How we ended up here

Our move to New York has one overarching theme: it was not just coincidence.

I’ve decided it’s about time to tell the story of how we ended up moving to New York, which is, in a way, an ongoing story, since we don’t necessarily feel like all the loose ends are tied up yet. But I’ve been thinking about it recently, and it’s amazing how well everything worked out. We were incredibly lucky and blessed to end up here the way we did, and I don’t believe that everything that happened was just a coincidence—I think Heavenly Father was looking out for us.

Fiona hangs out in a box while we pack up our apartment in Washington, D.C.
Fiona hangs out in a box while we pack up our apartment in Washington, D.C.

It all started in 2006, when I moved to Washington, D.C., and started working at Bladensburg High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland—not one of the better school systems in the country. At the time, one of the brag points on the county’s website was “America’s 17th largest school system!” Which, in my opinion, is nothing to brag about. Sure enough, I soon discovered that Bladensburg was… not very awesome. My principal would say over the intercom each morning, “Welcome to Bladensburg High School, the very best high school in the universe,” which just seemed like a cruel joke, since it wasn’t even the best high school on the block.

Anyway, every December for several years, I decided I wasn’t coming back the next year, because I couldn’t stand the negativity and ineptness of the majority of adults I worked with. And every year, out of a sense of duty, I came back. But I never took the classes I needed to renew my teaching certificate, so in 2011 I forced myself out of teaching in Maryland. I knew that not having a certificate would likely be the only way I would extricate myself.

Meanwhile, Dustin, who had resigned from his job working with The United States Conference of Mayors and Development Initiatives, Inc., in January 2011, had found a temporary, six-month position at Transportation for America. There was a chance that the position would be extended when it ended in October, but no guarantee, and although he was interested in the work, he didn’t enjoy his office environment. So he was up for a change.

I had completed an application to teach for the New York City Department of Education in the spring, and in June, I got a call from an assistant principal in The Bronx. She asked me to come up to visit the school and have an interview, so I did. It was pretty exciting for me to go to The City all by myself and find my way around. The teachers and students I talked to at this school seemed great. The AP, Liz, talked my ear off. I had no idea what she was getting at most of the time. When she wasn’t talking, she stared at me silently for several seconds after I finished answering her question, then finally gave a quick nod and a “hm.” I managed to get out with barely enough time to get back to Penn Station in time for my train.

They might have offered me a job there had I completed the thing Liz asked me to do—as I recall, it was planning a unit of some sort—but I decided it just wasn’t the place for me. So I emailed her and told her I wasn’t interested. Dustin thought I was crazy, but I told him I didn’t want to live in The Bronx, and Inwood was too far away, and that school was going to suck so much time and energy out of me that I didn’t think I could do it. So we still had no plan.

A few weeks later got another call, this time from a principal in Brooklyn. He asked if I wanted to come teach a demo lesson in a few days, so I did—another solo trek up to New York, and this time I found my way around Brooklyn all by myself. The lesson, which is still one of my favorites, went quite well, as did the interview afterwards. A day or so later, the principal called back and offered me the job, which I accepted fairly quickly, as I recall.

Then some problems arose. It turned out there was a hiring freeze on social-studies teachers, but the principal had assumed he could hire me as an ESL teacher, since I also had that certification from Texas. Unfortunately, my ESL certificate didn’t transfer to New York because I had had it for less than three years. So the options were apply for an exception (which they did, but it was denied) or hire me per-session, meaning I wouldn’t officially be a teacher and would be paid by the hour, though I would still earn the same amount of money as I would normally. I was pretty much prepared to do that, even though it didn’t sound like the most attractive option. Then one day, out of the blue, they lifted the hiring freeze for social-studies teachers. Why, I will never know, since there is certainly no shortage of us out there. In any case, the principal called and said they were doing the paperwork that day to make sure they did it before the people in charge changed their minds.

About a week before school started, we came to Brooklyn and stayed in an empty apartment in Fort Greene for two nights while we looked for a place of our own. It was not a pleasant experience. I stayed up late recording places I found on Trulia, only to discover that Trulia is a completely worthless website because everything is out of date. So we arrived in Brooklyn with no useful information. We went to an apartment broker, who took us around to four different places, three of which were not particularly awesome. But one of them was nice on the inside. I hated the neighborhood, which was loud and hot and ugly, without a tree in sight. We went for it anyway, because we didn’t have much of a choice. I cried when we signed the lease, which I think might have concerned our landlady, who was sitting right there in front of me. I blame the medication I was taking, which I quit two days later. I felt much, much better after that.

I am amazed at how well things came together for us. Our apartment is not where we want to spend the rest of our lives, but we really like it here. It’s cozy and pleasant and, most of the time, pretty clean. And I’m very fortunate to be working at a school that I actually like. The staff is a pleasure to work with. Everyone is competent, which is a big change from my last school. And the majority are much better than just competent, which is really a breath of fresh air.

In some ways, our life is not exactly what we want it to be. We are hoping to buy a house soon so we’ll have a little more space, a rental income, and a garden. Dustin would like to have a full-time job in his field, and I would like to spend more time at home working on projects. But even though we are looking forward to some changes, the reality is that our life is exactly how we want it to be. We have a safe, comfortable home; we have time to spend together reading or playing or cooking or exploring; we are able to support ourselves; we have each other. And I know that our lives have been directed to get us to this point.

This article appeared on pages 2–3 of Issue 10 | April 2013.

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