Career Story: Eighth Grade English Teacher In An Urban Public School

Eighth Grade English Teacher In An Urban Public School

Job Title: Middle School Teacher

Type of Company: I work for the Boston Public Schools.

Education: BA, Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania

Previous Experience: I volunteered as a science teacher in college. I then taught in Philadelphia for 6 years and have been teaching in Boston for 3 years.

Job Tasks: I teach eighth grade English in an urban middle school. I have three classes of 27-28 students each, but I'm lucky because I have only one official "prep," or preparation, course since all three of my classes are eighth grade English. There are differences among them, though, since two of my classes are "inclusion" classes, with a large number of special needs students (6-10 in each class) and a paraprofessional who comes along with them to help out. The other class has no students with identified special needs -- although all my students are facing challenging enough life circumstances that they need a lot of attention and support!

My day starts at about 5:30AM, unfortunately, since teachers are required to be in the building by 7AM and students are allowed in at 7:10. But there's always a long line at the photocopier so I really have to arrive by 6:45. This year, I have a homeroom where I'm responsible for the usual stuff, then I teach one of my inclusion classes. I try to consult with the para before the class begins because I have a blind student, a few learning disabled students, and some students with significant emotional and behavioral needs in that class, so it helps to map out a plan of action ahead of time. The class lasts 80 minutes, then I have a 45 minute "cluster meeting" with the other eighth grade teachers who teach the same kids I do. Depending on the day, we may meet with parents, plan a field trip, look at student achievement data, plan an awards ceremony, discuss who's getting a D or an F in our courses, meet with the school nurse, or tons of other possibilities.

I then teach another 80 minute class, supervise kids at their lockers and walk them to lunch, have about 9 minutes to eat myself, and teach my third class. After that, I have a 45 minute planning period, when I try to catch up on grading, meet with students or parents if there are problems, start planning my lesson for the next day, clean up my classroom, etc. I have a 10 minute homeroom at the end of the day, too, and escort kids to the bus. Two days a week, I stay after school to host eighth grade study hall, and once every week I staff the school-wide detention. One day a week, I stay after school to advise the literary magazine club. We also often have after-school training or other meetings. No matter what the reason, I usually stay after school for at least 2 1/2 hours; although the school day officially ends at 2PM, I'm almost never home before 5. After my kids are in bed, I tend to work on my lesson plans and grading for another couple of hours; I usually get to bed around 11PM.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: Best: Teaching is incredibly challenging intellectually; there's never a dull moment; I get to teach others about things I love; the opportunity to make a fundamental difference in kids' lives is profound and humbling; I'm helping in a small way to promote social justice and equity in a community that has been on the losing end for way too long; I come home from work every day confident that I have done something valuable with my time.

Worst: Lack of resources; lack of respect for the profession of urban school teaching; the hours -- it's easily a 60+ hours/week job.

Job Tips:
1. Stick with teaching for at least 3 years. The first year is hard for everyone, but it gets better every year!

2. Find a school with a good principal; school leadership makes all the difference in the world.

3. Find colleagues, ideally a mix of older and younger, with whom you can talk about the challenges and delights of teaching. Just don't get into the group of whiners and gripers hanging around the teacher lounge; find positive role models and colleagues instead.

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