I don’t know why I didn’t blog about my interview on Wednesday, nor do I know why I have put off blogging about today’s interview, but I guess I should do it to keep my running record of my professional life going. Because this is a bit over 1,400 words, I’m going to put a break in here, just to keep my home screen from being overwhelmed by this post.
As you are probably aware, I have applied for well over 1,000 jobs at more than 300 schools/districts/consortiums across Illinois. Nearly every one of the applications has been submitted using the AppliTrack system, which is an excellent bit of software that allows districts to collect and sort job applications online. Last year, I discovered k12jobspot.com, which is an aggregate site that culls all of the AppliTrack sites in the nation and puts them in one place. This has made it incredibly easy for me to apply for jobs, particularly since I can import applications and thus skip the tedious task of filling out all of the information each time.
The vast majority of job postings in Illinois are grouped near Cook and Lake counties, which are essentially what is known as Chicagoland–all of the districts in the greater Chicago area that are not part of Chicago Public Schools (they are a separate entity from the rest of the state). Alas, this also means that everyone wants to work there. For example, I applied for one opening in the North Ridge area. I received an email that informed me that, regrettably, I was not selected among the more than 1,000 applicants.
But I’ve continued to apply for every self-contained, general education (SCGE) teaching position I could find from 2nd to 6th grade (I don’t really want to teach kindergarten or 1st grade and few schools have SCGE classes after 6th grade). Which is why I applied for a couple jobs in Matteson School District 162 on June 16 and again on July 1. According to my records, I applied for a 5th grade opening and a 6th grade opening.
Two days ago, on Sunday (July 10) I received an email informing me I had been selected to interview for a 4th grade teaching position at Sauk Elementary School in the Matteson district. I was informed that the principal would be conducting interviews today (the 12th) from 8 am to 1 pm and to contact him to schedule a time. I wasn’t at all concerned that I hadn’t actually applied for a 4th grade position, mostly because I had indicated an interest in any intermediate position available. So something about my application caught his attention.
At the same time, I was already scheduled to substitute for one of Champaign’s high school summer school classes on Tuesday. (More on this later.) I determined that it would take me approximately two hours to drive to Ricthon Park from Champaign, and I didn’t want to pass up one more subbing opportunity. So I did what any sane, rational, job-seeking person would do:
I asked that he schedule my interview for the first time slot.
So I woke up this morning around 5 am, ate, dressed, attended to hygiene, kissed my wife goodbye, and headed off around 6 am to fill up the gas tank before making my trek to Richton Park. The drive actually only two about an hour and a half, so I got there much earlier than necessary. I killed time by driving around the immediate neighbourhood and checking on Twitter updates. At 8:15, I went in and was seen by the principal immediately.
The interview went very well, I think. The principal (a former teacher at Champaign Centennial, coincidentally), asked me about my approach to standardised tests, classroom management, repeat offenders, parental contact, and differentiation. He was brief and to the point, and my responses were in kind. Then he told me about his school district: 98% African-American, pure chaos when he arrived six years ago, with test scores in the bottom 70%. A year later, he suggested that students wear navy or black pants and white shirts (but no formal dress code or school uniform was made). Everyone complied. Discipline problems have gone way down, academic success has gone way up. The parents are extremely supportive, too, but they also work a lot, so they can’t be there every day. However, the school hosts an annual Dads’ Day, in which over 250 fathers in the community attend, some of whom don’t even have kids in the school! The test scores are now in the low-to-mid-80s, but they need to go higher. The focus will be on literacy and mathematics (woo hoo!) but without excluding science, social studies, health, etc. Literacy will be taught across the curriculum (double woo hoo!) and the teachers are encouraged to do whatever it takes to reach their students.
This is where I want to work. A district with challenges, but the resources to tackle the challenges head-on. No excuses, take no prisoners, give it all you go, go big or go home. It isn’t about machismo or teaching to the test, or anything like that. It is about helping the boys and girls in this school become young men and young women, literate and ready for the challenges ahead of them. It is awesome, it is enthusiastic, it is positive. It is what I want to be a part of.
Is Matteson 162 the only district in the state like this? No, of course not. But their principal gave me the chance to interview and to discuss how I might be an advantage to his community. As with some other districts, I would be thrilled to work there. He said I should hear back from him on Friday. I am praying I get a phone call from the 708 area code on Friday that will have good news!
(Oh, and we would be much closer to many of our friends in the prevention field–always an added bonus!)
Today I was a supportive services teacher at Mahomet-Seymour High School. More specifically, I was the teacher working with students who had varying degrees of autism, which meant that they needed a lot of support for everything. As a result, I honestly had no clue what to do.
It isn’t very often that I find myself in such a situation. I can even hold my own when working with students who are hard-of-hearing or deaf (something I did a handful of times back in September, before I started blogging about my adventures). But today was definitely one of those days. The students I was assigned to work with spend the majority of their day in this room, participating in educational activities that I simply do not understand. Their teacher, along with her aides, have an understanding of the students’ needs that is the product of years of training and months of working with them, day in and day out. It isn’t something that I can just pick up in a day, nor is it something that I can fake my way through, like I can when teaching the core content areas. I always know beforehand that assignments in special education/supportive services may be difficult. I accept them, though, because I am confident that I can make some sort of positive impact or, at the very least, not be a burden to the other teachers with whom I will be working.
Fortunately, there were three aides in the classroom (two regular aides and one substitute aide who has been there several times in the past) who knew what to do. There were also a number of students who serve as mentors and help out. The wonderful women, young women, and, yes, even one young man, did an amazing job today. They knew what to do. They knew what the students needed, and were able to communicate with them in a way that I was unable to do. I am in awe of the patience, compassion, and understanding that is required of the men and women who pursue a career in special education. It is something that, being completely honest, I simply do not think I would be able to do.
One of the greatest benefits of working as a substitute teacher, other than getting to teach on a near-daily basis, is learning what I can and cannot do. I can’t do it on my own, because I’m no Superman. But you know what? That’s totally okay! I may not have known what to do, but I was able to do something today, anyway. I was able to keep an eye on a young man who has no motor control. I was able to monitor a young woman, who is more developed than the others in the class, as she did a simple math activity on a computer. I was able to read to a young man who doesn’t deal well with new people, yet was willing to sit next to me on a couch and listen to me read. He also sat by me as I read the latest in my series of vocational texts (even if he wasn’t interested in hearing me read aloud the ins and outs of balanced literacy).
So I may not have known what to do today, but I still had a great day, and, at the end of the day, I was thanked for what I did. That, to me, means that I accomplished something, after all.
And now, completely unrelated to anything at all, I thought I’d share this video:
Today I was an 8th grade math teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. Much like yesterday, I was in a room with an excellent student teacher who was totally prepared for the day. She also had a very strong handle on classroom management, so my day consisted of sitting at a desk reading while she taught and then helping the few students who had questions about the work they were doing. Incidentally, tomorrow is going to be much like yesterday and today. Thursday and Friday will be the days when I am actually teaching again this week. However, my days have not been that boring. In fact, I had a great time watching a gifted young prospective teacher working her craft.
One of the strangest things to happen today was when another substitute was in the room. One of the cross categorical special ed teachers, for whom and with whom I have subbed a couple of times now, co-teaches in math room I was in today. She was gone this morning, hence the reason she had a sub. Because the student teacher was doing a take-over, the special ed sub needed to be working with the student teacher. Alas, this is not what happened.
The other sub came in, sat in the back of the room, and then left about half-way through class. I knew for a fact that she was supposed to be there for the whole period, so I was rather confused when she didn’t. At the end of the day, the cross cat teacher came in and was talking with the student teacher about plans for the next few days. I brought up the fact that the other sub left and found out that this had happened in another period, too. I wasn’t really trying to rat out a colleague so much as I was wondering if what seemed odd really was what I thought. It was, and then even worse. The cross cat teacher decided to leave a negative review for this other teacher, which doesn’t happen that often. So I was a tattletale of sorts today. Although not really, since a tattletale is more accurately a person who shares idle gossip, rather than sharing important information. I hope this review will be used to help the substitute teacher improve in her work, though.
Today I was a 5th grade teacher at Robeson Elementary in Champaign (but not for my mother-in-law). I was only there for half the day (really a lot more – about five hours instead of the typical seven), but it was a good day. The class is really used to me by now and were happy to have me as their sub (except for the few who are determined to be difficult for every teacher they encounter). We spent the morning doing science, math just before lunch, and Language Arts afterwards.
Whenever possible, I strive to make my teaching as relevant to the students’ lives as possible. So I was quite pleased when the science lesson was on the history of the development of the cellular phone. After all, these boys and girls are 11-12 years old, yet almost all of them own cell phones already. Those who don’t want them soon. I contrasted this with the fact that I didn’t get a cell phone until 2005 (which actually elicited laughter from the class). We talked about the different kinds of phones that exist and what model they would most like to get. Having piqued their interest in the matter, it was easy to get them to start working on the assignments.
The math lesson was on measuring the volume of rectangular prisms, which is was harder to make relevant, but I started off by having the students identify the various rectangular prisms in the classroom. An interesting discussion arose when someone suggested a piece of paper was a prism, but others disagreed. We established a rectangular prism has to have six rectangular faces with a measurable length, width, and base. Having determined that these were acceptable criteria, the class decided that a standard piece of paper does indeed constitute a rectangular prism. I then tried to help them understand the concept of volume. I used an example I had stumbled upon last year that seems to work really well: just about everyone knows what volumizing hair products are for. They understand the result of using such products, and from there they were able to understand the concept that volume is the measure of something taking up space. So that connection also worked.
Going for three-for-three, I spent the afternoon teaching about adjectives, and managed to get the students to provide several examples of adjectives before they even had a clear definition. I asked for someone to give me a noun, and he suggested the name of a girl in the class. I then asked the students to describe her. After we created a decent list, we discussed how adjectives are words that modify, or describe, nouns. Just as the students started to work on the assignment, their teacher arrived. It was a pretty good day all around.