…especially after a few cocktails. In Westchester.

The Question: “When are you done with your teaching program? What’s up next?”

The Rationale:

  1. They want to know because questioning someone about their life is an excellent way to show that you care. Let me just say that I really appreciate this. Ask my friends. It’s my biggest pet peeve to go out with a group when everyone is just talking about themselves and no one is asking anyone anything. Ugh.
  2. They want to know because they heard that my first year of teaching was incredibly difficult. I suppose I could have done a better job of keeping this one under wraps. I had friend from afar message me on Facebook around this time last year and say, “It seems like you’re loving teaching!” Score. I was so glad I had her fooled. The silly student quotes I posted on Facebook had worked! I confided in a few, but honestly tried not to complain openly because I wanted to make sure that people understood my concerns. Also, complaining is easy, and boring, and unoriginal. Instead, I said, “I’m afraid I’m not a good teacher. I want to make sure I’m the right person for this job.” I reminded myself daily that my novelty and cultural ignorance was the cause of many of my difficulties.
  3. They want to know because when I’m done with my program I won’t be required to teach in a high-needs NYC public school anymore.

The Easy Answer:

If all goes well, I could work anywhere I want next year. Even a rich, white suburban school!

The True Answer:

I am done when I finish all of my coursework and pass a comprehensive exam to get my Master’s degree. I am done when I pass a rigorous portfolio submission (kind of like a thesis) that includes recordings of my lessons and at least thirty pages of writing. I’m hoping to be done with everything by this summer, but I’m not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. I love the kids and I’ve even convinced my administration to let me side-step the curriculum and teach the books I want to teach, even complete novels!

The Rude Answer:

Are you assuming that I wouldn’t want to keep doing this? Or that I would quit because it was difficult or low-paying? Or did you just assume the kids are terrible? Did you know I leave my purse and my personal laptop out on my desk all day long? I’ve never had anything stolen. Are you surprised? Should you be?

No, I’m not interested in charter schools, because charter schools are terrible. 

No, it doesn’t make a difference that you “can’t see me in public school” because you have no idea what I do all day. 

I also think you should know that I once used you, not by name (of course), as an illustration to my students. “Did you know,” I began, “that there are some people who know where I work and feel bad for me? They ask me when I am going to leave and work somewhere else. They assume that I will leave as soon as possible.”

The kids looked back at me with wide eyes. Some of them swore. They were genuinely surprised and angered. Because kids are smart. How dare anyone assume that they are less than? How dare anyone say that about Ms. Higgins, who lives two blocks from the school? I tell them the story so that they understand that I’m here for them. Then I tell them that where they are from shouldn’t make an ounce of difference in their education.

I’m never going to tell my kids that they have to be twice as good, because they shouldn’t have to be. The only person who should be twice as good is me.

So I’ll be here.

Caroline Higgins

Caroline Higgins (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.

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