Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sentiments about job-interviewing and job-moving on (again)

The 2013-14 year teaching middle school has been an eye-opening one for me. One component resides in the block schedule, favored by electives teachers and those core-subject instructors specializing in project-based learning.
  • My teaching assignment this past year: Algebra 1 every other day, and Math 8 every day.
  • Never have I had to work with a 2-day block before and the structure of seeing the Algebra 1 crowd no more than three times a week. The benefits of a block schedule are that you can cover twice the amount of material, but in this group, all I found myself doing was lecturing and not giving enough time for exploration, marination, and the inevitable success I've experienced in the past. Who wants to sit and write notes for 85 minutes? This situation was remedied with exploratory, parter- and group-central activities, taking "breaks" either to get up and move around or to share student successes and discuss problem-solving strategies. Perhaps what most frustrates me about this group is the one kid who, on the first anonymous survey I ever gave, responded to a question thusly:
Q: Is there anything you wish you could have told me this year?
A: That you are a bad teacher.
Amidst all those budget cut-backs, impossibly copious amounts of grading and pulling worksheets out of . . . maybe we all need a little break.
  • I'm reminded of an occasion about four years ago when I began my first year teaching and I came across one student's homework. This was the first year I implemented the same heading as my 11th grade Honors Trigonometry teacher: up at the top of the page, following name, date, and assignment, were the feelings. This particular Algebra 1 student, four years ago, wrote: "My feelings are none of your business." I might have written some sort of acknowledgement, or not written anything at all. I might have started checking in more with that student, or not said anything at all. I don't recall. What I do know is that the following year I had the same student for Algebra 2, and, implementing the same homework heading, read over some of the most eloquent and sometimes raw emotions this student had. I would like to think that I was somebody this young adult could talk to and know their feelings were safe. Or maybe they just emoted to everybody. I have no idea. My point is that I am quick to react like everyone else with comments directed towards their character -- with hurt emotions or dented self-esteem -- but I know that that student who called me a bad teacher will be just fine in their academic career, in the long run. It'll all come out in the woodwork, as they say.

The other, more significant part, resides in this revolving door I have begun to get used to in my employment status. I interview well, and multiple times throughout the year I am told that I am a great teacher (by adults and children alike, even by my boyfriend and parents who have never seen me teach). The year comes to a close, and then I find myself jobless with my previous administration team acting as cheerleaders on the sidelines rather than members of the same team on the field working together. I feel "good enough" to hire and keep on for the year, to learn those kids some 'rithmetic real good, but not "good enough" to keep for reasons of budget, or for no reason given whatsoever.
    If you don't know where you're going, any road can take you there.
I am not sure if my colleagues from this past year will be passing faces or lifelong neighbors of my classroom. I'm unsure of what will become of my classroom if six full-time teachers are not required. Even though it was cockroach-ridden and always a mess in my eyes, it was like a second home and a safe haven for me to uphold for a unique group of students. Since mid-March I've passed through the various stages of figuratively mourning this job position.

Denial -- this one was probably the shortest.
Anger -- actually a lot of fun because humor is my defense mechanism for getting angry.
Bargaining -- I must have spoken with every teacher on campus about past practices, gotten my hopes up, and networked. This was probably the second most productive stage for me.
Depression -- no fun. No fun for anyone. This was probably the first time in a hear and a half that I dreaded going to work. The last time was when I worked in downtown Oakland to a screeching, uncontrollable group of high schoolers who needed help beyond my control.
Acceptance -- the most productive stage for me. I'm done feeling sorry for myself and instead I only feel sorry for others. 

This morning I had a couple of interviews within the huge district of which I am now a part. I had a decent first impression of the 9AM interview, which only scored a 3 on and reminded me a lot of the first school I ever worked at: what lacks in grounds appearance is made up in heart and dedication to the children attending. From the moment I stepped into the office I was greeted warmly by so many staff members that my quadriceps began to burn from standing up and sitting down again. Job Interview yoga reigns today!
We'll end the unit on applied proportional relationships in electricity with an Ohm.
As a teacher, I really value authenticity. It was one of the philosophical foundation blocks of West County Community HS and in every staff lineup I find myself with each year I can gauge whether the job will be gratifying or stressful simply based on how authentic everyone is with one another. If I made a list of important things to look for in a long-term teaching job (or ANY kind of job, for that matter), I'd list Interpersonal Relationships rather high.

My second interview threw me for a loop as it was in an area I'm not familiar with and will usually talk trash about; however, the school grounds were impeccable, the staff were pretty nice, and there are district funds to cap class sizes at a reasonable 28 bodies. On paper and to an outsider, it seems like they have really accommodated the low socioeconomic student population with enriching activities and an exemplary after-school program that serves food for the body and mind.
It would seem like the latter choice would be the best bet, but . . . 

My classroom is my second home; at times I've spent more hours there than at my actual home. No matter how many pros and cons I list of each school, taking into consideration the API, demographics, given budget, and math department dynamic, the biggest variable still remains: is this a stepping stone school or a place where I can set my bags down and get comfortable? If I can't find a permanent position and establish myself, then I won't feel as if I've learned anything about being a better teacher. Like the students I teach and have taught, if I don't get a chance to show what I know before the rules of the game change again how can I feel like a winner?