What is your name?
How long have you been teaching?
What do you teach?
I am a special education teacher. I am the department chairperson for my building which is a 9th grade building. I also teach two self contained learning support classes, one is English, the other social studies.
When did you know that you wanted to be a teacher?
I think I was always a teacher. I just didn’t know it. Before I thought about being a teacher I had jobs in which I had to work with teens and young adults in both medical and mental health settings. I most enjoyed patient and client educational opportunities. I enjoyed that aspect of parenting as well. My life kept directing me toward my career until I finally got it.
Where did you go to school?
I attended Bucks County Community College for 13 years while working and tending to family. I FINALLY got a degree in Human Services. I then sought creative ways to complete my degree in as little time as possible. I entered Eastern University as a Business Major in their Accelerated program and worked on my certification courses at the same time. I graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Organizational Management. One semester later, I had my certification and a job!
What do you like most about teaching?
I love those AH-HA moments when someone gets a concept or information starts to make sense and they get it. It is so exciting to see the light come on. I love to help students see that the world around them is big and exciting and that you can go on learning forever. I love to teach students because the more knowledge they gain, the more excited they get.
What do you like least about teaching?
There are two things I like least about teaching. The first is a student who is very resistant to learning and disrupts the learning of others. That being said, I need to qualify it. Students come into the classroom with baggage that you can’t even imagine. Sometimes, inviting them to learn is almost ludicrous considering what they are dealing with at home. Resistance to learning happens for many reasons. My job is to create an environment where students can feel safe enough to temporarily step away from their personal problems and lose themselves in the excitement of learning.
Many students come into the classroom resistant to learning. I need to find out what the hook is that makes them open their minds to the knowledge that is available to them. It requires a great deal of patience and lots of love. If I don’t care about my students, they know it and I will never gain their trust. I sometimes have to consciously find those traits. I also have to give respect at all times. I expect it in return – and eventually get it – but I have to always and consistently put it out there.
The second thing that I like least about teaching is the current lack of respect and devaluing of teachers in our society. Our government is making a conscious effort to discredit teachers as overpaid, lazy, not very bright people who come into teaching for the money. I can assure you that, for those who don’t find it a labor of love, teaching is a terrible job. It requires many, many hours above and beyond what one is paid for and is something you never leave completely. The burn out rate is high. I have worked many jobs in my life, but I have never worked in such full immersion as I do as an educator.
How do you discipline and still keep your student’s trust?
Being respectful of someone does not mean that I have to lie down and get walked all over. In the beginning of the year I explain what my expectations are in the classroom. I give students opportunities to pull themselves together if they are being disrespectful or disruptive. It works very well. I am always honest and respectful. I don’t lose control of myself. I don’t power play. Most importantly, every day is a new day with a fresh start. I don’t ever carry grudges in the classroom. I expect the same of my students.
Do you think that teaching has gotten more difficult through the years?
No. I think that, as I get older, it sometimes feels harder, but I don’t see that as the students being worse. I think I am just more easily tired by the day to day difficulty of teaching. Few teachers teach until they are 65 or older. It is a very emotionally demanding job and I think you get less tolerant as time goes on.
Since the beginning of time, I think that adults have always thought the next generation was tougher than the previous one. Children are a reflection of what is going on in society. Right now, times are tough. Lives are tough. This is reflected in my students, as it is in the adults I work with. Kids are kids and some things that I hear teachers complain about are the same things they were complaining about when I was a teen.
What advice would you give someone who wants to teach?
Follow your dream. Good teachers are hard to find. I was discouraged from teaching because I could make more money in the private sector. I have never regretted my decision.
What are some of the Best Practices that you use in your classroom?
This is a very loaded question. True Best Practice is a school wide initiative to form learning communities in which student learning is given the highest priority. The school uses empirical evidence, combined with strong teacher skills, to help students achieve high levels of academic success. There are about nine sections attached to Best Practices. These include building a strong learning community where teachers are well trained to lead their classes to success. There is collaborative support among teachers. Basically, it would be the perfect school where everyone knew the students well, not only as learners, but as individuals. Principals would support teachers, teachers would support one another, there would be bridges of communication between parents and teachers, and children would be able to have their needs met. I want to work in this school!
Unfortunately, the reality is quite different in every school district that I am familiar with. In special education there is something called “A Free and Appropriate Education”. “Appropriate” does not come anywhere near “Best”. Appropriate often translates to the bare minimum that must be done to meet the child’s needs. It does not mean that one provides the best possible education for that child.
In my classroom, “Best Practices” translates into me getting to know my students as people. It means that I must care about them and their families. That I must build those bridges between my student’s families and myself so that parents feel comfortable consulting with me. It means that we, teachers, social workers, parents, and students must form a team to help that child reach his or her goals.
What goals do you have for your students?
To help them be the person they want to be when they are grown up even if they don’t yet know who that is. To teach a love for learning and discovery that will serve them well in a changing world. To give them the background knowledge they need to move forward with some knowledge of what came before them. To have the skills needed to achieve their dreams, whatever and whenever they decide they need them. To show them that the world is bigger than they imagine. To show them that they are here for a reason and that there is a place for them in the world.
What is your opinion on PSSA testing, especially the writing portion?
PSSA testing has changed the concept of teaching. We now teach to the test and teach to increase scores. This is not necessarily good teaching. As for the writing portion; I don’t have any particular objections to it, I just don’t think it is a good measure of what students can really accomplish. It is a small sample in a high pressure situation. I like the concept of developmental writing portfolios much better. It is a more comprehensive way of measuring growth over time.
What text book do you use for teaching writing?
We use a literature anthology by Holt. It is called Elements of Literature. In order to write well, there must be some identification, emotion, or passion. Interesting literary works make good jumping points for writing. I also have a small writing course booklet that I use for teaching the mechanics of writing. Writing is formulaic in nature so, just as in math, students must be taught the formulas (five paragraph essay as one example that every college student knows).
How do you grade writing assignments?
I generally use a rubric for each assignment. The rubrics vary with the assignment. Their use allows me to vary my grading to the expertise of the writer, and to the task at hand. Students are always clear about my expectations, but I can vary those with the assignment.
At the beginning of the school year I am most interested in having students express themselves. I often choose to overlook some mechanics such as spelling in the beginning in favor of expressiveness. If I can get the student to take chances and not be afraid of creativity in the beginning of the year, I can build better writers. By this time of year we are much more focused on mechanics, and the various formats for different types of writing.
How do you teach writing to different student levels?
How do you get students to do revisions?
Laptop computers have improved our ability to get students to do this. It is much easier to revise on a laptop than to re-write over and over. That said, I still have an old school way of having students revise their work.
When a student completes their rough draft I have them print it out. They then have to read it to themselves and make revisions.
When they have completed their revisions, they then must find a partner and read it aloud to the partner. They stop and fix errors as they pick it up.
I then have the partner read it to the writer. The writer then has an opportunity to “hear” how it is written. This generally results in the addition of commas and periods, and some sentence revision.
It is then read back to them again.
When they feel it is perfect, they make the revisions on the computer and print out the final copy.
One more personal proof read and it is handed in for credit.
If you could give one piece of advice on teaching writing, what would it be?
Use all five senses to help them “feel” what they are reading and writing about. Push for emotion in creative or expository writing.
What pet peeves do you have about teaching writing?
That I sometimes spend the whole weekend grading papers and when I return them, the student looks at it, grimaces, sighs, and throws it in the trash. It takes about 2 seconds to respond to my 20 minutes of grading!