Tuesday, December 26, 2006

My Life in the New York City Department of Education

I am going to start a series about my five years as a teacher in the NYC DOE. I think this might interest people as many don't have access or understanding to what's really going on in there! I hope it will help enlighten some of my readers who are parents with kids in the school system, people who are curious about why the school system fails, or people who are interested in the difficulties of being an employee with a disability.

I was employed by the NYC DOE in 2000. I had always wanted to be a teacher. My dad was a highly successful professor and my mother, although now an accountant, tried teaching from time to time and enjoyed it. I have always been strong connected to kids. I had three sisters and a brother and made money most of my life off of babysitting. When I was in undergraduate school (at age 20) I studied to be a special education teacher. My first experience with this was that I had blue hair at the time and people in the department ridiculed me for this. I took one year (or was it a semester) of classes. I wanted to teach special education. I got an internship at on of the local schools assisting with the spec. ed. class. It was a small class and the teacher assigned me to work with one student. I think I helped the boy a lot. But we also became pretty good friends. I don't think it was anything inappropriate. I went out during recess to play ball with him. We also chatted a lot. His father (or step-father) was in jail. I just had a lot of empathy for him and felt he needed some attention in addition to accademic help. The teacher I was studying under was livid. Without giving me much of a chance, she told me she was going to give me an "f" no matter what I did. I stopped going and that was that.

Years later, I was working as an editor in New York. I really struggled to work my way up the ladder in NY. I started as a temp, then a secretary at JCC, then an editor at WeMedia, a now defunct website/magazine for people with disabilities. I knew that WeMedia was going to fold and my career there was limited. In the New York Times, I saw an ad for the NYC Teaching Fellows. In this moment, my life would change forever.

I applied for the program. We had to go to a mass interview at Washington Irving High School. We had to do a lesson plan in front of other applicants (about 15 people) and (I think) two DOE people. I did my lesson plan on rhyme scheme. We also had to write an essay and have short interview. It was pretty stressful. I was sure I wouldn't get hired. I was very nervous about my disability and my speech. But, I got in. My idea was that this would be an easy path to becoming a teacher. Basically, everything was set up for the Fellows. They were SUPPOSED to be told where to work and what classes to take for our Masters and so on. It was not easy. But, you had a map. It turned out to be more complecated as time went on.

I had decided from the beginning that I wanted to teach elementary school (the connection with kids). When I entered the Fellows, we were told to decide what we wanted to teach and we were going to be placed accordinely. We had to take a comhensive summer program offered by the Fellows plus college classes and an internship at a school. This amounted to working about 12 hours a day plus homework. I was put into the elementary program.

The first part of the program was to have 8 hour sessions run by a "mentor" with classes by DOE members. This would last about two weeks (then we would add our internship and college classes). Our mentor was a young African-American teacher who taught sixth grade in New Jersey. Her name was Winny, I think. The idea of the mentor was that it was supposed to be another teacher teaching us about the system; dicipline methods, grades, and so on. And it was done in a Socratic method. Remember, there were also DOE classes that were more geared toward teaching methods. This was actually kind of fun. About a week went by and then trouble started.

I got an email (or was it a call) from the director of the fellows that said I was being removed from the elementary program. I contacted her and she said something to the effect of I was suited to teach elementary school because of my disability. When I asked her for a concrete reason she said that I would be "unable to model handwriting." I went to our mentor for support and she told me that she knew that I would "not be able to handle a classroom full of kids." I went to one of the Fellows for support who had a child. I asked her "Wouldn't you be happy if I were your child's teacher?" She bluntly said "No." It is hard to remember all the details, but I went around and around with numerous people. None of which would support me. I was frustrated and heart-broken. They knew they couldn't get away with removing me from the fellows, so they kept pushing me to go into special education. Finally, they compromised and agreed to make me a high school English teacher. This was after the college classes had already started. I had to return all my books from the elementary classes at one college and start at another college. I later found out that the woman who was director of the fellow had never been inside a classroom.

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