NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 121

essay

The First Year Teacher

For my nephew , Levi .
By Eva Freeman
118
In the morning , I turn my face into the sunshine pouring down Empire Boulevard . It is almost blinding , the sun hanging low like a floodlight .
The buildings are shadow and gold . A man crosses the street , a one-dimensional stick figure on paper , and a bus comes out of the blinding light , all metal and sound . Then the moment is gone , the street is crossed , and the world returns to color . There are residents waiting for the bus , ordinary people in their ordinary work clothes . My morning coffee is in hand purchased only a few blocks north in a bodega , Bachata at 7am , children in their uniforms and the occasional man or woman , already buying a brown paper covered can .
It ’ s in there at the store handing over my dollar beneath a row of cheap key chains that I suppose I enter the neighborhood . I need to say hello , say good morning , to see and be seen . All I know for the moment is courtesy and the shopkeeper , and I trade in it tentatively . We have both been trained . We say the words . We nod and something like affinity builds . I seem to need this every day without fail .
The front of the school displays its every transition , Middle School of Arts and Sciences , now Achievement First , now New Heights Middle School , as though our collective anxiety over education , every futile reform has been splashed across its façade . The only relic worth noticing is a piece of sculpture out front , a true piece of art , sandwiched just like the school
between the International Food Mart and the housing projects . The inside of the building is as compelling as a jail . Occasionally a cockroach darts across the linoleum floor , and a foot comes down with a satisfying crunch . There is neon lighting overhead and no air conditioning in the building . No matter how I dress , I find myself sweaty and damp by the end of the day . I am moving , always moving . Down hallways , up stairs , touching children . Where are you going ? Why are you late ? My fingertips gently prodding . They are hot to my touch , their t-shirts fibrous with sweat . They nod , yes , yes , miss , and I get the sense that I have interrupted them from some intense middle school drama .