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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Professional Development Opinion

Response: ‘I Love My Job’ as a Teacher

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 05, 2018 14 min read
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(This is the first post in a three-part series)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

If you had to do it all over again, would you still become a teacher? Why or why not?

All of us can sometimes have second thoughts about the choices we’ve made in life. This series will consider that question as it relates to the teaching profession.

Today’s contributors are Shaeley Santiago, Anne Jenks, Sarah Thomas, Dr. Margarita Bianco and Stephen Lazar. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with PJ, Stephanie and Megan on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here. By the way, you can also now listen to the show on Google Play and Stitcher, in addition to iTunes.

Personally, I’ve never had second thoughts about becoming a teacher.

And I’ve also never had second thoughts about entering it as a second career. The experience I gained during my nineteen years as a community organizer has clearly made me a better educator in many ways. That knowledge informs my instruction and reinforces the priority I place on building relationships. And the ups-and-downs of organizing definitely prepared me for the pyschological stresses of the classroom (by the way, you might be interested in a two-part series on career-changers entering the teaching field that previously appeared in this column).

Response From Shaeley Santiago

Shaeley Santiago is an ESL Instructional Coach and Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for the Ames Community School District in Ames, Iowa. Prior to becoming a coach, she was an ESL teacher at Ames High School for 10 years. She is a big fan of social media for teachers; you can follow her on Twitter at @HSeslteacher:

Absolutely! When I first became a teacher, I did not see myself staying in the profession long term. However, eighteen years into the job, I cannot see myself doing anything else. Why the change of heart? I have seen firsthand the effect a quality education has on students, and I am passionate about ensuring all students reap the benefits of school. Education is a pathway of hope, an equalizer in terms of opportunities for the future. Without an adequate education, earnings potential and quality of life are adversely impacted.

Having worked in education and seen where we fall short, I am motivated to ensure that educators do an even better job reaching each and every student. Typically, subgroups such as low SES, students of color, and English Language Learners (ELLs) are populations that struggle in our schools. The challenge of addressing their needs in a systematic fashion is one that provides meaning to my job. Some people might be discouraged by this daunting challenge, but I have found that working as a team with other teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators provides a support system to help me deal with the frustrations that could lead to burnout.

For those who are not so sure about becoming a teacher, I would encourage you to look beyond the forms, meetings, grading, and other mundane aspects of teaching. Instead, I would ask you to consider how you might be able to impact the future of your students. Think of the influence you could have on those who might be struggling to find their own purpose in life or to look beyond their current circumstances and imagine what they might someday become, thanks in part to the experiences and skills you provide them through your lessons. Imagine the excitement of a student working under your guidance and encouragement who struggles to read fluently but begins to make noticeable progress. As you work regularly with this student, you note the effort and intensity of focus that may have been lacking previously. You cannot help but to feel even more motivated to make sure the student reaches his goal.

Seeing the growth and progress of my own students, I have been inspired to develop my teaching skills. The desire to become more myself so that I can better help others is at the heart of my passion for education. Looking back on the teacher I was eighteen years ago, I know I have grown, but I also acknowledge areas where I still need to improve. In other words, there is still more work to be done, and I am committed to doing everything I can to ensure the success of students in my school district. That’s why I would (and do) still choose to be a teacher.

Response From Anne Jenks

Anne Jenks is an educator with twenty-six years experience in teaching and school administration. She was the 2015 CUE Site Leader of the Year and the 2013 ACSA Region 13 Elementary School Principal of the Year. Currently, she is working as a consultant with an emphasis on edtech integration and STEM:

In June, I retired from teaching and school administration after a twenty-six-year career.

I became a teacher in my forties and was living in Arizona with my husband and two children at the time. I had felt that I was becoming too insular and involved with my family and wanted to do some kind of volunteer work. After looking around for something that interested me, I decided to volunteer for Project Literacy US. This was an organization that paired a person who could not read with one that could. I was assigned to work with a sixteen-year-old boy who had dropped out of school at thirteen to become a roofer. He read at a first grade level. The boy was working as a busboy at a local restaurant at the time, and I was managing a small home improvement business. I had a BA in communications and had never thought of being a teacher.

As the program was not connected with a school, we would meet at the local library. There were some basic materials that I had through Project Literacy US. We began with these and moved on as he progressed. Once, while I was waiting for him to arrive, I checked out a copy of I, Claudius by Robert Graves. When my student arrived, he asked me what the book was about. I described the plot, and I could see that wonderful look that people get when they want to know more. He asked me questions about the story. This really inspired me. I went home and told my husband that I wanted to go back to school and become a teacher. He agreed and I enrolled in the Prescott College Adult Degree Program and continued to work full time while going to classes in the evenings. It took me about fourteen months of classes and two rounds of student teaching to get my credentials, as I had applied for both elementary and high school.

I was hired to teach sixth grade almost immediately after finishing my coursework. I did this for three years until we moved to northern California where I had a variety of jobs including a stint at an Adult Degree Program, Independent Study, a 5th/6th/7th/8th grade combination class in a tiny school with only sixty-seven students in grades one through eight, and sixth and seventh grade in a middle school. Later, I moved to southern California to get my administrative credential and taught a 5/6 combination class in a large urban school until I became an administrator for the final thirteen years of my career.

Would I do it again? Without hesitation. I have had a variety of assignments in two different states and five school districts. Each has been unique and each has been fulfilling. I have never been bored because every day was filled with challenges and rewards. I have worked with thousands of students of all different races, religions, and cultures and amazing teachers and colleagues. Because of this, my life has been enriched. I have learned as much or more from them as they have from me. I will be forever grateful to my first student, whom I worked with for two years until he reached an independent reading level. He was the inspiration that caused me to make a life-changing decision and become a teacher - the greatest profession that there is.

Response From Sarah Thomas

Sarah-Jane Thomas, PhD is a Regional Technology Coordinator in Prince George’s County Public Schools. Sarah is also a Google Certified Innovator, Google Education Trainer, and founder of the EduMatch project, which promotes connection and collaboration among educators around the world. Through EduMatch, Sarah has published several collaborative and individual books, and serves as President on the Board of Directors for EduMatch Foundation, Inc. Sarah is also on the leadership team of the ISTE Digital Equity PLN, and Affiliate Faculty at Loyola University in Maryland:

If I had to do it all over again, I would absolutely become a teacher. When I was younger, I wanted to be a famous singer or movie star, but became much more introverted later in life. In undergrad, I majored in Radio-TV-Film, and worked at a cable access TV station. For a while, I flirted with the idea of law school, even taking the LSAT at one point. However, by the end of my studies, I had the itch to go into the classroom. Looking back, almost every job I had as a teenager and young adult involved working with kids in some capacity.

After graduation, I immediately enrolled into a Master’s program for Intercultural Communication. One day, while walking down the stairs, I saw a flyer recruiting for an alternative certification program, so I decided to apply. Long story short, I was accepted into their program. There was a period of adjustment, but I’m so thankful for all of my experiences.

Response From Dr. Margarita Bianco

Dr. Margarita Bianco is an associate professor in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver and Founder/ Executive Director of Pathways2Teaching [http://www.Pathways2Teaching.com]. Her research interests include strategies to recruit and retain teachers of Color and Grow Your Own teacher programs for high school students of color in urban and rural communities. Dr. Bianco was recently named the Timmerhaus Teaching Ambassador for the University of Colorado:

Without hesitation, my answer is yes! I started my journey as a classroom teacher nearly 40 years ago and over the years I have taught students at every grade level from K-12 in some of the most underserved public schools across the country. As an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver, my work is now focused on teacher preparation and developing the Pathways2Teaching program, a concurrent enrollment program specifically designed to encourage high school students of Color to consider becoming teachers. So, not only would I do it all again, I am also deeply invested in making sure the next generation of teachers would do it all again too.

In many ways, my decision to become a teacher was to be the teacher I never had but- always wanted. Schools never felt like a welcoming place for me. I disliked school. I was bored and ignored and came very close to dropping out multiple times. Instead of being encouraged to stay in school, graduate, and go on to college, I was told by my high school counselor, “You are not college material.” I remember feeling the sting of those 5 words and wondered if it was true. I almost believed him.

Sadly, my negative experience in school is not unique. For many students of color, schools do not always feel welcoming or safe. One only needs to examine national or state data by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status to see the disproportionate rates of school disciplinary actions, suspensions, special education placements, and lower graduation rates for students of color to better understand the level of disenfranchisement often felt by students. Why would someone who looks back on her school experience with such distain want to return to the school spaces I tried so hard to leave?

From the start, I saw my role as a classroom teacher to flip this script. On the macro level, I was motivated to challenge the inequities that existed in public schools. On the micro level, I wanted to create classroom environments where students felt encouraged, respected, challenged, and safe. As a Latina, I wanted my students to have access to a teacher who shared and understood many aspects of their lived experiences.

Yes, I would do it all again and now encourage high school students to consider becoming teachers too. I share my story with students in the hope that they too can find purpose in flipping the script.

Response From Stephen Lazar

Stephen Lazar is a National Board Certified Social Studies and English teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in NYC, and is pursuing his Ph.D. in History at the CUNY Graduate Center:

Yes. Unquestionably yes.

I became a teacher because I believed that what we do matters. I wrote the following towards the end of my student teaching experience, and somehow fourteen years later I still believe every word of it:

“The future is filtered through the walls of our schools. Schools are perhaps the primary socializing institution in our society. While the family and religion also play prominent roles in determining who people are, it is through the act of educating that youth are welcomed into the world that everyone in this country shares. The way in which we choose to educate our children will serve in many ways to create this shared world. If we desire to live in a world characterized by active democratic participation, critical evaluation of authority and the status quo, and social justice and equality, then we must find ways to mirror, question, and explore these notions in our schools.”

“I believe that an education is a wonderfully unpredictable act. It is the unpredictability of action that gives hope for positive change in the world. One never knows the answer they will receive to a question. This is in many ways the beauty of education. It is through this questioning, through education, that we welcome students into the world that we share, and hand over to them the responsibility and awesome power to begin something new - to create, question, answer, write, speak, analyze, think, and be critical in ways that can never be predicted.”

But while potentially grandiose notions of purpose are what got me started, and are what get me through the hardest times, to be honest, what keeps me a teacher is that I love my job. It is fun, challenging, and interesting. Every student I teach is different, which keeps me engaged and on my toes. Students find new ways to make me laugh every year.

Finally, being a teacher gives me a meaningful and reasonable life. Every person I know who is not a teacher is constantly dealing with some anxiety about the next job, or whether the current job is what they want to be doing. The constant pressure of other white collar work to move up seems to lead to a perpetual state of dissatisfaction which I have never really experienced as a teacher. My goal as a teacher is to constantly be a better teacher for my students, but that fundamental work does not, and will not, change. And while I’ll never get rich being a teacher, I am paid enough to live a reasonable comfortable life, and can look forward to a secure retirement.

Thanks to Shaeley, Anne, Sarah, Margarita and Stephen for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder--you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader. And, if you missed any of the highlights from the first six years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. They don’t include ones from this current year, but you can find those by clicking on the “answers” category found in the sidebar.

This Year’s Most Popular Q&A Posts

Classroom Management Advice

Race & Gender Challenges

Implementing The Common Core

Best Ways To Begin The School Year

Best Ways To End The School Year

Student Motivation & Social Emotional Learning

Teaching Social Studies

Project-Based Learning

Using Tech In The Classroom

Parent Engagement In Schools

Teaching English Language Learners

Student Assessment

Brain-Based Learning

Reading Instruction

Writing Instruction

Education Policy Issues

Differentiating Instruction

Math Instruction

Science Instruction

Advice For New Teachers

Author Interviews

Entering The Teaching Profession

Administrator Leadership

Teacher Leadership

Relationships In Schools

Professional Development

Instructional Strategies

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributers to this column.

Look for Part Two in a few days.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.