April 2009


A few days ago, I wrote about the stress of the job hunt, which has frustrated me greatly thus far (and I’m not even that far in!). Well, things are looking up: I received an E-mail today from one of the six schools I’ve applied to in the past week, asking me if I could interview tomorrow. So I have an interview at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow, which I’m going to ready myself for tonight by researching the district, the school, administration, and anything else I can find.

This is of course an encouraging sign – I was worried that I would be looked over entirely because I’m a new teacher. Now I get a chance to demonstrate my love of learning, education, and helping students in person, where I think I make the best impression (I hope). Better yet, this is a high school English position in a very small rural district, which is actually what I was looking for, in part because I went to school in a small rural district (although not quite this small) and in part because I’m hoping to find a district that is low income so that I can possibly apply for teacher loan forgiveness (and this district does qualify). That’s of course not a selling point for me, but it would be nice. The position is also for sophomore, junior, and senior English, which I would absolutely love teaching (and which is the age range I’m most qualified to teach, having taught juniors and seniors this semester).

I don’t want to get my hopes up, of course; I could potentially bomb the interview or simply not be the candidate that the district wants. But I am first and foremost hopeful, and I will do whatever I can to bridge the gap.

Here’s to first impressions.

I have long found blogging to be an excellent exercise for the reflective individual. There is something about writing, especially self-writing, that is great for critical reflection that can be incredibly useful for self-evaluation and -improvement.

Once, long, long ago in the beginning days of this blog (okay, only over a year ago), I proposed that a program in my own university should utilize blogging as a way of promoting reflection upon teaching, something that our school of education promotes highly in its own practicum. To my knowledge, that idea was never really considered too highly, but I still stand by the importance of teachers doing real reflecting, the sort that blogging is so great for.

But the benefits really do reach beyond even what I suggested there, I think. So here is a rationale for why the reflective teacher should consider blogging:

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I have always hated looking for jobs. In high school, I tried to get jobs without success, and to this day, I still don’t know exactly what it was that kept me from getting the jobs (which were menial jobs like fast food) – maybe a lack of confidence, perhaps. I was fortunate enough to get one my freshman year in college by knowing someone, got another by happening to impress the person I interviewed with (who actually became my direct supervisor), and fell onto my longest-running employment (4 years) by going to a temp service that had a job that was almost exactly what I was qualified for.

Then I had to switch industries altogether – customer service for education – and now all of that previous work is largely useless.

Right now, I have no real prospects. I’ve applied to two jobs, both of which fell through. I had to learn one lesson the hard way: don’t delay on sending in jobs. I applied to the second school a few days before the deadline, and when I checked back on the deadline date, I was informed that the position had already been filled. This subsequently caused me to go into panic mode and finish all of my applications for every school within a reasonable range that I will be certified to teach. One of those applications has been received (it was an online application that took me about four hours – no, seriously – to complete), and five more are on their way. I only hope that there’s enough in there to give me a chance at an interview. I am confident that I will be able to impress somebody if I can get an interview, but I have this irrational fear that even that won’t happen. Then where will I be? Signing up to substitute teach, which I will do if things with a full-time position don’t work out.

It’s a frustrating thing, job hunting. I especially worry about the fact that I am a part of what I have heard referred to as one of the largest graduation classes ever (this article says that 1.6 million college degrees will be awarded this year, according to the U.S. College Bureau). I know at least one of the jobs I applied for had an applicant with several years of experience who was re-entering the workforce after some time away, and I worry that in this struggling economy, there will be a lot more former teachers returning to increase overall family wages and some teachers who will drag their feet moving into retirement because of economic woes, all of which will decrease the numbers of jobs available to new teachers like myself who desperately need them to help pay for things like student loans (I think I might have to start paying on mine almost immediately) and, for exceptional cases like me, to support their families. Substitute teaching is an option, but not a very promising one, in my mind. (Someone change my mind in that regard, please?)

Hopefully, some administrator who will receive one of my packets with glowing letters of recommendation, lively resumes, and (hopefully) engaging letters of interest will see some potential in me and give me a chance. Sitting back and waiting for that is the hard part, and unfortunately, it’s about all I can do for now.

Today was my final test that I have to take for Illinois teacher certification, the APT (Assessment of Professional Teaching) test. The day, to put things lightly, could have gone better.

For one, I hate Google Maps for telling me to take a non-existent exit and making me approximately 10-15 minutes late for the test (which I was still able to take, thankfully).

The test itself wasn’t really bad, for the most part, but I was thoroughly annoyed by some of it. The test consists of 120 multiple choice questions dealing with 6 subareas and 2 “constructed-responses” – basically, extended writing – given on prompts that would be specific to one’s content area and age range (e.g. early childhood, elementary, secondary). I took me about 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete it, and my wrist still hurts a little from the writing.

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One of the areas of teaching that I’ve always struggled with has been motivation. I have tried to ask myself the hard questions: How do I motivate those students who have no intrinsic desire to learn or who have no personal interest in what I am trying to relate? What steps can I make? What will I not do to make this work – that is, what is off-limits for trying to motivate students? To date, I have not found easy answers, and I learn more and more that I must have a toolbox of ideas, not one trick to flip that proverbial switch from “unmotivated” to “motivated.”

I have also long been a critic of standardized testing (perhaps even before I decided on teaching as a career), with a rapidly growing (albeit somewhat morbid) fascination with the drive to use norm-referenced tests. (There’s a joke – although it’s not really a joke – about politicians who decry the fact that half of our students are below average: the punchline being, of course, that it is a mathematical certainty that half of any group will be “below average” because of group norms.) I tend to see the effects of standardized testing as destructive and antithetical to a profound approach to education, emphasizing lower-level thought (rote knowledge and memorization) and leaving little opportunity for higher-order thinking, such as analysis and synthesis. I don’t often feel the need to write about this because there are so many others who have written about the topic with greater evidence and precision that I possess.

So when I got my copy of the Illinois English Bulletin, the publication of the Illinois Association of Teachers of English (IATE, of which I am a member), I was interested to read an article entitled, “How Can Students Be Motivated to Do Well on Standardized Tests?” by Tisha Ortega. Unfortunately, Ortega’s approach was somewhat disappointing to me.

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I often say that I don’t have regrets – what’s done is done, and I am who I am because of what’s happening, for better or worse. I try to learn from my mistakes, but I make it a habit not to dwell too long on them, perhaps only long enough to make that learning possible.

Now I’m realizing a mistake that I do regret making: that I didn’t read more of the text I had for my advanced methods class last semester.

The text is Teaching English by Design: How to Create and Carry Out Instructional Units by Peter Smagorinsky (see publisher notes here). The main reason I’m kicking myself for not having read this is that the information in it would have been absolutely invaluable for my unit design and planning for student teaching. It gives some very interesting ideas for activities and strategies – some of which I used, sometimes in slightly different forms or ways – that could have made things a little easier on me when I was desperately trying to come up with creative and engaging ways of presenting the material.

But I am rectifying that currently: I have read a great deal of the book now, and I intend to finish reading it shortly. It would be nice to have in mind as I think about what I might say on (hopefully) upcoming interviews – that is, interviews I hope to have soon.

Ah well, another lesson learned.

This Language Log post by Geoff Pullum is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while. Pullum has been making rounds after his article in The Chronicle of Higher Education talking about Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary of the first edition. I’m not a big fan of Elements (although I’ve had at least one writing instructor who was), and neither is Pullum, which has made some people very angry, including a commenter on an NPR story which Pullum was interviewed for on the topic of Strunk and White.

The whole response is brilliant (and you’ve got to be amused by someone who gets so angry at criticism of “proper” grammar but fails to use it herself), but my absolute favorite part is when Pullum responds to the accusation that he merely looked at his “favorite authors” to decry one of the grammatical proscriptions contained in Elements:

Third, I didn’t look at my “favorite authors”. I would rather eat live worms on cold toast than read fin-de-si├Ęcle chick lit like Anne of Avonlea.

When people like Pullum have blogs, it makes me feel like the world, at least in a small way, is just.

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