“Are you really going to?” Carol asked me quietly as she handed me my slice of pizza. We were sitting in her classroom over lunch, which we’d ordered for delivery from a Greek pizza place a few miles away. It was definitely an indulgence: thick like Chicago style pizza, loaded with cheese, thick crust and in our case, crab and lobster. The seafood pizza we shared was a bright spot twice a month, something to look forward to as the days grew warm and the student behavior did as well.
“I got the call yesterday. I have an interview next week,” I replied just as quietly, looking around to be sure no one could hear our conversation in the back corner of her classroom.
Upon my return from Tucson, I felt a renewed sense of purpose in trying to get my life on track. While I was theoretically doing as well as I could at my urban teaching job, I felt often like I was beating my head against a brick wall. We were still understaffed, even at a magnet school. The middle school students had a healthy disrespect for academia in general and as magnet school students, a sense of entitlement too. If I didn’t leave our urban system soon, I would be stuck in a loop that I simply couldn’t get out of. To leave the system would mean starting again at the bottom of a districts’ pay scale, which inevitably meant a pay cut. Twofold, actually, because if I went to a suburban system, they typically paid less in general; pay was one of the ways the urban system could attract teachers. Benefits was another, and I had fantastic ones.
But I was tired. The commute was long, especially in the winter. I had moments where I liked my job, but they weren’t even a daily occurrence. I’d LOVED going to work every day when I student taught; it was part fun, part challenge, part making a difference. I didn’t feel like any of that was happening much these days, except the challenge part. I’d actually gotten hit breaking up a fight last week, and instead of admonishing the students, my principal and admonished me for getting in the middle of it. It had been the straw that had broken my own spirit, and I was ready to move on.
The district I’d applied to was an “inner ring” suburb, meaning that it was bordered on one side by the city. A gateway suburb. Ironically, one of my first grade students three years ago had mentioned it (she had been Native American) when she told the class where she was moving to. She had proudly told the classroom that she going to where “the white people lived”, which in the Detroit area meant somewhere across Eight Mile Road. East Detroit, so ashamed of its proximity to the city that they had actually voted to rename their town Eastpointe, was where I’d applied to work.
The district was actually expanding due in some part to parents fleeing the city looking for a better education. There were middle school positions opening up due to an expansion of the school; a new wing had just been built. I was applying for an eighth grade math position. It was a subject I’d never taught before, but I hoped my middle school experience at the magnet school and the smattering of mathematics I was responsible for would put me over the edge. Urban experience would make me a good candidate for any position in the suburbs; it should mean that I could handle anything.
“Won’t that mean a pay cut?” asked Carol. This would be Carol’s sixth year in the city, as opposed to my fourth. I could see she was incredulous.
“Yes, it will. I’ve already looked it up. It’s about seven thousand dollars less a year. Plus they are HMO, not traditional insurance. I know it seems crazy, but how nice would it be to have substitute teachers you can count on? Or a principal that backs you up instead of the students? Or a reasonable class size? I’ve taught in two city schools now and it is clear to me that the things that make this job the most difficult are always going to be there as long as I stay in the city. I never wanted a city job; I’m not that altruistic to think that little old me can cure urban ills. I always wanted a job near home, where I might have the same days off as my own kid, where everything makes sense.”
Carol laughed and started in on her second slice. “Does that even exist? I’ve forgotten what it is like.”
“I know it’s not for everyone. I respect you so much for wanting to stay. I do. But it’s just not for me.”
Carol sighed. “Don’t respect me for wanting to stay. I’d get out too if I could. I’ve got too much time in now to leave. I would in a heartbeat if I could. Take your chance while you can. Seriously.”
I swallowed, hearing students down the hall coming in from recess. “Party’s over. Back to reality,” I said, packing up the rest of my pizza to take up to my classroom, to take home for dinner. “It probably won’t happen anyway,” I said quietly as the students started filing in the room.
But inside, I was hopeful. Other dreams had come true for me recently. Maybe things were on the upswing.