Friday, October 07, 2016
On Wednesday morning, my colleague Paula Duffy, English teacher and UFT delegate, Eric Mc Carthy, AP Security, and I met near the Francis Lewis trailers at 6 AM. From there, we drove to the Edison Ballroom in Manhattan for the Daily News Hometown Hero Awards.
I had applied posthumously on behalf of my colleague, Kevin O'Connor, who passed away suddenly last Spring. We had known since last summer that he'd won and had to keep it secret. Kevin taught social studies and worked as a dean.
Kevin would surely have done the same for me. Eight years ago I had to take a semester's leave when I got cancer, and he ran around seeking contributions from colleagues. He presented me with a $500 Visa card. That made for a lot of lunch dates for my wife and me before I went back to work.
Kevin had applied for the dean position a few times before he actually got it. He seemed to find his place and a really distinct voice in our school as a dean. He had endless patience for kids, and he had a way of connecting with the most troubled of kids. Kevin had had his own troubles, and he was able to quickly understand what troubled kids needed. Often it was a non-judgmental adult ear, and he was always ready and willing to provide one. Ears like those are hard to find.
Kevin himself found one in our AP Eric McCarthy, who would always listen and help him out with scheduling issues or whatever he needed. Any extended conversation I had with Kevin always included praise for Eric. I was really happy to hear this. As chapter leader, I get to hear absolutely every negative comment about every AP. It was very nice to hear something different for a change, and it's pretty good to be able to repeat it here.
Kevin, like me, had the insane habit of coming to school ridiculously early. He lived in Long Beach, which is not precisely a hop, skip, and a jump from Queens. The only way to beat the traffic is to leave well before you need to. Thus on days when there was some awful accident or something Kevin and I would be among the only people who showed up on time. Our drive to beat the traffic made for many early-morning conversations.
When my colleagues and I got to the Edison Ballroom, they were pretty impressed by the surroundings. I think they expected something like a school breakfast, with tables full of bagels and cream cheese, and a big coffee urn with 500 people waiting in line to take a cup. Instead, we got fresh fruit, table service, eggs, quiche, and asparagus with hollandaise sauce. It was a nice change, though we'd all drunk too much coffee to eat much.
There were celebrity presenters, one for each of the eleven award recipients. There was Chancellor Carmen Fariña, a bunch of TV newscasters, and rapper DMC. But we all almost fell out of our seats when Mayor Bill de Blasio broke from his general comments and started speaking about Kevin O'Connor. It was almost too good to be true to see the Mayor of New York City recognizing someone much beloved by our children, a thousand of whom stood to mourn and praise him at a ceremony held in our courtyard.
We're the largest school system in the country, with 1.1 million students and 76,000 teachers. One out of 300 Americans is a New York City student. So there's a lot of bureaucracy, and a lot of nonsense. There are a lot of people sitting around Tweed who've never taught a day in their lives. There are principals who haven't either. Consequently there's a great deal of nonsense with which we have to contend. (I may even have written about that once or twice.)
But sometimes they really get everything right. On Monday, everything kind of came together, courtesy of sponsors NY Daily News, UFT, CSA, DOE, and CUNY, and the excellent judgment of the mayor, who obviously had choices, and chose to come out and speak about Kevin.