May 2009


I’ve talked here before about what have been called “word moments” (a phrase which I dearly love for its multiple uses and the clarity of the experience it describes). I just had one of those, and I had to share it so that maybe someone else will have the kind of realization I did.

I’ve been sitting in front of this laptop for a while now trying to pound away from of these blasted assignments, and I glanced over at the newest issue of English Journal, which I just received in the past few days (and which I would much prefer to read instead of doing these useless assignments). For some moment, the analytical part of my mind parsed the latter word in that title in a way it never has before: Jour/nal. My first thought, despite the fact that I don’t speak the language at all, was of the French word jour, “day.” Upon thinking it over further, my mind went to journals of the personal sort, the kind that you write in daily. Even the idea of journalism and dailies (newspapers that print daily) popped into my head.

After these kinds of thoughts, I had to pursue the etymology further to confirm or disconfirm my linguistic hypothesis, and to my surprise, it was confirmed but in a slightly different way – journal does in fact appear to come to us through Old/Anglo-French, although the root itself is Latin, from diurnalis, “daily.” (It is curious to me how the introductory Latin “diu-” sound became the French “jou-,” but then again, I don’t claim to be a linguist, just an interested observer.)

Interestingly enough, I consciously re-parsed the word as journ/al, which I immediately associated with the word adjourn. Turns out that the root and etymological connection are the same.

Okay, now the updates:

  • I signed a contract on Thursday for the school that I’ll be working for in the fall and confirmed that I will be teaching four courses: sophomore English, junior English, senior English, and an elective writing/novels course (although the emphasis for the first semester is more creative writing than research; I might try to incorporate research into it, though). I was also able to see my room, which is surprisingly nice given the class sizes I’ll have and the size/income of the district. (I have a pod of 4 computers at the back of my room, and the teacher’s computer is hooked up to a large TV, which is also connected with a DVD/VCR combo. That’s really good, all things considered.)
  • The same day, I brought home a wagonload – literally – of material to begin preparing over the summer. (I say “literally” because the material filled an actual wagon that one of the teachers had brought to school, which the principal and I took out to my car to unload.) This included the teacher’s editions for all three of the new textbooks that were purchased for the main sections, as well as a great deal of supplementary materials for the American lit text (for junior English), including a dozen or so CDs of software, several little books for writing and other areas, and even a book of lesson plans.
  • Thursday night, the board approved me as a teacher for the fall, so I am good to go there.
  • Finally, the unofficial scores came back on Friday evening for my APT test (see here), and I scored 286 out of 300 (scaled). I only needed 240 to pass, and this was the final step that I needed to take care of to be 9-12 certified. (The 6-8 certification, of course, will be in order once I get these middle school courses completed.

Everything’s working well, and I’ve got a lot of work ahead. (The incoming juniors and seniors have already been told that they’re very behind because of this year of English, so the task to get them caught up is a little daunting.) At least, though, everything is moving forward.

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I am in the middle of things.

I am finished but not quite done; I am moving forward but still stuck in place; I have everything in place but can’t take hold of it yet.

Let me explain briefly (since WordPress ate this entry initially – I am shaking my proverbial fist at you, WordPress.com): On Sunday, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English Education (Summa Cum Laude, I’m proud to say), and I even have the actual diploma despite rumors that we’d be receiving them in the mail later. (Even our student speaker was under that impression, mentioning it in his speech [which was excellent, I must add].)

On the previous Thursday, I began my final undergrad course, a 2-week immersion course on early adolescents and middle school philosophy that will allow me to be certified 6-12 (which doesn’t seem all that useful now that I’ve secured a secondary teaching position, but I’ll concede that it might later). As soon as the course is finished, I begin my interim job – yet another middling position – before my teaching position officially starts in August.

With all of this coursework – a total of six significant projects, with deadlines ranging from this coming Friday to the following Thursday – I haven’t had much time to think about what I’ll be doing all summer long, which is planning the curricula for the courses I’ll be teaching in the fall, but what time I have had has raised a number of questions. How will I handle grammar instruction? (The junior high teacher uses a model of explicit instruction, which I distrust because of what I’ve read on the subject. On the other hand, there probably should be some continuity, so I need to know how the freshman English teacher handles grammar.) Will there be any literature that I’ll be fully expected to teach (e.g. Julius Caesar for sophomores, To Kill a Mockingbird for juniors)? What class sets are available to supplement the textbooks the school has just bought? Will I be teaching the current elective novels/writing course, and if so, what class sets will I have available to use for that class? These are only a few of the many questions that have come to mind that I need to have answered.

But for now, I’m stuck trying to get all these other seemingly irrelevant projects done before I can even start seriously thinking about these things, and it frustrates me because that’s what I really want to do. (Yes, I just said that I want to plan curriculum, and yes, I’m sure I couldn’t have imagined saying that six months ago.)

Maybe that’ll be good motivation. I have a feeling I’ll need it.

Finally, I can rest easy.

Some updates: As of this morning, I’ve had interviews at three schools, the last of which was a follow-up interview at the first school who asked me to interview. The second interview, which was with the principal and the junior high English teacher, went well, by my estimation, and I was told that they would make their decision by Friday.

Later, my co-operating teacher from student teaching called me to say that the principal of this school had left her a message to ask about me, and I found out that my university supervisor had also been contacted. Whatever these two said, it was apparently good – good enough to convince the principal that I am the right candidate for the job.

Yes, that’s right – I was offered a position. Better yet, I accepted it.

So, come August, I will be the only full-time high school English teacher for a small district in rural Illinois. I am getting new textbooks for three out of the four courses I’ll be teaching (the other is an elective course that is comprised of a semester of intensive writing and a semester of novels), so I will have a great deal of flexibility over what I will teach – and the summer to figure out exactly what that will be. The district is also surprisingly well equipped for their size in terms of technology, and the district makes use of Moodle (which I’m fairly familiar with) for various things, which makes me glad that I have the experience with technology and possibly the opportunity to make use of it.

I’m pretty excited about this development. Gone are the worries of a year of substitute teaching; I have a position in a school that feels comfortable, with staff and – perhaps most importantly – administration that I feel very confident about working with.

And somewhat coincidentally, my old job that I’ll be working over the summer confirmed that I’ll be working full-time, most likely with a schedule that will be incredibly convenient. (Although juggling the planning will be interesting…)

And I graduate in four days.

This calls for a celebration.

I left this morning hoping that I wouldn’t miss anything today; there were a few schools who had indicated that they would try to be in touch by today, and my wife and I were taking our oldest son to a follow-up visit with his developmental pediatrician. I took my cell phone to make calls back home to check the voicemail and my new PDA (my graduation present, a Palm TX – okay, it’s new to me) in case we could get to someplace that would have free WiFi for me to check my voicemail. (And apparently, not all McDonald’s offer free WiFi – what a ripoff.)

That was mostly useless: no calls, no E-mails. So I’m left this weekend to wonder about callbacks for second interviews with two schools and about whether or not the third will consider offering me that position. I hate being left up in the air, but I guess that’s just how things go sometimes.

But there was a consolation prize of sorts: a box had come to my parents’ house with my name on it that was marked from amazon.com. My mother assumed it was from my uncle (who has been in the habit of buying gifts from Amazon for family), but it was actually a gift (I am guessing) from my former, soon-to-be-current coworkers. And a fitting gift it is: a copy of the New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd edition, the principal editor of which was Erin McKean (yes, this Erin McKean). (It’s fitting because I had the habit of finding out etymological facts or having “word moments” and sharing that with my coworkers, which earned me the nickname “Mr. Dictionary.”) I’m not excessively fond of dictionaries (although I am rather partial to the OED), but this dictionary is beautiful.

And perhaps the best part was the note:

Congrats! I hope this is big enough to properly beat people over the head with.

Of course, if I were a stingy old prescriptivist, I would probably beat the author over the head with this sizable volume for breaking two of the most uptight grammatical “rules” ever (No Split Infinitives and No Terminating Prepositions), but I’m not, so I’ll let it slide. It’s a nice gesture, anyway, and maybe it’ll help keep my mind off the waiting. (Probably not, but hey, a guy can hope.)

A really quick update (since I’m writing from my new Palm TX): 3 interviews now under my belt, the last of which should be letting me know soon whether they’re going to offer me the job or not. No contacts from the other 2 schools yet: I assume they’re still getting things in order for round 2 of interviews.

We’ll see how things go from here with teaching positions. Otherwise, I’m just thinking about my final middle school course(s), graduation, and the summer job I have lined up (which is my old job, actually). There’s only 1 other local district that I’ll be applying to, but hopefully I won’t need it. Until I get word, it looks like more waiting is in my future.

Okay, remember when I was modestly freaking out over the fact that a district had already hired someone even though the application deadline hadn’t come up and how I panicked and sent out applications to every conceivable school that I would be qualified to teach within a reasonable radius?

This was actually a really good thing.

That extra stimulus* helped motivate me to get applications out, and now I’ve had two interviews at local districts (both of which have gone moderately well, I think – we’ll see if I’m right soon enough). Better yet, I had a third school contact me today about interviewing this week, and it was absolutely vital that I didn’t wait on this one: the job posting had an application deadline of June 26th, but obviously, they’re interviewing a little early. (Just a little.)

So, here’s my advice to anyone who’s going to be looking for jobs now or anytime soon: Do not – I repeat, do not – wait when it comes to applications for teaching positions. Really, this should be somewhat commonsensical – districts are going to want to start looking sooner rather than later in order to find the best possible candidate. If you even want to be considered, then you need to get jobs in as soon as you have your credentials in order. (Related piece of advice #2: Bug people about letters of recommendation early! Incessantly, if you must.)

The payoff for me is as such: 1) I have two schools that I have a possibility of hearing back from for a second interview, both of which are a comparable distance away (which is to say that they’re both pretty far away, and I have no plans to relocate anytime soon) and which have their own pros and cons, and 2) I have an interview with a third school which is somewhat closer in distance. And if for some reason none of those pan out (although I am hopeful), I’m going to a job fair this week where another local school district will be represented so that I can get my name (and resume!) there in case anything opens up.

It stands that the job outlook is much better, and I’m glad for that. We’ll see how things turn out and what kinds of decisions I’ll have to make from here.


*I hate using that word after everything this year, but it fits. Sue me.

It has been a good May Day.

Actually, April went out with a bang for me: I had my first interview at school #1, and it went well – well enough that the principal insinuated that I would probably get a callback for a second round of interviews. (!!) Excellent news, of course, and I’m hopeful.

Today, however, I took some time to return to the school I student taught at for a poetry slam that they held the last hour of the day, where students read their own poetry and even sang lyrics they had penned. I got blindsided a little, too: my former co-op asked me at the last minute if I’d play and sing something (a student had brought a guitar to sing one of her own songs), and despite not being entirely comfortable with it, I went ahead and performed a song I’d written a number of months ago. It was a very enjoyable visit, getting to see my former students and talk with my co-op, who I talked to about my current job hunt for a substantial amount of time.

When I left there, I found out that I’d had a call from another district while I was gone, and I immediately called the school back. They were, as I expected, calling about my interest in their position (which is for seventh grade). I said that I was, and we set up an initial interview for Monday morning.

This is good news to me: I sent off all of those applications, and all of them had application deadlines of today except for this school that called, and their deadline was yesterday. So maybe I’ll get some more calls on Monday after the schools have taken account of their applications. I’m much more hopeful now that I’m seeing something to show for those applications, and I hope it continues so that I have a good chance to find a job that suits me and that I’ll be happy with and successful in.