Archetypes and Prototypes

21 September 2008

I am part "Dear Abby" with my new job. One of the programs I support involves various teacher leaders around the state---nearly all of them novices with this role. The satisfaction and fulfillment that has come from mentorship in the past has been renewed in guiding these newbie staff developers. That being said, this is the first time I've served in such a role with those who are working with adults, rather than students. This is a whole different animal.

There are certain archetypes of teachers out there. Not every teacher will fall under a label, and I am not going to catalog them all. But here are the three most common ones that my charges are asking about:
  • Coach First, Teacher Second: There is no doubt that athletic coaches have an incredible amount of commitment to their student athletes. A considerable amount of time is spent outside the school day---and in addition to the regular sports season---to guide and develop skills. A few coaches, however, make this their primary reason for being employed by the school and things that are classroom related take such a backseat that they make no allowances for collaborating with peers. Is there a solution? Yes and no. First of all, I remind the teachers I support that it is not their responsibility to set expectations: that task belongs to the administrator. Suggest the occasional half-day of release time to collaborate with others during the sports season and then move to other mutually agreed upon meeting times. I make it clear to my noobs that they do have a responsibility to put together some powerful professional development. If they can show the coach that the collaborative time is meaningful, they won't have to beg anymore.
  • Superstar Teacher: Superstar teacher is an administrator's dream. This teacher has a great system in the classroom. He's loved by kids and parents, gets results---and does it all by himself. There is no arrogance associated with his performance, just professional satisfaction. So, how do you get these kinds of teachers to share their knowledge with others? My first recommendation is bribery. These are teachers who are self-directed in their professional learning. They will want a subscription to a website, the latest ASCD book, or sub coverage to attend a workshop. Whatever you offer must be coupled with some honest flattery. Tell them you've noticed certain lessons they've designed or student projects they've guided. Would they mind sharing a couple of ideas with the new teacher in the department? Providing some advice?
  • Dead Wood: Dead Wood likes her classroom door closed. She's been teaching for 20 years, and poorly at that, and isn't much interested in whatever staff development you're offering. Job security is hers as her efforts aren't quite poor enough that any administrator will jump through the necessary hoops to get her out of the classroom. Perhaps you can at least bring her to the table with other teachers to talk about student learning? You might. Start small. Ask her for help, even if you don't need it. Pretend you're looking for a lesson a particular topic or ask for a copy of a lab you know she has. Just get your foot in the door and honor the positive things that she does have to offer. Don't push collaboration for a bit and focus on building her self-image of someone who is a resource. Later, after you have the trust and relationship built, invite her to join your group.
In all cases, it really is about taking the time to build a positive working relationship with one's peers. My advice may appear manipulative, but they are only suggestions for getting things kicked off. I always tell the staff developers that I trust their professional judgment. They know their teachers far better than I and will have to make the final determination. These staff developers are attempting to be prototypes---or role models---for their peers in terms of what implementation of best practices looks like. In order to be effective, though, they will need to learn how to address the archetypes in their buildings.

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Passing the Torch

08 August 2008

With the Summer Olympics kicking off, as well as another school year, it seems like a good time to talk about Passing the Torch. I have been thinking about this while reading various blogs by new to the profession teachers. I wish I had starred the one post where a teacher talked about how her first classroom was starting to feel real and that she just wanted to close the door and make snow angels on the carpet. (If anyone knows the post I'm talking about, I'd love to link to it.)

Do you remember that feeling? I do. Even the ugliest room in the school would have looked sparkly in my eyes. My classroom. Oh, how wondrous that seemed.

I also remember the learning curve---how each person at central office or support staff at school would give new directions and paperwork, as if they were the only ones doing so. It was overwhelming at times. Reading Not Quite Grown Up's posts about getting settled in her first job remind me of all those things. This is also true for experienced teachers who are changing schools and/or grade levels. There is lots of learning that has to occur when the kids aren't around.

I feel like I've been on my own "Farewell Tour" this week, ostensibly to celebrate my new job, but in some ways, to say "Goodbye." I will still be in the area---I'm not moving---but time will be very limited. Tuesday evening, I had martinis with some girlfriends. Wednesday, I had lunch with a teacher I mentored and with whom I have enjoyed working over the last few years. He is ready to take on the full meal deal of standards-based grading and is also very interested in pursuing the cell phones in the classroom ideas and some other things I was thinking about. I feel like my teaching will live on, in a sense. I like that.

Today, I'm headed out for a coffee date with some elementary teachers I worked with this past spring. I loved that school and am still sad about not getting to go back (I fell victim to budget cuts in that district), but I think it means that my tenure in elementary schools isn't done. At some point in my career, I am going to have to go back and fully scratch that itch.

It is common around the edusphere to provide bits of wisdom to new teachers as the school year begins. It is the perfect time for all of that "advice" that was contained within June's graduation speeches, but no one really remembers now. What is the very best thing we can say to one another to send out a message of support to our peers? If you were to Pass the Torch to another teacher, what would you use to stoke the fire?

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We Can Rebuild Him (or Her)

06 December 2007

Edutopia is a wonderful (and free!) magazine published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation. I highly recommend signing up for a subscription (or perusing it on-line). This month's issue has a cover story on Building a Better Teacher. It does not include nifty sound effects from the $6M man.

As a teacher leader and someone who has an interest in nurturing those who are new to the profession, the Edutopia article caught my eye:

The crisis confronting teacher education is that, across the country, Fenwick's experience is the exception and Zipper's is the rule. Though there are some leading lights, far too many of America's 1,200-plus schools of education are mired in methods that isolate education from the arts and sciences, segregate the theory and practice of teaching, and provide insufficient time and support for future teachers to learn to work in real classrooms. Far too many universities, for their part, run education programs on the cheap.

The consequences are painfully clear: Half of all new educators abandon the profession within five years, costing schools an estimated $2.6 billion annually and leaving children in the neediest areas with the highest number of inexperienced teachers.

The delinquency in teacher preparation is nothing new, of course -- but it's growing more dire as we ask teachers to perform increasingly challenging tasks: to teach more complex skills to high and measurable standards, and to ensure that every child in an incredibly diverse generation learns these skills equally well. The three R's are not enough anymore.

I have often lamented my own prep program. It was woefully inadequate for the career I have managed to build. For the first few years, I was angry about that. How could the university have promoted their curriculum of study as one that was meaningful? As I've aged in this career, I've come to realize that it was unreasonable for me to assume that any program would have been able to properly prepare all of the students to be teachers in any and every situation; however, I still think that there are ways to do it better.

Edutopia thinks so, too, and highlights 10 teacher prep programs around the country who are helping to find answers to the teacher prep question. This is another article definitely worth your time and headspace.

Any other ideas out there about how to prepare others for the rigors of a career in education?

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The Apologies That Come With Hindsight

30 November 2007

At the end of my first year of teaching, I wanted to seek out all of my junior high teachers and apologize to them. Personally, I think I was a pretty good kid---I never got in trouble for anything---and yet, I was an adolescent. I must have not been all that different from any other 7th or 8th grader. Maybe I never had detention or was sent to the office, but I'm sure I must have asked the teacher to repeat the directions (after she'd already said them three times), or been lazy with an assignment, or rolled my eyes after some comment. Ouch. I can't claim that my goal was to irritate anyone in particular, but that doesn't mean I didn't. I'd seen plenty of instances of that during my first year on the other side of the desk.

And now?

Well, I realize that most people teaching junior high like that age of kid (a stage of life where most of the time the kids don't like themselves...and you don't like them, either). They understand the quirks, joys, and frustrations of working with young adolescents and tend to have a great sense of humor about things. And just as I don't doubt that I was a fairly average junior high kid, I also know that means I didn't give these teachers anything they weren't prepared to handle.

Instead, I sometimes wish these days I could find those first junior high students I had and apologize to them for not being a better teacher. I don't know that I will ever be a master of classroom teaching, but I know I am much more skillful and knowledgeable now. Those poor kids I had 17 years ago. I wonder if I really taught them anything at all. I wish I could tell them that I don't suck quite so much anymore. The classroom is such an odd thing---it is a moment frozen in time. I remember the kids in their 15 year old form, just as they remember me at whatever age I am at the time. We don't age and change within those memories over the years. If I was a bad teacher, then that is how I'm remembered---they don't know the progress I've made over time.

I know my wish won't come true, but perhaps that's okay. Maybe I can make amends to those kids of yore in my career by being the best I can for the kids I have now. I might not be able to change the past, but I am very much in control of shaping the future for a few hundred teens this year. I hope that in another 20 years, I won't be looking back at them with the same kind of hindsight that inspires apologies. I hope we all have a reason to smile and cheer.

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The Next Biology Teacher

17 November 2007

You might remember me mentioning that I had an observer a few days ago. A teacher-to-be was out watching some classrooms as part of her very first course in education. She got bounced around among the biology teachers. Because I was busy working with kids, I didn't have a lot of time to chat with her, although I wanted to. There are few things more fun than working with newbies. I did, however, find time to share my syllabus...talk a bit about grading...a few things I've learned about working with teens...and so on.

She sent me a note afterwards:

"I found it a valuable experience and learned a lot about your teaching style and the varying student levels that you work with on a daily basis. All of this is important information I will carry with me as I continue my pursuit for my degree. I am also grateful for the extra time you took to explain to me some of your education philosophy, classroom management, and experiences you've had as a successful and influential teacher. There is an evaluation form that is supposed to be filled out about me that is typically done by an 'assigned' teacher, though none of you in particular were assigned as my lead observation classroom. I did feel I had some of the most valuable and integrated conversations with you, and was wondering if you wouldn't mind taking just a few minutes to fill it out for me."

Aw.

I told her I'd be delighted. I felt it a compliment that in our short chats that she felt like we made a bit of a connection. My hope is simply that by planting a few ideas about working with teens and standards-based grading, that she can start from a better informed place than I was afforded. It would be interesting to see how she turns out in a couple of years.

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Future Goals

14 November 2007

When I was a newly minted educator and out for my first interview, the principal asked me a question: What are your goals for your students? My naive answer was something to the effect that kids should be able to do enough math to balance a checkbook and fill out their income tax...know enough English to fill out a job application...and understand how to follow a set of directions.

I still think those are necessary skills, but umpteen years on, my answer to this question would be different.

As I look at my students now, I expect more evidence of thinking. I'm not content to settle for the basics anymore. I need them to synthesize pieces of information into a logical conclusion. I want them to be able to evaluate---compare and contrast in order to make judgments and choices. I hope that students will be able to self-assess their understanding and adjust their learning accordingly. Long after kids leave my classroom, they will still be buying cars, weighing options for medical treatments, becoming parents---and so much more. Can I hone their thinking skills enough to do that?

I was pondering this today as I had an observer in my class. She is on her way to becoming a teacher---at the very beginning of the journey. We didn't have a lot of time to talk, but while my kids tested today, we chatted a bit about why I'd picked the items I had. I told her that I could truly care less if kids know about vacuoles. I can't think of a single adult who needs this knowledge on a daily basis (yes, I know that there are many in the biology field who might). But understanding how to compare and contrast? That, I care about. The context for that was biological on the test, but it was the thinking kids were showing me that was most valuable. She seemed to understand that. Maybe she'll ponder that some more. Maybe in a couple of years when she is sitting in her first interview and is asked about goals for students, she can be a bit more thoughtful than I was.

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Throw Off the Crutches and Walk

10 September 2007

As teachers move through various career stages, do they also vary the number of rules and procedures instituted in their classrooms?

I recently heard a teacher spend five minutes talking to students about her expectations for chewing gum: when you can ask for some, what kind there should be (not too smelly), where you should stand if you want to ask for a piece...and so on. I thought this was slightly excessive, until I remembered that when I was about her age (career-wise) I had a kerjillion rules, too.

When I started my career, I had a nice tidy set of rules---maybe 10 in total. And then when I began to learn all of the difficult lessons The First Year of Teaching tossed my direction, I somehow channeled that into legislating my classroom. I had all manner of rules and procedures, although I don't think I went quite so far as devising a whole set of chewing gum expectations.

There were two problems with my response. One: it's too many damned rules. Good teachers know that you shouldn't make any rule that you're unwilling to enforce every time it's broken. I was freakin' exhausted trying to do this when there were so many rules. The second issue with having a legal code style syllabus is that the kids have six different sets to remember. Classroom management feels more like a "gotcha" system because each teacher wants something different.

And now...in my seasoned veteranhood? Hey, there's a student handbook with expectations and a discipline code. I don't repeat anything in there on my syllabus. Frankly, there's not much left for me to write about. It's a weight lifted from everyone's shoulders. I am a firm believer in teaching and reinforcing procedures: where to turn in assignments, how to get make-up work from absences, and so on. These are not so much disciplinary in nature as just helping everyone function within the general culture of the classroom.

I know it's not my place to say anything to the chewing gum rule-maker. I see my younger teacher self in her rules. I know that they feel like a security blanket for now; but I also look forward to seeing her throwing off those crutches and walking.

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The Union Goon

08 June 2007

Some of us here marvel at The-Thing-That-Is-The-Union. I hear more and more of my colleagues tempted to just be "fees payers," as they believe that The Union does not truly represent what they value...and yet in "leaving" its official membership, it only gives a stronger voice to the minority in the district. A minority which could never be satisfied. So, you either stay and try to effect change from within, or you just keep quiet, or you do like me and make a statement with your fees. I have enough on my plate trying to change things for kids from the inner workings of the district. I don't have the energy or capacity to deal with Union Goons, too.

This is a year where the entire contract is up for negotiations. I know this and yet I was caught completely off-guard when one of the Goons showed up at my desk on Tuesday afternoon.

"Hi! I'm Tracy, and I'm from The Union."

I eyed Tracy suspiciously. I was prepared for a science kit onslaught.

She continued. "I'm supposed to work with you and two of the principals on rewriting the Mentor Program portion of the contract."

Say what?

Participation for beginning teachers (a/k/a "noobs") is part of the contract and there are some parameters around the selection of mentors. But frankly, it's not something that would seem contentious. In a year of school closures, concerns about RIFs in coming years, program changes, etc...we're going to focus on noobs as part of the contract reopener? Whose idiotic idea was it to make this a big fish to fry?

I redirected her and handed her off to the person who will be supporting that group (if we have any) in the fall. After all, that person will have to live with whatever is negotiated. Later, after I'd had some time to recover, I got kinda indignant about the whole thing. Is it assumed that I must participate in this folly? What made Miss Tracy think I would be on the side of The Union? Is there no such thing as courtesy in giving me a "heads up" about this or perhaps making something invitational? The assumption seemed to be that I would drop to my knees in rapture over the idea. Her leadership must know better than that. I did have thoughts about meeting with Tracy and the admins and just telling the admins there and then that whatever they wanted, I would agree should go into the revision. Maybe I should contact her and tell her I've changed my mind and would love to work with her on this.

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Pleased to Meetcha...I'm the Teacher

22 May 2007

Before I begin, does anyone have a clue where I can download an mp3 of "I'm the Teacher" by Ian Hunter? I'm dyin' for it.

But back to our originally scheduled blog post...

The theme for the afternoon seems to have been "Damn, I know a lot of people." The Curriculum Road Show pulled into the last junior high on our district tour today. The goal was to share the changes to the instructional model for next year (they're getting an instructional coach, too...just not me). On the way in there's one of the teachers who helped with Summer Seminar last year and then a variety of others I have come to know over the last 11 years in the district.

I can't believe I've been here long enough not to have to write out the number of years...at least according to APA style.

Anyway, after we rolled up our circus tents for the afternoon, I went to Safeway to get a celebratory type cake for my next meeting. And there was a paraeducator I used to work with. And a student I once had.

I made it over to the final stop of the day---an elementary school. One of the teachers had bravely volunteered to host the last beginning teacher's meeting of the year. As I walked down the hallway, there was a literacy coach...a principal...a teacher who is coming to Curriculum tomorrow to build a "Grade in a Box"...another on his way to the DoD school in Naples. All this before I'm halfway to the destination classroom, where I find two subs I know. I haven't even seen any of the people I'm there to see and I'm already tired of meeting and greeting.

Being the last time for the n00b5 to be together for this year, we had a bit of a celebration. Some cake and a toast with sparkling apple cider. It was bittersweet---many are not going to be back with us next year because there are just no positions for them. I kept our meeting short, let them "party" and chat, and we all went into the sunlight. It's good to be able to count them among the people I know.

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On Shaky Ground

04 March 2007

I had my quarterly meeting with the beginning teachers this week. We added three to our small huddled mass in January, bringing the grand total to 11 district-wide. I find that tiny number amazing in some ways. We are a moderately large district and have nowhere near the amount of beginners as other districts. Ones double our size have as between 90 and 110 new teachers. I'm already in the planning stages for next year---buying materials and valiantly trying to spend down the budget---and the consensus is that I should plan for no more than ten newbies...and even that should be a stretch.

The district is shrinking, hence the need for fewer teachers. All but two of my charges this year have specialized certificates; half of them are working with special needs students. This will likely be the trend in coming years. We will just be looking for "niche" people. If beginners these days fit the traditional model of being in their early 20's, just out of college and getting their first job, this might not be a big issue. Teachers that age are usually a bit more mobile: they can move where the jobs are. I only have two which fit that profile this year. The remainder are second career teachers. Moving around the state is less of an option when you have a spouse with a job in this area and kids involved with the local school system.

I had the Human Resources Director come and talk to my group last week. While they are no different than other cohorts of beginners we've had in the past in that they have non-continuing contracts, they are different in the sense that their job may not be there for them to reinterview about next year. Some of their roles may well be absorbed into the budget cuts. My SPED teachers like to joke that no one else would want their job---so they feel a level of safety. I wish I shared their lightheartedness. They are employable, no doubt, but as the district has some hard choices to make in coming years, no one at the bottom of the totem pole has any sort of assurance about their job.

I heard that a couple of my newbies hit the bar after our meeting. I admit the news that was delivered wasn't very rosy, but I thought it best for them to hear what the realities are and have as much time as possible to consider their options for next year. I wish they weren't on such shaky ground. I hope they land in districts where there is a bit of growth and need; where they have some time to get established on the food chain and secure their futures.

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Skinny for Blogging N00b5

25 February 2007

There is plenty of room in the edusphere for more perspectives and voices. I am always excited to discover a new blog...and sad when others either run their course or mysteriously disappear. Some judge their success by the number of hits they get or their rank on the Truth Laid Bear, but those aren't always the ones which capture the imagination---more than anything, they may have their own particular brand of attention-seeking behaviors. :) If you're a new kid on the block, I have a few bits of wisdom to share. I am certainly still learning some things as I go along, but here are some lessons I've managed to learn in the last two years. Perhaps others out there can add to this.

  • You can get yourself some notice by commenting on posts you like, or at least, blogs that interest you. The blogger will likely click through and give you a look---and so may other commenters. The "bigger" the blog, the more traffic this could send your way. This is especially useful when you are new kid on the block---you are writing your heart out, sharing all the great stuff you've been thinking about, and maybe no one else is seeing it. If you can, continue to comment on what you read or what interests you in the great wide world of blogging. I need to be doing more of this.
  • Use some code from statcounter or sitemeter to monitor what's pulling people to your blog. Once you register, the site will generate the code and tell you where to paste it into your template. If you're nervous about messing up your template, you can always copy and paste it into a document and save it as a backup before you play around with things.
  • When you post something, remember to use Ping-o-matic to let various services know that you've updated your blog. This will help connect people searching for information with your blog.
  • Technorati is a great place to register. You can check in and see who is linking to you and also track your favourite blogs.
  • Join in on the Education Carnival each week. Everyone is welcome to make a submission. The host has final say over what gets posted, but it has been my experience that few are rejected---and the ones which are usually have very little to connect them with the world of education. Let people know what you're talking about.
  • Be patient. There are some blogs which seem to take off like wildfire, but most of us are just slow burners. Until you build up a library of posts, you're not likely to get much traffic from search engines. If your goal in blogging is to just have a place to stash the stuff rolling around in your head like a bunch of loose change, this won't bother you; however, if you're desire is to be the greatest blog ever, you'll either need to be (a) an attention whore or (b) a knock-out writer with a very persuasive and unique voice.
I welcome new-to-blogging educators like the Browneyedgirlie, the Determined Science Geek (a/k/a Ms. W, who is wondering what she's gotten herself into), and the Exhausted Intern---who knows all too well that there are Not Enough Hours... I wish you much success and satisfaction with your new pursuits. Thanks for joining the conversation!

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Stuck in the Middle with You

15 February 2007

I felt stuck in the middle recently. In the same day, I received a plea for help from a less experienced teacher...and a request from the one who encouraged me to be a science teacher and helped me get my start. Am I really at a stage in my career where I'm in the educators' version of The Sandwich Generation?

The newer teacher's letter is a bit more heart-breaking.

I am really struggling with getting my students to produce anything at all in their class. I have a few students who work. But it is very few. I have some students who fly through assignments, get them done in the 10 minutes it should take and then are loud and disruptive because they are finished. I have other students who do not even begin to do anything. A grade is not a motivation for them, they have seen their grades, they have heard me talk about them, etc.

I have assigned seats a few different times this semester, tried collecting work at the end of every period instead of having them turn it in to a folder, giving them weekly quizzes over the material that we cover in class. I can't even get them all to face me and be quiet at the same time, let alone the 5 minutes it takes to explain an assignment.

Do you have any ideas for me? I am going crazy!

I am putting together some ideas and resources for her and heading out to see her after school today. However, there is definitely a wealth of experience out there in the edusphere---and I know that many of you reading this have been in a similar situation. If you have some words of wisdom to share, please send me a note or leave a comment to pass along to the teacher. It's a long time until school's out on June 22nd.

My mentor is in an entirely different time and situation.

Your mom sent me your e-mail so I could ask you for the information on the example of an enzyme using the camel story. I can remember everything except the fractions. Of course it doesn't work if you cannot remember the punch line!!

I am still retired, but working with the M-------- school district to help them raise their TAKS scores. They were low last year and were mandated by TEA to get some help. MJ M----- is working with the math teachers. I don't know if we will make much difference or not. They certainly have a unique set of problems. 60 students K-12 for one--few teachers teaching as many as 7 preparations--a few bad apples for teachers, but among about 15 teachers, it doesn't take many bad ones to spoil the whole bunch--stir up trouble, etc. It's a mess. Those tests are hard, in my opinion, and it takes more than a few months to teach the students all that material. In other words I think in a few years we might make a difference, but don't think the state will wait that long to consolidate them with our schools. The little town would die without their school so I hope we can help.

The example she's referring to is one of my favourites to teach...something to share in the next post, perhaps. Anyway, two very different situations from three of us in very different parts of our careers/lives. I suppose this is a wake-up call: my sandwich is ready.

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Life Among the Newbies

30 January 2007

I haven't put on my "beginning teacher mentor" hat in too long of a time. Between winter break, multiple snow days, meetings out the yin-yang, cadre presentations, and other events, there hasn't been much time to peek in on my charges. I have added two more teachers to my case load in the last week as mid-year hiring is happening.

There are so many stories that are shared about new teachers. If you're pregnant, what might that mean for one's job in the fall? What might happen if a student finds a teacher's MySpace page---and then remarks that his hot teacher "friended" him? What do you do if you pick up an additional period of instruction, but aren't being compensated for it? How do you deal with the changing whims of a teacher you replace during the year? And so it goes. If you wander enough of the blogosphere, you'll see these sorts of issues.

There are some things I can't help them with. I have nothing to do with their contracts or (re)hiring, but I will have the HR director come to our next group meeting. I can't keep kids from exploring MySpace, but I can help teachers understand that their private lives aren't completely private once you enter the classroom realm. I can't change the fact that a student is autistic, but I can pay you to go and receive further training and staff development as support.

I don't know quite what will happen with the program next year. The state does supply a bit of a grant, but it only covers stipends---no release time to plan or observe classrooms, no resource materials, no conference registrations. It may be, of course, that we have no beginners next year. We are closing schools and reducing programs. Available staff with continuing contracts will be reallocated and any open positions will be advertised on the market. The noobs will have to compete for their jobs yet again.

I'm sure that I'm fooling myself to think that I'll get out more this spring and spend time with the beginners. It is energizing to be with them, as well as their students. I want them to feel safe and supported. We need their enthusiasm and the new vibe they bring to our schools. Right now, I just have to cross my fingers and hope that there will be places for them.

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Deep Cleansing Breath

27 November 2006
















If you look at the title of the graph, you'll notice that it refers to first-year teachers...but if you spend a moment thinking about the graph, you teachers out there will realize that it doesn't just reflect newbies. How many of us vets start off with enthusiasm at the start of another year---full of piss and vinegar? Do we not enter a "survival" phase as we get into a groove before the doldrums of winter set in? It feels like such a long time until June...especially with a few (or more) impossible students and tasks. Spring brings a rebirth of hope, and enthusiasm about summer.

I shared this graph along with an article about first-year teachers with the mentors in the program this year. They all laughed (as did the noobs when they saw it), recognizing the rhythms of the job. I asked the mentors to share some of their experiences navigating this curve and strategies for making it through the "disillusionment." I implored them to tell the beginning teachers that it's normal to feel this way about the job.

As I trawl the edusphere, I see that many bloggers are feeling negative at the moment---and guilty about not having something positive to say...and for being whiny. But I hope that they realize it's all right. We're all surfing the wave. It's better to blog about an annoying student, recalcitrant parent, or aggravating admin and then set it aside for a bit than lose a night of sleep. Invite all of us to the pity party. We'll help celebrate in style and then pick you up to keep moving on. No one wants to be down on things all of the time. Give yourself a chance to vent once in awhile, take a breath, and then go forward. There will be things to celebrate soon.

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Long Live the Noobs

10 October 2006

The beginning teachers really are quite cute. Six of them made it to the meeting tonight and shared a few of their joys and woes. For the most part, they're having a good time in the classroom. Their greatest frustrations are not with kids---but with learning to navigate the system: getting professional leave, feeling comfortable enough to disagree with their peers, or managing things. We munched on cookies and found some humor in their respective situations.

I am excited by the learning goals that they've set for themselves between now and the next meeting. It is no small task to get consensus simply because their teaching assignments are so wildly different: 2 career and technical education, 2 high school self-contained SPED and one elementary self-contained SPED, 1 high school math, and one high school PE. There isn't a lot of middle ground there, but we found a section of resource items that they all felt they could pull from. Their goal is to try one new thing from the list by December and then come back to share out what they did, samples of student work, and their reflections.

I modeled some different reading strategies with them and we did a lot of talking about grades. I told them that I'm not there to say there's the right way to handle these, but now is the time for them to challenge their own thinking. Research indicates that career-long patterns get set by about 6 months into one's career. Better to ponder now...and with others in the same boat...before their ideas are completely cemented.

It was good for them to have the camaraderie this evening. They need to know that they're not the only ones with struggles, even if they are each alone in their classrooms during the day. I hope to get out and be with them more in the next few weeks. I wish them much success.

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Group Therapy

08 October 2006

The Beginning Teachers and I will have our first group meeting of the school year on Tuesday. Since the initial meeting in August, I have had weekly contact with each of them and I know some of them have been chatting with one another. Tuesday afternoon will be the first opportunity for them to do a bit of scar sharing.

I've been trying to decide what sorts of events to share from my first year of teaching. Do I tell them about the open house when the recently released convict stepfather (who was later found to be molesting his stepdaughter) yelled at me for two minutes in front of the other parents because I wouldn't tell him what grade the girl had? Or the kid who walked in from another class (on his first day at our school) and punched out two teeth from the mouth of one of my students? Maybe I should tell them about the custodian who showed up at my house stinking drunk one Friday night insisting he should come in for awhile...or the student counselor who suddenly kissed me in his office? (I was younger and cuter then and sexual harassment was not an issue.) Do I share my sixth-period-class-from-hell with the noobs...and how relieved I was when one of them (who was a 17-year old freshman at the time) wrapped his car around a telephone pole the next year? How about the purchase order the principal gave me to buy some Everclear because we had no lab grade ethanol for labs?

Most veteran teachers tend to look at the first year of teaching as a form of hazing: a trial by fire. In order to be accepted into the fraternity, you have to run the gauntlet. I think that the mentorship we provide in this district is a positive step. It doesn't eliminate all of the things that one just has to face head on in the classroom, but at least there's a structure in place for guidance.

I've already had a couple of individual sessions with three of the beginning teachers who needed a shoulder to cry on. They weren't actually crying, mind you, but their frustrations as they try to wrap their minds around the whole job are understandable and they just wanted someone to care that what they were doing was damned hard work. I think the group meeting on Tuesday will be therapeutic, too. We'll have some treats, try to find a few things to laugh about, and then probe their thinking in other ways.

Do you have a great story (good, bad, or ugly) from your first year in the classroom? Leave it in the comments---it'd be great to have you join us.

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What the Beginning Teacher Mentor Saw

15 September 2006

I carved out some time this week to visit the seven beginning teachers in our district. Six of them are hard at work in the building where I spent the previous 10 years of my career, so it's a comfortable space for me to be. One of the teachers said that it helps her to know that I have a history with the building in case there are things about the culture she wants more information about.

I have to admit that I haven't been very enthusiastic about doing this program this year...and in some ways, I'm still not. I have far too much on my plate and nurturing beginners is too important to be treated as an "add-on." I also have to admit that I really enjoyed being in classrooms this week.

One of the best parts of being out and about has been the ability to spend some time looking at programs that are very different from science. Do I know anything about working with autistic 6 year olds? No. Have I ever instructed a set of students on using a computer program to create three dimensional objects? Not once. Could I tell you the best strategies for a introductory PE course? Absolutely not. But I can tell right away if kids feel safe...if they look happy...if the teacher is being able to develop positive relationships...whether or not there are high expectations for every student...if procedures and routines are in place...if the space is inviting and well-organized. In most cases, the noobs are off to a good start.

Are there things that were disappointing? Indeed, there were. But now is the time for me to help coach them and help them develop. I'm finding that it's a very fine line to tread. I am not an administrator nor evaluator. Anything that I see I can only talk about with the teacher alone---confidentiality is most important. My words of wisdom can be ignored and I need to couch them in such a way that they are not authoritarian and yet still get the point across. For example, giving kids half the period to just sit around is not okay, but I can't say it that way. Phrasing is everything. I find myself using "I wonder what would happen if..." or "Good teachers..." instead of the more blunt approach. I offer to be with them when they try a new strategy. I encourage them to spend time observing other teachers. I hope I can coach them into developing the kinds of habits and behaviours which help all students learn.

I know the statistics. I know that within two years, many beginning teachers (nationwide) will be lost from the profession...half of them by year five. The odds are against all of us, but I will try to do my part to help the newbies in my district. My hope is that I can help them not merely survive, but thrive.

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n00b5!

21 August 2006

Today was the big "induction" for certificated staff who are new to the profession this year. This was not an easy day to plan. I had one regular education teacher (secondary math), two VocEd teachers, two secondary self-contained SPED teachers, one k-3 autism teacher, and one elementary level school psych/counselor. Six of them are coming to the profession after other life experiences. Talk about a need to differentiate instruction. This was the biggest challenge I've had in a very long time.

My theme in planning the morning was "generic but meaningful." Everyone needed to think about how to build a learner-centered environment. They would all have to be able to engage with parents in different ways. And each teacher will have a mountain of paperwork, e-mail, and calls to manage. We talked about some ways to make these things happen and resources to support their work. Discussions were good and things appear to be starting off on the right foot.

The afternoon session was at two different sites. The four teachers who will be working with SPED went to meet with the directors of Special Services in order to learn more about how the district deals with IEPs and related tasks. The rest of us headed to their school and set up their classrooms, got keys and class lists, talked with their mentors, and attempted to calm nerves and move forward.

All of these teachers are going to have a tough row to hoe, in addition to being newbies at teaching. None of them has a straightforward assignment. Even the one regular ed teacher has two sections of "math lab," which are brand new---and there is no curriculum or syllabus to hand her. I'll be there to support all of them however I can, although this role is new for me this year. We'll just have to struggle on the best we can.

I told them that my best suggestion for the first day was to wear professional, but comfy clothes so that they're not scratching and adjusting all day...and to put on plenty of deodorant in the morning. If you have some ideas I should pass along to our new teachers, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

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Mixed Bag

31 July 2006

There is quite the diversity of new-to-the-profession hires this year, considering that there are only five of them. My task is to plan a day of "induction training" for them that we will have in about three weeks. I'm a bit perplexed on how to accomplish this and make it meaningful to everyone when...
  • three will have SPED jobs---two of which are in self-contained classrooms for students who have significant needs
  • two are former paraeducators with lots of classroom experience
  • one who will be teaching a career oriented track to small groups of students
  • four are housed at the same school; the other is an elementary teacher
In other words, only one of the five will be in a typical classroom. At this point, I'm thinking that it might be most useful to set the SPEDs up with someone in our Special Services department to get into the nitty gritty of the things they really need to know. That leaves me with the two "regular" track teachers---and perhaps it might be good for us to just meet at school, work on setting up their classrooms and use that as a basis for talking about classroom expectations and so on.

I know that every classroom role is different, so I did expect a mixed bag of newbies...but maybe not quite this sort of disparity. I'm hoping that I'll be able to find a way to make some magic happen...find some common ground for us to share that day. Right now, it's hard for me to find that for them.

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Juggling

16 May 2006

One of the things I miss about teaching junior high is that the school year would gently roll to a close. High school---and now Curriculum---are not like that at all. It's a scramble to the finish line. Between elementary science, secondary science, as summer seminar commitments, my plate feels a little full these days.

I did spend a couple of hours this morning with our current mentor program coordinator. I have a much broader sense of what those duties will entail---and how that will be one more ball to keep in the air next year. Here is what is already going to be juggled:
  • New science kit center to set up and maintain for grades k - 6
  • Provide two 8-week rotations of science kits to grades k - 5, including some new materials
  • Implement curriculum mapping for grades 6 - 9
  • Develop "cadre" model of staff development in math and science (3 meetings per year; 1 rep per grade level per school)
  • Full year science for grades 7 - 9 at all schools for all students
  • New curriculum materials for grades 6 - 9
  • New facilities for science at two junior highs
  • Professional development offerings for k - 6 teachers
  • Science notebook development and integration for grades k - 6
  • Trimester grade level meetings for grade 7 - 9 alignment work
  • Development of common assessments for grades 7 - 9
  • Program revision for alternative schools
  • Investigate remediation opportunities for high school students who don't meet the standards in science

The mentor responsibilities will include

  • Weekly 30-minute observations of new teachers during the first quarter of the year
  • Weekly e-mail communication to new teachers and their mentors
  • Monthly meetings with all new teachers
  • Summer training for the induction program

And more goodies. I won't be bored next year.

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Mentoring n00bs

13 May 2006

Part of my job three months from now will be organizing a program to mentor teachers new to the profession...that is, if we hire any. I'm doing a bit of reading and came across this quote from Fran McDonal's Study of Induction Programs for Beginning Teachers:
"It is a truism among teachers and especially teacher educators that within the first six months of the first experience of teaching, the teacher will have adopted his or her basic teaching style. Experience indicates that once a teacher's basic teaching style has stabilized, it remains in that form until some other event causes a change, and at the present time, there are not many such events producing change. If the style adapted is a highly effective one and is the source of stimulation and continuous growth, there would be no probem. But if teachers abandon their ideals and become cynical, see management at any price as essential, constrict the range of instruction
alternatives they will try or use; if they become mediocre teachers or minimally competent, then the effect of the transition period on this is a major concern and a problem that needs direct attention."

This quote generates a lot of questions for me. Are there any data to support these "truisms"? Does a strong teacher induction program (i.e. mentoring) really have that strong of an influence on what happens during the first six months? What sorts of "changes" help those who are set in their ways adopt a new style of classroom teaching?

When I think about my time at my current school, there haven't been many brand new teachers. It's been a really long time since I've had any conversations with newbies or thought about what tools teacher education programs are putting in their hands. Are today's teachers any better to prepared the challenges of standards-based education for all students than I was fresh out of college? I really hope the answer is "yes," but I also feel like most of what you learn about teaching happens when you finally have a classroom of your own. It's on-the-job training and somehow, I have to find my own way to support that.

Of course, most of our new teachers these days are not new to adulthood. Many of them have chosen teaching as a second career and will have a wealth of life experience to bring to the table.

I meet with the current coordinator of the mentor program on Tuesday. I know she'll have a lot to share and we'll see what I can do to make things my own. Hopefully, I'll be able to model some flexibility and "continuous growth" in this new role.

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Who in the office pool had this one?

15 April 2006

I mentioned a few days ago that the Boss Lady said that she was going to have the money for an additional .2 for me (making me at Curriculum full time...assuming The Union doesn't have its way), but that it would come with a "task." She didn't tell me what the task would be.

I stumbled upon the answer the other day.

We have a person in our district whose job is dedicated to supporting new teachers and helping with certification issues (which can be rather complex here in Washington). She has had enough of the politics at central office and after nine years, has asked to go back to the classroom. When she revealed this at lunch, I asked her how much of her job the teacher mentorship was. She told me that it was .5 of her contract and I audibly breathed a sigh of relief.

I could tell from the look on her face that this was the wrong reaction and after a few prying questions, it was revealed that she is rewriting that portion of her job for a .2 and had already had a variety of conversations with the Boss Lady about me being perfect for the position.

So, it looks like I'll be working with newly minted teachers a day a week next year. Mind you, the Boss Lady has not said anything specific about this and the other person's transfer won't be arranged for a couple of weeks.

I'm not completely sure what I think about doing that work. I just never pictured myself in such a role. My sweetie sounded the alarm about a .5 job now being expected for .2 pay. That is an issue, except that we have so few new teachers anymore. Six or seven years ago, it wasn't unusual to have up to 50 for our district. In the last two years, the number has been no more than 15, all but one or two secondary teachers. Enrollment is decreasing, the district is overstaffed, and we just aren't hiring anymore.

In a way, I'm relieved that it doesn't look like the .2 will be attached to continuing my summer job of organizing the "intervention" for high school kids. And on the other hand, I'm a bit disappointed that the .2 isn't associated with the increase in my elementary science responsibilities (including our new science kit center). I can't really complain. In having to split my attentions between students and Curriculum duties, I think the kids have often received the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Even if I have diverse job responsibilities again next year, at least it will be in one location and I will have a lot more flexibility in terms of how I schedule my time.

I have a meeting with the Boss Lady later this week. We'll see if she gives any indications at that time about next year...and a new "task" as a teacher mentor.

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A Preview of Coming Attractions

02 March 2006

A teacher in my building recently married a woman who is interested in making the jump from the science industry to the classroom. She will stop by my class tomorrow---one of three Fridays this month that she'll sneak a peek at an AP Bio class.

I never mind guests in the classroom, but I do think that my class is very atypical. It's small. It's comprised of highly motivated kids with a strong interest in science. They can read and have relatively good study and homework habits. Also, AP is not a typical curriculum and I certainly approach things differently in there.

I don't think she'll be bored. Tomorrow, we kick off the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and all the goodies that go along with that. In following weeks while she's there, we'll work through some genetics and evolution. I hope she'll be more than an observer. It would be good to have a bit of real world input for the kids.

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Eight Questions

02 December 2005

The Education Commission of the States recently released a report entitled Eight Questions on Teacher Recruitment and Retention: What Does the Research Say? Here's a summary:
  • What are the characteristics of those who enter teaching? (white women who aren't the smartest ones out there)
  • How do those individuals who remain in teaching compare to those who leave? (they aren't pregnant/have small children)
  • What are the characteristics of schools and districts most likely to be successful in recruiting and retaining teachers? (large, white, middle class to affluent)
  • What impact do working conditions have on their ability to recruit and retain teachers? (not much evidence here)
  • What impact does compensation have on the recruitment and retention teachers? (a key role, but is influenced by other factors such as working conditions)
  • What impact do various strategies related to teacher preparation have on teacher recruitment and retention? (limited evidence that alternative routes to a certificate can be just as good as traditional programs)
  • What impact do induction and mentoring have on teacher retention? (little evidence here, too, that it makes a difference)
  • What is the efficacy of particular recruitment strategies and policies in bringing new teachers to the profession, including specifically targeted populations? (no information available)

If you have some time, I recommend a look at the whole report (twelve pages). Secondary questions, policy implications, and other information are contained with the paper. These are all good questions. Too bad there aren't more answers.

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For Your Amusement, Part II

23 August 2005

I am a lucid dreamer, meaning that when I dream, I'm usually aware of it and can control what happens. If I don't like something, I tell myself to change it. If a situation intrigues me, I tell myself what things are symbolizing. Sometimes, however, I have very transparent dreams.

Last night, I dreamed that I was sitting with a large group of people at picnic tables. There was a building behind us and the sand and ocean stretched out ahead of us. Everyone was having a good time talking and eating. And then a little wave came in...touching the feet of those sitting farthest from the building. A bigger wave came next. And out on the horizon, I could see a huge one rolling in. It must have been twenty feet tall and was quickly headed in our direction. I saw this (I was sitting closest to the building at my table) and told my tablemates that we had to quit eating and run. I made it to the building and up a few flights of stairs to safety. Whew.

Gee, do you think I'm feeling overwhelmed with things these days in real life? About to be crushed by tsunami-proportioned expectations? I have to laugh, because the subconscious brain has such creative ways to communicate with the think-out-loud part that rules the roost during the day. Even if its imagery is a little simple at times.

I told this dream to my Sweetie who noticed the same thing I did: I survived the disaster. So, I must be okay with whatever is rolling my direction. I won't be swept out to sea.

My task today is to prepare for a meeting with the new science hires for our district. I will have about an hour with them tomorrow. There are three, two of which are new to my school. It is possible that there may be another, since we tried to do some hiring yesterday. There are state standards to share with them, the road (tsunami?) ahead for the district, and miscellaneous business items to talk about. I am hopeful for a chance to just chat with them and get to know them. Perhaps they'll have questions and needs of me, and that will be good, too. I like to feel purposeful and I want them to know that I'm here to support their work.

It does take a lot of energy to get a school year up and running. I'm hoping to find a way to harness the power of that wave.

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In with the New

19 August 2005

We will have twelve new certificated staff members in my building this year. There are 69 certs (teachers, librarians, counselors, etc.) in the building, so twelve is a rather significantly large number.

I suppose we'd better get used to such a large influx of "new blood." According to a recent article in the New York Times (id: bugmenotnyt2005; password: june2005), 40% of current public school teachers (and half of all high school staff) plan to be gone from the classroom within the next five years.

Retirement will be the primary reason. Some will be teachers who are leaving after a lifetime in the classroom. "The proportion of teachers with at least 25 years in the classroom has more than doubled in the past 15 years, from 12 percent to 27 percent." But many others will be "second career teachers" who didn't start until they were in their 40's and are now getting close to retirement age.

Another reason is simply burnout. The demands of teaching are becoming ever greater. It's too much to expect that people will make a 30+ year career out of doing this job.

Where will we get enough replacements? This question scares me a little---although it doesn't seem to strike any fear into the author of the article. It's true that we are continuing to get more "second career teachers" into the profession. But enough to fill the positions of half of every high school? And fewer youngsters are leaving college with a teaching certificate in their hands. Meanwhile, we're losing teachers with a wealth of knowledge and experience about their craft.

Interviews are on Monday for the math/science position at my school. I have heard that there are four candidates who look promising. This is better than none, but I remember when we had trouble holding our lists for interviews down to eight because the pool was so rich. I'm hoping that we won't look back with fond memories of the days when we had four. But with so many jobs in the future to fill---especially in the areas of math and science---we may be doing just that.

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Does the right piece of paper make you a teacher?

23 February 2005

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act has made it incumbent upon districts to place a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom. According to the feds, this means the following conditions are satisfied:
  • Hold at least a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution of higher education;
  • Be fully licensed/certified (traditional or alternate route) with no waivers (i.e., no emergency certificates); and
  • Demonstrate content expertise by passing a state test of elementary content knowledge and teaching skills. (Elementary Only)
  • Demonstrate content expertise in each of the core academic subject(s) taught by doing the following (Secondary Only):
    1. Passing a rigorous state test; or
    2. Completing an academic major, coursework equivalent to a major, or a graduate degree; or
    3. Earning an advanced certification or credentials (i.e., National Board Certification).

When these standards were first proposed, each state was given a time period in which to either adopt the definition or supply their own. Most states didn't choose option 2, and many of them are hurting for "highly qualified" teachers. (FYI: Washington state did select its own description, and it isn't quite as involved as ESEA's.)

Increasing numbers of teacher are being certified via alternative routes, as mentioned in this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer. There are only so many people willing to do this job---far fewer than there are positions. It is reasonable to expect that states will find some other way to put certificates in the hands of more people.

I can't quite decide what to think about all of this. On one hand, as I reflect on my own certification process, I really didn't think it did much to prepare me for being in a classroom. Perhaps it's not such a bad idea to let people head out on the job and earn their paperwork along the way. Seems like they'll find out a whole lot faster whether or not the career suits them. And yet, with all of the "dropouts" from the profession each year and the associated costs---shouldn't we make sure that those being sent into the classroom have every available piece of background we can provide?

I like the idea of having good people in the classroom. I want someone who knows his/her "stuff" to be working with kids. But a piece of paper does not a teacher make. I can think of plenty of certificated staff who don't make a bit of difference in the classroom. And I certainly have met lots of people who have a great deal of subject matter knowledge but would make for bad teachers. I'm just not sure that the hoops the government is setting up will allow us to accurately distinguish which group is which.

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Where are the Teachers?

12 February 2005

I was pointed toward this article about why so many educators leave the profession within five years. I hadn't thought about the economic costs. The author states that "When teachers drop out, everyone pays. Each teacher who leaves costs a district $11,000 to replace, not including indirect costs related to schools' lost investment in professional development, curriculum, and school-specific knowledge. At least 15 percent of K-12 teachers either switch schools or leave the profession every year, so the cost to school districts nationwide is staggering -- an estimated $5.8 billion." There are more noteworthy stats there, as well.

The author, like many in our school, is/was a "retread," meaning someone who has come to teaching as a second (or third) profession. We have lots of "Navy Retreads" in my district, as there are 3 different Navy bases in the county. But, even one of my housemates qualifies for this moniker. Most retreads are people who are community-minded. They look at teaching from whatever profession they're currently in...and think it will be something both "easy" and a place to make a difference: a "fun" change from their current job. Many of these retreads don't last long in the school setting.

With the economic downturn of the last few years, there have been more and more retreads in the teaching business. After all, in spite of the stock market, kids are still waiting at the schoolroom door. However, jobs for professionals were not there and education was a convenient place for some of those displaced professionals to land. But now, the economy is starting to perk up...and as retreads go back to their "first love," there will be an even greater need to fill in classrooms.

Meanwhile, the author of the article mentions that "37 percent of the education workforce is over 50 and considering retirement, according to the National Education Association. Suddenly, you've got a double whammy: tens of thousand of new teachers leaving the profession because they can't take it anymore, and as many or more retiring."

When I hear a kid say that they like to be a teacher, I try to be encouraging. I don't tell them all the hard stuff. Let's face it, there are aspects to every job and career that will be difficult, no matter what your experience and education level is. But somewhere, we have to find people who can do what a career in teaching now requires and then find a way to help them make a go of it.

I saw a quote in an elementary school when I was a first-year teacher. It stated that "Somewhere in America, a future president of the United States is sitting in a classroom. Let us hope that she is having a nice day." I have tried to remember that at various points, but perhaps it is time to amend that quote. Maybe it is time to think about the future teachers sitting in our rooms.

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The First Year (or "Why Teachers Need Therapy")

22 January 2005

In the olden days, when I was a freshly minted teacher, I lived in Carlsbad, New Mexico. I know most people have some sort of idealized vision of the state. However, I lived there. And I am here to tell you that it is the state where family trees don't fork.

It's difficult enough to be a first year teacher. Most any teacher will tell you that it was a year from hell for them...and it is no surprise that 50% of new teachers are no longer in the profession 5 years later. Many of them are gone after 2 years. There is no substitute (including college training) for just getting in the classroom and going for it. It is an experience after which I have seen even grown mean weep.

I was all of 21 when I stepped into the classroom, and I looked even younger. The school was P. R. Leyva, and was the largest junior high in the state: 1200 eighth and ninth graders. I was frequently mistaken for a student. Considering that we had some 18-year old ninth graders, maybe that wasn't such a stretch of the imagination. I was assigned to teach physical science and life science. Each one was a semester course.

By October that year, I'd had two of the most gut-wrenching experiences I've had in my (now) 14 year career. In the first case, it was the end of the school day---maybe 10 minutes before the final bell. A boy I had never seen before walked into my classroom. (My room was open to the outside. It wasn't in the main building.) My kids were finishing up a lab and this other kid walks up to one of mine and starts pounding him. Students scattered like cockroaches with the light turned on. I certainly couldn't make them stop and really, my professors never covered anything like this in college. I at least gathered up enough of my wits to send a student next door to get that teacher: a big man who came in and had no trouble separating the two boys. When all was said and done, there were teeth on my floor and blood was everywhere. It turned out that the boy who had come into my room had been kicked out of the room next door---and on his very first day of school.

Not too much later, we had Open House. This is an evening event where parents come to school and go from class to class as their kids do, in order to meet the teachers and hear more about what happens in class. During "second period" that evening, a girl from my 6th period class showed up with her mother and stepfather in tow. I did my song and dance and had maybe 90 seconds left. I asked my small audience (which did include maybe 4 other families) if they had any questions that they'd like to ask me. Big mistake. The stepfather raised his hand and asked about his stepdaughter's grade. I told him that I wasn't permitted to discuss grades this evening, but if he would like to make an appointment, that I would be pleased to sit down and go over that information with him. He blew up. He yelled at me and swore at me. He had a conniption fit. And when the bell finally rang to end that session, stunned parents scurried away. Eventually, I got to go in and check with my principal, who reassured me that I had done the right thing.

A couple of months later, it was discovered that the stepfather (currently on parole) was having sex with the stepdaughter. Her mom found out, took the girl, and ran. I always wonder what happened to her. There are so many kids that I wonder about.

The hardest lesson I learned as a first-year teacher is one that each of us who stay in the profession have to discover: You can't save them all. You come out of college feeling like you can make a difference...that you can get out and inspire the world to change. And you can do so in very tiny ways. The other part of the reality of this is simply that there are too many problems that kids have that can't be solved in the classroom.

For many reasons, I just had to get away from teaching in New Mexico, although I did make it for five years in that environment. But I have to say that the experiences I had while I lived and worked there shaped the way I work with kids, as well as my drive to improve the educational experience for everyone involved. Now, I live in a place and work an environment that feeds my mind and teacher soul.

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