Friday, November 14, 2014

Advice from the Elderly

As I sit and lament on my 20 years in education, I marvel at how things have changed. Even more unbelievable is the fact that so many things have stayed the same.

When I emerged from Concord College (now University), I was bright-eyed and buried deep in the educational utopia that I was convinced I would find. I had created my Education 360 units, survived my student teaching placements, and earned the golden seal of approval, signaling that I was a well-equipped teacher.

I moved out of state because I already had a Special Education job filled with my name. There were only two of us that graduated knowing we had a job: myself and a young, African American named Paul. Jobs were hard to come by in the mid 90's.

Within three years, I was able to come back home and teach. My parents had suffered health set-backs, and I needed to be near them. When I ran into old college professors, I adamantly expressed the need to have introductory Special Education courses be a required part of any general education degree. Mainstreaming was quickly taking hold, and the rising college graduates did not have Special Education training unless that was their major. Shortly thereafter, Special Education courses were part of the catalog for education curriculum.

I have held every job that you can imagine.  I was certified in Mild/Moderate Impairments along with my Multi-Subject K - 8 degree. I was employed in Special Education at the start, and truly loved my job.  However, money became the name of the game, and states started realizing the money they could save by lumping students with mental disabilities in with students recognized with behavior disorders. Each impairment had a max number of students that could be housed in a room by one teacher. For example, a teacher could have up to 8  Mildly Impaired self contained, or 4 Moderately/Profoundly self contained, or 4 Behavior Disordered self contained students. After the max number was reached, an aide would be assigned to the class. The state quickly realized that as long as the max number was not reached in any given category, a teacher could have a roomful of students at the same time without an aide. My last year of Special Education was when a BD student was thrown in to an already impossible teaching load of Mild Impairments/Learning Disabled students. That story is a whole other post.

I have held a multitude of teaching jobs over my 20 years. I went to college with the idea that I wanted to have a cookie cutter elementary classroom. I attained a Master's Degree in Reading Education K-12, and after becoming certified as a Reading Specialist, I entered into the Title 1 world. From Title 1, I was employed as one of the first Technology Integration Specialists in the State of WV, and for six years I worked with teachers. I have landed as a middle school Computer Technology teacher presently. Looking back, I could have never predicted that my true love would be teaching middle school students. My only regret is not becoming certified to teach anything at the high school level.

I just got home from the funeral of my aunt. While there, I spoke to two relatives that were in college to become teachers. Both stated that their goal was to become elementary school teachers, just as I had envisioned so many years ago. My advice to them was heartfelt, and I hope that they are forward-thinking enough to heed my words of wisdom. My advice was to get certified in their first love, but to also look at subjects and grade levels that only required one or two additional classes to complete. Often, your general education classes are the same, but the specialization requires just a few more classes for endorsement. As they grow and mature in their career, their tastes may change, just as mine. While an undergraduate, you can take additional classes without paying more tuition once you're full time. Once you get your Bachelor's Degree, you pay for coursework by the hour. Take any extra classes that might garner you an endorsement in another classification now, so that you have the flexibility to move around in the school system later.

When I think about 20 years of teaching, it makes me feel old. Can I retire yet?

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