Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Guide to Becoming a Teacher: First Steps

Now that the dust has settled on my voyage through teacher certification, I'm still finding that there a lot of steps I need to take before I can call myself an honest-to-goodness TEACHER. For starters, I need the State of Illinois to recognize me as a certified teacher. Off I go!


Dang. That sucked.

As it turned out, I needed the Regional Office to recognize me as legit before I could apply for my certificate with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), but in order to do that, the Regional Office needed proof of my name. Yes, my name. Since I began the certification program with my maiden name, that was all they had on file. In fact, my maiden name was associated with nearly every bit of paperwork, every state-mandated test, and every transcript, which made it VERY difficult to get a teaching certificate in my married name. "Why not get the certificate in your maiden name? What's the problem?" The problem is that the Social Security Office and every government document I have is in my married name (now).

Okay, okay, I'll fill out the paperwork and jump through the hoops, ISBE.

Wait, now you need my transcripts? I thought you got those already. Oh, you didn't? Hang on while I track down the nameless, faceless entity at my school who holds all the transcripts. I'll get those right over to you.

Got 'em? And copies of my marriage certificate, driver's license, social security card, passport, 8th grade diary, Facebook-LinkedIn-Twitter profile? Got it all? Anything else?

"No, we don't need anything else now, except your patience while we process your paperwork. It could take up to six weeks."

"SIX WEEKS??? What should I do in the meantime? I can't apply for jobs, can I?"

"No, you can't apply for jobs, because claiming that you are certified while we twiddle our thumbs is illegal. You should just wait."


I got the green light on my certificate. I checked in to the ISBE website everyday, hoping to see the "pending" change to "certified." When it happened, it was as unceremonious as receiving my order at a Burger King. I thought there would be some magical moment when I would feel as if I had "arrived," but I ended up sliding and skidding about, willy-nilly.

Overall, the post-graduation experience has been a little rough, but I'm finally ready to start applying for some actual teaching jobs, which is very, very good. I know that I've learned a lot about being an educator in the classroom, but figuring out how to be an educator in the greater (mine)field of bureaucracy makes me feel so unsteady. One step at a time, right?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Student Teacher Supply List

I survived Student Teaching, and now, all I can think is, "HOW???"

Since graduation, I have been sorting and filing all of my work from my classes and the classes I was fortunate enough to have taught, and it has been quite an undertaking. Between the work I did to get my degree and the tools and worksheets I created to teach with, I'm astonished at how much paperwork there is. The good news is that I'm a fairly organized person, so cataloguing documents has been relatively painless. On the other hand, I've been struggling to give anyone advice about what to expect and how to prepare for their own Student Teaching experiences. 

I want to help, so here's my advice:

-DO NOT TAKE STUDENT WORK HOME WITH YOU. This was the best advice my cooperating teacher gave me, and even though I eventually had to, I was glad to have my time at home devoted strictly to lesson planning. Use your off-periods to grade work. Additionally, you won't run the risk of spilling coffee or a burrito on some poor kid's essay, or worse yet, losing their work.

-STICK TO A BEDTIME. Everyone says, "Get lots of rest," but no one tells you how. If you know that you're going to wake up at 5am everyday, then you need to go to bed at a reasonable hour. There will be nights when you think, "I could make ONE more handout/worksheet/display," but you need to fight that urge. A teacher's work is never done, and although commitment to your craft is commendable, you won't do anyone any good if you're exhausted. 

-UPDATE YOUR CONTACT INFO. Make sure you have the phone numbers for your cooperating teacher and the main office at your placement site IN your phone. You don't want to find yourself sifting through a folder or old emails while waiting for a tow truck at 7am.

-DON'T SMILE. At least for the first week of teaching. Be yourself around adults, but set the precedent with your students that you are not to be messed with. It's the hardest thing to do, but if your kids think you're looking for their approval instead of the other way around, they'll put you through hell. When kids aren't being awesome, they're the WORST.

-LET IT GO. You'll have days when you'll feel like a terrible human being because some kid yelled at you, or cried, or tells you they hate you, but you have to let it go. Every day you teach is a new day, and teaching is more like an ongoing series of experiments. What works one day may not work the next, and vice versa. Also, students have terribly short memories, so if you don't treat something that happened on a Monday like it was a big deal on Tuesday, they won't either. Unfortunately, the short-term memory also applies to successful lessons, so remember to reinforce the good stuff.

-BE NICE TO YOURSELF AND YOUR LOVED ONES. When you feel like you're in over your head, or you just can't take it anymore, do something nice for yourself or for someone you love. I didn't do enough of that, and in retrospect, I could have taken the time to go out to dinner with my husband, or spend a few hours doing something for myself. The world wouldn't have ended if I didn't work every waking hour, and I know how grateful my friends and family would have been to see me. 

I think that covers the "advice" section. Now, for a supply list! Remember how exciting it was to get your "school supply checklist" before starting a new school year? I do, and I wish I had thought to make one for myself before beginning Student Teaching. Here's what you'll need:

  • Snacks. Granola bars, fruit, delicious tidbits and treats for the days when you can't stop for lunch.
  • A portable file box and plenty of folders.
  • Stampers, stickers, or anything to put on graded work. It's amazing how universally pleasing it is to see a "received" or "completed" stamp on your work, even if it isn't graded.
  • Gradebooks. A hard copy AND an electronic version. 
  • Index cards. I used more than I thought I would, and they worked beautifully in several situations, especially for bellringers and exit slips.
  • Chalk or dry erase markers. The markers were notorious for running out quickly, so I always had an extra supply on hand. 
  • Binder clips. Every size. These little doo-hickeys were incredibly handy. Paperclips and rubber bands too.
  • Electrical cords. Adapters, extension cords, and USB cables. Have your own and make sure to label.
  • Colored tape. This was a handy way to label my stuff, mark out desk arrangements, block off sections on the classroom boards, and hang up student work when bulletin board space was unavailable.
  • Hand sanitizer. Kids are filthy. Keep your hands clean.
  • POST-IT NOTES. For everything. 
If I think of anything else, I'll be sure to add it to this list. If anyone else wants to add to it, please feel free to make suggestions via "comments." 

Student Teaching may have been the most difficult job I have ever had, but I'm sure others have had it worse/better. The best thing my husband told me before and during the experience: It'll just get easier. 

It does. Good luck to you, future teachers! It only gets better!