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Career Story: High School Teacher And Sage

High School Teacher And Sage

Job Title: High School Teacher

Type of Company: I work for a school district in a suburb of Boston.

Education: MA, Critical and Creative Thinking, UMass-Boston

Previous Experience: I've worked with the mentally handicapped, and I've been a pre-school and middle school teacher, but for the past 20 years I have only taught high school.

Job Tasks: Teaching is a demanding but highly rewarding profession. There are few occupations that give you the immediate feedback, good and not-so-good, that this one provides! One wonderful thing about it is that you're never finished getting better. It's a job you never fully master. That can, of course, be frustrating, but it is also immensely stimulating. Teaching is very active work, which requires real engagement, even complete immersion. But if it's your cup of tea, that kind of involvement carries many rewards.

Teaching and learning are more about processes than products. Unfortunately, in education we often get lost in the maze of quizzes, tests, assignments and grades, veering a bit far from the crux of education: the nurture and stimulation of human curiosity. As I've progressed through what is now a fairly long career, I've come to accept that "the stuff" I teach is really only the tool to encourage thinking, reflection, and intellectual integrity. I happen to love the things I teach, but I enjoy the daily process even more. And that seems like the point to me.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts of my job revolve around the people. I love being in the classroom with the kids, and I get joy out of "talking teaching" with many colleagues. Those colleagues have become friends of mine outside the school, and there's a lot to be said for doing work with people of like mind and heart.

The worst parts of the job are the things that consistently take me away from the best parts: an endless stream of emails, many of which are irrelevant or unnecessary but still require a response (!), poorly coordinated and mis-managed meetings which appear to be scheduled in isolation and thus do not mesh with the day-to-day of teaching and learning, and various district-wide "initiatives" which too often sap one's energies and attention with no positive impact at all on teaching and learning.

Job Tips:
1. Do yourself and your students a favor, and do not be a teacher unless you care: about kids, about thinking, about learning, about doing things well. It's very difficult to do this job well, and it sometimes requires massive amounts of energy and empathy. If you don't feel a real attraction to the profession, avoid it. If you do, it's just about the best job there is.

2. Remember that teaching is a cooperative enterprise. Be prepared to work WITH kids and colleagues.

3. Become an expert (as far as that's ever possible!) in what you teach. While it's true that a good teacher can teach many things well, there's no substitute for content mastery, both in terms of helping kids make meaningful connections but also in aiding the kids who struggle. If you don't have a great grip on what you're teaching, it's hard to give kids different ways to approach or see a problem when they struggle at the outset.

Additional Thoughts: If you have the energy and the passion, teaching is a marvelous profession.

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