Monday, October 3, 2016

what a difference a year [or two] makes

I never thought I would be sitting in the Franklin Avenue & Eastern Parkway Starbucks, drinking a [double] tall French Vanilla latte and grading papers for my students at Brooklyn Friends School. What a difference two years makes.

Although I am eternally grateful for my experience in Cairo [the good, the bad & the ugly], everyday I feel I made the right decision to leave Hayah International Academy. When I left my Maadi apartment on June 26, 2014, it was surreal that I had survived nearly 12 months of sexual harassment, Cairo highways, mummy tummy, deep depression, anxiety attacks & draft beer from ACE. I was leaving with an acceptance letter from the Harvard Graduate School of Education [#Hug-Z], a desire to eat Mexican food for an entire week and a need to walk in crosswalks. I also left with doubts if I should teach again. 

Shortly after arriving on Appian Way, I decided I wanted to go back into the classroom and teach high school students. I realized the majority of my classmates at HGSE did not have a desire to teach K-12 and chose to focus attention and passion on state and federal policy, consulting and higher education. [Cue 1996 Paula Cole...Where have all the teachers gone? doo doo do...doo doo do...]. Four take-aways from my experience at HGSE are as follows...

1. Do not let students at an Ivy league Institution [or anyone, really] make you ever feel bad about who you are or question your true self. 

2. A heightened awareness of my identity & my privilege.

3. I love teaching high school students.

4. College is fun, especially with the unicorns [cohort pic to the left, to the left].

In April, I decided to take the leap and move to New York City for someone I love [a move I had not made since 2005]. I had a place to live, incredible food cooked for me and four subway stops to Manhattan. All I needed was a job.

I applied for high school teaching positions & felt incredibly privileged that I got a call from Brooklyn Friends School. I went through the most thorough interview of my life-teaching an entire history lesson to a class of juniors, lunch with the History department, a meeting with the  head of faculty, a meeting with the History department chair, a meeting with the head of Upper School and I had to grade a paper. I felt like Brooklyn Friends was where I wanted to be this fall.

Fortunately, I was offered a position to teach at BFS and I honestly feel like teaching here is a breath of fresh air. I feel respected by faculty & my students, I feel like my daily lessons and my desire to build community with each class is encouraged, instead of criticized. Although I am exhausted every morning at 5:30, I no longer dread going to school. I feel like I am becoming a New Yorker, taking the subway in to work every morning, stopping at my local Starbucks [my first of two caffeinated hot beverages] and greeting Goody at 7:00 as I enter my Downtown Brooklyn high school. Students [a lot of whom I do not even teach] greet me with a smile and a hello in the stairwell on the way to my first floor Humanities Office. I just feel happy to be here.

As I was reading my previous blog post, I realized I went on quite the rant about my middle school students, notably calling me by my first name. I automatically equated students referring to teachers by their first names as inherently disrespectful. Which is why at Brooklyn Friends [where the norm is to call teachers by their first name] I was filled with so much anxiety from my previous experience with this protocol that I initially wanted my students to only call me by my last name. But after working at BFS, I realize that it does not matter what students call teachers [with the exception of the A******B****C*** words], what matters is how they treat you. I feel so grateful that my students, whether they call me Erika or Hillstead genuinely respect classmates and teachers. Students listen when teachers teach. Students ask thought-provoking questions outside and inside the classroom.

I was wrong to make this general assumption about students, simply based on an entirely different context, time period and school culture at Hayah International Academy. That is the wonderful thing about teaching...everyday I learn something new about my students or myself. I still have a lot to learn [as a teacher and as a person]. Therefore, I would like to alter the those who can't do, teach adage to those who do want to better themselves and support others to become their best selves, teach. 

Ciao for now,
Erika







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