My “Break” Dance
By Carly Mitchell / New York City
(The author, a public-school teacher, is using a pseudonym for professional reasons)
New York City public schools are currently reveling in the one week of winter vacation affectionately known as “February Break”. This sort of interlude is one of the many perks of teaching, a difficult job, but at the end of the day, a career I’m thankful for. In the midst of all of the turmoil currently taking place around the world, I feel especially fortunate to be able to take a step back.
For the first few days of my vacation, I ventured to Martha's Vineyard, the quintessential New England island off of the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., with some friends. The island is known to be a summer spot, thus the only people whom I interacted with were the year-round “locals.” I have a few local friends, and through these people, I connected with some fellow teachers who are employed by the Martha’s Vineyard public school system.
The conversations I had this week with the three teachers whom I met were familiar, much the same as conversations I have had with teachers in Brooklyn, where I live and teach at a low-income public middle school.
One young woman told me that the island was experiencing a teacher shortage. I explained to her that this was also happening in New York City. In fact, the New York State United Teachers Union reported in October, 2019, that state officials predict New York State “will need more than 180,000 new teachers in the next decade.” This fellow teacher also explained there is a substitute teacher shortage. Things are so desperate, she said, that the island upped substitute teacher pay from $90 to $120 a day. New York City substitutes, in comparison, make $199.27 a day, in consideration of the high cost of living.
The Martha’s Vineyard School District is comprised of a half dozen small schools, one of which includes the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. There are some 700 students currently enrolled in the school system. Of these students, 43 percent are economically disadvantaged, which may come as a surprise to many who associate the island with wealthy white summer folks. Demographically, the statistics are also a bit unexpected: while more than 60 percent of students are white, nearly 25 percent are Hispanic (there is a large population of Brazilians on the island), and 5 percent are African American. Less than 2 percent of students are Native American or Asian, although there is a Wampanoag reservation on the island.
It’s odd to think that there are such troublesome similarities between the small-town Martha’s Vineyard schools and the public schools in New York City. But I am not really surprised. The state of education is dire, and until the teaching profession is more valued, the future of education is questionable.
On the bright side, during my trip, I have received numerous emails from my students who have completed the break homework I assigned,which included some test prep. (Perhaps I am becoming known as the “mean” teacher,)
When we return to school, I am hoping we all feel refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges March will surely present. Now begins the official countdown until spring break!
Carly Mitchell (a pseudonym) is a public-school teacher in Brooklyn N.Y. who loves to learn, to educate, and to expose the hypocrisy of New York City politicians.