Tales of Frogs and Cupcakes is having a linky party on the story of how you became a teacher.
Wow! My teacher story. Well, it’s a long and meandering road, that’s for sure. It is one that I rarely tell, because it is very long and fractured. I think I might break this into several posts,because, it is a long story! Here it goes…
Lesson 1: Always Be Open to Learning, Be Prepared, Be Cautious.
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. My grandmother was a kindergarten teacher and I was raised to view teaching as an admiral profession. I knew I wanted to go the the same college as my grandmother and never applied anywhere else. The only thing that ever changed from second grade on was what I thought I wanted to teach. I thought about social studies/history, science, elementary grades. I ended up settling on elementary grades. I graduated from an excellent teacher’s college in Western New York. They produce fabulous teachers, and many of them. There are several other colleges with excellent teaching programs in the area, so to say the least, the area is overloaded with excellent new teacher candidates every year. Many of them move south to teach because New York State qualifications are so stringent and are sought by other states. Moving was not an option for me and finding a job was more likely 12 years ago than it is now.
I applied to dozens of positions within an hour of my home town. I was engaged at the time and my husband is a partner in his family dairy farm, so it was critical to be near the farm. I interviewed at about 12 schools – some very traditional interviews and some down right crazy. Note to interviewees, an interview in a vacant school building with the head of CSE in some dank little office is a time when you should be concerned. It worked out fine, but looking back I should have been less eager and more cautious. He was a very nice person but I’m not sure how serious the interview was. I even interviewed at school I knew I would never work at because I wanted the interview experience. I am by nature a quiet and reserved person – very much a thinker. So, verbal skills are not natural to me. The practice was so beneficial. I became a lean, mean interviewing machine. I worked the portfolio like a pro!
I have to back up a bit and talk about my degree. I am dually certified in special education (PreK-12) and Elementary Education (PreK-6). I eventually went on to get a masters in literacy, as a masters is required for permanent certification in NYS. I went into college with a mild interest in special education but it grew into a great personal and professional passion. It was also key into obtaining a job.
Lesson 2: Teaching Can Be 50% Politics and Professional Responsibility is Enormous
I was hired as a long-term special education teach in a fourth grade team-teaching blend. Whew! Say that 3 times fast! I taught with a teacher who had been teaching longer than I had been alive and I was the only new special education teacher. We only had 15 students in class and 5 of them had special needs. They were my primary focus, especially in language arts. I also taught a self-contained math class with the 9 lowest performing students.
Let’s see, what were the highlights of that position…well, it was the year of 9/11. That was my second week of school! It really made me realize how responsible we are for our students in our classrooms. Being that we were in NYS, it was a pretty big concern. We are about as far away from the Twin Towers as you can get, but the shock mixed with the unknown was very difficult to deal with. We sent our students home without telling them anything. The administration believed it was for the parents to talk to their children about.
I also taught my 1 hour math class in an abandoned wing of the school. Imagine, 9 of the most needy students in a bare room that may or may not have enough desks and chairs on any given day. We were not allowed to hang anything or leave anything. All of the materials were carried down on a daily basis. We also had the fortune of looking out to the playground.
I also had many students who I am sure ended up in an alternative or reform school. I am not really joking about that, sadly. I know for sure that one of the students ended up in prison while his classmates celebrated graduation. Funny enough, he is my most favorite student ever. He was a rough tough little guy with a huge heart. He was reading at a kindergarten level in fourth grade and hated the world. I found out very quickly that his inability to read caused him to be tough because of the comments of his classmates and his family. He worked so hard for me. I worked harder than I ever thought I could teaching myself to be a reading teacher. No matter what anyone says, special education and elementary education training classes do not prepare you to teach children with true reading disabilities and I was beyond unprepared. This child made me work harder than I ever thought I could. I spent weekends pouring over reading books and creating vast amounts of curriculum just for him. The other 2 that I really worried about were not at graduation, but I do not know their story.
The end of my time there was a difficult situation. I was filling in for a maternity leave, knowing that the person planned to be out for an entire year. However, I did not know I was hired as a place holder. The Assistant Super. had been a teacher at the high school and her favorite student was graduating with her teaching degree in January. Well, I have to back up a bit. There was a special education teacher who left a few weeks into the school year for a job in the city school district because it paid much more money. A long-term sub was hired to fill the position, even though it was technically a full-time position. With 2 positions in January – one long term and one full time, a farce of interviewing began. I was told that I was going to be retained as the long term sub and the favorite of the AS was going to be hired full time and I would be moving to second grade.
Then fate made it even more complicated. The second grade teacher I was supposed to work with was going out on medical leave, so she would require a long term sub and I would be the third special ed. teacher (remember the teacher who left a few weeks in). That, along with the fact that she was raising cane over losing her partner teacher due to “agism” (she was a thorn in the side of administration and complained very vocally about anything and everything – even took to wearing a sign the year before that said “disgruntled employee,” which she would define for any student who asked), caused the other applicant to be retained.
Honestly, I had to applaud admin. for finally doing something right for the students. I was screwed out of a job. However, they actually had the audacity to ask me to stay and train the new teacher for my position. I actually moved on and politely declined.
My last day, my partner teacher was sobbing and she handed me a card from my favorite troubled student. She said “All I did was help him write the words.” The card said, “Thank you for teaching me how to read.” That card said everything to me. This child who didn’t know the words “yes” and “no” and did not write, wrote a card for me. He felt like a reader. And I did that. I will always hold that memory dear and remember that I can be that difference for a child.
Click here to find out where my path led me next!