I don’t often write about being a teacher on here and with good reason. It’s a part of my life that I try to keep separate from blog life because it can become a slippery slope. However, next Tuesday will mark my 8th year in the classroom, and my second at a popular art school.
The 2016-2017 school year was my 7th year of teaching, and it was hard as FUCK. There’s no way to sugar coat it, or state it in any other terms. I experienced my first year at a new school, after working in the same school for 5 years. I know the math seems weird on that right? Bear with me. I started teaching at 21 years old in the same school I student taught in, and the same school my brother attended. I never had a chance/opportunity to truly feel like an uncomfortable novice because my first year of teaching was essentially in a school I considered to be home.
For teaching years 2-6 I taught in a less than glamorous Title I New York City Public school in Brooklyn, and I LOVED it. Teaching in that school taught me a lot about people, but most importantly it taught me a lot about myself (cue the eye rolls for my cliched statement). I’m now gearing up to start out on my infinity year (the #8 represents infinite balance- yes I’m big on numerology so what) and feel more prepared to share the insight I’ve gained in teaching in two very different types of educational structures.
The Difference Between Teaching At A Hood School Vs A Popular Art School
At the end of the 2015-2016 school year I decided I needed a change in scenery for many personal and professional reasons. I decided to interview for new teaching positions. When I landed the job at the school of my dreams it quickly transitioned from excitement to anxiety and fear. I was transitioning from a struggling “hood school” to one of the top rated art schools in New York. It was going to be a whole new ball game. I would no longer be a big fish in a small pond, and would really have to step my game up.
In the back of my mind I also felt that I was turning my back on a school that helped to build my career, and students that taught me more about life and myself than any education class ever could. But I did what came natural to me at the time. I said my goodbyes, promised to keep and touch and to visit whenever I could.
When I walked into my new classroom on the first day of school, it was a completely different feeling than the first day I remember back in Brooklyn. In Brooklyn I remember thinking I have to be tough, I have to show these students whose boss. I can’t let them sense any fear, or see any weakness. I clearly watched Dangerous Minds one too many times. The first day at my present school I remembered thinking, I hope they like me. I hope they don’t think I’m an amateur teacher or incapable of challenging them. I felt unprepared, lost and confused. But that’s not where the differences ended.
I stumbled throughout most of the entire school year because it hurt me to see how many opportunities this school had, in comparison to the opportunities my previous school lacked. In Brooklyn I became a Donor’s Choose master whenever my classroom or students needed supplies we couldn’t afford or didn’t have. When you don’t have much, you learn to make due with what you have and make miracles (like any good parent will tell you of course).
I became resistant and resentful. I wasn’t open to giving myself to my students as I have in the past because I didn’t feel like they deserved it. My students from my previous school had to do with out so much, that I felt they needed that extra care and concern. They needed more of me. So I stayed the extra hours, took the lead when I wasn’t asked, and loved them hard enough to fill the void of the love they weren’t accustomed to receiving.
Half way into the school year I realized I had to change my way of thinking. Even though I knew it wasn’t fair that one school had nothing, while another had everything, I was doing disservice to my students. The disparity in funding wasn’t their fault. So I manned up, opened up and proceeded to have a better teaching experience for the last half of the school year.
So I said all of that to say this. The real differences between teaching in what is deemed as a “hood school” vs teaching at a well funded popular art school:
- People’s Attitudes: People view different schools differently because of where they are located and the population of students that attend. It’s not just outsiders. Teachers, administrators, parents…etc all hold an opinion that is usually unchangeable. It is a societal flaw that I myself had as well. I was shocked when I saw the strength of the PTA at my new school, when I knew the struggles of getting even 10 parents to attend at my old school. I saw companies, brands, and parents more willing to financially help in my new school because we had an “appearance” to uphold. At my old school, the students were looked at in a certain light. They were spoken to a certain way, because they were considered “troubled” or “tougher”. And that just wasn’t always the case.
- Obviously Money Duh: The DOE will always be unbelievably unfair in how money is broken up in different districts. Funding always has and always be a major issue in the public education realm. My new school does have funding issues from time to time, but they are very minor. And while I’m happy and honored, it’s hard for me to see all my students have a book to take home. Or being able to order/replace “old” books with ease, when I would have to make copies of chapters in my old school because there weren’t enough books for every student to take home.
- The Kids: The kids are different and they are the same. They are the same in the sense that they have a desire to learn. They want to learn, they want to be taught, they want to experience what you have to tell them. However they are vastly different. The students in my old school had more walls built around them. You had to earn their trust and admiration it wasn’t just given to you. They had a driving force behind them to constantly go forward and survive whatever life throws at them. It made them likable and interesting, but most of all it made them lovable. The students in my newer school, have a driving force to constantly go forward to achieve success. Numbers matter to them, grades, homework assignments…etc. They gave me their love and admiration with out having to earn it and they wanted to be challenged. On both spectrums I love and appreciate what they both have taught me about being a teacher.
- Opportunity: When you teach in a small school that is also considered to be a “hood” school opportunities are far and few. Though there is Title I funding to help bridge the gap, the man power, and the money just aren’t there. The students struggle to pay fees, the numbers aren’t big enough to receive discounts, and there aren’t enough teachers to go around. Putting together college visits, a prom, a senior trip was always like pulling teeth. At my current school, we have a dedicated COSA, and guidance counselor team who gets things done and the students are tripping over opportunity after opportunity.
Overall… I’m excited and terrified to start my 8th year of teaching. As always I’m open to whatever lessons both my students and the year have to teach me. I’m thankful and honored to have taught in both types of schools. It’s given me the skill set to handle just about any situation in the classroom and truly neither is better than the other. GAME ON!