I always find it alarming when the Department of Education pushes this narrative of closing the achievement gap in public schools without thinking about the people they hire into Transitional B Certificate programs.
As someone who has been teaching for the past twelve years in the capacities of an artist and has been in two teaching fellowship programs, Citizen Schools and the New York City Teaching Collaborative, I have seen and experienced first-had the cultural insensitivities these programs play out to the teachers who are like the students which whom they are trying to serve.
My family is poor, dirt poor. We are not middle class or come from a strong educational background. Our yearly income has always been around $13,000. We only survive because of governmental assistance. My mother was nearly killed as a young adult when she was hit by a drunken driver. She is disabled, woman of color. She raised me and my brother by herself. And although the specifics may not be the same, the socio-economic-political realities of the students I worked with are.
I am a college graduate with over a decade of experience as a teacher. I have worked in the Lower Ninth Ward, Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx. I like to think of myself as a cultural worker. I am overly dedicated. I also suffer from self-diagnosed depression. A lot of my students have been classified as lacking motivation by their teachers, but I think the issue is much more deep-rooted than that.
My skill and potential as a classroom leader derives mainly from experiences in the hood. Besides working with students, I always been a leader amongst my peers. I babysat people’s kids in the neighborhood. I taught spanish speaking children English and always had a knack for warm and strict discipline.
Although these programs stress the need to provide high-quality teachers, the NYCTC just yesterday fired one. I was let go unfairly, despite the support of my mentor’s teacher and vice-principal.
One of the problems with these programs is that they demand too much without financially compensating for their demand. I worked about 50 hours a week, including training, reading, researching, and planning curriculum and given a monthly stipend of $1625. I worked six weeks before I received my first check. I am also a single mother with a seven year old daughter.
The reason why I was let go was because of the unforeseeable circumstances of severe snow weather. On those days, I wasn’t abled to work because I couldn’t get to work because the buses in Yonkers shutdown and also because my daughter’s school was cancelled because of the weather, so I had no babysitter.
Although, my mentor teacher who runs the classroom was kept abreast of my absences, my supervisor had a personal problem with it because she said that if I were a ‘real’ teacher, I would have to come into work. I was then threatened of losing my job if I were absent again.
‘Real’ teachers with an undergraduate degree are given starting salaries of $45,000. I am not a ‘real’ teacher. With that amount of money, I can hire outside support and even afford to hire a car to take me to work in dire circumstances. $1625 translates to $19,500 a year, which is way below the poverty line, especially in New York City.
In addition, this program has no health insurance, nor housing. We were advised to subsidize our poverty by applying for public assistance, despite the fact that it is overseen and run by the Department of Education.
These are the reasons as to why these programs are overpopulated by young, white people, or by those who do not come from the same class. They do not serve people in their own community. I was fired because of circumstances that were beyond my control, circumstances that show that my life is complicated, but I am still a damn good teacher and I was let go and unsupported by the people who ‘want’ to diversify and maintain high talented teachers.
The truth is I am a college graduate because my teachers understood my extreme circumstances. My supervisor, Veronica Soloman often said things like “I get it. It’s hard with a baby” with her wedding band on her finger, with her quadruple salary. The NYCTC is not a family, nor is it a cohort. I haven’t met anyone like me: economically poor, single-parent, with twelve years of experience in education. I was hardly supervised by my boss, because I didn’t need the classroom support. The support I need extended beyond instruction.
NYCTC’s support is more intellectual than practical; more for people who come from a middle class home. The only achievement gap they are actually raising is their own because if these students face the same realities as me, they face severe poor housing conditions, language barriers at home, poor quality foods, and broken familial structures.
Everyone knows the NYC education and food system is broken. I am a product of that system and although I have the credentials, the experience, and the passion and perseverance, I was let go because of inclement weather.
The truth is the achievement gap will never be closed if we keep recruiting talent that comes from outside our communities. Education needs us. They need us in the administrative roles, teaching in our classrooms. They don’t need an education that is insensitive to their students physical and historical struggle.
P.S. It is time I start my own business. I have enough experience in writing curriculum.
juju angeles is a poet, teaching artist, and babymama from New York. She is a first generation Dominican-American and creator of A Love Adventure Project—a cause that supports and empowers low-income, single mothers to travel with their children. Follow her on her blog, Mangú y Tunafish and on twitter, @jujuthepoet.