I can understand why New Yorkers wouldn’t mind having a perpetual fall season here—somehow the crisp, autumn air is a perfect match for the bustling city. Whether walking from the subway to school in the Bronx, running through Central Park, or stepping out for a night on Broadway, autumn not only brought sweaters out of the closets, but a hominess that imbeds thick layers of memories each moment. The green is blotching into scarlet and amber patches, and stretched shadows are accompanied by a tired, golden haze. Autumn in New York is the sweet, yet somber finale before a dreary silence.
But, change comes, and change stirs the heart. As Jamie and I have started our respective jobs, we have found the change is heavily blanketed by challenges. This month, Jamie moved from working with the sales team for Redken, to being placed with the Global Marketing team for Redken. She delivered a flawless presentation that caused the entire executive board at L’Oreal to stand agape for ten, stunning minutes. Jamie has become the poster child for L’ Oreal, and, while juggling work responsibilities, has been part of their recruiting team at NYU. I think they make her wear a shirt that says, “More than a pretty face…I make beauty fashionable” OK, maybe it doesn’t say that exactly, but it could. Besides working on the ever-posh 5th Avenue, Jamie is also an avid church-goer (Mormon), yoga-doer, and smile-bearer. She is constantly helping someone out—mostly me.
Me. Well, I am a teacher in the Bronx. Last month I told you a little bit about my first impressions as a teacher, and why I think there is good evidence as to why they live 30 years shorter than the average person. The past month has been full of trials and triumphs. As part of my school’s curriculum, I was responsible for taking 15 ninth graders for a 3-day backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail. None of these kids had been in the woods, and I wouldn’t have minded if they never would have returned. It was rough from the get go—all day long I was the receptacle for high-pitched whining and circular complaints. The first night was full of me getting up and telling people not to urinate on other people’s tents and to retrieve another student’s socks from a high tree branch. The second day was full of the same groans and complaints. I was beginning to catch on that actually liking the camping experience was not cool, and hence I was very not cool by trying to help the kids enjoy it. I am OK, not being cool, but not being followed, is no bueno.
The second night, something magical happened, not long after dinner. We had just finished cleaning up a batch of dirty rice and beans (with real dirt), and putting the food in bear bags, when a large, ravenous deer bounded into camp. The students, who had never seen a cute, brown-eyed doe before became hysterical, screaming bloody murder. Several were in tears calling for mommy. After some time, I was able to tell them that deer eat grass and are about as harmless as caterpillars (this analogy failed because the students are likewise terrified of caterpillars).
Camp became quiet, and then the best thing that has ever happened to me while at Bronx Lab appeared: a large Black Bear trampled through the brush 20 feet from camp. The Bambi screams of ten minutes previous returned to their unhealthy Decibels, and the bear, initially stunned by the warm greeting froze, and then sauntered back around. The students were in tears, begging to go home. And me, the uncool, white teacher, was grinning from ear to ear. Not to sound blasphemous, but I had a God-like experience where I came to understand a bit why he likes to see us humbled. And these kids were humbled and obedient….for about 10 minutes.
From the trip, the students came united in their feeling of how uncool I am, and the uber traumatic event of seeing deer and a berry-eating bear within 20 minutes of each other.
Hence, I have latched on to this anti-coolness appeal, and have become the chess coach at my school: a science teacher, chess coach, scrawny white kids from the West…it doesn’t get much uncooler than that, and that is what makes me a great teacher. As one of my ninth grade advisory students put it today, “Mistah, do I have to like you? I hope not, ‘cause I don’t!” For a moment I was stunned, just like that black bear. And then I smiled at this rare compliment. Quickly, I turned away and began pumping my fist in a celebration of my uncoolness.