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Why I Teach Public School

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AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE HIGH school where I now teach, the doors are always open. On the cold city days of January, teachers walk through the foyer, collars up, hats on, braced. Students and other young people who do not attend the school stand, short-jacketed, smoking cigarettes and pot, wearing no gloves, braced against a stiffer wind. Once through the third set of open doors, teachers no longer exhale mist, but we still leave our coats buttoned. The race is on to initial the register. Eight-fifteen a.m. is marked by a bell. Yesterday, it had been synchronized with our watches, but today it comes four minutes earlier.

The school I used to teach in has no main entrance. The general administration building is warm. A fountain in the middle of the polished slate floor reminds one of the Alhambra in Spain. Most of the young men there file in to breakfast from separate dormitories scattered about the manicured campus. No one crosses the center lawn; it's forbidden by tradition. The breakfast is a solid one. Everyone wears a tie. The immaculate classroom building shuts out the wind with thick doors at the entrance and again at the beginning of the hallways. Taking attendance is not necessary; everyone knows each other, and everyone is there.

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