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Kelly: Is the Universe Speaking?

…And just what the heck is she saying? I have two close friends who are big followers of the principles in the book The Secret. If you’ve been under a rock and haven’t heard of it, the basic premise behind The Secret is that if you open yourself up to it, the Universe will bring you what you need. Okay, so I admit, I haven’t read the book, and I’ve thought it was a bunch of nonsense. I’ve always believed you create your own luck and drive your own fate. But lately I’ve been wondering if there’s not something to this Universe stuff. Back in July, I talked about When Life and Art Meet Frustration, basically the struggles I have with time in holding down a full-time job (or two), raising twin girls, and trying to live a creative life. In that post, I talked about a couple changes I was considering, one of which was shifting from full-time college administrator to full-time faculty.

So here’s where that pesky Universe thing comes in. Off and on over the years, I’ve considered joining the K-12 teaching ranks. Now that my girls are in school, that’s starting to look more and more attractive. Working their schedule would be quite lovely, not to mention those summers off, and furthermore, teaching at their school would make my life a very sweet piece of key lime pie compared to the hectic schedule I deal with now. A couple weeks ago when I emailed my girls’ teacher about Sarah’s little smarty pants reading display I talked about here, I also told her that I was considering making a move to K-12 and asked her if she knew anything about the alternative certification program we offer here in Florida. She replied why yes, “I was the professional development facilitator for the alternative certification program last year.” Okay, maybe there’s one point for Madame Universe. Last Wednesday we met and talked about my background and how it might benefit me in a switch like this (“Oh, I think you could bring so much to the children!”).  We also talked about what she felt her challenges were as a K-6 teacher. Sure, there are a few, but apparently at this school, not many, as she said, “We have such a great culture here, and I can honestly tell you, it’s not like that everywhere.” The school is an “A” school. She suggested I sit in on some classes to see what it was actually like and directed me to make an appointment with the principal to schedule the visits.

So off I went to the principal’s office to make an appointment. “Oh, she’s available now!” said her secretary. “Would you like to talk with her?” Two points for the Universe?  I wasn’t quite prepared for that, but told myself what the heck, since I’m already here, I might as well. Lovely woman, Principal Johnson. We talked easily, and I told her my thoughts. We discussed my background and what would be necessary for certification. “Given your background, there’s a good chance you could simply take the General Knowledge exam, pass it right away, and voila! You’re certified!” Hmmm…interesting. She started making some suggestions on classes I should visit and then stopped mid-sentence. “What did you say your master’s degree is in?” “English.” “Hmm, I have a 4th grade English and Language Arts teacher going out on maternity leave in December, and she’s decided to become a stay-at-home mom and will not be returning.” Okay, did Madame Universe just offer up a slam dunk, here? Seriously! What are the chances that (1) my girls’ teacher was the professional development facilitator for the program last year, (2) the principal just happens to be available to talk, and (3) said principal just happens to have an opening coming up in my subject area? And just for a few more giggles…the teacher who’s leaving? Her last name is Nelson. My maiden name? Nelson. And guess whose class my girls’ teacher’s daughter is in? Yep, you guessed it. Ms. Nelson. Do I need to go read this darn book?

Now to toss a different crouton onto the salad….I’m down a staff member and will start interviewing to fill that position soon. Today, I reviewed all the applications. I have 32. Nearly two-thirds of them are current Duval County school teachers; nearly two-thirds of those are current Duval County elementary school teachers. Are you catchin’ what I’m layin’ down here? (Sorry, I work with college kids…sometimes that stuff just comes out. 🙂  First, I have that danged Universe concept potentially throwing open the doors for me, and then boom! She throws me a curve ball. Why do they want out when I’m thinking about going in? Is this just a “grass is always greener” scenario?  So what gives? Fill me with your knowledge, my friends. I’m open to advice! I’m spending the day in Ms. Nelson’s class on Monday.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cathy #

    Hi Kelly, this conversation is right up my alley! so prepare for a mouthful:

    I’ve been working in public schools more on than off since 1990, never certified, but i can say, given your general enthusiasm and energy level, you are ripe pickins’ for public school. i would seriously consider what grade level you feel is most appropriate for you. for example, after many years in elementary, first in lower grades, then 5th-6th, i found i was craving more sophisticated material and student engagement. tada- found a great HS job for me, a year and a half before i left MA, and felt i had finally found my day job calling. (haven’t replicated here yet, darn!)

    i also feel that your wide array of interests give you a very big hatful of tricks for the constant improvising that is needed. i say go for it!

    and The Secret won’t tell you anything you don’t already seem to know….

    September 29, 2008
  2. Kelly,

    I taught with my Masters in English at a private school in Cincinnati. I started with 4th grade (all subjects-YIKES!), moved on to 6th/7th (all subjects again-more YIKES!) and added K-12 drama. My mother was also a public middle school teacher for 30 years.

    There are so many wonderful aspects of teaching that are easy to imagine, so I won’t belabor those things.

    There are also many things about teaching that are horrible and would lead people to send you a resume.

    For starters, it sounds like a cushy job. 7-3, summers off. But that’s before meetings, conferences, in-services, classes, lesson planning, paper grading, and the after school activities, committees, and clubs you will be asked (and expected) to sponsor. I routenly got to school at 7, was there til 4-5, came home and lesson planned, graded papers, and dealt with parents til the moment I went to bed. Weekends were spent doing more of the same and there were often school functions I had to attend as well. Summers were spent planning for the next year.

    The pay you receive is going to be paltry compared to what you would make outside of education, and with it, you will be expected to spend a fair amount on supplies for your classroom ie. decorations, office supplies, classroom books, classroom games, rewards, certificates, etc. It adds up quickly.

    Plus, you will be required to teach to a test and will have almost no time to go off on fun tangents or do anything enriching. Then, when the test results come back, you will be judged on how well your students did-which can effect merit pay and even whether you’re asked back -even if some of your students didn’t speak english or had learning difficulties. It is also incredibly difficult to make sure all learning styles get a fair shake in the classroom when tests are all of the same type and government created and mandated.

    In my experience, though, the parents were the absolute worst part about teaching. I rountinely spent hours every day fielding phone calls and emails from parents with “little requests” and “FYIs”- like that an assignment I’d given was too challenging and could it be made more manageable, or Timmy and Becky had a disagreement on the playground and could I keep an eye on them, or Sally was bored during math class could I spice it up more. I even had parents return their child’s homework telling me mistakes I had made grading it (using the answers at the back of the book) or questioning my curriculum-like I had any control over that! But every parent’s concern needed to be addressed, so I spent a lot of time doing it.

    Disciplining children is a minefield because nearly always the parents blame you for their child’s misbehavior: the child was bored, was being treated unfairly, wasn’t given your full attention (which is impossible in a classroom).

    They frequently think their child is an angel and don’t believe you when you say their child misbahaved. I had a parent tell me I must have interrpreted a situation incorrectly where her child got in trouble, because her child told her it happened differently and her child was incapable of lying! Or worse, the parent is encouraging misbehavior in the child to get back at you for doing something they don’t like. I had children throwing objects at other students, run away from school in the middle of class, intimidating and bullying other students, putting profanity on the class computers, having tantrums because they didn’t want to do an assignment, etc. The only thing the school can do is have the child sent to the office to be talked to, and this rarely accomplishes anything because the children lie about what happened, or say they’ll be better but then continue to act up because they know nothing will happen to them. It takes a lot of bad behavior before a child will ever be suspended, but then that child comes right back into the classroom and your hands are still tied. And if you don’t handle it in the classroom, or on your own time, the parents will go to administration, and you’ll end up dealing with it after school and not necessarily when it’s convenient to you.

    On top of ALL of this, you have kids on a number of different medications, and their behavior can change based on the dose or whether they took their meds at all. Mental illness in children is common. And even in elementary schools, you have to worry about sex, and guns, and drugs, abuse at home, and any other issues that might prevent a child from learning.

    And after all of this… you actually have to find the time and energy to teach.

    What you have going for you is age and wisdom and experience in education already. You can probably find your way over all the hurdles. For inexperienced teachers just out of college though, it’s like being drop kicked into the front lines of a war. 😦

    September 29, 2008
  3. Cathy #

    yikes! well, there are two sides to every coin, and while i may have expressed a more positve angle, brittany brings up very valid points. it can be a major pita that is difficult to lleave ‘at the office’ at the end of the day. it would be tough to keep up the jewelry biz, for instance.

    as far as universal messages, and ‘the secret’ go with your gut, trust your instincts.

    for me, regardless of pita element, i have always maintained that working in public schools has given my life more meaning than any other job i ever held.

    September 29, 2008
  4. I agree.

    My second year of teaching was much better (granted I had a class of 4 and all had great, helpful parents). I loved the teaching aspect tremendously, and would do it again in a heartbeat if I was guaranteed to have a manageable classroom, a supportive administration, and the good kind of parents. You’ll have to see how things work at your particular school, but hopefully I’ve given you an idea of things to watch out for and questions to ask that you might not have thought of up til now.

    September 29, 2008
  5. I do believe that the universe provides — if you can let go and trust the process. Kelly, it certainly sounds like someone is trying to tell you something…when things fall into place like that, it’s hard to ignore the big flashing neon signs!

    September 29, 2008
  6. hmmmm, very interesting feedback and all valid. i’ve just returned from my day with ms. nelson and i’m still undecided. before going in there, i thought that the learning curve, followed closely by the discipline and attention span issues, would be my biggest adjustments if i chose to make the move. though after spending the day there, the learning curve is nil. i’d have no problem jumping into the actual teaching part. i didn’t see any major discipline issues today, but i’m sure they are there. two things jumped out at me. (1) boredom. given the level of student i’ve worked with for the past 15 years, and the conversations i’m able to have with these students, i think boredom might become an issue. (2) confinement! i didn’t realize how much freedom i have in my current position until i spent the entire day in the classroom. there’d be no just talking a quick walk around campus to clear my head. i think that’s the bigger issue for me. the biggest attraction i have to this is being on the same schedule as my children, yet from brittany, it almost sounds like those summers off an not worth it. i haven’t ruled it out and i need to research a few other things and maybe sit in on another class. but talking about that universe concept. i’m wondering if, given the frustrations i’ve had in my job recently, maybe the universe wanted to present me with that “look at the other side” to make me take a closer look at what i’m doing now and realize that i really have a pretty good gig? that maybe with the changes happening at the college right now, we’re just going through a rough time that’s going to pass? by the end of the year, we will have joined the state college system, giving us the abilty to become a full bachelor’s degree granting institution. going through these changes is certainly causing some hiccups, but i know that there will be hiccups wherever i go. so basically i think what it comes down to for me is deciding if the sizeable paycut (about $10,000) and the different set of hassles worth what i’d gain being on the girls’ schedule?

    September 29, 2008
  7. Sounds to me like the Universe is telling you that Possibility and Opportunity exist… and for people like you who would pretty much rock at whatever you do, they are limitless.

    September 29, 2008
  8. Cathy #

    yeah, it sounds like you saw the other side of that old grass is greener fence. it can be good to have perspective, and to take a peek now but hold off decision school year. see how you feel then. there is always a high turnover rate.

    September 29, 2008
  9. Personally, I would kill myself if I had to work with other people’s kids all day, but I am deeply grateful that there are so many talented teachers out there who truly love their jobs–and have made a real difference in the lives of many children, including my own.

    September 29, 2008
  10. i was a teacher before staying home with my children ….. and somehow, though i’d always planned to go back, i became an artist/mom rather than a teacher/mom …..

    like any job, teaching has its pros and cons … i absolutely adored it …. ADORED it … and the kids … taught prek, art, second grade, kindergarten ….. all for various lengths ….

    follow your heart …. and from my seat, i hear your heart saying teach ……

    September 29, 2008

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