Education in America

The Teacher in NY

I’ve wanted to be a teacher since seventh grade. This sudden decision was a shock to my family because I wasn’t exactly the most enthusiastic student. I was an enthusiastic reader, but was not a big fan of homework. I also hated writing (I think some of my ex-boyfriends wish I stayed that way). Being the daughter of two published authors, this was a problem. My seeming lack of motivation led my parents to have my IQ tested (of course, I am aware of what a horrible and subjective marker of intelligence the IQ is, that is a rant for another time), to see if this “laziness” was a sign of a learning or intellectual disability. Lo and behold, I was gifted.

Being gifted meant that I could do logic problems instead of division and take special classes in the afternoon on archaeology or science fiction. Getting this individualized attention helped me discover my interests and gave me the skills I needed to translate my passions into my academic pursuits. I knew that one of the few professions where I could combine my love of learning and love of talking was education. And, in one of the easiest decisions of my life, I chose history as my field. At summer camp, I would promise my cabin-mates the “real” story of Bloody Mary and launch into a recitation on Henry VIII, Lady Jane Grey, and Queen Mary I.

In high school, I was lucky enough to have three history teachers who gave me a model of how to be an educator (as opposed to in the middle school, where the social studies teachers would argue that there should be a maximum voting age, that women were too emotional to be president, and that being impeached meant being removed from office). These three teachers were smart, passionate, and funny. They weren’t just teaching from the textbook or to a test, they loved what they taught. Mrs. Shapiro, Mr. Foulk, and Mr. Adams, with their love of Alexander Hamilton, units on Soviet history, and readings of Huntington and Fukuyama, reaffirmed my desire to follow in their footsteps.

I went to college and majored in History. I spent every summer working with young people. When I was bored, I would plan curricula. I read up on trends in education and researched the growing importance of charter schools. In my senior year, I applied to 70 teaching positions, primarily in private or independent schools, as I was not certified to teach. I had one interview. For a job I did not get.

Last month, a year after that failed interview, I started classes at Teachers College. I’m working towards a Masters in Social Studies Education, with initial certification. Since I like to be able to pay rent/eat, as well as genuinely enjoy my work, I am still at my job at a small Jewish non-profit. It’s definitely weird to be finally learning about something I’ve always wanted to do. It has been like getting behind the wheel of your mom’s station wagon after years playing MarioKart.

I’ve already turned in two papers and done some 300 pages of reading. I’ve called one professor a racist (and got an A+ on that assignment!) and been called a Marxist by another. My co-workers are simultaneously living vicariously through me (and wanted to put my A+ paper on the office fridge) and hoping I leave academia and come back to work full-time. I’ve spent almost a day in total commuting from Union Square to Columbia. And even as I forget to eat dinner and get fewer than six hours of sleep, I’m loving every minute of it.

Next Time: To Teach the Privileged or the Under-Privileged, That Is the Question”¦

By Lizy Yagoda

A young writer living in Brooklyn, she likes to make food, eat food, and think about food.

Follow @ElizabethYagoda

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