48. WHAT EVERY TEACHING APPLICANT NEEDS TO KNOW: A TWP PERSPECTIVE

Dear Readers: As you read this post, we at TWP and our families are celebrating the 4th of July, the birthday of the U.S.A. -With swimming pool parties, cookouts, and of course FIREWORKS. Well, being the protective moms that we are, Jenny and I (Renee) will restrict our two little ones Tommy and Tyler (TNT) to “sparklers” only. Now if only we could restrain our hubbies! Wendy and James’ baby Patrick will have to wait a few years.

But one group of people may enjoy the weekend -And then it is back to job searching in a frantic dash BEFORE AUGUST. Who is this you ask? It is the newly college-graduated teacher wanna-bes, thats who! And this post is written for all of those future teachers by TEACHERSWHOPADDLE for the benefit of these soon to be real classroom teachers. We at TWP only wish there had been such a post for us when we started out!

WHAT EVERY TEACHING APPLICANT NEEDS TO KNOW -A TWP PERSPECTIVE

 

The first thing we need to do is set out a few disclaimers:

* DO NOT look for tips or advice about policy regarding the use of c.p. in school or “how to” use a paddle. Please see the following posts for that: MISSION STATEMENT, IMPLEMENTS AND TECHNIQUES, and PART I: POLICY SUGGESTIONS.

*DO NOT look for resume writing tips, interview techniques, or recommendations on where to look for openings. That is the job of your university’s student career placement office.

*DO NOT look for this post to favor or disfavor school districts based solely on if they have a c.p. policy. We WILL “TELL IT LIKE IT IS” but the final choice only the teaching applicant can make as to where they apply. As to this post -IT IS WHAT IT IS -And TWP makes no apologies as to our perspectives that you, the reader, will only find here.

Definitions

There are only a few terms below that TWP has defined SPECIFICALLY for this post.

URBAN/INNER CITY: For the purpose of this blog, URBAN and INNER-CITY are the same. Literally, the terms mean “areas of highest population concentrations” and “the central core of larger cities” respectfully. Also, these populations are generally more diverse economically and ethnically. The total population of urban or inner city type countiess are well in excess of 100,000. (Example: Atlanta-Fulton County)

SUBURBAN: This can have two meanings in the context of school districts. First, in the case of a middle to large school district, the suburban schools of a single district are in more affluent areas away from the urban center. They generally have better academic achievement than their inner city counterparts. Second, in the case of a very large school district like Atlanta-Fulton County, Georgia; the entire school district (and county) can be considered URBAN. Cobb County, just to the north, can be considered a SUBURBAN school district/county. (Note: A county CAN have more than one school district but for simplicity’s sake, we will use the idea of 1 school district per county which is the norm in the U.S.)

RURAL: This type school district/county is the polar opposite of the urban example of Atlanta-Fulton County. The best example of a rural school district/county is Twiggs County, Georgia which was in a recent corpun.com story dealing with the reinstatement of c.p. Please note that RURAL does not mean that agriculture is the only major job sector. Many RURAL areas DO have a few small industries such as textiles but are known for having small populations usually under 50,000. The home county of TWP is in a RURAL school district/county.

 

What to (and not to) expect

URBAN/INNER CITY

Pros: The web sites and brochures are always well designed and emphasize the advantages of working in an area like Atlanta, Georgia. The payscale for new teachers is almost always the highest. With that comes a focus on the many social amenities that larger cities offer.

Cons: There is NOTHING wrong with glitzy promos, higher pay, or great social amenities such as art galleries, ball parks, and exclusive dining but there IS a down side. The higher pay is because of the high cost of living in large cities and the fact that vetern teachers generally DO NOT want to teach in schools located near or in the most dangerous areas of a city. (Call it “combat hazard” pay) And on weekends when you want to enjoy those “social amenities,” you will be either exhausted or find out the hard way how far a new teacher’s salary goes.

Administrative Support: As a “rookie'” you will be out on a limb as far as backing from your principal or assistant principal. DO GET TO KNOW THE SCHOOL SECURITY OFFICER -THAT IS A MUST! The office has problems on a hourly basis and you should not look for much support there. Why? A dirty secret: Nearly EVERYONE is looking to transfer the h*** out: The principal to Central Administration, the assistant principal to a principalship elsewhere, and teachers to anywhere else. That assessment is not from TWP but rather from teachers who we know in inner city districts.

Parents: Maybe we should have made “Parents” singular because the single parent will likely be the rule -Not the exception. So, as a 3rd grade teacher, do not be shocked if the problem child’s mom is YOUR age! Just remember, there are some communities very different than the typical middle class suburban ones that most college graduates come from.

Teachers: How does one pick out the teachers in an inner city school Parents Teacher’s Association meeting? Simple. Just look for the young white middle class folks who look out of place. This is a sad but true picture of what your fellow teachers will mostly be like. Opposite this is the picture of a suburban school where most teachers will be older than the parents or about the same age -Rarely younger! We at TWP think this s**** but it will never change because the “system” in place has too many supporters.

Students: We at TWP are not going to “bad-mouth” the kids but IT IS WHAT IT IS! What should you expect when you combine single parent families, high poverty, high area crime with the problem of street gangs (Certainly NOT the Boy Scouts) ? What you will have is the hardest teaching job being taken by the generally least experienced teachers. No wonder most rookie teachers in this situation “wash out” their first year and leave the profession.

Corporal punishment policy: Forgetaboutit! The prevailing culture in the inner city schools is not only anti-c.p. but hostile to any educational idea that is pre 1980. As a rule, c.p. is regarded as “old regime” rather than the standard P.T.A.V.E. talking point. In fact, to some inner city educators, the whole idea is “racist” to which we at TWP would just answer “Willie Herenaton,” the black mayor of Memphis, Tennessee.

School Board: For inner city school districts, the school board is considered a first step for a “community activist” who aspires to eventual higher office. Of course, there are a few souls who have not sold their souls but if that was the case, inner city schools would be towards the top in education achievement -Not at or near the bottom.

Conclusion: The higher pay is the only real plus for TWP but we wonder: Is it worth it if the new teacher “wash out” rate is so high? After all, you can’t just go get another teaching job in another city because the new district WILL find out your work history. If you have a “social conscience” and thrive on great challenges -GO FOR IT! Remember that the inner city school is unlike anything you ever grew up with and if the “culture shock” doesn’t faze you, perhaps you can “swim upstream.”

SUBURBAN

Pros: This is the ultimate teaching assignment: high pay (Comparable with inner city), students from higher social/economic class, and generally lower discipline problems as compared to the inner city. The parents tend to be better educated and as a result, their kids tend to do better in school academically. A teacher’s dream job…right?…KEEP READING!

Cons: There is one problem with this setup and the best way to find out is by examining a recent school yearbook. When doing so, take note of the teacher pictures: Rarely will you find a young teacher in them. The reason: Look back at “Pros” -The veteran teacher KNOW about the “Pros” too…and are WAY ahead of newly graduated teacher wanna bes. And if you are so lucky to get a teaching job at a suburban school or district, be ready to “hit the ground running” because you will have the burden of very high expectations. In other words, if little Johnny is not progressing adequately -You will put on the spot by parents that are likely just as well educated as you are. And NO ONE wants to hear your “only a first year teacher” excuse.

Administrative Support: On the average, it is good but do not look for principals and assistant principals to “hold your hand” -You will be expected to do your job like any other teacher. But the administration WILL have your back as long as you do your part. As in all school districts: Read the school policy handbook like the Bible -It will serve you well!

Parents: In this case, they may be a little intimidating because they are likely closer to the age of your own parents than you. They are, as a rule, better educated and may have doubts about a “newbie” educating THEIR child. Keep your chin up, believe in yourself and DO NOT come off like you know more than you actually do -That will backfire!

Teachers: The other teachers will all tend to be older and more savvy. Tip: Find a teacher you “connect with” well and take advantage of any advice they give you. College may be over but you never really stop learning.

Students: If you think misbehavior is not a problem -Guess again! The suburban kids may not be in street gangs or such but there will still be issues. With older students, the problem will be their respecting YOU as a teacher. Less so with younger students who will see you as “just a new teacher.” As in all school situations, you must gain the respect of your pupils by asserting your role as an authority figure in the classroom. In suburban schools, administrators are more apt to back you up if called on to do so.

Corporal Punishment: This varies from district to district depending on if the school board has had a large turnover due to out-of-region transplants moving in from up north or out west. C.P. probably will not be an issue for you since more districts require that principals or their assistants met out c.p. ( We at TWP have reservations about this type of policy. See post PART I: POLICY SUGGESTIONS.)

SCHOOL Board: Depends -As in the c.p. section above, the school board will be a reflection of the community it represents. A rule of thumb that I think works is this: The more “boom” in an area’s growth, the more out-of-region transplants and hence, the greater the social and cultural change in a community. So, as a rule, the faster growing communities will reflect the values of people NOT fromthe southeastern U.S. than slower more stable growth areas.

Conclusions: This is the ideal situation so dream on. If you work in education long enough w/o “washing out,” it may come to pass. But remember, OTHER TEACHERS have the same idea you have -They just will not say it openly. Finally, understand that suburban districts are NOT problem free -Rather, their problems tend not to make the local evening news.

RURAL

Pros: If living w/o the amenities of urban/suburban life such as art galleries, dining clubs, and sports arenas does not faze you, then go for it! You will be in a more spread out area as to population and closer to scenic wilderness. Expect to put a lot of miles on your car during your job search (I sure did!) because the rural districts have smaller teaching staffs and VERY LITTLE turnover. And if you do get on, the community WILL embrace you but it will take some time…so be patient..

Cons: The pay is usually the lowest among all school districts -But the cost of living is a lot lower as well. If you go this route, be prepared to drive long, winding, two lane, unlit country roads where you are just as likely to have a collision with a cow wandering across the road as another car. Strong Hint: You really want to live in another town away from the community that you teach in. Small communities mean less privacy on your weekends. Both Michelle and I (Renee) found this out the hard way after our first year teaching in our county. No one warned me and I forgot to tell Michelle that it was a VERY bad idea to use the county’s only public swimming pool. We both had an unwanted audience the first time and did not go back. (We all use a pool at a club in the next county closer to where we all actually live.)

Administrative Support: Our experience has been very good in this but DO NOT think you have “carte blanc” because you will not! Rural school districts give the benefit of a doubt to their employees but still require them to follow policy. Since the schools are smaller, the individual students are better known by school staff. Take advantage of this and learn which students to keep a closer eye on.

Parents: Along with administrators, the parents GENERALLY back the teachers of their children -But not ALWAYS. Rule of thumb: Never make assumptions -Not all folks in small communities are “hicks” and some can be a problem as TWP has recounted in previous posts. Take it slow with the locals -They WILL grow to accept you if you let them.

Teachers: The typical teacher in rural districts will tend to be older and perhaps remind you of your own parents. Do not worry about age differences -Rather, take advantage of their experience and if you have a different opinion, that’s o.k. I (Renee) did not agree with my mentor “Jean” on everything but still learned a lot. As to mentoring, this will be the least formal or structured but do not dismiss it -You can pick up a lot of tips on teaching w/o a formal seminar.

Students: Smaller school districts will NOT automatically mean smaller class sizes. Take our word for it: The classes will bump up against the state limits as to students per class on all grade levels. As to the kids themselves, do not expect all boy scouts either. In a way, they will be a rough group comparable to the inner city w/o the gang aspect. Keep your professionalism and demand the respect that is owed you as their teacher -The Rural school systems do tend to back up their teachers more.

Corporal Punishment: IT IS WHAT IT IS. The Rural school district is the most likely to use c.p. in school discipline. NEVER bring this up in your interview -Pro or Con. Also, do not expect c.p. to be brought up in the interview. If it does, laughing or phony outrage or blushing will only make you look silly. Our best advice is to calmly let the interviewer know that you understand the discipline policy and will work with the staff in enforcing it. (Hint: It is a good idea to read up on individual school district discipline policies.) Most likely, c.p. will be handled by administrators but you could also be designated to handle that as well.

School Board: We at TWP may be biased but rural small school districts have the best school boards. Why? Because the members actually care about education FIRST -Not board membership as a stepping stone to higher elected office. Instead of “community activists,” these folks tend to be retired teachers, town merchants, and former civic leaders. We at TWP seriously believe that if more school boards were made up of people who put schools FIRST, the education of U.S. school kids would greatly improve in the long run.

Conclusions: If your vision of life as a new teacher is out of Melrose Place or Beverly Hills 90210 t.v. shows, then look elsewhere. Life will be slower in some ways but the rural small town feel WILL grow on you. The lesser pay will be offset by lower cost of living. But some things you just cannot quantify in dollars and cents.
There you have it folks: TWP’s advice for all college graduates entering the education profession. Of course, this post’s emphasis is on schools in the southeastern U.S. and some things like c.p. will not be applicable in areas where state bans are in effect. Let TWP know what your thoughts and suggestions are and we will post the serious ones on our next post.
NOTE: TWP will be taking the next week off and the next post will appear around 07-17-2009.
COMING NEXT: JENNY AND THE MISSING FROG
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