Sunday, January 15, 2012

This Budd’s For You

The return address on the envelope was unfamiliar to me…I didn't know "R Reilly," but as I read the card inside, it told me that Judy Budd had died.  Judy Budd, Principal of P.S. 145 on West 106th Street, Manhattan, NY. Age? Way too young.

I first met Ms. Budd as I stood inside the Felt Forum in New York City along with 2300 other newly licensed teachers or TPDs. A temporary per diem (TPD) license was given to people like me who wanted to teach but hadn't majored in education. If you could pass the rigorous oral and written exams, a TPD enabled one to begin teaching for a year and then get formally licensed. Without a set job, TPDs had to go on the dreaded substitute list. Subs would be called around 5:30 am and had to go to any one of the five boroughs, no matter how far or how tough. The job fair was a way to avoid all that. Twenty-three hundred or not, I was determined to land a job.

Though I hadn’t come up through the regular ranks, I’d spent the past seven years in educational publishing, working with a host of former teachers, developing materials for the K-8 classroom. In my job, I’d met with, observed, and presented to hundreds of teachers. I felt qualified to teach, but after I went through a few sixty-second interviews, it became clear that only those with education degrees were being seriously considered. I could understand the requirement, but I thought it small-minded.

Disappointed, but undeterred, I kept at it until the day was drawing to a close. I realized this principal was my last chance…and still there were eleven people ahead of me. Patiently, I listened as this imposing blond woman nodded her head and said at the close of each brief interview, “Thank you very much. We’ll keep your resume on file and should a position open up, we’ll know how to contact you.” However nice, it was the kiss of death. Finally — my turn. I sat down and began my pitch. I told her I’d be perfect with second or third graders as a first-timer. Just as I sensed the interview was over I quickly blurted out, “Do you believe in numerology?” She smiled and shook her head no. “In numerology, in the ancient Qaballah at the top of the pyramid of life, everyone has a key number. Mine is a master number, an 11. An eleven stands for A Teacher of Teachers. All my life, every job I’ve ever had, people have told me, 'You should be a teacher.’ I know I can do it.” Judy Budd smiled and said her standard, “Thank you very much. We’ll keep your resume on file and should a position open up, we’ll know how to contact you.” But I noticed she put a big asterisk next to my name in her book.

Weeks went by and no job bites; I was getting nervous. Labor Day was closing in and without a job; my name would go on the sub list. Yes, you could refuse to accept if you were fearful about the neighborhood, school, or age group, but your name would drop to the bottom of the list and after three refusals, your name would be dropped completely. If you were dropped from the list, you wouldn’t be called to sub, and without any subbing experience you would lose your TPD, so it didn’t pay to say no.

I decided to make a last ditch effort to visit Judy Budd at her school. I thought perhaps I could talk my way in. I took the three subways necessary to find my way to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I transited the broken beer bottles, spent condoms, and empty wrappers that littered the macadam courtyard. I walked into the sweltering office where two small fans didn’t seem to be doing much good. I asked to see Ms. Budd. “Do you have an appointment?” the secretary asked. “No, but I think she’ll see me,” I said boldly.

I was ushered into Ms. Budd’s office, cluttered with huge piles of papers, folders, records. She smiled and indicated I could sit down. I began to speak in a rush.

“I don’t suppose you’ll remember me, but I met you at the job fair and I just came by to drop off my resume and remind you that I really, really want a job and was hoping you could find some spot for me...”

“I remember you,” she said with a smile on her face. “I have a position.”

I was stunned.

“It’s a bridged class,” she continued, “fifth and sixth graders, and the teacher who was going to take the class just decided today he’d rather stay part-time with us instead of going full time. He’s a math tutor and works twenty hours a week. This class, really the toughest kids on everyone’s list, was going to be Ms. Offen’s. She’s a pro, but computers are her thing and now that we’re finally getting the computer lab that was requested last year, that’s going to be her spot. He agreed to go fulltime but has had second thoughts. I've got to fill this teaching position by 3:30 today or the central office is going to fill it for me.”

I looked at the clock; it was 1:35 pm. I didn’t know what to say. “I was kind of hoping for younger kids, you know second, third graders — even fourth would be okay, but I don’t know if I can handle that age group.”

“I’d make sure you had help. I’d schedule the class for at least one period out of the room daily — that would lighten your load.”

“My math isn’t the greatest. I don’t know if I could handle the math at that level.”

“I’ve got a math lab they can go to twice a week and Mr. Reed will be available to help the weakest students with pull-outs, too.”

“I’d need to talk to my husband…I’d like his advice before I make a decision,” I said hesitantly.

“That’s fine, I can give you till 3:00, but this is my first school as principal and I’d rather fill the spot myself, than take a chance on what the central office will send me.”

“But you’d be taking a chance on me,” I added.

“I know,” she said, again smiling, “but something tells me you can do it, and you’d be MY chance and not theirs.”

My husband was home when I got there. I laid it all out for him. “It’s certainly better than subbing. I’d be teaching, which is what I wanted. And if I can’t do it, I can always just leave, though that would be awful. I don’t want to sub. This is the chance I was looking for — no matter how scared I am, I think I've got to try.”

Our school, but I wish I had a photo of Ms. Budd instead

When the Superintendent of the district came to visit our school, everyone was on high alert. We didn't know which classrooms he’d be observing but we were told to go about our day, as usual. That day my class was working on the newsletter we’d begun publishing. When Ms. Budd and Superintendent Alvarez walked in, the class was busy at work, clustered in controlled chaos.

Diving in four days later, that job turned out to be the most rewarding work experience I’ve ever had. Judy Budd became my mentor and my supporter. She guided me to teaching in a way that gave my students the best of what a raw recruit had to offer. Though I struggled, made mistakes, and often felt I was way in over my head, I taught my 31 hellions, found my way, and made a difference for some of my brood. When I took the job that day, I was pregnant with twins and didn’t know it. Though I ended up having one complication after another, needing one accommodation after another, Judy was always there for me.

“Class? This is Superintendent Alvarez. Say ‘Good morning’ to the Superintendent and Ms. Budd.” They sang out "GOOD MORNING" as we’d rehearsed and I asked beamingly, "While Superintendent Alvarez is visiting, does anyone have any questions for him?”

“Where you Super?” one of the kids asked. A smile broke out on Judy’s face, as I hastily intervened.

“Class, Mr. Alvarez isn’t a super of a building, he’s the Superintendent of our school district.” This explanation was met with blank stares and silence. I could tell they were thinking of the janitorial staff at our school. Desperate I said, “Kids, do you know how I’m your boss, and Ms. Budd is my boss?” Their heads nodded in understanding. “Well, Mr. Alvarez is Ms. Budd’s boss.”

“Ooohhhh…” they exhaled. “You must be pretty tough,” announced Rudy.

Even though I left school in March to go on bed rest, not two years later Judy came to my rescue again. My husband was out of work, we had two small babies and no insurance. There must've been a panic in my voice (in the phone call meant to keep in touch with my former colleagues), because suddenly Judy said, “Come work for me one day a week in an F-Stop position. You’ll get full coverage for all four of you.”

“F-stop position? — What’s that? One day a week? Full medical coverage for one day? You've got to be kidding. How is that possible?”

“It’s possible — com’on, I’ll call the central office and put in the paperwork. I’ll give you your prep first period, that way if the trains are running late, you won’t have a problem.”

Though the pay wasn’t spectacular, the health insurance was. And for another year, Judy Budd saved my butt while one day a week I taught centers to kindergarteners, imaginative writing to second graders, and had third and fourth graders working on pollution raps.

Though years had gone by with only the sporadic Christmas card passing between us, news of Judy’s death (in response to my late Christmas letter sent in February) hit me hard. She'd made an important difference in my life. Though she had no evidence, she believed in me. She'd given me a chance, and in that first-time teaching job, I never felt more valued in my life.

Judy? Wherever you are, this Budd’s for you.

1 comment:

  1. This is a touching story of how one person's caring and willingness to give another "a chance" in life can make all the difference in the course of life itself for the receiver. We never know when we will have that effect on someone by one small gesture of kindness!