Saturday, February 11, 2012

One Step Closer

I'm moving right along with my substitute teaching gig. It's nice, but I really want something more substantial. In talking with a few veteran teachers at my school I've learned several things: 1. Feedback is almost never given, unless you are being officially observed teaching a lesson. 2. There are subs at my school who have been subbing for 4+ years, waiting for a full time position. 3. Teaching is a funky profession. You really need to gel with a principal and the school's vision to get a job. It's all about how they "like" you. I guess that's true of any job. At this point I can only move forward. Last week I received an email from the NYCDOE about additional job openings. I applied to three positions for English teachers. I was a bit surprised when I got a call for an interview for a high school in Brooklyn. They offered me three dates to come in. I of course chose the earliest one (the following day). The secretary laughed at me and said she liked a woman who knew what she wanted (if it was only all that easy!). I went in last Wednesday to meet the principal and do a mini-lesson on anything I wanted. I went in feeling like I had nothing to lose. I was simply myself. I liked the principal. She was a no nonsense straight shooter. I like the students too. The class was small with several special ed students and one other co-teacher. Before the principal introduced me to the class she spoke to them. She told them she was interviewing new teachers and I was one of the candidates. She told them she wanted their feedback later in the day on how they thought I did. I was blown away! How cool is that? After my mini lesson I thanked the students for letting me into their classroom and went back to speak with the principal. She said she had a few more interviews and wanted to check my references, but she would call me Monday to let me know. She then told me she wanted to put me into the system. Apparently she wanted to start the new hire off as a long term substitute. I could understand that. There are so many teachers out there looking for work. What I didn't know was that in order to sub in NYC one must be nominated by a principal. I told her that was fine. When I left the school, they secretary called me on my cell phone to confirm my email address and get my social security info. A few minutes later another email came through from the DOE. She actually nominated me! Even if she didn't hire me I could sub in NYC which by the way pays more per diem than my suburban sub gig. I received a system generated email from the DOE to complete my application from the nomination. I did that straight away. On Thursday morning I received another email telling me my application was approved and I need to make an appointment to come down to the NYCDOE head office for processing. They allowed me several dates and I picked the first one naturally which is this Wednesday. It looks like I will need to be fingerprinted again and take a few workshops on child abuse and the online system subs use. I can't believe this was actually happening. Now I just need to wait for the phone to ring. Again.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How do I improve without feedback?

In the never ending search for a permanent teaching position, I am surprised at the lack of feedback I am getting. I had two interviews this month. One was for a part time position in the school I currently sub in. The other was for a full time position in Queens. I was very hopeful about the position in Queens. I was called to do a demo lesson after my interview. I thought it went well. The assistant principal remarked that the class learned more in that one period with me than they have in the past month. A few weeks have passed and I haven't haven't heard anything. Call me old fashioned, but the least they can do is send an email letting me know the outcome. If I didn't get the job that's fine. Just let me know. I will be sending an old fashioned snail mail letter to the A.P. this week thanking her again for her time and to let her know I am still interested in her school. If not for the end of this school year, perhaps in September when they planned on higher enrollment as the school expands. The part time position interview was weird. I was subbing all day and then had to interview afterwards. I felt I did not look my best and I did not get a good vibe from the teachers interviewing me. It was a "group" interview consisting of two English teachers, the principal and the English chairperson. Since the interview I have been called on to sub almost every day. I even had a few interactions with the chairperson last week, but no feedback. The position was to start February 1, so I am assuming either the date was pushed out or they found another candidate. Again, I wish they would just let me know. I have no problem continuing to sub even if I was not chosen for the part time position.It seems bizarre to me that considering the nature of education is about giving continual feedback, yet I am not getting any. I constantly wonder how I can improve. Is it my interviewing skills? Perhaps I am giving poor examples of my work experience. Maybe it's my lack of experience in the classroom? Could it be my age? Like a student, how can a potential or current employee improve if they are not given direction?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Education and Social Networking

During the winter break I have been trolling Twitter looking for people in the educational world to follow. I have come across some fascinating individuals: teachers, union leaders, writers, students, reporters and professors. It's been quite interesting. I had no idea that people actually argue back and forth on Twitter. There seems to be an unending discussion about education reform, which I think is a good thing. The educational system in our country is definitely broken. I am reading a lot of great ideas and theories. I still consider myself a bit of an outsider in the world of teaching. I have a lot of experience as a student, but I only graduated with my Master's in education in May of this year. I have been working part time as a substitute teacher since September. In my "former" life I worked in corporate America. Being a part of the business world was an education itself. It taught me responsibility and accountability, which were not completely foreign in my life, but let's face it: If you don't do your job you risk losing it. When you have rent/mortgage, a car payment and various bills you learn very quickly the importance of being accountable. Why is accountability an issue in education? Parents blame teachers, teachers blame parents, administrators blame budgets, teachers blame administrations, unions blame everyone but teachers. When does it stop? When I was growing up we didn't have the information overload we do now. If there was an issue within a school or education as a whole, we often didn't hear about it right away. There was the newspaper and the nightly news on television. Maybe there were school meetings our parents or guardians attended. Today students learn about almost everything in real time. I wonder how they feel about the adults who make decisions about their educational well being. As an adult looking in I see a lot of embarrassing stuff. I don't know all the answers, but there has to be a better way.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Another Month Gone....

Once again I have not been keeping up to date on my blogging. Thankfully, December was a very productive month for me. I was busy substitute teaching almost every day! It was very exciting and I feel very grateful for the opportunity. I only hope it continues. Each day was a new experience. I was asked to sub in virtually every subject. During the first few months of the school year I would get an occasional call to fill in for an English teacher (my certified area). These calls were few and far between and disappointment started to set in. I am guessing as the year progressed, the substitute pool began to dwindle. It's not an easy job: I basically have to wake up every day, get dressed and ready as if I am going to school, and wait for a phone call to come in. If I am lucky I get a call the night before, but most of the time it is last minute. When I get the call in the morning I drive to school, meet with the sub coordinator for my assignment, hustle to the subject's department office for lesson plans and find my first classroom. Hopefully it is unlocked. If not, I have to find a custodian who can open it. I review the lesson plans and class rosters. God willing, everything will be included (lesson plans, handouts, rosters, class emergency instructions, seating plans,anything else the teacher wants me to deliver)and I will have time before the first bell to write instructions or notes on the blackboard or smartboard. The bell rings, the pledge and morning announcements are broadcast over the p.a. system, I take a roll call, send any absences to the attendance office and deliver the lesson. Anything can and does happen during class: bathroom requests, locker runs, passes to the nurse, one on one instruction, group reading, test prepping, handing out work, collecting work, taking notes for the teacher on what went well, who misbehaved and what could have gone better. Substitute teaching is not for the faint of heart. It's definitely not easy, but it's a good way to learn the inner workings and atmosphere of a school. It's like taking another student teaching course, except I am getting paid instead of paying tuition to a university. One Monday I subbed for an eighth grade social studies teacher who had a doctor's appointment. He was only gone for three periods. His eighth period class was an absolute nightmare. There were over 30 students and several of them decided "we don't have to respect the sub because she isn't our real teacher." When the bell finally rang to end the period several of the boys began turning over desks and chairs as they ran out of the room. I was stunned. I also had to leave the class to teach a ninth period class on another floor. The regular teacher came in and was upset. I thought he was mad at me for not being able to control the class. I left him a quick note with the details of what took place during class and apologized because I had to run to my other class. I figured my subbing career was over. The following morning (Tuesday)I was called in to sub again. While waiting in the front office for my assignment the teacher from the day before approached me and apologized. He called the parents of the students who misbehaved and had the whole class write apology letters to me. If they misbehaved they had to detail their actions in their letter. If they did not participate they had to apologize for allowing the other students to carry on in a disrespectful manner. I was dumbfounded and thanked the teacher. The next morning (Wednesday) I was called in to sub for a third day. Waiting for me was a folder with the letters from the eighth period social studies class. I was floored. I read each and every letter. I don't think I have ever witnessed such accountability in an educational setting. This teacher knows what he is doing. I learned a very valuable lesson as well. I guess this is an example of the on the job training that I have been waiting for! I can't wait for the holiday break to over so I can go back to school.

Friday, November 25, 2011


A few months have passed since I've written. Since my last entry I have had several interviews at various schools for full time positions, unfortunately nothing fruitful. Last Thursday I interviewed for a leave replacement position in a middle school. The A.P. was pleasant enough, the school wasn't too far away from my home and I was quite hopeful. Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be. The A.P. explained that if given the job I would be working in a classroom where each student was reading a different book. I didn't follow her at first so I asked her to explain. Basically for each class (5 in total) there are approximately 30-33 students and each one of them is reading a different text. She explained they teach to each child's reading level and I asked if there was 30-33 levels in each class. I was dumbfounded. She couldn't really explain that. I thought perhaps they did not have a budget to provide students with the same books. I could understand if you had each class reading 3-4 books. That would be manageable. I could see the students working in groups and lessons being created perhaps on a common theme that each book shared. I asked the A.P. how this benefited the students? How was the current teaching teaching? She said the teacher wasn't effective and I could understand why. I felt terrible for the students. These kids were not going to be prepared for high school. I left hoping I would not get a call back and so far I haven't.

I get called approximately one a week to substitute in the suburbs. I'll admit, teaching here full time would be a dream. I am grateful to see this example of education: the school is well funded, parents are involved, students actually behave and most teachers are fully engaged in their lessons. This experience has reminded me of a book I read in grad school titled Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. Rich communities have good schools and students thrive. Poor communities have poor school and seem to completely write off success for any student. In my heart I am still drawn to these types of schools. I can only pray I'll be given the opportunity to make a difference.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

School Starts Next Week

I have somehow managed to get two substitute positions in two different school districts. One I wrote about in my last entry. The new one is closer to my home and seems to have more promise. The assistant principal I interviewed with assured me that I will be very busy by the third week in September. He also assured me that the school prefers to hire internally when full time positions open up. He anticipated over a dozen retirements in the next year. I've heard this before from another A.P. who did not hire me. I have resolved to become a realist about this whole thing, yet I am often engulfed in the joy of optimism and possibility. A couple of my fellow graduates were lucky enough to secure full time positions. One who graduated early was hired here in the suburbs. Two others were hired in Brooklyn. One of them even forwarded me a job opening in a Queens middle school that she got a head's up on. I of course emailed the principal immediately. Unfortunately she sent it to me on Friday after everyone was gone for the extended Labor Day weekend. I plan on calling first thing Tuesday morning. New York City schools open on Wednesday. I have nothing to lose. Thankfully I have become more disciplined in my reading. I just finished Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. It's a memoir from a woman my age who was born in England but grew up in Rhodesia Africa. It was so well written: heartfelt, descriptive, funny and tragic. She lived on a tobacco farm with her parents and older sister. Whilst in Africa her parents lost 3 children. One before Alexandra (aka Bobo) was born (a boy) and two (boy and girl) after. After losing the first child the family briefly returned to England where Bobo was born. The family missed Africa desperately and moved back as soon as they were financially able. They never had much money, but Bobo's mother was find of saying they had "good breeding" which was more valuable that money. Life in Africa was so hard for the family: disease, terrain, the oppressive heat, the revolutions, racism and war. Somehow, love of the land, animals and lifestyle overshadowed the tragedy. These people were determined and resilient in ways many of us can only dream of. Bobo retells her mother's battle with alcoholism and mental illness with such compassion and honesty. It's an amazing book. One day when I am teaching I hope to be able to use it for a course on memoir. I think students will like it because it is basically told through the eyes of a child. Kids are brutally honest. Too bad many of us lose that when we become adults.

Friday, August 5, 2011


I unfortunately received rejection letters for my last two interviews. I felt I did OK, but I lack experience and that seems to be a problem. Thankfully, the one school that I did interview with for a full time position called me back to interview as a substitute. I was hired on the spot. I was so elated I didn't even ask how much the per diem rate was. To be honest I don't care. I just want the opportunity to be in a classroom and have some experience for something educational on my resume. In the meantime, the hiring freeze in new York City has been lifted for new teachers. I have been applying like crazy. Hopefully I will get a phone call this week. I am told all the hiring seems to happen in the last 2 weeks of August. I still have hope!

I just finished reading a wonderful book, Snow in August by Pete Hamill. It was on a summer reading list for one of the schools I applied to. The book is an emotional journey of a young boy (Michael Devlin) growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s. His parents are Irish immigrants. Sadly his father (Tommy Devlin)is killed in the war and his mother Kate struggles to make ends meet. Michael is an altar boy who by chance (or fate) befriends a local rabbi. Michael becomes a shabbos goy for Rabbi Hirsch, turning on the lights and stove for the sabbath. The rabbi asks Michael to teach him English and in return he teaches Michael Yiddish. The rabbi tells Michael wonderful and horrible stories of his life, living in Prague, the Nazis, losing his wife and his struggle with faith. Michael introduces the rabbi to baseball and together they witness history as Jackie Robinson becomes a major league player. Robinson becomes a symbol for all people who are discriminated against and both Rabbi Hirsch and Michael declare "I'm for Jackie." I don't want to give away the ending, but it is a happy one where the good guys (and goys) win. I hope I get to use this book sometime during my teaching career.