Please welcome our next guest blogger, Christine Rubino:
The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence reads:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
To me, the Right to Life means I should not be deprived of my life for the benefit of another person or group of people.
To me, the Right to Liberty means that my thinking be free from interference from the forces of unfreedom.
To me, the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness means that I have a right to live for myself and choose what makes up my personal, private, and individual happiness, just as long as I respect the same right in others.
Today, I realize that these three things were taken from me. I watched them burn, smolder into ash and blow away right in front of my eyes. For the record, I did not go down without a good fight.
Some things in life you are born with. I was lucky to be on the line, which gave me a good sense of humor, fortitude, and the ability to relate to children. I consider the last gift to be paramount to my whole being.
I grew up in the early 1970’s in a predominately Italian neighborhood. It is now known as Cobble Hill. Before it was invaded by hipsters and Midwestern transplants, we just called it “”South Brooklyn”. I lived directly across from the Red Hook projects and one block off of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. My days were filled with playing outside and keeping my eyes on my younger cousins. I loved this job and took great pride in it. It was then that I learned that I was a natural teacher. This has formed a major part of my identity ever since.
My parents moved us out to Marine Park by 1984, which seemed like the opposite end of the planet to a 12-year-old like me. One day, a new family moved across the street from us. They had 4 children ages 7,4,2, and 1. The mother of this family asked me one day if I knew anyone who could babysit her children. Being the boisterous child I was, I immediately told her it was her lucky day because she was looking at her new babysitter. Looking after her children made me happy and gave me purpose. They are grown now and help take care of my own kids. As time went on, they became my second family. There is a trust, an unspoken bond, between us. It is a bond that was forged all of those years ago when they were little ones in my care.
Babysitting was my sole means of income throughout college. I watched many people’s children around my neighborhood. When it came time for me to decide upon a college major, it was inevitable that I chose Childhood Education. My parents were proud. They said it was a fabulous union job, something I could make into a career. I graduated from Kingsborough Community College with an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood, then transferred to Brooklyn College where I got a B.S. in Elementary Education. I continued at Brooklyn College until I received my Master’s in Math Education.
In 1996, at the ripe old age of 24, I began teaching full-time at P.S.203 which is in a section of Brooklyn called Old Mill Basin. Once there, I held many different jobs and developed into a jack-of-all-trades. I got along with every child that crossed my path, just like I did during my babysitting career.
My days as a teacher were filled with:
1) The constant chatter of children, to which I added constant chatter of my own.
2) Paperwork, paperwork and paperwork.
3) Planning, organizing, and implementing lessons
4) Meeting deadlines
5) Adhering to a minute by minute schedule, including planned bathroom breaks.
6) Creating and grading homework and projects.
7) Writing notes and making phone calls home.
8) Making sure that I was always prepared and that my students were learning.
9) Planning and overseeing trips that I always managed to creatively connect to even the most boring topics.
10) Making copies
Within this list are things that I loved and things that I did not love so much. It was all worth it because it allowed me to be around children; to let my natural vocation as a teacher flourish.
Fourteen years of my life I put in that school before I was terminated at the ripe old age of 38 in June 2011.
Whenever I speak to colleagues, I find that I do a ton of reminiscing. Most of my sentences start with “when, I was in the classroom…” or “when I was a teacher…”. When that happens, my friends say “you will always be a teacher”. Their words make me pick myself up and brush the eraser dust off.
I am still a teacher when I listen to my own children chatter and laugh.
I am still a teacher when my children come home from school and I help them with homework, projects and studying.
I am still a teacher when my friends send their children to me so that I can help them with their tricky math problems.
I am still a teacher when I am talking to my own friends, neighbors, and complete strangers. I am asking a million questions and answering all of theirs.
I am still a teacher when I see a sign misspelled or a grammatical error in a book. I feel a need to get out a red pencil and start circling, highlighting and commenting. I even want to reach for the post-it notes.
I am still a teacher when I am trying to cheer a friend up, requiring me to dig deep into my humor arsenal to get a smile or a laugh.
I am still a teacher when I have to shuttle my children and their friends to and from school and all of their other activities.
I am still a teacher when I realize that every single second of the day has to be spent productively and accounted for. Yes, even bathroom breaks are still planned.
Despite the Department of Education’s efforts to deprive me of my life, liberty and happiness, they have not deprived me of my identity as a teacher.
That does not mean that my life has not been drastically changed. It has changed in ways that I could never have imagined. I was living decently when I was employed, raising my children and trying to keep my head above water like every other working person. Instead of a ”rags to riches”, my life since being terminated has been a ”rags to tattered threads” tale. It is not even remotely close to the life I led when I was gainfully employed in a “good” union job
My liberty has been buried. Yes, I am free to think but I always have this little pitchforked guy on my shoulder. He is constantly poking me. He is forcing me to self-edit EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT, WORD AND ACTION. Self-editing is essential in life but not to the extent of which I am speaking. That one moment years ago when the pitchforked man was not around constantly comes back to haunt me. People continue to judge me, my character and my abilities as a teacher based upon a few sentences I wrote years ago, sentences that I regretted and erased quickly after they were written.
As far as my happiness goes, I have been forced to pursue it even more. I have on the best and most expensive running sneakers. I am running as fast as I can. Yet, no matter how fast I run, I just cannot grab the baton from my partner’s hand. I can see it shining but I just cannot feel it. But, one day, I hope to have hold of it again.
So, despite the fact that I have been deprived of my life, liberty and happiness, I have not been deprived of my identity. YOU CAN TAKE THE GIRL OUT OF TEACHING, BUT YOU CANNOT TAKE THE TEACHING OUT OF THE GIRL.