, but I still make time to read to my kids and to work with them on their math. I know I have to talk to them, help them learn. But you're going to have students whose parents don't do that, whose parents don't care. And they're going to be your toughest students. When I was a kid, growing up in Brooklyn, the kids in the neighborhood said that if five kids come up and want to jump you, you've got to go after the biggest kid. When the other kids see that, they'll leave you alone, and then you're just fighting one. If you're a teacher in New York, you can't show fear, you have to go after the biggest kid. And you're always facing a lot more than five. I know I would never teach here."

But most, I can't fully recall. He went on for nearly twenty minutes, and afterwards apologized for talking for so long, then thanked me for listening. I wish I had met him this time last year. He was the most motivational person I have spoken to here: honest, knowledgeable, and genuine. But I wonder if I would have been able to listen to him then. He is not the sort of person who would speak to a new cohort of Teaching Fellows. He's not romantic enough for them. When people want to talk about education, they seem to either want to be as pessimistic and nasty as possible, or completely filled with romanticized ideas that are impossible to achieve. I wish we could all be a little more balanced with our expectations and our identification of the needs of New York City students. I wish it was more than me standing next to the still-running tow truck blocking half my street listening to one of the most intelligent analyses of public education. I wish I had had a tape recorder, pen, or something to get it all down and make it last so everyone could read or hear a little bit of sense for a change.

1 comment:

Jim said...

You know what they say, every day you learn something new. Today you meet a nice man and you learned a great lesson. You can reach the children in your class as long as they know that you care. It takes hard work and it is a thankless job(sometimes), but it can be done. I think this man was thanking you and all his teacher for the hard work teacher do. Keep it up. I am very proud of you. Love Uncle Jim