Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In the Market for Teaching

When I learned I had passed the Series 7 test, I was thrilled. I studied hard, and I was now a stockbroker. While I had great hopes for the future, I was advised that it would take some time to develop a clientele, and so it might be a good idea to take a small part-time job in the meantime as a source of income. I lived in Brooklyn at the time, and I pondered what type of little job would be suitable, but not be too taxing, so that I would have the energy to focus on my career as an Account Executive.

The thought occurred to me that perhaps I could teach one of the lower grades at Little Flower School, the school I had attended as a child. It was walking distance from my home, and teaching little children until 3:00 PM seemed light enough, and I would have the rest of the day to devote to the brokerage business. I love children, and I thought it would be fun, a pleasant little job. Obviously anyone who describes teaching as "light" or a" little job" has never been a teacher.

It was February, the middle of a school year when teachers are not likely to be hired, and I had an administrative rather than teaching background. Yet, in my naivete I was optimistic that the school just might happen to be in need of a teacher. I phoned the school and spoke with the secretary. "I was wondering if you have any teaching positions," I said. She asked if I had seen the advertisement in The Tablet, the diocesan newspaper, for a second-grade teacher. When I said that I hadn't, she commented that it certainly was a coincidence that I had called at just the right time! I was asked to come in for an interview with the principal the next day and was instructed to wait for her in the schoolyard at a particular time.

I had passed the schoolyard many times over the years, but having stepped inside, I felt a certain reverence to be in a place reserved for teachers and students. The children were playing as children do. Some of the little ones walked toward me, and I spoke with them. They wanted to know if I was going to be a new teacher. They were adorable. After a short while, and before the bell rang, Sister Paulette approached me and introduced herself as the principal of the school. She was an attractive, youthful nun, elegantly dressed, though not wearing the traditional habit that the Sisters of Mercy wore when I had attended the school. She asked me to come with her to the principal's office. When I was a child those words would have been chilling, but now they held promise.

As she led me up the stairs and through the hallway of the school, I felt a comfortable familiarity. The building was well kept, and smelled pleasantly like a school, probably from new books and notebooks, chalk, pencils and crayons. We sat in her office and she described the position. It was for a second-grade class that "had been though a great deal" this year, two of their teachers having left the school for reasons I never asked. She explained that losing two teachers can be traumatic to children and negatively affect their behavior and performance. Sister Pat, the assistant principal, had taken the class until a permanent teacher could be found. Sister Paulette had read my resume, and I answered all of her questions, apparently to her satisfaction. She was particularly interested in why a stockbroker and someone with my administrative background would be seeking a position as a Catholic school teacher. I said that I wanted to supplement my income while building my business. When I said that the brief hours would leave me time to do my other work, she smiled and said that, "You will be very tired when you get home and need to rest." She also mentioned that the first year I would probably catch lots of colds or whatever the children caught until I developed immunity.

I was taken to see the second grade. I was struck by the size of the desks and seats, how little they were and how I towered in height over the children who stood as directed by Sister Pat, to say, "good morning" to me. I thought it was a charming environment, and what could be nicer than to spend time with children.

Sister Paulette said that she had observed me interact with the children in the schoolyard and was confident that I had the potential to be a good teacher. Until then, I would be learning the ropes and observing Sister Pat teach the class. I was asked to come in and observe for some time before making a final decision. 

Providentially, I was to be offered and  take the position that was open the day I happened to call, and thanks to Sister Pat's dedication and patience, over time I became confident enough to be left on my own in the classroom. It felt wonderful. I wanted to stay.

Sister Paulette was correct on all counts. Teaching was exhausting, especially in the beginning, and I would go home and fall asleep. It took a while to learn how to control a class of children who "had been through a great deal". Despite lots of Vitamin C, I can't remember a time when I did not have some type of cold that year. But most important, I was becoming a good teacher.

I retained my broker's license for several years, but I would never be a happy stockbroker.  I always missed teaching and working with children. Despite the inadequate salary,  I believe it was what God had called me to do, and I pursued a teaching career.

I have never missed the business world, and a dozen years later, teaching would still be the most rewarding experience of my life.

Joan Virzera

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