"Best advice I can give you is what I tell everyone; get out while you can."
So says my kid's gymnastics teacher. She's a good kid (the teacher, not my daughter) and is a first-year teacher at a pretty good city school in Queens. My kid brought me to her at the end of an event and beamingly said "this is my dad. He's a teacher too."
I love when my kid is proud of me. It makes me feel cool.
The response, quoted above, was what I got. She went on to say she had just landed a job at one of the fancy districts out here on Long Islandnand was really lookong forward to it.
My kid wasn't beaming as much at the end of the exchange.
Time seems to stand still out here in the suburbs. On Long Island, folks seem to be caught in some strange 1970s loop that they just can't break out of. Many listen to Classic Rock on the same circa 1970s radio station, they all wear Lee Jeans, drive pickup trucks and have hairstyles that seem to be 20 or more years old.
And they all think their schools are still superior to those im the city.
As much as this young person has heard about the city is probably what she learned from her own parents, who grew up in the 70s. New York was once a dirty, dangerous place filled with drugs and prostitutes and crime. And the schools once sucked. They really, really sucked.
Of course, the schools don't suck in New York anymore. They haven't for a long time now. Unlike schools in the suburbs, NYC has long since banned nepotism, implemented a system of merit and has, by in large, professionalized the job of teaching. The results have been clear. Many of US News & World Report's Best High Schools are now in the city, not the suburbs.
The same cannot be said for districts out here and things like it cannot be said for their teachers, either. Many of them still land a teaching gig because they grew up in the community and their cousin or uncle is on the board or is employed by the district in some way. In one district, a Phys-Ed teacher actually lived with his parents and raised his kids on a grocery store salary until his local school district finally offered him a job. He was over 40 by the time they did and now, at 44, he is just nearing his tenure.
In the bigger picture, Long Island has become a place gripped by a harmful heroin epidemic, gang murders which have grabbed national attention and flat property values that have crippled the local economy. All of this has happened at the same time that NYC is ridding itself of the same crime and drug statistics and has expereince soaring property values in even the most notoriously difficult of communities like East New York. Clearlt, times habe changed.
But there is this stigma, fueled partly by bad information and partly by rank ignorance, that the city schools are a cesspool. With that stigma comes the implication that city teachers work there because they don't quite measure up (after all, if you were good you'd be out here, right?).
I have to hear this crap from time to time. Most times I try to explain to the person that he or she has their thinking all wrong before I shrug my shoulders and give in to their stupidity.
Thing is, I usually don't have my daughter with me when it happens.
I love her (my daughter, not this teacher) and I don't want her growing up thinking her dad is somehow less of an anything because I don't teach 'out here'. There is no way to explain to her that I like teaching students who speak 177 different languages and hold the same ethnicities. I like seeing the Manhattan skyline through my classroom window. I like $4 Indian Food from the local mom and pop joint and $6 cups of coffee from the fancy coffee shop. (Also, I like free full medical for life and, say it with me, seven-and-a-half-percent-compounded-interest-on-my-TDA). Most of all, I like not being in the suburbs during the day. The city is just a much better place.
But trying to explain that to my kid is near impossible. And so, despite being part of the strongest teaching corps in the US, I woke up on Father's Day actually wondering what my kid thought of her dad.