Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tips & Tricks: I Want to Be a Teacher!

Okay, so you're not planning on "falling back" on teaching. You recognize that it is a job that one can't just become because their other options have fallen through. You love kids. You love your subject. You want kids to love your subject. You know that your job will require a lot of dedication. Now what do you do?

Obviously, you're going to need to enter some kind of teacher preparation program. However, before you spend your time and money on that, there are a few things you should do first.

Substitute
For at least a semester, hopefully longer, become a sub. In Kentucky, you only need 60 college hours in order to be a sub. After that, you complete a program at the board and they'll let you be in charge of students. During this time, try to get into a variety of schools. Find out what it's like at Manual, Western, Iroquois, Butler, Liberty and any other school that may require your services. If you're not sure of the age you want to teach, try out elementary, middle and high. If you can, try to make yourself a preferred sub in a school that you like. How? Follow lesson plans. Arrive on time, looking professional. Bring your own materials in case the actual teacher didn't leave any for some reason (emergencies happen). Roll with the punches. If they ask you to give up your planning to watch another class, do it. If they need something, volunteer. It's a short step from preferred sub to hired new teacher in most buildings. There's a sort of blind lottery to being hired in my district, but principals can request certain hires or help you get hired by the district in general. If you end up a preferred sub and are later hired at that school, you'll be that far ahead when you are a first year teacher.

I must confess, I never subbed. I wish I had, but I didn't. My first fieldwork was in my Masters in the Art of Teaching (MAT) program. My first semester was a baptism by fire because of my lack of experience. It would have been very easy for me to throw my hands in the air and quit because of how stressful that was. If I had subbed, I would have gone in with my eyes open. Don't think that just because you were a student at one time, you know exactly how they will act. You don't. Moreover, you don't remember as much as you think you do.

Read
Read teaching books. Read the saccharine books like Teach With Your Heart by Erin Gruwell, the Freedom Writers' teacher. She loved her kids and changed their lives. Just be aware that the majority of her success came from a cooperative administration that let her keep those students for a number of years and pure dumb luck to end up with Steven Spielberg as a contact. She also went into a lot of debt for her students, so if you aren't willing to do that, that is okay. Read teaching books that discuss pedagogy. Anything by Harry K. Wong or Ruby Payne is going to be worth your time. Read about how to handle yourself on the first day of school, how poverty affects learning and how to set up your room to keep your kids from going nuts. I still read books like these on a regular basis.

Talk to a Teacher
Ask a teacher about their daily schedule. Ask them how they do their grading. Ask them how they write their lessons. If you don't have a teacher for a good friend or family member, ask me. I'm here to help you. Don't go into this blind. I was lucky enough to have a grandmother and cousin as teachers. I wasn't alive when my grandmother was a teacher, but I knew her job was hard and took a lot of time. I watched my cousin, who is more like a sister to me, graduate with a teaching degree and teach at one of the most difficult middle schools in the district as an ECE teacher. She then went on to receive a counselling degree and is a counselor at one of the best high schools in the district. All along the way, I knew her job was hard and saw just how much time and effort she put into her profession. I may not have subbed before becoming a teacher, but I knew what the job entailed.

More than anything else, be prepared to be wrong. Looking back on some of the first lessons I ever designed, I'm amazed how far I've come. Half of becoming a teacher is realizing when to say "You know what, I don't know everything." Most education professors are veteran teachers who have spent decades as teachers. It's easy to dismiss what they say since they aren't in the classroom anymore. They aren't on the front lines still. However, there is a reason they have become education professors and why they have been hired. They are there to help you. Recognizing when to admit you are wrong and accept help is called learning and it's what you want your students to do as well.

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