Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Does anybody know what they want to be when they grow up?

Some recent conversations with friends have prompted me to wonder how many people truly love what they do. Not like, not manage, not deal with, but are truly passionate about the work they do and look forward to going to work most days. I like my job just fine and I learn a lot, but I can’t truthfully say it’s my life’s passion.

Life wasn’t supposed to be like this. Growing up, our parents, teachers and Sesame Street told us we could be whatever we wanted when we grew up. How many of you knew exactly what you wanted to be when you grew up? If you were like me, you always had a clear idea. It might have changed as often the weather, but if someone asked you, you knew you wanted to be a chef, or a dancer, or a nurse or whatever.  Where did that confidence go? Is it lost in the responsibility of needing to pay bills and keep a roof over our heads? Is our imagination and passion slowly being whittled down by the pressures of being an adult? It’s sad to me. I was always sure that I would never be one of those people who just tolerated their job because it paid the bills. I would be one of the ones leaping out of bed in the morning, eager to get to work and make a contribution to my chosen field. I don’t mind my work; it’s fine and given this economic climate, I’m grateful I have a job.  But I have to wonder on when I comprised on finding true happiness in my job. Maybe it’s just part of growing up.

Fortunately, I’m young yet and we live in an era where it’s expected that people make multiple career jumps. I have a great education and I’m gaining good skills that could be useful in almost any field. I have no plans on leaving my current job; like I said, I like it just fine. But I’m still hopeful that one day I’ll find a job that I’m truly passionate about, whatever that might be. In the meantime, I think I’ll go back to daydreaming and imagining my ideal job. That way, when it comes along, I’ll be ready for it.

I’m interested, kind readers, if any of you love your job. Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing when you were younger? If not, what’s your dream job?

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Ambitious, Yet Vague

Special education classrooms (shown here at th...

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My mother bought my sister and I memory books that corresponded with each year of school. We diligently filled them out each fall with the start of the new school year. One of the questions was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Each year it changed. When I was in first grade, I wanted to be a ballerina. It didn’t seem to matter that I had never taken a dancing lesson in my life and had no idea what that really entailed. In second grade, I wanted to be an astronaut. I think that ended when the Challenger blew up later that school year.

In third grade, I got really ambitious. I wanted to be a millionaire. I have no idea how I was going to make this million dollars, but that didn’t seem to matter. In fourth grade I upped the ante and wanted to be a billionaire. In fifth grade, yes, a trillionaire.

For the next few years, I don’t remember having any specific employment goal. I did well in my classes, but there wasn’t anything in particular that I was drawn to. I enjoyed band the most, but never seriously considered that as a profession. I was good, but not that good.

When I was 15, things changed. I was in marching band with a rather intimidating band director. It wasn’t that he was mean, he just had high expectations and didn’t have patience for those who didn’t live up to their potential. As a sophomore new to the band, I was nervous around him. However, I found the courage to ask if I could move from the 10th grade band to the Junior/Senior band because there were too many saxophones in the lower group. At first he said no, but a few days later, he told me to talk to my guidance counselor to see if I could change my schedule. He gave me the boost of confidence that I needed and the idea of being a music educator was planted.

I actually applied to Penn State School of Music with the idea that I would become an instrumental music teacher. A number of things over the fall of my senior year forced me to pull my application and reapply to the Division of Undergraduate Studies, aka, The I-Have-No-Idea-What-I-Want-To-Major-In Major. I ended up a theatre major, but I by the time I had done academic theatre for four years, I had no desire to do it as a career.

The turning point was really when I opted to serve two years in AmeriCorps. I was assigned to a position at my old high school, working with students with moderate to severe disabilities, training them to work in the student store to set them up for future employment.  I wasn’t there for more than two weeks before I realized that I wanted to be in the classroom. I really could help young people by being a teacher.

I found a grad school that combined my theatre major and English minor into a dual certification program. I taught Special Education English for two years (New York City was so desperate for teachers that you didn’t have to be endorsed in Special Education to teach a specific content), general education English for two years in a different state, and then opted to go back to school to get my Special Education certification. This is my second year teaching full Special Education in a middle school and I love it.

Looking back, I shouldn’t be surprised that I ended up where I did – there were definitely signs along the way that should have made my trajectory obvious. I had volunteered multiple times with students with special needs, from the time I was 10 through college. Nothing I have done is as satisfying, and I am glad I ended up where I did.

 

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Last Gasp of Summer

Back To School (8/52)

Image by a bored chica via Flickr

I don’t understand the hype about New Year’s Day. For me, my year hasn’t begun in January since I was four years old. For me, the year begins in September and likely will for a long, long time.

This is the last week before school gets underway out here. We start officially the Wednesday after Labor Day, but teachers report this Thursday. I, however, will start on Monday with building leadership meetings and parent meetings on Tuesday. Wednesday is a mandatory furlough day as part of the budget cutting at the state and district level – teachers are not allowed in the building and were told to not work from home (Seriously? When has a teacher not worked from home?)

So, this is the last bit of summer for me. And while I’ll miss not setting my alarm and taking the dogs for walks in the middle of the day when it’s not so busy out, I am actually looking forward to going back to school for a few reasons:

  1. This will be my 6th year of teaching and for the first time, I actually know what I will be teaching in the fall. I’ve taught at a few different schools, transitioning from one to the other during the summer. Even the two years I taught back to back in the Bronx, I didn’t really know what I was going to be teaching in the fall until I walked in the door the first week of September. I’ve never been able to plan out my first few weeks and set up routines that will help me throughout the year.
  2. I’ve been in trainings all this week and also a few weeks back and I’m excited to actually try some of the new things that I have learned about literacy.
  3. I’ve been dreaming about my students. Because I teach special education, I will retain almost all of my students that I had last year. So, as I’m learning these new literacy techniques, I have specific kids in mind with whom I plan to use the new strategies. They are on my mind a lot lately and I find myself missing them.
  4. My diet wants me to go back. Seriously, I am terrible at trying to stick with a specific food plan when I am at home all day. It’s too easy just to grab something, usually simply because I’m bored. I gained only three or four pounds while on vacation which I shed as soon as I got back, but over the course of the whole summer, I haven’t really lost anything more that I’d lost in June. A regular schedule and having the food not be as accessible should help me get back on track.
  5. Running Club! A group of colleagues and I go running at least once a week. While I don’t mind running alone, it’s so much easier with someone else there to push you and to keep you company. (By the way, it’s only 13 weeks until the Seattle Half Marathon!)

So, I will enjoy my last full day of freedom today. When my alarm goes off on Monday morning, I won’t be terribly happy about it, but only because I hate waking up, not because I’m not looking forward to going back to school.

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Burnout

Eckstein Middle School, Seattle, Washington. T...

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If you haven’t noticed based on my past posts, I love my job. Working with students with special needs has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done with my life. I love my kids and have a position at a school that I really feel that I’ve found a place for myself. I have never woken up in the morning and felt like I didn’t want to go to work (I’ve felt like I didn’t want to get out of bed, but that’s just because it’s 5:30am and my bed is warm and cozy).

However, as great and rewarding as my job is, it doesn’t mean that I’m not suffering from a bit of burnout.  It was a rough year at my school. Due to some redistricting and the move toward neighborhood schools, we had 100 more 6th graders than expected in September. It took until October to be able to hire more staff to lessen the load, so there were many classes with 36 or more kids at the beginning.

My position wasn’t even created until the beginning of September and I started September 20th. Starting three weeks into the school year is stressful and I felt like I spent the first three months of the year playing catch up. It’s not at all fun to meet all your students’ parents at Curriculum Night when you’ve only been at the school two weeks and the curriculum hadn’t been ordered yet.

Things got better until about March. I always thought high school was bad for spring fever, but middle school is worse. High schoolers just check out and stop doing anything. Middle schoolers just get wacky. My theory is that puberty is hitting them hard and since they are 12, they don’t know how to handle it. We also had a rash of kids possessing or under the influence of marijuana. These are 12 year olds!! It was crazy. Maybe I was a naive kid, but when I was 12, I wouldn’t have known where to get that if I’d wanted it.

Anyway, by the time June came around, we were all burned out. It was a tough year and we were ready to go away for awhile. I have one colleague who was off to Hawaii for a wedding, another going to India for 6 weeks, and I am heading to the NY/NJ/PA/NH area for nearly three weeks. I feel it’s a well deserved vacation after a long, weird school year.

On Monday, I crashed. I slept in, I barely got to the shower, I didn’t work out, and I sat on the couch watching movies all day. It was fantastic. Tuesday, I ran some errands, did a two mile run, and took the dogs for a walk. I finally started feeling normal. I’m heading east in less than a week, and I know that when I get back at the end of July, I’ll be just about ready to return to school.

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School’s (Almost) Out For Summer

When my son takes standardized tests

Image by bionicteaching via Flickr

Here we are in the penultimate week of school. Many of my friends across the country are already enjoying their summer break while some others are deep in the throes of state testing. Out here, we’re just biding our time, waiting until the end comes. What I never really realized when I was in school is that teachers are anxious for the end of school as any of the students.

Ever since we did our state tests in early May, we’ve been deep into final projects. This has lead to a high level of stress in the kids as the struggle to complete their large assignments. Many of these projects are accompanied by a oral presentation, which sends kids into a whole other level of anxiety. It’s no wonder that kids are blowing out of classes left and right. I had a kid on Wednesday who left my room to print her paper, ended up cursing out another adult, returning to my room, and the storming out moments later. I had to take her down to the office where she eventually calmed down and apologized. Another of my students was suspended Thursday morning because he was fighting. This kid, normally a very sweet boy, just is under so much stress right now that he snapped.

Then I also worry about my lower income students. How many of them rely on the free/reduced lunch program here at school for their meals? Will they continue to get the food they need during the summer? Will some of them simply be at home alone all summer because their parents can’t afford the camps and classes that some of their peers take advantage of? I have at least three kids that I am concerned about going into summer break.

Then there’s my stress level – trying to get the curriculum done before the end, trying to get all the grading done, doing IEP progress reports and sending them home, plus helping families find ways to encourage their kids to continue reading and doing math over the summer to limit regression. I’ve also been in various year end meetings almost every night the last two weeks.  My only respite has been the running club that we started here – a group of teachers who are aiming for the half or full marathon in November. We run at least once a week, often more, and it gives us a chance to vent about all the issues we are facing these last couple of weeks. Teaching can be a very isolating experience, so having this outlet has been a lifesaver.

So, as this posts, we have five days remaining (including today.) The last day is an all school activity day, so really, there are four academic days left. I just hope we all make it that far and survive reasonably intact.

Don’t forget!…Our View From Here is doing our second virtual book club next week (June 20th-24th). This time we are reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Read along with us as we “discuss” this book and are joined by guest blogger Erin!

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Teaching: Not My First Calling

Theatre small

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I sort of always knew I’d be a teacher, although it’s not where I originally started out. I was planning on working professionally in technical theatre, mainly stage management and lighting.  I was a theatre major in college, I worked at the campus concert/sports arena, did any freelance theatre/concert work I could get, and had even started looking into touring companies for my post-college employment. However, by the time I got to the end of my undergraduate degree, I was rather burnt out on theatre.  Too many semesters doing academic theatre in which everyone was doing what their professor expected of them to get the best grade possible plus years of working as a grunt in any place that would hire me wore me down.  I left school with a degree that I didn’t think I’d be using anytime soon.

Due to a friend’s recommendation (and later reference), I ended up serving in AmeriCorps for two years.  I worked with low-incidence special education students and loved it. During that time, I also tutored some of the general education kids in English.  Around the beginning of my second year, I started looking for a grad program for teacher certification because by then, I knew that teaching was where I needed to be. I found a program that combined my Theatre major and English minor into a dual-certification program at New York University. Two years and two student teaching placements (one elementary, one secondary) later, I was certified to teach in New York State.

NY - Albany: New York State Department of Educ...

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I was hired by the New York City Dept. of Education at a huge job fair in February, three months before I graduated.  Now, the way the NYCDOE does their recruiting is that the main administration hires teachers and then puts on a series of job fairs for those new employees to meet potential principals.  I had a job, but I didn’t have a school. After a snafu at the main office, I was placed in the wrong area of the city at an elementary school.  After multiple calls to my recruiter, she got me into a high school, but still in the East Bronx instead of Manhattan/West Bronx, which would have been much closer to where I lived in New Jersey.

Anyway, I showed up to the comprehensive high school on the first day of school. No one had any idea I was coming.  I ended up sitting around for two days, shuffled back and forth between the English and Special Education departments.  Finally, halfway through the first day of school, I was sent to teach self-contained English to students with learning disabilities. Not having an official training about teaching special education, I was making it up as I went along. I had no curriculum, no textbooks, few novels, and fewer resources. If it wasn’t for a veteran teacher who took pity on me, I would have been lost during that first month.

After two years, I decided to return to the Seattle area where I had grown up. Armed with glowing recommendation letters, I applied to several districts, including the one that I had been in. However, due to a unforeseen and completely out of my control incident, I was unable to get my teaching certification in Washington before the beginning of the school year. Turns out that only one person at NYU can sign off the paperwork stating that you have completed an education program, and that one guy was out of the office for six weeks because of an emergency knee surgery. I got the papers signed before I left the state, but it took another eight weeks to go through Washington state.

Fortunately for me, an English teacher at the high school less than a mile from my house retired at the end of the September. Turns out he’d been on medical leave the year before, returned in August, and shortly realized he couldn’t do it.  I applied, interviewed and started on October 15th. Unfortunately, it was a non-continuing contract, meaning the school district was under no obligation to keep me the following year.  I started the next school year without a position, but then took a long-term sub position that turned into another non-continuing contract. A letter from the superintendent in February informed everyone that while there would not be any layoffs that year, no non-continuing contracts would be renewed. I decided to take the opportunity to go back to school and get that Special Education endorsement that I had been thinking about.

So, here I am, at the start of another school year. I have my certification in English, Drama, and Special Education, four years of teaching experience, and no job. A large part of that is due to the state that the economy is – one of the first things cut was education.  While people aren’t being laid off any longer, no one is really hiring much either. I have had three interviews and no offers so far with another two or three coming up. School starts either Sept. 1 or 8, depending on the district, so the jobs are starting to taper off.  If nothing else, I can sub or get a job in a tutoring center somewhere.

I had hoped at this point in my life, I would be at a school somewhere, well integrated into the school culture, and involved in after school activities.  Hopefully, I will have excellent news in the next couple of weeks – that I have found the school I want to be at long-term and I love my new job.

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