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In which the teacher wonders whether she will be able to fit in at her new school

More on the job search; new development: I got a full time position. Nice to know a month before starting–lots of time to plan, but maybe too much time to brood. Now there’s just a week, and I’m still feeling unsure.

I had hoped to be called by my district–the one I live in and which gave me the job I finished in June–about a middle school science or high school biology job. I thought I had a pretty good shot at it, with experience, good references, a few connections. But the weeks went by after my application was in, and no calls, no emails, and then “position filled” on the jobs website, same as last year. Also hoped to be able to bike to work, was poised to buy the bike, set up the storage rack inside the garage, now to be vacated by college age child. But no response to the applications I put in.

Six nearby districts had no relevant postings at all. The seventh had a maybe–a posting for high school math and science at an alternative school I’d never heard of, serving homeschooled students. I read the requirements, and I was a one hundred percent match, and more. So I applied, and got a call the next week, had my interview set up for that Friday. I should have been pumped– full time, alternative, fully qualified. The forty minute commute was regrettable, but we had been looking around for properties, and could easily settle closer if things worked out in that district.

But it was in that very religiously conservative town that I’ve written of before, the one I’ve never been interested in living in, never felt I fit in culturally. Even when I was more religious I was never conservative enough in the right ways, felt too edgy, likely to offend or be judged. On paper I looked like a good fit, but deep down I wondered if I would fit in. The school served homeschool families exclusively in a parent partnership model, which meant I needed to bridge those worlds and be super flexible about the different ways families approached education, which working within the public education professional paradigm.

I didn’t prepare much–just refreshed my mind with notes I’d taken for previous interviews, and wrote down my questions for them. My goal was to find out if this job would keep me on track for working with some of the “tougher” kids in the system, preferably back in the city, and maybe even in the school I worked in last year, after it had its new, larger building and needed more science teachers. I interviewed with the principal, who also teaches part time, and a teacher leader who was serving as a kind of assistant principal.

The school uses part of a building shared by a church and several other Christian ministries, including health services (free pregnancy tests) and a clothing distribution center. The principal and teacher were sharing a joke when I walked in the outer door, warmly asked me to wait a few minutes, then I was invited into the office. They asked me to tell about myself, nodded with appreciation at the places in my narrative that indicated a fit to the position. Asked me what was the worst lesson I ever taught. I said I couldn’t think of a specific one, but in general I mostly regretted times when I talked too much and listened too little, or where I was not relaxed enough to be myself and teach in my natural way. The teacher asked me whether I had used a particular curriculum as a homeschooler. I was prepared for this, having resolved not to let on that I had raised my children in Christianity, feeling that this information had no legitimate place in a public school teacher interview. I said I had used various things, and a literature rich approach. She pressed, which approach was that? I confessed that I had used Sonlight Curriculum. Ah, they both sighed in satisfaction–that was a good one. So the cat was partially out of the bag.

I asked them what they felt were the strengths of their school, and the challenges. Strengths were the tight knit team and close community of the student body, challenges included dealing with strong willed parents. Tied to that, I asked them if in the course of teaching some aspects of biology to children of conservative Christians, there sometimes arose conflicts over certain scientific ideas such as evolution. Because although I was brought up a believer, I only became familiar with creationism later, I said. I was interested in others’ viewpoints, indeed had sought out creationist books at a homeschool book fair to see what the most educated creationists had to say. Yes, sometimes, the principal said, there were sometimes parents who objected, but he would be there to help deal with that, and besides, he said, you don’t have to teach everything. This got my attention, as it implied that it might be best to sidestep such conflicts by cutting out science content. For example, he continued, once he worked at a school where the librarian wanted to have Harry Potter books in the library, and he had said to her that he had nothing against having books like that, but why did she have to have them?

By this I understood that, at the very least, this was a principal of the Golden Retriever personality type, a peacemaker who doesn’t stand up for principles where that brings interpersonal conflict. That’s a red flag for me, as I enjoy bringing up and discussing controversial issues in order to learn and teach, and do try to adhere to principles of truth even when that brings on some heat. Not that peace making isn’t an important principle also, and it could be a great thing to work with an administrator who prioritizes mutual good feeling. It all makes me wonder about the balance between teaching from who I am, which includes teaching about evolution, sex ed, whatever, because these are important science, and the need to respect local community values and parental authority over children’s education. That last was big for me as a homeschooling parent–I didn’t appreciate a paternalistic attitude in school personnel, as I viewed them as having only delegated authority and only over a certain aspects of children’s lives. But I do have values to inculcate as a teacher, too, and that includes a respect for reason, logic, and empirical evidence.

I got a call from the principal as I was pulling into the fabric store on the way home. He offered me the job, said he had already spoken to my references, and would be please to hear my answer that Monday, if that worked for me. I thanked him and said I would give it careful thought. I accepted the job on Monday, not having been able to give the final word to my red flags, glad to have a full time opportunity, and knowing I would benefit from the need to learn the curricula for all six courses I would be teaching. Six is a lot, but only Mondays and Wednesdays and heavily supported by home assignments supervised by parents.

My other source of discontent is that I don’t really feel that homeschool kids need the kind of support I want to give. The have supportive families, are economically stable enough to be homeschooled, and are mostly independent, self- motivated learners. I really wanted to get back into serving the tough kids, the kids who didn’t fit, the kids who had something that needed to be discovered and busted out in a special supportive setting, who were the ones mostly driving the best efforts of education leaders and making schools a more authentic place of learning and growth. I missed my school from last year.

There is one way in which I could see these homeschool students, the ones from the religiously conservative families, needing, at least in my mind, what I had to give. I could maybe get some of them them hooked on biology/ecology, more knowledgeable about the natural/created world, help them understand the value of rational scientific thinking about it and see it as a powerful aid to growth and developing purpose rather than a tool of the enemy. I grew up on the hymn “This is My Father’s World,” my earthly father reinforced the Bible’s teaching on stewardship, and I enjoyed and still enjoy reading the Psalms for the way they celebrate the beauty and power of the creation. Later my conservative Christian teachers emphasized, in reaction to New Age religion, that we are to worship the Creator rather than creation, which I had though was a no-brainer, but whatever. The only people with whom I shared the values of living lightly, recycling, cutting down on energy use and preserving biodiversity, besides my father, one Regent College professor, and several friends who I was able to influence, were decidedly non-religious. Inter-Varsity Press, NavPress and Multnomah Press books on how to live the Christian life, think critically and biblically about the issues, were light on stewardship. I was aware that liberal Christians were more into environmental conservation, but they were not very helpful in the struggle with personal morality and purity of thought life.

I’m planning my biology and environmental science classes now, and intend to do what I can to support critical thinking, evidence-based reasoning, and the development of an environmental ethic rooted in a value for sustainability. In other words, let’s understand natural systems, lets’ understand how humans depend on and affect them, and let’s not promote the destruction of human society. Valuing all other life forms will have to stem from long term self interest with a primal drive rooted in our selfish genes. There is no conservative without conservation, no religion without human society, no traditional values without sustainable traditions. There is no intelligent design of humans in God’s image if those humans don’t know how to design intelligently.

 

 

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Under new management

My favorite coffee shop is not making the transition all that well–they were out of most pastries and only had one type of quiche, the internet was slow, the tables were not very clean, and the fire had not been lit. But I was just glad it was open again, so I asked for a rag and offered to get the fire going. I’m sure they’ll get it together–the customers are loyal, and it’s a great atmosphere, with the fireplace, a windowsill for cooling muffins, a vegetable and herb garden along the outside wall, and an attached dance studio/performance space.

At home, I’m turning one third of the household chores over, officially, to my resident son and daughters, which I see as more than fair, as there are three of them and only two of us parents, and now we will all be working. I have been warning them, pleading with them, and finally reinstated a chore chart, in anticipation of my getting a teaching job, but they weren’t convinced of the urgency of transitioning early. Today I was offered and have accepted a just over half time position, taking over the the teaching of two biology classes and one environmental science at our local alternative high school–my dream job. The previous teacher, whom I have only seen in passing as I headed to the job interview the other day, has decided that this position and where she is at right now in life are not compatible.

The interview was relaxed and the scripted questions were interspersed with banter. Joining the principal, were a para-educator, and the secretary/certificated sub/para ( and all around school anchor person, according to a colleague who had worked there before). The principal confessed that he had removed about eighty percent of the questions. Those remaining weren’t particularly evocative. I suspected I was the only candidate, though I did not inquire. In lieu of a portfolio, I had brought snacks–a mix of dried fruit I had produced myself. They joked that the para, hired the year before, had neglected to do that. I could see these were a neat bunch of people–all very different in personality, but cohesive and mutually supportive. In comparison, the three who had interviewed me at a different school weeks back were lackluster.

They turned to the questions on the handout. I didn’t feel very clear in my mind, and what I had wanted to say did not fit the script. The rehearsals¬† with my husband in the days leading up, in contrast, were inspired—for example, how one of my goals as a teacher—here I choked up–was to inspire some of my students, especially those with a different way of viewing the world, and those who knew about hard knocks, to be teachers themselves. How the students in alt ed programs were the ones who had driven the process of creating them, and were to be heartily thanked, not seen as failures. How I am uniquely suited to this position because I am both creative and purpose driven. But my solo monologues in the car got more muddled as the time got nearer, and so I busied myself with other things–getting the house clean for a team dinner, making apple cider, paying bills. Que sera sera.

As I waited to see if I got the job, I didn’t quite know my own mind. Tired from an extra workout, feeling a pain in the neck from using my laptop in bed, doing chores, running errands, wondering when the word would come, and even how I felt. It would be a tough transition, from choosing my days off to mandatory daily work, from following sub plans to scoping out my own from whatever resources were available, sharing a classroom with three other teachers and subjects, and connecting with a classroom full of students who were there because of problems they’d had in the regular school setting. The students themselves would have to process the change, surely wondering why and how it had come about. I felt unfazed by the relationship part—that’s changed for me from the old days—but I would have to be more organized, protect my health and sleep, help my family adjust, get all the paperwork done and be ready to come home and pitch in. And of course–this is a given–I would give it my all, in the way of working smarter (or more wisely), not harder. First year back would not be anything like my crazy first year teaching, but there would be some of the same challenges. One challenge would be to be selective and realistic about the wild, ambitious ideas coursing through my brain about all the field trips, experiments, cool projects, special speakers, and community service opportunities I wanted to do with the students.

It was dinner time when I got home, and I still hadn’t got any calls. Had they seen my letter to the editor on testing opt out and got cold feet? Why would that matter to the staff of this school, of all schools? Then I saw the email offering me the job. I began to know my mind. A sense of gratitude, anticipation, excitement, and peace. My family were all so glad, feeling this really was the right place for me to begin work. While I got my mind around it, and so I wouldn’t rush about filling boxes with stuff to bring to my classroom which there might not be room for anyway, I took on a major apple juicing and canning task. By the time that was done I was ready to make a few prep notes and questions and email all the people who needed or would want to know the news.

I take over Monday, and the principal said he would just pretty much let me alone while I got things started, which I want. I’ll spend time this week meeting other staff, getting paperwork done, planning, organizing, and making more dried apples.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2015 in Education, Places & Experiences

 

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A serious possibility of a teaching job

Friday was a big day for me–my first job interview in over twenty years, except for one minor one in a side line area where they hired someone vastly more qualified. This one I felt pretty ready for, as if I could do a good turn there. I made copious notes answering the anticipated questions, practiced with family members—including goofy versions. Tried not to overthink, and just concentrate on storing the main points that would show them what they would be getting if they hired me. It’s a half time middle school science position, perfect, I think, for the year in which I would begin having my own classes again, to ease into things. Too bad about the half hour commute, but there’s the possibility of moving there if it turned into something long term. I would definitely want to learn Spanish, including formal studies and a summer immersion experience–the student body is 60% Hispanic, way above average even for this area of Washington. Lots of of migrant kids, most of whom, they told me are in some stage of getting up to middle school level in English, about a quarter at the very beginning. Going for me is that I get what it feels like to be learning and trying to function in a new language, so I wouldn’t be raising my voice to anyone who doesn’t understand me, but trying to find translations, using creative non-verbal communication, prepping lessons as bilingually as I can, and helping students build up their classroom and science vocabularies. Main weakness: Yes, I’m not yet fluent in Spanish. Strengths? I learn fast, especially by necessity.

Met with the principal and assistant principal, who were male, and two female teachers, in the conference room, I at one end the principal at the other, Principal a businesslike, administrative type, assistant a smiling, relational type who nodded encouragingly when I said appropriate things and took the time to chat afterward. The two teachers just listened and wrote mostly–everyone took down my answers to the questions we all had on a handout, and would be ranking by desired elements of content, I gather. Proprietary material, said the principal, when I was about to fold mine and tuck it in my bag after the interview.

Took about a half hour, but most of the time I made sense. I thought of some perfect responses afterwards, such as the story about the student who came in ready to defy every command, and by the end of class had done his work and referred to me as a “homie”. That would have been a good response to three of the questions: What do students say about you, What would you do if a student refused to do an assignment, and what’s your approach to student discipline. I talked about listening, appealing to a student’s desire to do what would benefit them, and respecting a student’s right to choose.

I wish I hadn’t voiced concern about security of student data with the use of Google Chromebooks, that I’d had more ready knowledge of the “big ideas” of Earth and space science, and knew more about accommodating special education students, and remembered all I’d meant to say, but over all I think I’m still in the running. The job would be would be a challenge for sure, but that’s what I want. Hours are all day every second day, long class periods, which would fit in well with the rest of my life, and give good opportunities for in depth science inquiries. Then the opportunity to be in a mild form of Spanish immersion, the best way to seed the brain for learning oral language, and tell it to shelve the French and Hebrew so it won’t pop out in the middle of efforts to speak Spanish, which tends to happen now.

Okay, I might not get it–I have no idea how many candidates there are, nor their qualifications. I’m okay with that, because at least I finally got an interview. Should hear back in one to two days, so I’ll wait until then to go dig out my favorite science and classroom supplies.

 

 

 
 

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