Do you see the lovely, little girl rushing up steps of P.S.139 in Brooklyn? Yes, that’s her, the one with the long, spiral curls. It’s her first day of Pre-K and she’s mine.
As a teacher myself in the New York City Department of Education for fifteen years, I wanted to publicly announce that I’ve been nothing but kind, generous, and compassionate to every kid who’s ever stepped inside my classroom. The boy who received a perfect score on his Regents exam, as well as the one who threatened to set my hair on fire. The young lady who read her poem in Urdu at the city-wide competition and brought the house down, as well as the boy who said he’d shoot me after school. The student from Guinea who handed me a note regarding her genital mutilation as a child, and the boy who came out to me in a personal essay. The one who blindsided me into a blackboard, and the one who waited tables at the local IHOP. The nineteen-year-old who laughed when I caught him having sex with a fifteen-year-old in a stairway, and every kid who’s called me a punk-#@* before eight-thirty in the morning for the past fifteen years.
There has never been a single child in New York City, in or out of my classroom, that I have treated with malice or not offered compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. You have my word on this.
And now it’s time to return the favor.
For forty-something years I’ve dreamed awfully big dreams. Every single one has turned to dust except for the vision walking up those stairs. You will cherish and honor every second that she graces your hallways. I’ve seen this system at its worst and you will not be sneaking anything past me, understood?
Some of the most shocking, eye-popping experiences I’ve had in my adult life have taken place inside NYC public schools, and I’m not talking about troubled kids. I witnessed Bloomberg era cruelty first hand. I saw what you did to those teachers. I watched you starve those kids of funds so you could gain control of their buildings, and I’m keeping a watchful eye on the current administration’s handle of mayoral control, as well.
The largest school system in the country still has no true path as to where it is headed. Although, there is one certainty. Every day that I entrust you with my daughter’s care, she will come home safe and happy and excited about the world, otherwise, you’ll have a lion at your door roaring very specific questions.
Frankly, New York, I don’t particularly trust you. The ‘danger and romance’ you offered in my twenties and thirties no longer appeals to me. Broadway, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge still leave me in awe but lose their luster once I admit that your school system has left me frazzled and shell-shocked. Its instability, indifference and lack of true leadership, I swear most times it appears you’re making it up as you go along. I just received word that my school district has changed yet again. At this point, I no longer bother asking why. It’s just your way.
So I’ve got my supplies ready for another year, and I’ll get that bulletin board decorated tomorrow because we both know I’m decorating it just for you. It presents a good front, doesn’t it? But there’s one thing different about tomorrow. It’s the first time you’ll be seeing me as a parent, which brings us back to the little girl on the steps. Unfortunately, New York City Department of Ed, you’re all we’ve got right now. So this is just a note from a father wishing you a very, very successful school year.
J.B. McGeever’s collection of essays, Small Rooms and Others, will be published by Unsolicited press in the fall of 2019. He lives in Brooklyn with his family.
Photo credit: Bryon Lippincott.