First Person

A Day In The Life Of A Teacher (Who Might Be Laid Off)

On Monday, my colleague and mentor Steve Lazar wrote a letter to Mayor Bloomberg about the city’s release of a list of possible teacher layoffs by school. In his letter, Steve discussed the impact that the announcement had on the young teachers at our school, including me, “the third-year history teacher who is on the border.” After reading his post, I decided to give a little insight into what my day was like on Monday. Here’s what I wrote.

My friend the mayor released a list of potential teacher layoffs in New York City this morning. After I woke up, trying to will myself out of bed after a week off, I heard the news report and was suddenly even less excited to start my day.

Then I went to work …

… and taught 60 ninth-graders in my civics classes how to contact their representative concerning proposed gun control legislation in the House of Representatives.

Then, I took a look at the city’s school-by-school list of possible layoffs and saw that my school has five teachers that could be laid off if the mayor doesn’t get his way. Best part? It was just a number so maybe it’s me but then again maybe it’s not. I spent a small part of the remainder of the day wondering if I was one of the unlucky ones. I didn’t necessarily appreciate the suspense of it all.

Then I taught English to 30 ninth-graders. Well, kind of, anyway. Midway through the day, all of the outlets in my room blew, rendering useless the PowerPoint that I was going to project onto my board to teach my mini-lesson. Can’t win ’em all … or apparently any of ’em.

Then I came home, had dinner with my wife, and watched our friend the mayor on the news. I’m not too sure if the mayor thought about me and my fellow teachers today — maybe he did; after all, he made up a nice list! — but I know he didn’t think about my wife, and the grief that his list caused her today.

This is my third year teaching in New York City and my third year of hearing that I might lose my job. It’s kind of like an anniversary. Should I get a gift? What is the third year? Leather? Throughout these sagas, I have always taken the position that what will be will be. Whatever happens, I’ll be prepared.

But the mayor’s list puts me in a bad position as both a young teacher and union member, wanting what is best for me while also wanting what is best for my fellow teachers, both new and veteran. My own self-preservation dictates that “last in, first out” is an unjust system that punishes me strictly based on when I decided to become a teacher. Although I considered the profession since high school, I took a more circuitous route to the classroom by working in the admission office of a top university before returning to school full-time, where I worked as a student teacher while completing my master’s in teaching. I truly believe that my previous professional experience gave me the work and life experience that is needed in order to be a successful teacher and gave me skills that I know I didn’t have when I was 22. Now I feel that this decision is hurting me.

Conversely, I see the movement against seniority rights as a divisive move by our mayor that not only pits teacher against teacher, but also threatens the welfare and education of our students. Additionally, I have learned a tremendous amount from the veteran teachers who have worked with me and given me guidance and direction throughout my first three years in the classroom. I don’t want to see them lose their jobs any more than they want to see me lose mine.

So what’s a young teacher to do?

I suppose that pushing forward and working with my students to the best of my ability is the only thing I can do. I love teaching, even on the first day back from vacation, when I’m told my job is in jeopardy and the power doesn’t work so I can’t teach my lessons.

Actually, today kind of just sucked but I am ready for tomorrow and the challenges that await with my classes.

I just hope I get the same chance next year.

First Person

With roots in Cuba and Spain, Newark student came to America to ‘shine bright’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Layla Gonzalez

This is my story of how we came to America and why.

I am from Mallorca, Spain. I am also from Cuba, because of my dad. My dad is from Cuba and my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and so on. That is what makes our family special — we are different.

We came to America when my sister and I were little girls. My sister was three and I was one.

The first reason why we came here to America was for a better life. My parents wanted to raise us in a better place. We also came for better jobs and better pay so we can keep this family together.

We also came here to have more opportunities — they do call this country the “Land Of Opportunities.” We came to make our dreams come true.

In addition, my family and I came to America for adventure. We came to discover new things, to be ourselves, and to be free.

Moreover, we also came here to learn new things like English. When we came here we didn’t know any English at all. It was really hard to learn a language that we didn’t know, but we learned.

Thank God that my sister and I learned quickly so we can go to school. I had a lot of fun learning and throughout the years we do learn something new each day. My sister and I got smarter and smarter and we made our family proud.

When my sister Amira and I first walked into Hawkins Street School I had the feeling that we were going to be well taught.

We have always been taught by the best even when we don’t realize. Like in the times when we think we are in trouble because our parents are mad. Well we are not in trouble, they are just trying to teach us something so that we don’t make the same mistake.

And that is why we are here to learn something new each day.

Sometimes I feel like I belong here and that I will be alright. Because this is the land where you can feel free to trust your first instinct and to be who you want to be and smile bright and look up and say, “Thank you.”

As you can see, this is why we came to America and why we can shine bright.

Layla Gonzalez is a fourth-grader at Hawkins Street School. This essay is adapted from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.

First Person

From ‘abandoned’ to ‘blessed,’ Newark teacher sees herself in her students

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Jennifer Palumbo

As I sit down to write about my journey to the USA, all I can think of is the word “blessed.”

You see my story to become Ms. Palumbo started as a whole other person with a different name in a different country. I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but my parents either could not keep me or did not want me. I was, according to my adoption papers, “abandoned.” Abandoned is defined as “having been deserted or cast off.” Not a great start to my story, I know.

Well I was then put in an orphanage for children who had no family. Yes at this point I had no family, no home, not even a name.
I spent the first 10 months of my life in this orphanage. Most children at 10 months are crawling, trying to talk, holding their bottles, and some are even walking. Since I spent 10 months laying in a crib, I did none of those things.

Despite that my day to be chosen arrived. I was adopted by an Italian American couple who, after walking up and down rows of babies and children, chose to adopt me. My title just changed from abandoned to chosen.

But that wasn’t the only thing about to change. My first baby passport to leave Colombia is with the name given by the orphanage to an abandoned baby girl with no one. When I arrived in America my parents changed that name to Jennifer Marie Palumbo and began my citizenship and naturalization paperwork so I could become an U.S. citizen.

They tried to make a little Colombian girl an Italian American, so I was raised speaking only English. Eating lots of pasta and living a typical American lifestyle. But as I grew up I knew there was something more — I was something more.

By fourth grade, I gravitated to the Spanish girls that moved into town and spent many after-schools and sleepovers looking to understand who I was. I began to learn how to dance to Spanish music and eat Spanish foods.

I would try to speak and understand the language the best I could even though I could not use it at home. In middle school, high school, and three semesters at Kean University, I studied Spanish. I traveled to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Honduras to explore Spanish culture and language. I finally felt like the missing piece of my puzzle was filled.

And then the opportunity to come to Hawkins Street School came and as what — a bilingual second-grade teacher. I understood these students in a way that is hard to explain.

They are like me but in a way backwards.

They are fluent in Spanish and hungry to obtain fluency in English to succeed in the world. I was fluent in English with a hunger to obtain it in Spanish to succeed in the world. I feel as a child I lost out.

My road until now has by far not been an easy one, but I am a blessed educated Hispanic American. I know that my road is not over. There are so many places to see, so many food to taste, and so many songs to dance too.

I thank my students over the past four years for being such a big part of this little “abandoned” baby who became a “chosen” child grown into a “blessed teacher.” They fill my heart and I will always be here to help them have a blessed story because the stars are in their reach no matter what language barrier is there.

We can break through!

Palumbo is a second-grade bilingual teacher Hawkins Street School. This essay is from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.