Week 5.1: Interviewing – Between the Lines

Week 5.1: Interviewing – Between the Lines

If you are looking for your first teaching job, you have probably found lists of practice interview questions on the Internet, heard the advice of everyone from your college professor to your student teaching supervisor to your parents, and bought your perfect interview outfit. So we’re not going to talk about that.

We’re going to talk about personality, finding the “right fit,” and how to read between the lines in interviews. Do school administrators lie during interviews – yes, they do. But they don’t call it lying, they call it “putting the best face on the situation.” But it’s more like lying. So, first bit of advice that you may take or leave: Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions.

If you have the nerve, don’t ask about salary, benefits, and moving expenses. As a teacher, quality of life in the classroom is way more important than that extra thousand dollars a year. (Yeah, teachers don’t make enough money. That’s a given.) So ask about the other members of the department who you will be working with, ask about the school’s record of teacher longevity, ask about the level of parental involvement in the school. You can ask about your department budget; but even better, ask about available funding for field trips, new technology, and new books. Ask about the school’s discipline policy (hey, you’re equally in trouble if they have one or if they don’t, but at least you know if you agree with whatever policy they do have.) Finally, try to get a vibe about experimentation – do you have the freedom to change how teaching is done in the classroom, and try new methods of teaching? Or are you restricted in curriculum, by policy, by parental expectations, and by the head teacher in your department? It’s worth knowing.

I could hear the despair when you read that sentence about an extra thousand dollars a year. Benefits and salary are important, especially if you have the spouse and kids. But finding the “right fit” job for you has nothing to do with money. Hopefully no one reading this became a teacher because you thought you’d be raking it in. Even before your first interview, you have developed strong reasons for how and why you want to teach. Keep that sense of purpose in your mind as you interview – finding the right fit is about understanding the students more than the administrator and policies. They are the people you will be trying to form working relationships with on a daily basis – so see if you can observe or teach a class as part of your interview. A few schools already do this, and it’s GREAT.

In typical “Miss Teacher” fashion, I have presented you with contradictory statements in this post. Money both matters and doesn’t matter, the personality of your administrator both matters and doesn’t matter. You’re a professional and should be able to work with any other adult professional, but that doesn’t change the simple fact that you will simply mesh better with some people than others. It is worth it to keep interviewing until you find those people. Administrators do lie, but keep looking until you find one you can work with and feel comfortable with – similar to previous posts about “mentors.”

I feel like a guru at this point, staring at you and saying in a deep, portentous tone, “KNOW Thyself.” Do that, but hey, the best thing to do is to go to multiple interviews and analyze them before making any decisions. Get out there! Good luck.

cows

Extra resources: Please refer to paragraph 1 of this post.
Next week: What Do We Take Seriously?  

Week 4.4: Mentors

Week 4.4: Mentors

Who do you consider to be your greatest mentor in life? How about your greatest mentor for your professional job? If you can name several people that you look up to, but cannot name someone who helps you professionally to become a better teacher, than that means you should be on the hunt for a mentor.

What we’re looking for in this post is the “Goldilocks” mentor. This is someone whose knowledge level is “just right” for mentoring. For example, we’ll take a Social Studies teacher in their 6th year of teaching. This teacher is experienced, has developed many classroom activities that consistently engage students, and has a demeanor that focuses on the classroom work rather than how the classroom is run (see last week’s post, Student Led Discipline). For this teacher to find an effective mentor, they will need to look for someone with neither too little or too much experience in the field of Social Studies teaching.

Too little, and the person won’t be able to relate to your work enough to suggest useful new things to try. Too much, and the person will likely be too “stuck” in their ways to recognize the changes you need to make to improve as a teacher.

goldilocks2

One of my pet peeves is how difficult it is to find someone open to trading classroom ideas with me. I like to see teachers branching out of their subject matter, considering off-site learning experiences, experimenting with ways to teach new material, and generally getting away from textbooks and essays. Most importantly though, a mentor should be someone that you trust enough to bring your problems to. Education stops at the door if you rely on academic teaching approaches that do not connect with the students. It is impossible to improve as a teacher if you are not willing to admit your mistakes; even something as simple as, “I showed a bias when explaining that law and didn’t discuss the other side.”

So, when looking for a mentor, try to find one who is the least judgemental. I bet that when you thought of your greatest mentor in life, it has more to do with what kind of person the mentor is rather than what they do or what they have accomplished. Kindness is key. And I have just invalidated my analogy to Goldilocks because she is obviously an extremely judgemental person. Everything has to be just right!

So look for a balanced mentor, put those feelers out there, and find someone you can talk to professionally. Hopefully, the working relationship you develop will markedly improve how you teach, no matter what stage of experience you are at.

good-mentor-memes-8

Have a good mentor story? Share by commenting or emailing teachingismadhard@gmail.com.

Resources:

http://www.aasa.org/content.aspx?id=10502

You don’t see many resources that advocate for experienced teachers still having a mentor, so check this out in the business world. Lifelong learners, remember! https://hbr.org/2015/04/ceos-need-mentors-too

Next week: Interviewing: Between the Lines

Week 4.3: Student-Led Discipline

Week 4.3: Student-Led Discipline

Every 3rd week of each month, I write a post about classroom discipline. Why? Because how a teacher handles classroom discipline is a LIFE AND DEATH ISSUE!!! We should talk about it all the time!

Anyway, I have mentioned in previous Week 3’s that well-behaved students sometimes get involved with less well-behaved students in the classroom. I have seen arguments break out in a class because one student is acting up and other students are trying to do the teacher’s job. My two-directional brain often wants to congratulate the well-behaved kid on knowing the rules, while at the same time, tell them they should only worry about their own actions and leave everyone else alone. And neither of those responses address the original student’s issue. What to do?

public-menace

Frankly, there is only so much the teacher can or should do with student-led discipline. I advocate for taking a side route in these circumstances, rather than a direct approach. Think about how you want students to act in your class – individually, as a team, or another way? This is specifically for classroom discipline, not for how you want them to act all the time. Even students who take the rules seriously know it is “not cool” to “betray classmates” by taking the teacher’s side in classroom discipline issues. It is so easy to fall into that “attitude” mindset with your students, and join in the discussion on who is acting better than who. Resist!!! Don’t respond at all – instead, redirect back to the lesson as quickly as possible – it reminds the students that discipline is not actually the focus of school. School is for learning. I know, right?

You’re likely going to read the following examples and channel a ‘90’s 8th grader: “Duuuuhh…”

Things a teacher SHOULD NOT do:

  1. A student is talking out of turn, and another student says “Shhhh!” The teacher says, “Exactly, shhhh, you shouldn’t be talking right now.”
  2. Two students are doing small group work and get into an argument over how the assignment should be done. The teacher walks over, listens, and says “You need to learn to work together” or “XXX is right.”
  3. A student is acting up, and their friend jokingly imitates the teacher, something like, “You’re breaking classroom rule #3, you’re going to get a detention!” The teacher gets offended that the student is imitating their disciplinary voice.  

student-fight

Things a teacher CAN TRY INSTEAD, using the above examples:

  1. The teacher ignores the conversation unless it continues after the “Shhhh.”
  2. The teacher asks questions about each student’s suggestion and helps lead the students to a compromise or new idea.
  3. The teacher smiles in the direction of disturbance, but waits to see if the students are finished with their conversation. If they are, the teacher moves on with the lesson. If not, the teacher quickly comments, “Let’s get back to it,” or a similar statement.

You get my drift here – remember that the teacher is always the calm at the center of the storm. Students bring enough drama with them without the teacher adding any more! Discipline, even though it is so important to a well-run classroom, is never the focus of a lesson. The quick rule for teachers, with student-led discipline, is to lead every discussion back to the lesson’s goals. Have fun trying this – I hope it makes your life easier!

 

Have your own teaching scenarios that have worked well? Please post or email to teachingismadhard@gmail.com.

Here are a few more resources to look at:

http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2013/12/24/ctq_powell_strengths.html

http://www.k5chalkbox.com/classroom-discipline.html

Next week! “Mentors”

Week 4.2: Public, Private, or Other?

Week 4.2: Public, Private, or Other?

I absolutely love how many forms of K-12 education there are in the United States. Government education policies are operating in a “one size fits all” mentality, but teachers, parents, nonprofits, grant-makers, and students are operating in a “variety is the spice of life” mentality. While I don’t have the requisite knowledge to explain why education at the federal level is so disconnected from the teacher’s level; or why a school in one town is so differently run from the next school 20 miles away; I can explain a bit about the different types. This list is all in the hope that a teacher looking for a job will know what atmosphere they can expect.

All of these forms of education are student-centered, but we’ll begin with the most student-centered of all.

Home Schooling: 

A controversial form of education if ever there was one. Pros: The student has all the personal attention they could ever want. The student can work at their own speed. Cons: The student has a more difficult time socializing and misses out on school-organized events, such as sports, clubs, and dances. The student may not experience the same routine of assignments, exams, and presentations that are meant to transition to college work.

Interviewing: For teachers, it isn’t a job option 🙂

Online School:

First it didn’t exist, then it wasn’t taken very seriously, then it was used by people in remote locations or by adults pursuing a college degree, now it is becoming a viable option for everyone. Unless you are a teacher using an online forum as part of your on-site class; or teaching one online course as a way of supplementing your income, I don’t recommend it, for only one reason: you don’t experience the human component of interacting with your students face-to-face. I write a blog, and assume that my words don’t always capture my meaning, no matter how hard I try. Think how much more difficult it would be with a 50 person online course!

Interviewing: Prepare a response about how you will best reach students via online discussion, about how you will deal with poorly-written or angrily-written posts, and about your familiarity with technology.

Private School:

Also known as “where the rich people go.” Parents who have the resources to pay tuition for 12 YEARS may choose to send their student to a private school. The pros are many: students receive more personal attention, students and parents are more likely to take part in extracurriculars, the school often hosts all-school learning or volunteer projects. The only con in this part of education is entitlement. It can be difficult working with, for lack of a better term, “spoiled” students, because they have a sense that the world revolves around them. For the most part however, you can simply ignore the designer labels and enjoy the “anything is possible” atmosphere.

Interviewing: Use all of your typical teacher preparation, and include some creative ideas for your classroom that include a method of opening your students’ minds to the world around them.

private-school-cost

Charter School:

This is the one type of school that I have never personally worked in. From observing other teachers and schools, I can say that I am very intrigued by charter schools. In many ways, they seem to combine the best of public and private schools. Pros: smaller, student-centered, friendly environment. Cons: Lack of state support. A charter school may receive funding from the government, but may have restrictions on sport leagues, state music ensembles, and other participation in public school offerings. It is important to find the right balance of parental involvement in the classroom – some charter schools may feel too overloaded by individual ideas, whereas some seem exactly like a public school.

Interviewing: Do your research about the school. If the school offers extracurriculars, that is a good sign for the finances and capabilities of the school.

Public School:

The most accessible form of education, public school systems exist everywhere, including in small towns in Nebraska with a population of 300 and in Texas where the freshman class alone may be over 400 students. Public schools are the most closely-related to government policy, and are not funded by student tuition. Curriculum mapping is a constant project for the teacher, and writing lesson plans that reference state or federal requirements is common. Some are successful, some are not; some have metal detectors and fighting in the hallways, some do not. Generally, as a teacher you will have a mixture of everything: students who range from failing to straight-A grades, both a budget and fundraising, older policies that you want to change and newer policies that you want to change.

Interviewing: Do your research! For example, if the principal talks mainly about test scores, that tells you something about the school environment.

International School:

Also known as “where the rich expats go.” See “Private Schools” but also know that international schools can vary from any other US or IB school because of the lack of U.S. policy and curriculum. An international school can be the most experimental, exploratory place for teachers and students, and can be either amazing or horrifying. I do have some experience in teaching in an international school overseas, and I invite you to email me at teachingismadhard@gmail.com for more information about pursuing these positions.

When job searching, the teacher may have all the options in the world, or need to take the first job offered. I simply hope that as you develop your teacher personality, you will discover the forum that best suits you. There isn’t one “right” way to teach. There are thousands! Have fun experimenting!

I would love to hear from you on your experiences with different types of schools! Comment below or email teachingismadhard@gmail.com!

Next week: Student-Led Discipline

Week 4.1: Masters Degree – Worth It?

Week 4.1: Masters Degree – Worth It?

Teachers choose to earn advanced degrees for so many different reasons today, and there are many different pathways to get you there. Some of those pathways:

  • Online college courses

  • Online certificate programs
  • Combined online course with a once-a-week in person meeting
  • Summer programs where a graduate degree is earned in 3-4 consecutive summers of course-taking
  • A year-long sabbatical granted from your job to earn a degree, before returning to the same job
  • Full-time graduate degrees at a university, usually with a teaching assistant position at the university

And these are some of the reasons teachers pursue these pathways:

  • To earn a higher salary
  • To earn highly-qualified status, and therefore be more likely to be hired
  • To become a principal or administrator
  • To become a teacher of a different discipline
  • To renew a teaching certificate through college credit
  • For a break from teaching!
  • Moving to a new home, and taking the extra time to pursue a graduate degree

Everything on these lists is beneficial. The only con is cost – you can rack up a lot of student debt pursuing a full-time degree without a teaching assistantship or scholarship; or spend a good chunk of your salary taking part-time classes. Masters degrees in education can help you reflect on your teaching career so far, can help you develop new ideas and perspective, and can help you go deeper into your discipline and the state of education in the country. In terms of academic publishing, working with college professors and other members of your career, and becoming an administrator, there is no better pathway than a full-time degree. In fact, the best programs will allow you to keep one foot in the public school and the other foot in the academic world of college.

But, let’s argue the other side.

Essentially, there are two versions of a Masters degree. The part-time version, with online courses or one course at a time, is not engaging. You will still be focusing more on your teaching duties rather than the coursework, and there is only so much that can be learned through an online course without in-school observation and discussion. You are unlikely to make lasting relationships with other educators and college professors. Are you the kind of teacher who will take enough focused time to learn something of value through this method?

The full-time degree is extremely fun. You will experience an amazing mixture of college student life and adult relationships with other working professionals and professors. If your goal is to become a college professor, this is the best start. However, you will likely need to quit your job, move, uproot your spouse or family if you have one, and spend lots of money without a salary coming in. Sometimes you are starting over in a new state. By the time you are done with your 1-2 year degree; you may have to apply for a teaching certificate in a new state, you may have lost a few old connections or references, and most dangerous of all, your mind will be completely different – you won’t see the teaching career in the some way, and you may have fallen out of practice. Are you the kind of teacher who will remember everything you learned without regressing to college student mentality?

adult-education

If I play the cynic, I could tell you that the reason there are so many articles about the benefits of Masters degrees is because colleges want you to pay them more money. I could tell you that teachers feel like they have to earn an advanced degree in order to be hired and make enough money to live on (ironic). Finally, I could say that academia has lost touch with the reality of teaching, and that many of the teaching methods you study will not be relevant to your classroom.

insignificant-research

But I’m not a cynic, and my 2-year, full-time Masters degree was one of the best times of my life. So I will give you the most informative advice I have, which is this:

Research the available graduate programs to an obsessive point before making your decision. Find the most flexible, hands-on, partnering-with-local-schools program that you can. Substitute teach while pursuing your degree, in order to not lose real-world perspective. A Masters is nowhere near as hard or mentally draining as a full-time teaching job; so take advantage of your “learning vacation” to be involved in the college, the community, the government, everything that you can do, now that you are an adult professional. Basically what I’m saying is, don’t waste your time!

We really don’t live in a world anymore where people become college professors based on life experience. (No really – graduate degrees didn’t hold nearly as much importance 40 years ago. Several of my undergraduate professors never earned a doctorate.) Since that world is gone, make the most of your “required” Masters, and don’t forget that life experience is still the best way to become a better teacher.

Have fun studying! Some graduate degree resources are below. And next week: Public, Private, Charter, or Other?

 

More resources about advanced degrees:

https://teach.com/how-to-become-a-teacher/get-educated/benefits-masters-in-education/

Week 3.4: The Power of Reflection

Week 3.4: The Power of Reflection

It is time to celebrate the end of the first three months of this blog, Teaching is Mad Hard. Luckily, the title still applies. But we’re going to celebrate by reflecting, not on the last three months, but on the power of reflection!

I still remember being a teacher aid in high school, spending a class period making copies, organizing files, or whatever else for my favorite high school teacher. I happily blame him now for being the inspiration behind my own career choice – oh, if I had only known! Anyway, one day I went in the teacher’s office to put something away, and he looked up from his computer and said, “You know, everything we do is about perspective.” I had NO IDEA what he was talking about, or why he was talking about it. It was a completely out-of-the-blue statement. He was apparently having that kind of day.

But now I get it.

I get that a teacher can choose to be positive or negative. I get that you never really know what a person means through an email. I get that every action you make depends on how you see yourself, how you see other people, and how you see your job. And finally, I get that hindsight is 20/20.

Everything we do is about perspective!

wonka-trick-hallway

Through reflection, teachers can develop their perspective. That is why there are so many resources and teacher development classes that talk about videotaping yourself, as we mentioned in last week’s post, and keeping a teacher diary. In fact, some of most valuable advice I have received came from a college teacher who encouraged the use of a journal. Basically, you just write a little bit about teaching every week in your journal. The benefit to keeping a job diary is a bit different than when you kept your first diary at age 12 or so. Because instead of talking about the middle school Valentine’s Day Dance, now you’re thinking about other ways to handle parent situations in the future. Or maybe you’re still talking about the dance, and how nasty it is to see eighth graders kissing. Thank goodness you’re mature now!

The perspective that journal reflection provides is a time-warping, honest kind of reflection. How many times growing up did you tell yourself that you were going to remember what it is like to be in middle school? And how much have you forgotten? Or, thinking relevantly, how many times have you told yourself that you were going to try a new technique in class, and then were too busy to do it? Reflection can lead to useful change in the classroom; and perspective makes you a better teacher whether you are knowingly changing or not.

So, good luck digging through all of your experiences up to now. Remember, everything we do is about perspective. But just know that if you say that to your students, they won’t really understand you until they become teachers.

Share your tips about reflection by commenting below or emailing teachingismadhard@gmail.com.

Why no extra resources this week? Because, your years of experience are the best reflection resources out there!

perspective

Next week: Interviewing!

Week 3.3: Discipline is not Bipolar

Week 3.3: Discipline is not Bipolar

The title of this post comes from a student, of course – in my very first year of teaching, a student decided I was bipolar. Remembering that the student was young and probably just learned the term for the first time; it was not meant in disrespect. This post is also not meant in humor or disrespect towards anyone with a bipolar condition. But my method of discipline, in class as a young teacher, seemed bipolar to the student because I had an interesting habit of trying to address each little thing going on in the classroom. A student would talk out of turn; I would give them a frown and say, “Please don’t talk out of turn.” In the next instant, a student would correctly answer a question, I would smile and say, “Good job, that’s right!” So I wasn’t really being bipolar, but I was definitely acting like a Greek comedy/tragedy mask. I really hope I wasn’t coming across to students like the Joker; with a smile painted on over an evil face! But who’s to know?

joker-teaching

Therefore, discipline in the classroom is not bipolar. As teachers, we don’t need to address everything we see – there is an awful lot going on at any one time in the classroom. By the second year of teaching I had calmed down enough to realize that the best teachers I had seen were more like the eye of the storm. A center of calm that remained no matter what was going on, no matter how frustrated the students were with new material; radiating a belief that every student was capable of acting appropriately and mastering the lesson.

Beautiful and Zen idea. For those who want a definition, “Zen emphasizes rigorous self-control, meditation-practice, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others.” Just like a teacher, right? I try to imitate those teachers as much as I can. But I’m not naturally a calm person – so I try to make enthusiasm and energy work for me, even when the students think I’m spastic. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for patience in the classroom – and patience is not bipolar either.

So if discipline is not bipolar, what is it? My own, very accurate made-up definition is this: “Discipline is an expectation that everyone is capable of hard work.” As you can see, my definition doesn’t include punishment, or even instructions on how to act, but it does help me orient my actions as a teacher toward encouragement and strong work ethic.

Besides making your own definition of discipline, my only suggestion is to go all the way back to student-teaching semesters and VIDEOTAPE yourself! That way, you see what the student sees. We all know it is painful to watch ourselves teach, in the same way that people don’t like listening to their message on an answering machine. But it also allows you to see how you are responding to students, whether you look spastic or not, and whether you explained that process as well as you thought you did.

"Weird emojies."

Check out these resources on discipline and videotaping; and remember to develop a teaching personality that is comfortable for you and your students, and easy to sustain over time! Leave a comment below or email teachingismadhard@gmail.com to share your own discipline-personality tips!

Resources:

Great blog here: https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2012/01/28/8-things-teachers-do-to-cause-boredom/

Videotaping: https://www.southwindsorschools.org/uploaded/documents/technology/vtr/WatchingYourselfonVideotape.pdf

Next week! The Power of Reflection.