A View From The 5th Floor
Before retiring in 2012, I was teaching 5th grade at PS 19 Corona, Queens. However, my initial foray into the world of teaching (1973-77) was then interrupted by a city-wide layoff. After working in private industry for the next 25 years, I decided to make a return back to the classroom in 2002. Shades of Welcome Back, Kotter.
Chronicling my later years, in a cut and paste book entitled ‘A View From the 5th Floor’, is still a highlight on my bookshelf. This is a one-of-a-kind pictorial history which documents my journey through my later years, observing the sights, sounds and experiences in a classroom on the 5th floor of a double flight of steps, leading up to a non-air conditioned room filled with mostly ESL and special needs children.
Being blessed with 2 wonderful special ed co-teachers, who were instrumental in helping to navigate the challenges of each day made those tough days bearable. Waking up at 4:45AM, in order to beat rush hour traffic and attempting to find a parking spot can start to wear on the mind and body. If my calculations are correct, I negotiated approximately 96,000 steps each year, while driving 12,000 miles back and forth from Plainview to Corona and walked approximately 4 miles each day around PS 19.
As Indiana Jones once said, “It’s not the years…it’s the mileage”.
The staff of approximately 140, including teachers, para professionals, secretaries, nursing staff, custodial and cafeteria workers were given the luxury of 12 parking passes each month.
Now Corona is a very crowded community where parking spaces were at a minimum. Add in alternate side street parking on Thursdays and Fridays, and what you had was a parking nightmare. It took some teachers 45 minutes to find a parking spot. We were then greeted by the inevitable note on the copy machine which read ‘out of order due to an internal error’. Sometimes it took weeks to repair. Leaving my own note saying that I had my own ‘internal error, which was a hernia that was fixed in a day.' But I digress.
Watching in amazement as all of the non-teaching barriers were overcome each day and the school day began was a sight to behold. I wondered exactly how teachers with young children at home could accomplish every teaching goal throughout the day, fight traffic on their way home, take care of their families and properly prepare for the next day.
Where did they find the time they needed to teach 30 children each day, adhere to some of the most ‘curious’ mandates of teaching ever created and be a great parent and spouse?
Is every teacher great? NO! But neither is every lawyer, doctor, contractor or plumber. For the most part, especially teaching in NYC Public Schools, my experiences were very positive and filled with very dedicated and caring teachers. You’re tired even before a student walked into your classroom. Then your teaching day first begins!
To quote the author, Frank McCourt. “I was more than a teacher. You have to be a drill sergeant, a priest, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a singer, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a counselor, a dress-code enforcer, a philosopher, a collaborator, a politician, a therapist, and a traffic cop. You also have to be at times a mother-father-brother-sister-aunt-uncle, critic and a psychologist. YOU are the last straw.”
I will not debate on whether or not teachers are overpaid. One of my favorite quotes is, “Summer vacation is the time when parents realize that teachers are grossly underpaid”.
When asked what does a teacher make? Here is the answer. They make a difference. It is not a monetary reward, but the true essence of self-sacrifice paid off with gratitude and a deep understanding of how they affect the lives of their students.
Kudos to all of you teachers who DID make that difference.