Saturday, June 6, 2009

Alternative Certification = Warm Body

Maybe I am exaggerating, but by beginning an alternative certification program and moving to a "critical area" to get a job, I was just a warm body. I went to South Carolina because they would actually give you a temporary certificate if you proved you were in an alternative certification program. I thought: "OK, lets go, lets get started!"

I couldn't have been more shocked the first day of school. I read and followed Harry Wong's book, but nothing could have prepared me for what happened. First, just about every class ripped off as many of the names as they could from the desks, labels I had placed after reading Harry Wong suggestions in The First Days of School. Also, I wasn't prepared for what passed for normal with these kids.

The first class was asleep, and pretty normal. Of course, first period was the only "normal" class I had for the entire three years.

By the second block, folks began to wake up. The first thing I did in all classes was make the students sit where I wanted them to. The next thing, introductions. They seemed normal, even shy until the class clown jumped up and said, "My name's Wuzza, your Five Boy, Holla!" To the uninitiated, that means that "Wuzza" is the two-bit drug dealer on the bicycle, the kind impossible to catch, and he used the first class of the semester to advertise. I later knew all of the drug dealers at the school, everyone did, and nobody really worried about "Wuzza" (which I never called him--I always used his "government." I know some teachers called him Wuzza, but I had to stay sane.

The next class was also memorable, because I was dilligently keeping the names on the desk, moving from stickers and clear tape prepared the days before school to just masking tape with sharpie marker (and I continued to fight like that for three years). I was alarmed when a boy sat down and a girl came up to him and screamed: "Tony, get your BLACK ASS out of MY DESK." I should mention that the girl was white. I don't know about you, but where I am from, that is usually considered a "racial incident." Apparently, not so in South Carolina. Although the two students spent a minute or so hitting each other, when I finally separated them, they were both giggling! Guess what, it's normal!

I Need Teacher Certification!

The names of this blog are no longer accurate, because I am no longer a "reluctant teacher" or so down on the profession that I delight in George Bernard Shaw's quip. I love my job now. I do, however, feel like I was a misfit as I joined the profession.

In college, I started my freshman year planning to take teacher certification courses, which started with practicums during my sophomore year. I went to them, and just remember being bored sitting in on an egotistical male social studies teacher, a super-involved female English teacher, and finally another male social studies teacher who gave A LOT of worksheets--so many that the students cycled through and he just handed them out from the center of the room (they had a certain way of walking through to minimize traffic). I didn't judge, but I surely knew that teaching is a little bit of a crazy profession.

The second semester of my sophomore year, the monkey wrench: I failed the personality test, a requirement of the Education department. I went to a small, liberal arts school, which are known for being behind the times. The personality test was some kind of 1950s California personality test (more than 40 years old by that time), and I had no idea you could even fail. The questions were something like: "Are you content with where you are in life?," to which I answered "NO," thinking, "I've got plans!" Another question: "Do you get angry when your coworkers do not work hard?," and I answered, "YES." You get the point. Even though I fancied myself smart and was going to school on a full academic scholarship, I was naive and stupid. I failed.

I went to tell my advisor (a history professor, very smart), and she thought it was hilarious that the Education department was so behind-the times and irrelevent with their requirement ("The world has changed, as have values, in the generation or more since the personality test was created," she giggled.) The first thing she told me was, "You don't want to teach high-school; you should plan on teaching college." I had never considered it, but it was flattering, so I abandoned the certification route and then fancied myself an academic. I ultimately went to graduate school, got an MA, but hated how trivial grad school was, fetishizing Nietzsche, Freud, Lacan, Derrida, and probably about ten other essayists. I remember sitting in a class, a 21 year old, listening to some 55 year old bore talking about Eminem, using the rhetoric of those essays to crunch thoughts that were worthless, clueless, and just frustrating. I hope you get the picture. It really was a waste of time, and really benefitted noone.

Upon graduation, I needed to get a job. Although qualified to teach at a community college, the only offers I got were for adjunct teaching, which was a rip-off: just one class less than full-time, for 1/4 of the already meager pay. The money is in teaching public school, I found out. Quickly, I jumped at a certification program, and I was on my way!

Friday, June 5, 2009


The most rewarding aspect of teaching: summer vacation. O.K., that sounds like I hate my job, and I don't any more than anyone else, but summer is good. Even for the schoolkids. Sometimes a kid that struggles with immaturity will come back after summer break a little more mature. That is good.

Has anyone noticed that teachers get sick during breaks from school? I'm sweating with strep right now (day two of antibiotics, starting to feel better). Anyway, summer is here, and I'm looking forward to it. Bosslady is working summer school and I'm going to keep the children busy.