Career Story: High School English Teacher

High School English Teacher

Job Title: High School English Teacher

Type of Company: A school district in the western part of New Hampshire.

Education: BA, American Studies, Vassar College •• MALS, Women's Studies, Dartmouth College

Previous Experience: I have taught high school English for the last 16 years. Before that I worked in Student Affairs at a business school, and prior to that I spent nearly a decade in college admissions.

Job Tasks: I currently team-teach an honors class in American Studies and find that I use my undergraduate and graduate degree work constantly. I expect that many readers understand what is involved in teaching, but I am constantly working to integrate art and music with my teaching of history and English in a chronologically arranged history course. What is particularly engaging is working with a colleague who is always in the room with me. We plan together, grade large projects together, and constantly work to re-focus the class and take advantage of current events and of the interests of our students.

I also teach AP English to seniors. What is a particular challenge with this group is preparing them for a national exam without seeming to do so -- without "teaching to the test" in a barren, mechanical and perfunctory fashion. I require seniors to take responsibility for presenting individual works in context, and this includes hand-outs and quizzes. I also expect them to engage works of art and music over the course of the year. It is a lively experience and one I value.

I also will be working with a student intern this coming fall. She just graduated from a local college and is doing her practice teaching. I will be mentoring her and allowing her to discover her skills as a teacher. She will take responsibility for two non-honors sections of American literature, and she will also be present and involved in the other classes I teach.

My days are busy as I teach five class periods and have a duty (usually study hall) period and a planning period. I typically get to school at 7:15 in the morning and stay at school until close to 4. As I have seniors, I spend a great deal of time in the fall offering them help with their college applications. This does not involve editing them, but providing feedback on how well they are (or are not) presenting themselves. I have a great deal of credibility in this respect (having worked for two Ivy League institutions) and they are eager to confer with me.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The worst part of the job is lack of time to think, lack of time once school starts to do things for myself. Way too much correcting to do.

The best part is the contact with students who are exciting and engaging.

Job Tips: Look for a chance to do some full-time practice teaching before launching into a year on your own. Teachers want to be helpful and want to be mentors, but most schools make this impossible.

Think of teaching as performance: do you want to be on stage five times a day? It tries your patience and it can make your throat dry.

Additional Thoughts: I think most people do not realize that being a good teacher means having a sense of humor, and even more important and elusive, learning how to measure your audience. Are they bored? Tuned out? Do you need to scrap what you are doing and admit it isn't working? Organization and attention to details are critical, as is managing your time, but if you can't laugh....it is going to be hard.

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