Education Chat

Careers in Teaching

Members of the Teacher Leaders Network fielded questions on career challenges and opportunities.

May 3, 2007

Careers in Teaching

Julie Dermody, literacy specialist at Mary Scroggs Elementary School, Chapel Hill, N.C.; Deanna Harris, library media coordinator at East Cary Year-Round Middle School in Cary, N.C.; and Mary Tedrow, 12th grade English and journalism teacher at Millbrook High School in Winchester, Va.

Anthony Rebora, (Moderator):
Welcome to our live chat on career issues for teachers—clearly a significant topic right now. Our guests are online and we’ve got a lot of questions, so let’s get started.

Question from Stephanie Stevens, Database Manager:
I am a 40-year-old with my MBA and about 15 years in the business field with a computer/programming background. I make very good money in my profession, but being a people-pleasing-person, I find no fulfillment in the work. I would very much like to go into teaching so that I can find meaningful work, instead of this meaningless world of sitting behind a computer all day. Do you think this is a good reason to move into teaching?

Deanna Harris:
Well, I certainly have found fulfillment in my work as an educator, whether it was in the language arts classroom or in the library media center. I think that most educators that I have worked with find the profession and the work very meaningful. Like any job, there are the tedious items -- paperwork, meetings, duties -- that can seem endless and frustrating. However, even in the tedium, I have found meaning and excitement (booktalking the latest novel to a group of sixth graders during my lunch duty; completing the forms to take kids on an awesome field trip; collecting Internet permission forms so that I can share a cool website that ties into their latest project).

I think many a teacher is spurred into the career because of the same feelings that you are expressing. And many times it is what makes teaching so enriching, that passion for your work. The kids definitely know when you are thrilled about being there. Using your background and experience in business and computers, perhaps you can find this meaning in a vocational classroom.

Question from Kristy Casper, teacher, Esko HS:
How does one not let all of the paperwork of teaching English and journalism take over her life?

Mary Tedrow:
Over the years I have devised a few methods for managing the paper load. I like to schedule assignments so that I am not collecting work from more than two classes at a time. I teach my students how to grade holistically and have them evaluate and comment on each other’s work. They don’t do this for every assignment but the exercise is an excellent learning tool. After all, I hope they will be able to recognize excellent, average, and poor writing on their own before they head out into the world. I also want them to internalize the hallmarks of good writing. In journalism, we hold read-around days so that the entire staff hears the content of the entire paper before it heads to the editors. Lots of errors are caught in these sessions. The paper is rarely perfect, but seeing errors in print makes my students even more diligent the next time. In the English classroom, the students are asked to think in writing in their Learning Logs regularly. The writing is often their ticket into seminars or is simply prewriting for essays or creative writing. I don’t have to see all of it, but they quickly find out that the writing serves their purpose. And regular writing improves both their thinking and writing. I think my students would say that this kind of risk-free writing is fun. In reading workshop I read with my students until they are absorbed in their books and then I subtely switch to answering their dialogue journals. Most of those I can find time to respond to during the school day. Next year I may be teaching an AP level course in a four by four block and I am already planning ahead to keep kids writing regularly without having to look at everything they write. Kelley Gallagher, author of Deeper Reading, Reading Reasons, and Teaching Adolescent Writers says students should be writing about four times more papers than we can read. (He also offers concrete ways of doing this in the classroom. I recommend all three titles.)

Question from Kimberly, Student:
I am a career changer and getting a Master’s in Elementary Education and planning to teacher 1, 2 or 3 grades. Often times I hear horror stories related to teaching. Can you give some insight on the realisms of teaching? (Especially for new teachrs)

Julie Dermody:
One of the biggest insights is that some of the things that new teachers find the hardest, aren’t covered in any college courses. These mostly fall under the umbrella of classroom managment- discpline, time management, integration of subjects, differentiation (including working with students that don’t speak any English - besides those students that may be ahead in various subjects (gifted in math for example.)

There are several great books to help in these areas - the classic “The First Days of School” by the Wongs (and they have a great website as well) - and “The First Six Weeks of School.”

Visit classrooms - what feels right for you - what are you comfortable doing (e.g. I never used a “marble jar” - didn’t appeal to me before and still doesn’t.) Different school adopt different programs - which one feels right to you? For example my school is in the progress of adopting the “Nurtured Heart Approach.” This approach is very much like what I do - it’s a natural approach for me and a good fit.

Know yourself and look for a good fit in a school’s climate. Like to collaborate? Look for a school that values what you do. The better the fit you have with your school - the less horror stories you (or anyone else) will have. Remember teaching shouldn’t be an isolating experience - there are lots of people to help you and that want to help from the school librarian, AG teacher, EC teachers, reading teachers, etc. Make use of all the resources you can!

The biggest insight - it all boils down to relationships. Relationships with your students, their parents, fellow teachers, administration.

Question from Jane Chang, Student, Boston University:
Do you have any suggestions for those who are interested in education but do not want to be in the classroom? Preferably, jobs that do not require a teaching license.

Deanna Harris:
There are many folks that are important in the field of education -- business and financial managers, human resources / personnel managers, facilities and transportation employees, etc.

A school system is run like a business and it takes employees from many different areas to run that business. If you are interested in working in the Central Office of a school system, any of the afore mentioned areas might work for you.

If you are interested in being based at a school, you may consider working in an administrative support role in the main office, guidance office, or the library media center.

Question from Ruth McIntosh, English/ESL Teacher, Dallas, Texas:
In my job search, how can I identify a school that values nontraditional teaching methods (Think Freedom Writers.)

Deanna Harris:
Whenever I have applied for a position at a different school, I’m not just being interviewed; I am interviewing the administrator or interview team as well.

Well-crafted questions for the principal, administrator, or interview team can help you determine what instructional methods are valued at that school. Providing insight into teaching methods that you value and use in your classroom with the team can help you share your experiences and help you gauge their acceptance of the methods that you value.

Good luck in your job search!

Question from Joe Petrosino, Mid Career Student, Penn:
Some of the hardships and barriers of teaching are a lack of trust--how can one bridge the gap between admin and teachers?

Mary Tedrow:
I’m feeling a bit vague on what you mean by trust. Are you saying that neither party trusts the other to do their job? In the best situations between administration and teachers that I have observed, there is good two-way communication which always begins with respecting each other as professionals. Administrators tend to trust their teachers if they have regularly been given plenty of advance notice when classroom situations or parental issues may become explosive, and of course teachers need to feel comfortable enough to share this information without fear. Teachers will trust administrators who take the time to explain, or invite comment on administrative policy. The bottom line on these strong relationships is that both are aware that they are adult professionals who serve different roles with the same goal: educating the student in a safe, friendly, productive environment.

Question from Naomi Greene, Transition to Teaching Project Manager, Illinois:
Many states and systems have alternative certification programs. Traditionally trained teachers tend to view these changing professionals with suspicion or even disdain. What advice would you give to these new teachers so that they go in with the best possible strategy to be accepted and fit in?

Mary Tedrow:
I’ve seen a number of career-changing teachers come, do outstanding work, and stay in the profession. Others come and go rather quickly, sometimes within the year. Know in advance that your colleagues will have observed this as well - and may have been on the receiving end of a newcomer who has an attitude that they are there to “save” public education because the current system - including the teachers who are there now - are not doing a good enough job. There is pain on both sides of the equation. All of us need to be sensitive to each other’s current position. The quickest way to any teacher’s heart is to ask for help....and then listen to the answer! The best teachers love helping someone succeed. That’s why they are there in the first place. It will be easy to find these teachers among your colleagues. Their attitude will tell it all. By asking for help a novice is acknowledging that they are just starting down a path where every year means one step closer to getting it right in the classroom. Listening to advice from master teachers honors the giver. None of us want to think that our precious little time has been wasted. Good luck with the new job! If you love learning, you’re in the right place because the learning never stops for any of us.

Question from Kristy Casper, teacher, Esko HS:
What careers paths are available in literacy that are outside the classroom and the realm of administration?

Julie Dermody:
The traditional job of “reading teacher” is becoming one of “literacy coach.” This change is currently taking place in my school district. Besides the local school coaches (one at K-2 and one at 3-5), we’ll have a district level coach to train the individual school coaches. These positions are more staff development oriented than the traditional reading positions used to be.

There are also Reading Recovery postions in some school districts (although some districts are doing away with these positions due to the high costs involved - teachers working one-on-one with first grade students.) Current research supports this model for effective intervention though.

Question from Shannon Lennie, Earth Science teacher, Williston Middle School:
I am a third year teacher of Earth Science and I believe that teaching in the middle school to be a very exciting and rewarding career. The thing is that I would like to incorporate more technology activities in the classroom. Is there a place you can go and find lesson ideas that you can tweek or improve on, that would be avalible at no cost to the teacher?

Deanna Harris:
We in North Carolina have an incredible resource in LEARN NC, a K-12 teaching and learning project from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There is an extensive database of lesson plans, created and submitted by teachers, in every discipline with technology integration and other cross-curricular themes.

Any teacher can access the website and lesson plan database at

A quick search found some middle school science lessons with technology integration on tracking hurricanes, light pollution, flooding, and the respiratory system. Remember that the lessons are designed and linked to the NC Standard Course of Study, but are surely adaptable to your state’s curriculum.

Question from Jamie C. graduate student in education:
I will start student teaching when my youngest child out of five children begins kindergarten. Many have been discouraging me from teaching in the elementary school where my children attend. I want to be near my children since I have stayed home with them up to this point. Can you make a suggestion?

Julie Dermody:
When I went back into teaching (after staying home for nine years with my children) I taught in the school where my own children attended. It has its good and not-so-good points but overall, it worked for us.

First of all, I wasn’t a classroom teacher at that point. I was an AG specialist so the program involved pulling students out of class to work with them - and yes, I actually pulled-out one of my own sons once a week for class. Didn’t seem to bother him...but he did start calling me “Mrs. Dermody” instead of Mom during class. :)

When I moved into the classroom, another son was in the next classroom to mine. It wasn’t a problem for us.

Many teachers at my current school bring their children to school with them (they don’t live in our attendance zone.) It works for them and their children.

One negative - some parents may see you at your child’s sporting events and want to have a parent conference of just need to recognize when you’re “off duty” as a teacher and ask them to call you later at school. Most all parents are fine with that.. and respect it.

Question from Nancy Flanagan, Teacher Leaders Network:
How do we get busy veteran teachers to reach out to novice teachers who are NOT their official mentees? How can we kill off, once and for all, the “sink or swim” mentality?

Deanna Harris:
Wow! I’d like to think that veteran teachers will reach out because “it’s the right thing to do”, but let’s hope I’m not that naive. My own experience as a new teacher was one of great support, not just from my official mentor, but from my teammates and from the incredibly caring special education teacher across the hall.

I know that this support for new teachers cannot just come from bottom up or top down; new teachers must be surrounded with instructional, professional, and emotional support for this exciting and challenging job. I think it takes someone (be it administration or other colleagues / teacher leaders) recognizing the expertise of the veteran teachers and encouraging them to share that bit of knowledge. I know it’s difficult to combat the “I didn’t have help” attitude of some veterans. As more teachers are comfortable with the sharing and growing that happens in Professional Learning Communities, hopefully they will see the benefits of officially and unofficially mentoring new teachers. Not only do the novice teachers grow and learn, but the veteran teachers do, too.

I don’t know that we can completely “kill off” that “sink or swim” mentality, but I think those of us who are already encouraging novice teachers can remember that even veterans like to be patted on the back and recognized for their accomplishments and expertise. If we do a little patting on each other as veterans, perhaps that will be some encouragement to spread the wealth of knowledge.

Question from Laurie Garris, Director, Career Development Center, Lycoming College:
What suggestions do you have for student teacher supervisors and career development directors regarding how we can best prepare our college students for the first year of teaching and beyond?

Deanna Harris:
Real experience is key! Having as much time in front of classes and working with teachers in the trenches will provide those college students with that real world experience. While some colleges and universities still have only one semester of student teaching experience, many are moving to a full year student teaching model. Classroom observations by college students should begin early on, as soon as they realize that teaching is their chosen profession. I also hope that your student teacher supervisors and career development directors spend time observing today’s classrooms and teachers. Sometimes it is easy to become removed from the very profession for which we are working to train our college students.

Comment from Cheryl Jaffe, Radar Engineer/Math Teacher/Mother:
Hello, I taught middle school and high school math for one year. When I began teaching, my net pay was about as much as I had been getting on unemployment, only as a teacher I had to pay for daycare from that amount. When I left teaching, it was to accept a position for more than double the salary and sig- nificantly better benefits.

Oh yes, and better hours too. When I was teaching, I worked from 6am to midnight. Most of that time was spent grading papers, and I was told I wasn’t giving enough assessments. It wasn’t, and never would be, enough to mark simply right or wrong. I had to find where the mistake was so my students could learn from their mistakes, then give partial credit for the level of understanding that was evident. Financially, not worth it. I am still teaching voluntarily an hour a week, only now I really get to teach. I do not have to adhere to standards, I can focus on understanding. And I do not have to grade papers.

I think both the pay issue and the workload need to be addressed. ...

Question from Hayes Mizell, Distinguished Senior Fellow, National Staff Development Council:
Please discuss the potential for high-quality, school- and team-based professional learning to provide teachers the support they need to succeed and want to stay in the profession. Unfortunately, much current p.d. is so bad it is one factor that makes teachers feel disrespected and unsupported. Why do teachers put up with it?

Mary Tedrow:
I’m happy to report that the message that teacher collaboration works best is starting to trickle down to the building level. At least we are starting to hear the words more often than in the past. Time for this worthwhile work is always the problem. And, time is money of course. My district is struggling with the bottom line and juggling mandates from above which is currently making time even harder to find. Emphasis on testing has definitely taken precedence over improving professional development programs. Good mentors steered me to the National Writing Project, the gold standard for teacher collaboration, in my view. I credit the organization with keeping my teaching fresh and my attitude upbeat.

Question from Laura Wahl Program Coordinator:
Hello, I have always wanted to teach small children, however due to a 3 year waiting list in college for teaching courses I completed a history degree instead. However, I always think about teaching. I am only 23, so I could go back and get a certificate. One question I had was about the way children respond to me. I don’t know if it is because I look young or the way I treat them (friendly before stern) that they seem to not listen to me. Is there a happy medium between being nice, but earning respect. I hope! any insight would be great! Thanks, Laura

Julie Dermody:
Interesting...I was a history major also - had my minor in Social Studies and taught at the MS level for my fist seven years of teaching. I looked so young (at the time!) that they kept charged me the student lunch rate for a long time - even though I keep telling them I was a teacher (I worked in a 6-12 building.) I started wearing skirts and dresses to look older!

You are right about it’s how you treat students - it’s all about relationships. Students don’t need another friend - they need a caring adult as a teacher. They want to be in a classroom that’s under control. They want a teacher that “knows their stuff”.

I never believed in the expression “don’t smile before Christmas” - but I believe in respectful behavior. I really think you get what you give - I respect my students and they know return, they respect me.

It’s a good discussion to have with your class. What do they see as your their role? How do people show respect to each other? Discussions like these are powerful in the classroom.

Good Luck!

Question from Susie Shorter, Teacher, Solomon Middle School:
As a 3rd year teacher, I have notice the lack of technology in usage in middle school math. Is technology easily assessible in other school district? If so, how did you acquire them?

Deanna Harris:
Sometimes I have found that the technology is there -- access to the Internet, access to equipment -- but teachers are not comfortable with the integration of technology. They need some “quick and dirty” ways to use technology in their classroom. If you are having difficulty even acquiring computers, calculators, mathematics software, I would encourage you to find grants for which you could write to receive funds for such technology. Talk with your school’s leadership team about allocation of funds for technology and the staff development to support it. Check out the website Donors Choose for more funding/resources:

Question from Michele Pittington, 7th grade Math Teacher, Moline School District, Illinois:
What one piece of information/advice would you give a group of sophomore high school students who are interested in becoming teachers in the future? ( I am presenting at a career fair tomorrow morning!)


Julie Dermody:
The biggest piece of advice - love what you do and do it for the right reasons (your own passion - not what someone else wants you to do.)

I find great joy in teaching - still after 25 years in the classroom. It’s the right fit for me. But I’ve seen teachers that don’t feel the passion and it shows - in their relationships with their students, colleagues, etc.

Know that you’re not making a life-time decision by going with a certain career - people today often have two or three careers. I’ve had many careers within the field of education - classroom teacher, AG teacher, reading teachers, etc.

Question from Joellen Killion, Director of Special Projects, National Staff Development Council:
What are the top 2-3 sources of joy in teachers’ work and what are the top 2-3 sources of frustration? What suggestions do you have for alleviating the frustrations?

Deanna Harris:
From my experiences, the joys have always surrounded student learning and the teachable moments and my work in providing professional development with my colleagues.

The frustrations have been and will probably continue to be the bureaucrazy and the politics that often squelch the spirit, innovations, and passion of many teachers....and the often endless paperwork.

We need more teacher leaders, more teacher voices, more school-based personnel making the decisions for the curriculum, instruction, facilities, and staff of their schools.

Question from Carol Steel, field instructor, Michigan State University:
Do you believe that new teachers should “shop” for a school that fits their own outlook? My most miserable 2 years teaching were in the two schools with cultures that were uncomfortable for me.

Deanna Harris:
If it were only that easy! I spent a year in a school culture that was vastly different from my own values and teaching methods. I spent the next two years working in private industry. I understand from where you’re coming. When you interview for a position, remember that you are also interviewing the administrator and the school team. Be sure to craft questions that will help you evaluate the school culture that you would be entering to insure that fit for which you are looking. Depending on your area of expertise and your need for a job, you may not have the “luxury” of working in “just the right fit” school.

Question from R McKanna, teacher, Harvey Elem Santa Ana Unified CA:
Please describe what you consider to be positive working conditions for teacher and how it affects student learning conditions. I am especially interested in support for teachers from administration.

Mary Tedrow:
Here is my ideal for teacher working conditions: Conversations that include the teacher in the formation of building level decisions. Support in the form of classroom teaching materials, technology support, clean, bright classrooms, and supplies needed to get the job done. Mutual respect between teachers and administrators. That means including a welcoming, open-door policy with administrators. The same kind of community I try to provide for my students, where risk-taking is welcome and problems are solved rather than created. A window. :-) (That’s my personal choice since I’ve never had one!) But seriously, little things can make us happy if they acknowledge that we are in the same buildings for a career and not just a few years like the students are.

Question from Jennifer Smith, recent graduate:
Do you have any advice for prospective elementary teachers who are having a hard time finding a job?

Julie Dermody:
Come to North Carolina!

Seriously, if you are flexible, there are jobs all over the nation. In my area right now, we can’t find enough teachers and we are opening new schools every year.

If you can’t move, consider adding on to your license so you could work with elementary students in another area - such as English Languag Learners, Exceptional Ed students, or AG. Often you can be more attractive to school districts if you have extra areas of expertise.

Be sure to show your passion for teaching at interviews - let them know that you’re going to be a great asset to any school! (But be sure to make a match to any school you want. You don’t just want a job - you want the right job for you (and for your future students!) Good Luck!

Question from Christine Futia, mid-career M.Ed. student:
What is the one biggest thing you wish you had known before stepping into your own classroom for the first time?

Mary Tedrow:
I remember being very surprised by the varying levels of my students. At first I thought, “Why hasn’t anyone taught these kids anything?” But then I realized that these levels had always existed - and probably always will - but that I had not seen them in my life as a student. Secondly, I’ve learned to streamline a lot of the multi-tasking work teachers have to do throughout the day. If you see a teacher with a quick way of handling routine paperwork, steal it! As a waitress I learned to make every step count, do many things on one trip to the kitchen. I still do that today making each trip count.

Question from :
I truly believe that when a child comes to school ready to learn half the job of teaching is done. The challenge in the classroom often is trying get that piece in place. How can we a teachers be held responsible for “no child being left behind” when this other very important piece (readiness) is often not part of this child life outside of class?

Julie Dermody:
Great question! I’ve said before that I dont’ mind being held responsible for what I do, but I want everyone else to be responsible for their part also!

What we can do is to encourage those “others” to do their part. One way is though education - many parents don’t know how to read to their children and don’t have the resources. We conduct classes for parents and model reading aloud. We give the children books to take home to use (and the local hospital now gives new parents books to take home with their newborns!)

We can encourage the community to get involved by giving them concrete suggestions of how they could do it. The “Books for Newborns” was one such idea. Often community organizations just need to know what to do...they want to help.

We match our students with mentors - college students and adults. Many kids need positive role models in their lives.

We as teachers need to be advocates for all children and offer ideas - not blame. Everyone’s goal is the same, but not everyone has the resources or knowledge. We can help.

Question from Deborah Dawn, Preservice K-8 certified, WA state:
1. I am a 52 year-old career changer and I am so ready to teach elementary school, now that I finally have my certificate. What strategies during the interview process should I use to help alleviate concern about my age and/or energy level?

Deanna Harris:
I can hear the enthusiasm in your question: “I am so ready to teach”. Your passion and enthusiasm will come through in an interview. Share your ideas about teaching and learning, what you see important in the elementary classroom, what you will do to engage students. Again, I think your passion and spirit will come through when you share that excitement with the administrator or interview team. Good luck with your job search!

Question from Erika Tepler, Student, GWU:
I’m a graduating senior in college and I’m trying to decide if I want to pursue a career in education. What are some of the most important things I should keep in mind when making this decision?

Mary Tedrow:
Lucky for you, I’m the mother of two recent graduates, so I’ve talked about this a lot! Teaching is a great profession, if you like children. And though this seems obvious, it isn’t always. Some teach because they love their subject. Others are attracted to the hours which do afford an earlier ending time and a summer break. But the truth is that to do the job well you must like the “messiness” of working with children. And though, on paper, the day ends early and there are summer breaks, the work during the school year is intense, extending beyond the day spent with the kids and often into the weekend. When summer rolls around it is well deserved. I read these statements once and they rang true to me: Some love to teach English. Some love to teach children. Some love to teach English to children. It is the third statement which reveals the careful balance in being the kind of teacher who will actually enjoy the work. Even loving children too much won’t work out if the subject matter is neglected. Good luck!

Question from Debbie, Elementary School Teacher:
How do you avoid singling out a child when a behavioral problems occurs disrupting the class?

Julie Dermody:
I guess that would depend on what type of problem occurs - if it involves a safety issue, you may need to single them out.

If not, you may have a signal for them planned in advanced if it’s a child that tends to have problems, for example, you may tell them in advance that “when I go by your desk and tap you on the shoulder, consider that my way of letting you know that your behavior is disrepectful to the class.” You could have a plan in advance of what that means if they don’t stop right away - perhaps a time out area. Where after a brief time, you can invite them back to be with the rest of the class.

You can also just mention to them calmly - “I need you to pay attention right now because you’ll need these directions to know what to do next.”

Catch challenging kids doing the right things as much as possible and let them know you see those things as well..being proactive is important in developing relationships.

Question from S. Ryan, teacher 4th grade, Plymouth, MA:
In today’s standards-based atmosphere, how do teaching professionals work around a bureaucratic system to meet the needs of students with relevant-to-real-life curricula, personalized relationships, as well as high expectations for performance? We need leaders who show us the way. Thanks for commenting.

Mary Tedrow:
Good teaching generally will encompass the standards and more. And meeting the standards doesn’t necessarily mean eliminating the other items you mentioned. Confident teachers know that establising relationships and routines with students will make the time spent on curriculum “stick” in the long run. Though it varies from state to state, lists of objectives can be distracting if a classroom teacher looks at each one as an individual goal because well crafted units can knit many objectives together. In today’s standard driven world teachers can make the mistake of trying to cover it all and do none of it well versus doing most of it well and ensuring that those objectives were met and that the students actually learned something they can carry to the next level.

Question from Rob ( 6th Grade Teacher):
After teaching middle school for 12 years, I am feeling the effects of “burn-out.” I believe that reflecting & identifying factors that make me feel this way and addressing them as best I can is a band-aid approach. What are additional, concrete ways (strategies/techniques/career & life changes?) in which teachers cope with the numerous -- and at times, unrealistic and/or conflicting -- demands placed on educational professionals?

Deanna Harris:
Well, for me, I wanted that concrete change. I went from the language arts classroom to the library media center still in the middle school setting. Some of the challenges are the same, but there is a whole new set of challenges, too, ones that allow you to grow and stretch as a professional. I also made a list of all the extra things I was doing -- club sponsorships, committees, workshops, etc., -- and ranked them. After I determined what was most important, I gave notice that I would not be involved in the others the next school year. Guess what?! There WERE others that could serve on those committees! Perhaps you need a change of venue, subject, position, or maybe you need to take up underwater basket weaving. Find something non-teaching to help energize you. Those middle schoolers need you! :)

Question from Dr. Yvonne Siu-Runyan, Professor Emeritus; The University of Northern Colorado:
There is even a greater degree of teacher “burn out” today because of the NCLB Act and high stakes testing. What can school districts to to retain talented beginning teachers as well as veteran teachers in this time of struggle?

Mary Tedrow:
More than ever districts need to listen to their teachers. As a veteran teacher I can state that there is nothing more frustrating than not being allowed to share what has been learned after spending 17 years working with adolescents. But we aren’t alone. Young teachers are eager to begin a life in the adult world and too often are treated as the “13th grade.” I sense a different attitude among these teachers and I am certain that they will walk if they aren’t finding their working conditions up to their standards. Honoring your teachers wisdom and energy will make them stay even when other pressures are high.

Question from Christine Merriam, Retired Art Teacher, Kayenta Intermediate School:
I left teaching early. I did so because the NCLB directives deprived the whole student and focused on teaching to a test. I went from teaching 500 students a year to teaching 1000. It was clear that my district did not value Arts education. My question is: Are others leaving the teaching field because NCLB is having a detrimental effect on the curriculum directed to the whole child?

Deanna Harris:
I do not have statistics to answer yes or no about teachers leaving the field. I do know that many teachers have been affected by NCLB at many levels -- highly qualified status, licensure issues, curriculum decisions, and let’s not forget testing. Unfortunately, I continue to see waivering when it comes to arts education. As a student of the piano and voice, I am very disappointed when the arts is removed from our students’ experiences. It’s too bad that more schools don’t look at the arts as a vehicle to help teach/integrate the core curriculum (math, literacy, etc.) and provide the needed whole-child instruction. There’s a whole lot of math that goes on in music class!

Question from Erika Tepler, Student, GWU:
How have recent changes in education policy changed your jobs and roles as educators?

Julie Dermody:
The biggest change I’m feeling right now is the changing role of the reading teacher. As the move is more to coaching fellow teachers than working with students...I’ve decided to once again make a career move. While I enjoy working with my colleagues and conducting staff development, I would miss working students. Next year I’m going back into the classroom as a 4th grade teacher. I’ll have a classroom of mostly English Language Learners and it will be a demonstration classroom of best practice of ELLs.

Some may feel that we now “teach to the test’. I’m fortunate that my principal knows that good teaching is good teaching and by following our Standard Course of Study and engaging my students in the learning process - they’ll do fine on any tests.

I guess I feel my role hasn’t changed that much - we do have LOTS more paperwork to document everything and we do test more than ever it seems - but it’s still about relationships..and always will be.

Question from Stacy Dumont, Special Ed teacher, Pawling, Ny:
Good afternoon, If you had to choose a source for new teachers on solid, effective classroom management, what would you suggest? This seems to be an obstacle in the day, especially that I’ve started this career at an older age than most. Thanks.

Mary Tedrow:
Stacy, I have to admit that my beginning years are so far behind me that I don’t even know how I “manage” my classroom anymore. There are a few tennents that help me keep order in the classroom and the one that jumps to mind is that I know my students very well. In the Enlish classroom we always start the year with writings that let me know a lot about my students in a short amount of time. The second tip I have for keeping order is to be well-prepared with activities that keep students thinking and constructing learning on their own. Routines keep most distrubances to a minimum. For instance today my students were involved in Reading Workshop. My lowest performing students knew exactly what to do because we have done this all year so they only needed a few brief cues from me to get started. I’m sure other’s who have interacted with these students would have been surprised to be in the classroom when they were all quiet and engaged in their work for the 50 minute class period. Other than that, search the web and look for those classroom tips that fit your personality. It will be hard to implement something that doesn’t fit your style.

Question from Hollie Duvall, instructor, WCCC:
I graduated 11 yrs. ago with a music ed. degree. at the age of 43. I would be interested in knowing what your thoughts are on how to get hired in the public school system? I worked the substitute field for a year before accepting a position at the local college. I went on to obtain a M.A. I read about the shortage of teachers but it puzzles me because in my area (Pa.) it is virtually impossible for an “older” teacher to secure a position. I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on this. My goal was to graduate with a music degree and teach but I don’t ever see that happening. Don’t you think it would be wise for the colleges to encourage older students to go into another field of study or at least tell them what they probably are going to face? If you know what you’re going to be up against it might help you make a different decision on the directon you take. Hollie

Deanna Harris:
If positions are not readily available, substituting is usually a good route to get your foot in the door. While colleges can certainly advise students of the outlook in the various teaching fields, I hope that students choose their majors / subject areas based on their personal interests and passions. There is nothing worse than having a teacher who is less than thrilled about the subject they teach but is only there because it was a job.

Question from Shani Fisher, College Textbook Editor:
What do you think college textbooks can do to help pre-service teachers bridge the gap from pre-service to practice such that their expectations for working in the classroom are more realistic?

Deanna Harris:
Throw out the textbooks! While they may provide some foundations of theory and educational research, real classroom experiences are key!

Question from Kathy, high school science teacher, Texas:
Teaching isn’t easy but it is made easier when administration gives teachers enough planning time and the equipment to get the job done. I would rather have the equipment I need and an extra conference period for planning than a raise. How do other teachers feel about this? Do most teachers feel that pay is the biggest incentive?

Julie Dermody:
Actually, most teachers would agree with you. Poor working conditions are what most teachers cite when they leave - not the lack of pay (although we all would like to have bigger pay checks!)

Having adequate planning time is a problem especially in elementary schools. Having equipment - that works - is also a problem in many schools.

A positive, nurturing, and suportive school climate would top most teachers’ list as well. It’s not all about the money - but it is about being treated as a professional.

Anthony Rebora, (Moderator):

That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks for all the great questions--sorry if we didn’t have time to get to yours. Thanks also to our teacher-guests Deanna Harris, Julie Dermondy, and Mary Tedrow for their insightful reponses. A transcript of the chat will be posted shortly on I hope it’s a useful resource.

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