Thursday, May 16, 2013

What Do People Remember You For?

I taught special education once. I wasn't very good at it.

After teaching for about two years, I drove across the bridge to the Bronx one September morning, only to find my services were no longer required, I decided I would look for a job in Queens, where I lived. Only when I went to the Queens hiring hall, the secretary there showed me a room full of teachers sitting in wooden chairs. She said she had to place every one of those teachers before she could help me.

Things looked bleak. I called the UFT. They told me they were sorry, there was nothing they could do, but when I got tenure I'd be glad they had this policy. Of course now that I have tenure they no longer have this policy.

Anyway I put on a suit and walked into every high school in Queens. I went to every department, and talked to anyone who would listen. Finally I found the special ed. AP of a high school who had a position she was desperate to fill. She sent me back to the hiring hall with a letter promising that I would only teach English to the special ed. students. When the secretary approved me, I went back. The AP told me I would be teaching music and math.

On the brighter side, she gave me a book of lesson plans for the math, and it was things like adding negative three to positive nine, just about my level. When we got to the Pythagorean theorem, I got a real math teacher to explain it to me. Two students complained to the math AP that I didn't do any work, and that I made them do all the problems on the board. He observed me, and gave me a great writeup. He said he wanted all his teachers to make the kids do the work.

My music classes were OK, but not great. They had a bunch of guitars in various states of repair, and they paid for some instruction books that I picked out. But I had a couple of girls in the back who never paid attention, and were constantly talking to one another. We were in a science room. I was behind a big, long black table, and the students all sat behind black tables.

One day, the girls were talking nonstop, and I was behind the big desk. I stood up on the desk, walked across the tables all the way to the back, bent down and asked the girls politely to please quiet down. Then I walked back across the tables, resumed my place, and continued as though nothing had occurred. My 12 students were fairly gobsmacked, having never seen a teacher do that before. It seemed to make an impression, because the girls never disrupted the class to that extent again.

I was in the cafeteria a few months later, and I met another teacher, who asked me my name. I told him, and he said, "Oh yeah, you're the guy who walks across the tables."

It was very odd. There were only a dozen kids in that class, and no adults. Yet word got around.

A few months later, I grabbed a job at another school, teaching ESL. 25 years later, I'm still doing it. I don't walk across tables anymore, but I may be known for even worse things. You never know until people tell you.
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