Job Title: Elementary School Teacher
Education: BA in Elementary Education, University of Northern Colorado BA in Special Education, University of Northern Colorado
Previous Experience: I started out teaching third grade in a Catholic School. I then moved to 4th-6th grade in an inner city school, and then 4th, and later junior high math in another Catholic School. I moved to the public schools for six years, then stayed home with my children for ten years and I am now teaching second grade.
Job Tasks: The school year begins with meeting with other teachers to set up schedules and preparing the classroom for the year. Walls need to be decorated, desks need to be arranged, books organized and a plan for the smooth running of the classroom put into place. This usually takes about three or four long days. There are usually about two meeting days as well.
Once the children begin coming the day consists of teaching the material that I have planned beforehand. The material taught has to meet the goals of the curriculum and most textbooks do that so it's a matter of planning what will be covered each day, what assignments will be given to children, etc. If kids don't really understand the material then it's my job to reteach it so they do. If there are kids who already know the material, then it's my job to give them different experiences which move them farther along.
It's really important that time be paid attention to as we have to have the children to certain places at certain times, we take turns using the restrooms and water fountains, and a certain number of minutes each day must be spent on each subject. The students must be supervised at all times, so anything that needs to be copied, picked up, etc., has to be done before the students are in the room. In our school we also take turns monitoring the lunchroom and the pick-up carline at the end of the day.
Everyone has a 50-minute planning period every day to correct papers, run things off, return phone calls, plan. After the students are gone for the day, I correct papers, do whatever cleaning up or arranging needs to be done in the classroom, make sure I have everything ready for the next day. Grades have to be recorded and every four weeks we send out midquarters to let parents know how their kids are doing.
Every nine weeks we fill out report cards for each student with academic grades, behavior grades, and attendance. We meet with parents formally for conferences once or twice a year and then anytime they or we have a concern about the child. A teacher needs to be available to speak with parents before or after school or to return phone calls quickly. A teacher needs to be a problem solver and a very good listener. You have to be really flexible. The normal day is 30 minutes before and after the kids leave but I don't know very many people who leave then. I am usually there at least 1 1/2 hours after and often more. In addition, most teachers bring work home on a fairly regular basis.
At the end of the year there are permanent records to fill out, final report cards, inventories of the room and materials, and physically shutting down the room: covering everything, putting everything away into closets, shelves, etc.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is working with people so closely. It's wonderful to help children learn and to see how they grow. When parents work with you it's a great experience to share that with them. There is a great deal of independence. You are able to use your creativity. On a good day you really feel as though you have contributed something to the world. It can be very rewarding.
The worst part is probably the overload of paperwork. Sometimes it's just overwhelming. Also, people get very emotional about their children and sometimes parents can be difficult and even insulting and cruel. Not taking that personally is something that takes a long time to develop and it can be very emotionally draining. Also, it's a job where you never can feel like you are finished. There is always more you could do, or something new you could develop, and on and on. The only time you feel finished is when you close the door the last time in June and even then you are probably thinking about how you'll do things next year. It can be all consuming which can be good or bad depending on where you are in your life and how you deal with it.
1. Spend time developing your philosophy and then look for a school which is a good fit for you and you for it. Teaching is very personal and if you are asked to teach in a way you don't believe in you won't be effective or happy.
2. Realize you can't please everyone.
3. Schedule your planning times just like you would instruction. Know what you need to accomplish and stick to it. Don't waste time.
4. Get to know your coworkers and learn from them. Watch what they do that works.
5. Stay in close and frequent communication with parents.
6. Give it all you've got. Never hold back.
7. Be flexible. If something isn't working, change it. But at the same time, try to think things through before you institute them because kids don't do well with a lot of changing.
8. Know that you will most likely need to adjust things for each kid and class. Remember the instruction needs to fit them, not the other way around.
9. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN
Additional Thoughts: Teaching can be very rewarding if you love it and you are willing to dedicate yourself to it. If you're looking for an easy job with short hours and summers off, you're looking at it the wrong way. It's not easy, the hours aren't short, and your summers are usually spent partly taking classes and getting ready for the next year. You are forming children and their feelings about learning and themselves. You can never take it lightly. It is tremendous work and energy, both physical and emotional. Be sure you are ready for that.
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