Road to Teaching

June 29, 2019

Road to Teaching

When I graduated high school, I had decided I wanted to become a teacher. I was pretty sure I wanted to be a high school teacher. When I enrolled at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). I enter the College of Education.

During my first year in school, I took only core classes and one class for the College of Ed. I took a class in Nevada School Law. It was very boring and taught by the teacher who wrote the book. I barely passed the class. I think I passed with a C or maybe a D.

At that point was second guessing my decision to become a teacher.

My second year at UNLV, I took an actual class in my field. A class about teaching. I can’t recall what it was called but it had to do with being a teacher. I was very excited about it. The professor seemed very nice.

The first day of class, he said, “I’m here to help you. If you ever need anything, my number is in the syllabus and my office hours are listed. Please call if you need ANYTHING! I’m here to guide you on your way to becoming teachers.” I was really impressed.

I bought my books and attended classes for a few weeks. It totaled a couple of classes. Suddenly, Patrick became very ill. He had caught the chicken pox. My classes came to a screeching halt. I called all my professors and explained what had happened. Most gave me the assignments over the phone and told me what I could do at home for the next week.

I called my teaching professor. I explained my son had the chicken pox and I would not be in class for the week. I asked what I could work on from home. His response was, “Why are you calling me? Didn’t you get one of your classmates numbers? That’s what they are there for. If you can’t be here, why are you even in college? When you are a teacher, you can’t just call into work whenever you want. You should just probably drop my class. You’ll never catch up.”

I was stunned. Here was a guy who at our first meeting, was open and ready to help. He made sure we had his number, office hours and knew where his office was located. The flip in his behavior was so Jekyll and Hyde that I was beside myself. I had not gotten anyone else’s number. It had not occurred to me. We were still getting to know one another in class. There had not been any group assignments, or study groups. I hadn’t talked to anyone outside of class.

This was only my second year in college, I didn’t really know how to handle the situation. I hung up the phone. I had a sick toddler that required my attention and four classes that needed attending to as well. I focused on that.

I dropped his class. And then quickly dropped out of the College of Education. My dreams of being a teacher no longer in my future due to the one asshole.

Instead, I focused on my English classes and art. I ended up with a degree in English and credits away with a minor in art.

After college, there wasn’t much I could do with a degree in English. Who’d a thunk? So I started substituting for the school district. I took about four subbing jobs before I landed a long term job in high school teaching a special education math position.

Math is not my specialty. I can do basic math, fractions, some equations, but explaining that, is very difficult. Explaining that to kids with a learning disabilities turned out to be very challenging. I’m pretty sure I fucked them up, but what I got out of it was a decision for a career path. I did want to be a teacher.

Somehow, I found out about a fast track teacher program for special education. You had to have a bachelors degree in any subject other than education and you could qualify for the program. The end result would be a Masters Degree in Special Education. I enrolled.

The program consisted of nightly meetings at a middle school for four hours and then nine weeks of graduate class work at UNLV. We did nine graduate credit hours in nine weeks. All of this was done in the course of a couple of months.

There were about 40 of us in this cohort program. All from various backgrounds. Some you could tell were going to do well. Some were going to wash out. Some this was just another job until the next thing.

After the course work and nightly meetings were completed, we were deemed ready for mass interview by the district. I barely passed my interview. I don’t know why but I came up blank on most of my interview questions. The lady interviewing me was patient and prompted most of my responses. Whatever score they gave me, they don’t share but I know I got a low score because I didn’t get any calls for interviews.

Our group, now slimmed down to about 30, were now taking evening classes at UNLV, It was the Spring semester in January. Some of my cohorts had been hired and were teaching in the classroom. There were about 10 of us who had not been hired, including me.

We continued going to class, and each class, someone would come in and share the news they had been picked up for hire. By February, everyone but me and another guy had not been hired. Pretty soon, even he had been picked up and I was lone wolf.

In March, I got call from elementary school requesting an interview. The principal was very persistent that I come over immediately. I explained that I had been out with the horses all day and was covered in hay, muck and manure. She said, “I have five horses, I don’t mind. I need you here now. Hiring freeze starts in two hours.”

I got in my car, with my shitty, muddy boots and drove over. I interviewed in a plaid shirt and jeans with straw in my pocket. I’m sure my hair was in a mess too. The principal showed me around and then asked if I would like to join her staff. We were told, never to refuse a first job offered. Since I was never offered a job, I said yes.

Elementary school was not my first choice. The principal new that it was not my first choice and maybe not my fit. She also new I was very green and needed a lot of help. She let me observe other teachers for the first two weeks. Then, I got my own classroom and an aide.

I was to teach English, reading and math. The other teachers gave me an outline of what to do. I thought I had a grasp of what to do. I had all of a few months from my couple classes in education and a few months of long term subbing in the classroom. I was totally unprepared.

The kids were manageable. The content was challenging. I misspelled words on the board. I taught things incorrectly. I gave wrong information. I just plugged along. Even the kids corrected me. Fourth graders knew I didn’t know what I was doing, but they let me go on about it.

When I was observed, I had misspelled elementary wrong on the board and we were in an elementary school. UGH. The baby teacher is quite a thing to behold.

The paperwork was also quite overwhelming. Writing lesson plans each week, doing the lessons and writing IEPs (Individualized Education Plans). The first one I wrote was so lengthy, my colleague just shook her head and laughed. I had done everything by the book as I had been taught. The student had fourteen goals to address every deficit. You just don’t do that. You probably should but you just don’t do that. But they signed it.

During that year a student, pelted me in the eye with a tack that made eye swell up. Directly after it happened, my principal walked in. I had lost all control over my classroom. I couldn’t see what was happening. I was crying and covering my face. She didn’t know what was happening. I was trying to explain. She just told me to go to the nurses office. I had to teach for the next couple of days with a patch on my eye.

Another time, I muttered to myself but a little to loudly, “What the hell is that for?” I got called into the principal’s office. She sat me down and asked why I was swearing in front of the students. I assured her I had not done so. Then she told me what had been reported. I told her yes, I had said that, but not to the kids but more to myself and under my breath. She informed me that a student heard and was offended as he was a Jehovah’s Witness. I didn’t see how HELL was a swear word but okay, it wouldn’t happen again.

I was frustrated that my students weren’t making progress. They struggled with spelling. They couldn’t remember vocabulary. They didn’t know their basic math facts. I expressed my concerns to a seasoned teacher and she told me, “Sometimes, they are just a box of rocks and dumb as them. You can’t save them all, honey.” I was floored. I was so doe eyed and new to education. Every student could be saved. Every student could learn. I didn’t know what to say.

In my evaluation, the principal called me in to give her news. As a new teacher, your evaluation was the be all end all. A good evaluation meant you could go on as a teacher, a bad evaluation gave them reason to dismiss you. My principal said, “It took me three days to write this evaluation. It took me three different computers. Your evaluation crashed three different computers. Your evaluation is the longest one I have ever written. I wanted to give you a positive evaluation, but to give you a positive evaluation, I have to give you a lot of directives.” The evaluation was fifteen pages long. Most are about 2-3.

In the end, my time at the elementary school came to halt. I was surplussed. This means, the school no longer has space for you at their school. There are not enough students to need the teacher. You go into a pot of teachers that then are raffled off to other schools that need teachers.

My principal went to the surplus meeting with me. I really thought after my year in elementary school, I wanted to stay with younger kids. Then, a middle school opening appeared on the board. I put my name into it. I was a new hire. I didn’t think I would get it. My number was 25,000 something. Nobody else put in for it. I got the position.

The next week, I went over to meet Pat, my new principal at Leavitt. A place that has been my home now for 18 years.

It was a long journey, but being a teacher was my calling. I took a round about road to get there, but if I hadn’t dropped the college of ed course, I wouldn’t have gotten the bachelors which led to getting the Master’s in Special Education. Which led to teaching at the best middle school in the country.

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