After Christmas it was hard to return to normality and I had to keep reminding myself that things weren’t ‘normal’. I was still in New York, teaching some incredible kids; I lived in what I still saw as a luxury apartment in Jackson Heights, and surrounded by some of the most generous people I’d ever met before or since.
In Britain, Teacher-training Days were usually held in class-rooms, school halls or an occasional college annex. In New York, a Social Studies Seminar was held in the Hilton Hotel, and I couldn’t believe my luck when I was given a ticket to Philadelphia for a Fulbright Conference, along with a reservation at the Franklin Plaza Hotel.
There are far grander hotels in this world but until then I’d seen none of them - and never in the capacity of a teacher ‘enjoying’ professional development.
I waded through carpets that deadened all sound, made damn sure I used the pool and sauna facilities, enjoyed a fine meal and an even bigger breakfast the following day, contemplated the squash courts until better sense prevailed…and at last made my way to the William Green Federal Building via a rudimentary hand made map.
I knew I was in a special place when I hit a street with three shops side by side:
The Snow White Ice Cream Parlour,
Dr Pleasure’s Love Shop
And a Clerical Regalia Shop (whose name I can’t now remember but which didn’t include Pleasure or Ice Cream.)
But the Conference itself was a little sad. The Fulbright organisers seemed depressed, openly wondering whether Reagan would continue the programme. What depressed me most however were the exchange teachers present – Germans, French and Brits. Most of them seemed to be moaning about one aspect or another of American life instead of thanking God for one of the great life-changing experiences.
I felt ashamed but depression lifted after one or two over priced beers in the Franklin Plaza Hotel.