I see Meredith every Thursday when I come into school. She is a petite, fragile girl with dirty blonde hair and a supremely casual wardrobe. We're in a class together that we're both very unhappy with, and moreover, we're both very vocal about our dissatisfaction.
"It would be nice if the teacher actually taught," Meredith says. "This is my second semester in this program and I've yet to attend a class in which the teacher has truly inspired me, educated me...enlightened me."
And in truth, I completely agree with Meredith. Out of the four teachers I have this semester, all four are nice, good, caring people, but none of them know how to properly teach. One particular teacher has gone a whole two-hour lecture without so much as opening her mouth. Sometimes, the classes turn into episodes of Oprah where the students spends the duration of the session expressing their frustrations with their field practice. But no new material is covered.
"This is a waste of time," says Meredith. "If the school wasn't so particular about attendance, there would be no chance I would ever come.
"And you know what?" she added. "I probably wouldn't miss anything any way.
A week later, we have a discussion in that particular class led by the instructor who allows her students to venture on wild tangents. We are having an open dialogue, instigated by the professor, trying to figure out why we haven't been covering enough new ground in the course outline. "It could be," the teacher posits, "that I spend so much time listening to the class talk. And I don't interrupt because I'm worried that I won't have enough material to fill the total time allotment of the class."
I look at Meredith and she expresses an unrestrained look of disbelief. Shouldn't a teacher always prepare her curriculum, she seems to say as she looks at me with furrowed eyebrows? And if not, just what the hell are we paying for?
Sarah is a friend of mine who also encouraged me to go to NYU's School of Social Work. She told me I would make a great social worker because I love to talk to strangers. Sarah also attended the Ehrenkranz School of Social Work, graduated with an MSW, took a job as a social worker, and has been employed ever since in a local hospital. But since a few weeks back, I have been regularly complaining to her about the program and surprisingly, she has been empathatic.
"I wake up to go to work sometimes and I can't help but think, My God, what career path did I invest in?" Sarah tells me her job is full of beaurocratic minutia and that she fills out a form for every single thing she does. "The social work industry isn't about helping people. It's about paper work."
I ask her what happened to her sunshiny idealism, why the sudden change of heart? I remind her about how I told her about my decision to enroll in social work school and how supportive she was of my altruistic path.
"If you were passionate about doing this, I wasn't going to discourage you," Sarah says. "But now that you're in the thick of it, and you understand the industry, I won't lie to you. Social workers are the bottom of the ladder.
"I read this editorial a few weeks back," she continues, "about a teacher's salary and the injustice involved. While I do feel bad for the underpaid teachers, I have yet read anything, anywhere truly advocating for a reform in the social work industry. There are fundamental problems with the system. As paranoid as that sounds, it couldn't be truer."
Sarah continues in telling me that not since graduate school has she encountered a group of people as incompetent as her co-workers. "You think your students are frustrating? Wait until the real world."
After class, a week later, I discuss the quality of the instructors and my disappointment with a member of the administration. "We take the evaluations that you fill out at the end of every semester very seriously," the administrator says.
I tell her that in my first semester I had a teacher who almost literally could not speak English. And that teacher had tenure. "She is an exception," the administrator stammers. "Truthfully, I'm not sure how that happened."
I then inform her of the general unhappiness in the school, how a large majority of my collegues are truly disgruntled with the quality of the program. I suggest that when we complain about teachers and then are told to be careful about our selection when registering the following semester, instead we should simply have a better pool to choose from. Thereafter, I express disappointment with the school’s lack of response; I have called the school on multiple occasions and have heard back from no one. Sadly, NYU’s most outstanding purported characteristic was it’s nurturing atmosphere, while, in reality, it’s cold, temperamental nature.
Great. Just under $90,000 for a piece of paper displaying a self-taught education.
“Tell me this, Arye,” the administrator asks, “do you really want to even be here?”
Before I answer, I think about the humane intentions I had before school started and the hopes I had for a seemingly rewarding career. Just as I consider the preconceived notions I had of this career choice, I think of answering “yes.” But then I hesitate and reflect on all that I’ve been through in the past few months, the exhaustion, the depressing mornings, the harsh reality of handling the parts of society swept under the carpet, and then I want to answer “no.”
And after a few brief moments of stalling, the best answer I can come up with is, “Umm…I’m not really sure.”