You can’t go home again

So I haven’t posted in awhile.  Like three months.  I’ve been busy with some stuff–getting a job, moving, visiting home, getting pregnant.  It’s exciting times, but it doesn’t exactly leave a ton of room for blogging.  Now though I find things equalizing a bit, or perhaps I’m carving out a bit more time for writing.

Working at an English school brings a whole host of new experiences, but the most striking difference comes not from the cultural differences, but from the fact that the school I teach at now is a ‘regular’ school, with students of all backgrounds and abilities, whereas the school I worked at in Queens, my alma mater, is an honors high school.

I didn’t always teach at an honor’s high school.  In fact, I’ve taught at some high needs schools, sometimes called inner city schools.  Whatever you want to call them, it could be rough.  I’ve had fights work their way into my classroom more than once; I’ve had students curse me out; I’ve heard some sobering tales of home life and taught girls of 15 and 16 who had to wedge their pregnant bellies into those L shaped desks.  I thought I had seen it all, and to be honest, I had seen most of it. Continue reading

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Shy violet

After months of waiting, I finally got my visa last week.  I tore open the envelope and exulted at my biometric card which allows me to use the NHS and allows me to work, two very, very important things.

Then I realized I had to get a job.

I have not been unemployed in a long time–eight years, to be exact.  Ever since I became a teacher, I’ve had a job. Sure I’ve moved schools, but I’ve never been excessed (I’ll consider myself lucky there), and the moves were all my choice.  Before you think I’m bragging, I now find myself in the positions of probably millions of other people on the planet–I have no job, and I need one.  And I am very daunted by the prospect.

In the days when I was job hunting, before I started teaching, I hated it.  My resume was bs, my cover letters were bs, and being a rather enthusiastic but genuine person, employers saw right through it.  Which meant I’d get a handful of interviews and no job offers, not unless I had a temp job and went permanent.  Plus, there are all these rules about interviews and the corporate world that no one told me about.  I’d go into interviews and answers questions with candor.  (I can hear the facepalms as people read that sentence).  One of my biggest fears is rejection, and I was constantly being rejected, and really it was my own fault.

But now things are different.  I can go into teaching interviews and use my honesty because I honestly care about the job.  Everything about it.  There’s no need to bs.  There’s no need to pad my resume, because I’ve simply done a lot in eight years of teaching.  If you ask me where I want to be in five years, I say teaching.  I know the game, and I’ve got a solid background, working at tough schools and good schools (which are also tough, but for completely different reasons).  I know I’m a solid candidate.

And yet, I’m still terrified.

Part of it is that I’m not so confident here. I don’t know the game like I did in NYC.  Applying to teach, and even teaching in NYC schools was easy, because I was a product of them.  The good school I taught at was my alma mater, so I knew all the buzzwords to use, I knew the philosophy of the school.  Even going in my first day was easy, because I knew where all the rooms were, who was in charge of what, even a good percentage of the faculty.  I revel in the familiar.

But then I think I can’t revel in it that much because I take some leaps.  I went to a college where I didn’t know another soul.  I studied abroad.  I moved to England.  All of those are pretty huge leaps into the unfamiliar.

But I think it comes from being a naturally very shy person.  People are always surprised when I tell them this, because I come off as perhaps a bit too sociable.  They don’t know that’s because I’m overcompensating.  Most of the time, I’m totally terrified to ask people for anything.  I dart around shops avoiding the staff.  Yesterday I asked whether I could have a hot chocolate instead of a coffee on a Cafe Rouge order and it was something I had to psych myself up to do.  I’ve been on several vacations alone, and I never talk to anyone.  I have this one friend who is beautifully bold and can chat up anyone, asking ridiculous questions, teasing within minutes.  Meanwhile I hang back, afraid to say anything lest it be the wrong thing, lest the person look at me and say “What on earth do you think you’re doing?”  Which is pretty much my biggest fear.  It’s what kept me in my little group in high school–I found a group of friends and clung to them like a limpet.  Now I’m facebook friends with a lot of my former classmates, and I talked to a couple of people at my reunion in June, and they were really cool.  It seems silly not to have talked to them more.  But I was afraid, especially when they seemed so cool.

So this job hunt now requires me to put myself out there.  My sister-in-law, also a teacher, suggesting finding schools in the area I want to teach and calling them up to ask the name of the agency they use for supply teaching (or substitute teaching in America).  This is very sound advice indeed, as mid year there aren’t going to be a lot of jobs.  But the idea of cold calling schools fills me with terror.  I know I have to do it, and my husband correctly said that when I have a job a year from now, I will shake my head at my silliness now.  But that doesn’t stop me from being silly.  Again, it’s that fear that they will say “What on earth do you think you’re doing?”

Yet I can face down a class of 30 teenagers and not be nervous at all, and teenagers are possibly the most judgmental people on the planet.  How can I do that and not have a simple conversation with an adult without quaking in my boots?  Let’s think:

  • In a classroom I’m confident of my position.  I know what I’m supposed to be doing, and I know how to do it.  I know I’m the one with the information, and therefore with the power.
  • Also, nobody will ask me what I think I’m doing, because they would be stupid.  It’s obvious–I’m teaching.  My role is clear.  I’m not being weird, this is what everyone expects me to do.
  • Ergo, because I’m confident in myself and what I’m doing, I don’t care what they think.  I want my students to like me, definitely.  That is very important to me.  But I don’t *need* them to.  Which I think makes them like me, or at least put up with my anti-Twilight rants without openly rebelling.

Huh…the power thing is interesting, as a lot of human interaction comes down to power plays, I think.  So clearly, I don’t like being back footed or unsure of where I stand.

The answer seems simple: be confident even when it comes to asking around for a job.  Seems like a good idea, but infusing yourself with confidence when you don’t have any is a tall order.  I was single for a loooooong time because I didn’t have any confidence to talk to guys.  So how do I have confidence when I come from a place with no power?  Suggestions are welcome.

Nine months was nothing, they said

I’ve just learned that the NYC Dept of Education, in all their wisdom, decided to cut February break short this year in order to make up for lost instruction time due to Hurricane Sandy.

My first thought is that this is abysmally stupid.  Firstly, in high schools, it just throws things off.  High schools run on semesters, and teachers plan accordingly.  Getting days in February will not help cover material needed for the January regents.  In my own classroom, this would have given the kids three more days on Things Fall Apart, but we still would have lost major time in the heroes unit that I do in November as a prequel to the Odyssey.  Also, I’m sure those days could have been found elsewhere.  Plus, I’ve missed at least two days out of the schoolyear several times before, and no one’s had to make up the days.  I’m mad on behalf of all my fellow teachers and all my students that they’re being punished for something they couldn’t control.

I’m mad because I know if it had been me, I would have been gutted.  I almost always used that February break to visit friends in England.  Over this past year, I used it to visit my fiance.

This takes me back to the time when I was embroiled in trying to make the decision of what to do.  When MR and I got engaged, we blithely assumed that it would be no problem to live together in either country, so long as we were married.  Arguably, it’s one of the reasons we moved so fast, although we can never know what might have happened if I was an English girl.  It turns out that we were only half right.  The UK would let us stay together, but the US was much more complicated.  If we wanted to live there together, we had to get married there.  To get married there, we needed to apply for a fiance visa, which would be given at an indeterminate date, taking up to seven months to process.  Once issued, we would have had to get married within 90 days.  Try planning a big wedding under those parameters.  It’s impossible.

Several people suggested the City Hall option, but that wasn’t an option for me.  I know a couple who were in our position–he’s Irish, she’s American, and that’s what they did.  She described her sudden City Hall wedding as an adventure, and I can absolutely see the appeal.  But it wasn’t for me.  I was one of those girls who had planned her wedding from when she was small, and I wasn’t about to give up on that once I had finally found the guy.  Plus, by the time we found this out we had already paid deposits and started planning our wedding in England.  I already had the big white dress with a train that was begging for a church aisle.  And I’m admittedly religious.  Not crazy evangelical or anything, but having a church wedding was really important to me.  And to MR–although he’s not religious, the pomp and circumstance appealed to him, much moreso than a clandestine city hall celebration.

We went to a lawyer, and she told us that if we got married in the UK, he would have to apply from there for entry, and that process could take nine months.  Nine months.  First, it would take four to five months to approve our marriage and decide that we actually did want to be together, and then it would take an additional four to five months to get his green card.  To add to that, during that time he might not be able to visit me.  UK visitors enter the US on a visa waiver program, but of course MR would be trying to waive his need for a visa while simultaneously applying for a visa.  In a post 9/11 world, such information comes up on the border control’s computers, and depending on which border guard he got and what mood they were in (95% chance of surly bordering on scary–nobody ever smiles at me at US customs), he could either be let through or put on the next flight back to the UK.

When we found this out we tried every possible permutation of how to get around this.  We asked every question.  People were constantly suggesting things to me–what if he got a student visa? (No, you can’t have dual intent with a student visa.)  What if he came in through Canada?  All of these were complex and none of them were really helpful. I myself tried to get a leave from the Department of Education for a semester to shorten the length of time we were apart and was given a resounding no.  Thanks, Dept. of Ed.  I can see you appreciate my years of loyal service.

After a couple of months of hemming and hawing, it became apparent that we had only two choices: either I give up my job, my car (I had a gorgeous BMW which I got by luck and some very nice friends), my apartment, my life, and move to England, or we spend the first nine months of our marriage apart, that I get married and go on honeymoon, and then fly back alone.

People were shocked that I might even consider the second option.  While the school secretaries were very kindly helping me with paperwork and scheduling meetings, I remember them saying “You have to think about this, honey.  Nine months is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to a lifetime.  You don’t want to give up a good job.”

It was true.  My job was pretty fabulous–I was teaching some of the brightest, nicest, funniest kids in the city.  I had great colleagues.  I even advised a program called TDF Open Doors which took kids to Broadway shows for free, because according to playwright Wendy Wasserstein, theater is every New Yorker’s birthright.  As the advisor, I got to go along.  For free.  To see Broadway shows which I would have shelled out hundreds for, and happily.  I was teaching creative writing, which was enormously fulfilling.

But we had already done eight months apart and it felt like an eternity.  Yes, I loved my job, but it didn’t compensate for how much I missed him.  That was a pang that was with me daily.  People said to me at least I had Skype, but I knew that.  We were already using every app available to us–Skype, email, What’sApp, gchat.  I will tell you this–nothing electronic can ever compensate for being with someone.  I didn’t know how much longer I could carry on.  Nine months didn’t seem like nothing.  In fact, the time frame seemed particularly significant when it came to being with my husband.  In nine months, I could gestate a baby.  And that started me thinking–I’m in my 30’s and just getting married.  What about having kids?  I knew I wanted them.  Three in an ideal world.  Would those nine months be crucial to the planning of my family?  Then I thought of getting pregnant during one of the few chances we’d have to see each other and doing it all on my own.  Not having anyone there for the baby’s first kick.  Not having anyone there to put together a crib or choose a carseat.  Not having anyone, and yet knowing there was someone who should be there, who would be, were it not for some really stupid immigration laws.

Well.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know what we decided.  I’m sitting on a couch in Birmingham, typing away.  I won’t pretend it’s been an easy decision.  I miss New York a lot.  I miss my family.  I really want to go out for dinner and drinks with my friends.  I miss my students–the kids I saw enter as freshmen when I started teaching at THHS are graduating this year, and I would give anything to be there.

But when I see this news, that one of my few chances to see my husband would have been snatched from me, I feel the echo of the helpless ache I would have if I had stayed.  When even the thought of something that’s never going to happen causes me that much pain, I know I made the right choice.  Marius Pontmercy, indeed all of Victor Hugo’s characters, taught me well.  I have always been prepared to make big sacrifices for love.  I was so ready that when I was younger I left a world behind to go and live in North Carolina.  When that relationship failed, I thought it meant that I had been stupid to do that.  Indeed, when I got into this relationship at first, I vowed I wouldn’t move for him, that he would have to move for me.  My friend said, “It doesn’t work like that.  You have to be willing to do for him what he would do for you,” and I realized he was right.

Now I see that failed relationship wasn’t proof of my idiocy.  It was training wheels, to show me what such a sacrifice meant.  And it’s made this leap a lot easier.  This time, I have a real partnership, someone who loves me as much as I love him, and we are happy.  I miss home, but I’m building a new life here and making another home.  Now I know this for certain: I miss New York terribly, but not half as much as I would miss him if I were still there.