Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Road Unknown

I like to know where I am going before I start the car. If I've never visited a certain place, I like to have clear directions, landmarks included. I need some semblance of control, otherwise my heart races, my palms get sweaty, and I am a big grump to drive with. My life is much like that as well. I like to know where I am going before I start the car. Right now, I have only a vague idea of where I am going, and very few landmarks to help me get there. I need to have my Professional Certification, a Washington State teacher requirement, within the next three years. I've not started on the road yet because, frankly, I don't know where to go. The wisest route travels across the city of Master's Degree. In that route I would also get the Professional Certificate. However, the city of Master's Degree is wrought with potential detours. I could go the Master's in English freeway, which gives me a pleasant trip, and is much more enjoyable than other options. I could go Master's in Education highway, except it seems to me like it is not filled with many sights. I suppose I could go the Master's in Administration route which winds through the city, and is quite a bit more complicated. One needs to be a bit more sure of their skills. I've only been driving this teacher vehicle for two years.Ultimately, I am just not enthused about being rushed. I want to take my time navigating this city. I feel quite incapable of making such a huge decision so early in my career.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Things they forgot to teach me in college

Thousands of young men and women across our country are entering Teacher Certification programs with auspicious enthusiasm. They are the future of our profession, the needed infusion of youth, or the next great education trendsetter--a goal that would make them far better of financially.
However, I fear that these men and women are being slightly misguided by the universities they attend. I am currently a second year Literature teacher at a large high school in Washington. I want to share some of the lessons learned after receiving my certificate. Here are the first fifteen. There is no pattern to them, just thoughts.

1. You will probably be in a modular, a converted storage closet, or a roaming classroom. Buy a nice pair of walking shoes, an overcoat and umbrella, and push cart--the one they give you will be broke.
2. The textbooks are in the tenured teachers' rooms. Don't expect to have a full set. Plan on a Kinko's express card--your school's copy machine will be broke.
3. The room you will be inheriting will already have been raided by your colleagues. They support you a ton through the year, so let them have it.
4. Your janitor is your best friend; besides the other new teachers, he is the only person around at 5 p.m.
5. If you are not a schmoozer, learn how to do it well. Don't be obvious, your colleagues hate that, but appreciate the right people and you will be well taken care of. The prinicpal is a secondary target. If you want real support, go to the principal's secretary and start schmoozing.
6. Reply to parents who take the time to contact you. An angry or uninformed parent is teacher hell.
7. If you're nervous, the little sharks know it. Like Paul and Randy always say to the "Idol" contestants, Own it!
8. If you teach high school, be visible in the hall, at games, concerts, and dances. You want the students to believe you care. Supporting their activities shows you do. (But you don't have to go to every single one)
9. Don't support individual fundraising attempts. Once you give cash to one student, you will be expected to support all of them. Go directly to the Advisor or Coach.
10. Don't join a clique. Yes, it is important that you have close friends or confidants in your building, but a school staff can easily fall into a very teenage like atmosphere.
11. Stay up on pop culture. It allows you to connect with the student and helps you avoid those emabarrassing moments when a student refers to something that you are unaware of, and it is not something that should be referred to in school.
12. You don't have to be friends with your students. No doubt teaching is pleasant when you and your students get along, but that can't be your need.
13. Know your contract. Know your collective bargaining agreement.
14. Admit mistakes. We expect our students to admit when they are wrong; they should receive the same from us. (Yes, you will make mistakes; and sometimes, your lessons will be terrible. It's okay.)
15. Make rules and stick to them. It is much easier to explain the rule and purpose at the start.

Finally, I'd like to say that teaching has to be a type of calling. Meaning that you have to want to do it. There will be days that you don't want to, but in general, good teachers love what they do.