I’ve been a teacher for twenty-four years in several settings. I’ve been lucky enough to work as an English teacher and debate coach in a large public school system, a smaller public school system, an alternative school setting, and a private school setting.
My story is unique. I went to college in Iowa and had to do my student teaching in my major and my minor AND practice it in a junior high and high school setting. The first half of my student teaching was working with 7th graders for reading and 8th graders for American history. I had a great experience and amazing cooperating teachers. I know this is not the case for everyone, but I was lucky. The second half of my student teaching sent me to a high school in Nebraska to teach 11th grade honors English, 12th grade English, and AP Government. My cooperating teacher for English was wonderful and easily the best teacher I’ve ever encountered. The other cooperating teacher…? Let’s just say that I was on my own from day one in that class. The experience was incredible, but I quickly became aware of the extensive amount of time it took to prepare, plan, and grade. And I had three preps as a student teacher.
It all worked out, and I graduated ready and excited to teach, still green. After I graduated, I was so green that I thought I had to have my teaching certificate in hand before I could apply to any schools. I waited tables at a chain restaurant until fate gave me a customer that would finally put me on a different path. The principal of the junior high walked in and sat in my section. He asked me how the job hunt was going, and I explained that I hadn’t even started because I didn’t have my teaching certificate yet. He quickly assured me that it didn’t matter and gave me the number of a principal within the school district that was looking for a part-time evening instructor at the district’s alternative school. It wasn’t my major and it wasn’t full time, but it was a job that paid significantly better than the meager tips I pulled in waiting tables.
When I interviewed with the principal, it was apparent that we would get along very well. He was a great guy, genuinely interested in helping kids. He even prepped me for the district interview which was later that day. I was hired right after the district interview (school was starting in less than a week) and went to the first teacher’s meeting a few days later. I still hadn’t signed the contract. To this day I have no idea why I put signing the contract off for so long, but it was to my benefit that I waited.
The day my signed contract was due, a large school district called me and asked if I was available to interview that afternoon. I called my high school English cooperating teacher in excitement. Unknown to me, she picked up the phone and called the principal of the school that was looking to interview me and raved about my performance as a student teacher. They interviewed me that afternoon and offered me the job. I explained my situation about the part-time job and told them that I would need to make a phone call first. After talking with the principal of the alternative school, we determined that I would work as an hourly employee allowing me to take the full-time English position with the large school district. I went from waiting tables and making very little money to having a contracted full-time English position with great benefits and a part-time social studies position that paid me $20 an hour.
I worked at the large school district for three years and was miserable the entire time. Administration was not supportive. My students during my first year were horrible. While some of it was the green teacher in me, I went on to find out that veteran teachers declared that class as one of the worst to pass through the system. What a welcome to my first year. The resources were limited and locked up. I traveled from room to room with a cart that carried all of my needed materials. I had three preps and sponsored student council. I hated every minute of my time in that district. Every minute. I might have quit teaching in those first few years if it hadn’t been for the alternative kids at the part-time gig.
I worked at the alternative school for nine years before the district cut the evening program and laid off all the teachers that were a part of it. I have to a laugh. When anyone hears about an alternative school, they automatically think about bad kids and tantrums that result in broken furniture and suspensions. This place was not like that. My students called me by my first name and saw me as a mentor first and a teacher second. I wore jeans. There were students ages fourteen through twenty-one in my classes, and the classes were really small. Everyone worked at his or her pace out of packets that contained assignments and projects. I can only recall one time that I ever needed to contact the principal for student behavior. Working there was magic. It was everything I thought teaching should be.
When I was through with the large school district (after the first three years), I applied to a smaller one in the area. I cried with relief after I was offered the job. Instead of seven overcrowded high schools, this district had one high school and was almost finished building the second high school. The grass was definitely greener. I took a slight pay cut to increase my happiness, and it worked. The administration was supportive. The kids were great. The worst kid was a cream puff compared to the kids I’d worked with in the larger school district. I was in heaven and remained there for eleven years.
Then my husband was transferred to Washington state. I’d had enough of teaching and thought about getting out of the profession. By this time, I was teaching 9th grade English, honors 9th grade English, novice debate, and varsity debate. I also taught an English credit recovery class one night a week and summer school. Debate consisted of Saturday competitions that started in November and ended in March or April. (It was a long season.) I was also part of the curriculum committee. I spread myself too thin, and I was damn tired. It was time to find something new.
I decided to become a certified personal trainer. It was still teaching, but it was a different kind of teaching. When the move to Washington came, I thought I’d found the best of both worlds. I found a private school that wanted a personal trainer to do their PE classes. This meant that the community center the school used for PE would hire me as a personal trainer, and the school would hire me for English and history. It was a match made in heaven, again. At least this is what I thought. While I worked in both places and loved them, they were subject to the number of clients and students for hours. There were days when I worked at 6 am and didn’t have another client until 10 am. Then I might have a student at 11:30 am and another one at 2 pm. My hours were incredibly spread out leaving me without the option of getting another job. I also got paid hourly which meant I could be at work from 6 am to 6 pm and only truly work four or five hours in the day. Why not go home? I lived near the Seattle area. If any of you reading this are familiar with the Seattle area, you are not surprised that on some days it took me 75 to 90 minutes to get the twenty miles to work, and gas wasn’t (still isn’t) all that cheap. It’s just not worth it. So what did I do with my spare time between training clients and teaching students? This blog is the answer to that question.
I loved what I did, but sometimes loving what you do doesn’t pay the bills. I worked at a community center, a private school, and a retail store, and I didn’t make half of what I made teaching back in my old state. That last part definitely a caused a lot of stress in our household. Which made me go back into public education.
Halfway through a school year, I finished out someone’s contract. It was a horrible experience made worse by the fact that I was the third teacher the students had that year. But I eventually made it to Arlington, Washington and taught there for six years, loving every moment of my kids and co-workers, before moving back to Nebraska. Teaching in Arlington made me love teaching again, but I realized that I will eventually need to make my way out of it because of the stresses that causes–migraines, weight gain, stress, and a whole slew of other mental health issues. For now, I’m here in the trenches and writing to you.
I want to help you learn from my mistakes. I want you to feel as comfortable as possible during your first few years, especially the first year. Please comment and ask questions. I’ve had some really great experiences and some really bad ones. I would love to help you stay in the profession and deeply enjoy what you do.
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