Collin Lawrence is a former New York City teacher who is recounting his four years working at a Brooklyn high school. Read Collin’s previous posts.
When I taught at the Brooklyn Arts Academy, I loved Fridays. Before school, I sometimes bought myself breakfast as a reward for making it through the week. In class, Fridays were often quiz days. Watching my usually rambunctious students working diligently on their exams made me feel proud. At the end of class, I enjoyed walking around and chatting with them about their weekend plans. I also liked to stand in the hallway after school and watch our students interact. Many stopped by to shake my hand on their way out of the building. I felt elation and relief that another week was over.
My fellow teachers shared these Friday highs. The support and camaraderie of my colleagues kept me going through the school year. Despite the fact that I’m a relatively reserved person, I had, by virtue of my longevity at the school and ability to motivate others, been designated the unofficial social coordinator of the staff. Sometimes, I’d send out an email inviting people to happy hour while other times I just went around Friday afternoon to find out who might be interested.
There was a core group of five of six of us who were the regulars at Friday happy hours, but every teacher on staff came out at one point or another. We didn’t always go to the same place, but we had two or three locations, in walking distance of the school, that we went to with some consistency. Once we had drinks, the commiseration began. Though a small school, we actually didn’t have much chance to talk to teachers who weren’t on our grade-level teams during the week. So Friday afternoon was a good chance to compare notes. We talked primarily about two topics: students and administration.
We vented about the students who disrespected us and gushed about the students who were making us proud. Since I’d taught for three years at this point, I often fielded questions from the new 11th- and 12th-grade teachers about how to handle specific students I’d taught as 10th-graders. These teachers gave me a lot of positive feedback, sharing what former students said about my teaching. Though I never knew exactly what my administration felt about my performance, my colleagues made me feel appreciated when they spoke of my reputation among their students.
We also used our time together to vent about our administration and talk about what could be done to improve our school. The must frequently voiced complaint was lack of support in dealing with classroom management issues. Most of the ire was directed toward the principal, but teachers complained about the APs as well. This is not to say we were bitter or jaded teachers. Our frustration was born of a sincere desire to see our school function more smoothly, and a wish that our superiors better supported our own efforts.
Our happy hours were intense, and occasionally individual teachers got drunk before the sun even set. But these Friday outings were also cathartic. Our job was emotionally draining, and our venting sessions were necessary to relieve the stress. In contrast to the first school that I taught at where most teachers were older and talked about their families, most of us were younger and our lives were consumed by our jobs. As a new and small school, we also felt like we were struggling together. We had a bond forged out of shared adversity.
Having to commute back to Manhattan, I was often one of the first to go. I’d usually have a couple of beers and then head back home around 6 p.m. On rare occasions, though, our significant others would come and join us and we’d stay long into the night. As we bought each other our third or fourth drink, our frustrations melted away and our conversation became an unabashed love fest. We toasted each other’s teaching efforts and celebrated each other’s success. Tomorrow I’d be back to grading exams, but on Friday night we could be carefree. We’d earned it.
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