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Chalk it up to a good day teaching

Posted by Cindy Atoji Keene  May 4, 2009 06:23 PM

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It’s been 28 years, but Elizabeth Schuchard still remembers her favorite teacher, Mrs. Russell, a grandmotherly-type with gray curly hair and black glasses.

“She was your classic teacher and had the best laugh. She always wore a skirt and blouse, and sensible shoes. You could tell this was her life vocation. Even as a child, I knew she had done this a long time,” she said.

It was Mrs. Russell who instilled the love of reading in little Liz, and set a lifelong positive attitude toward school. And today, Schuchard is a veteran teacher, albeit a more contemporary version of her beloved first-grade mentor.

“I literally couldn’t imagine myself in any other profession,” says Schuchard, who was recently hired as a permanent 5th grade substitute teacher for the town of Sudbury; she previously taught high school and college, and is finding elementary school a brand new challenge. Schuchard is making a return to the classroom again after raising two young children.

“Teaching can be inspiring, because you feel like you’re making a difference, but at the end of the day, you can be exhausted – sometimes it feels like you’re trying to solve the world’s problems.”

With about one in four Americans enrolled in schools at all levels every year, employment of school teachers is expected to grow by 12 percent by 2012, with 479,000 new additional teaching positions needed. Many of these teaching opportunities are in local elementary, middle, and secondary schools.

Q: You’re a sub in three different schools – how do you remember all the names of so many children?
A:
I have a couple of tricks: look at the class lists about 20 times a day; ask the kids to say their names when they raise their hands; and find something unusual about them to remember. And then there are always the children who are easy to remember, like one little girl named Sage, who always wears green and carries a green backpack. Or Harry, who reminds me of Harry Potter.

Q: Some people think teaching is an easy gig – you can get out at 2-3 p.m. and have summers off.
A:
A good teacher puts in more hours than you can possibly imagine. Often, they’re working at home, doing lesson planning or grading papers. This week, during school vacation, I had a new math curriculum sent to me via email; set up a scoring sheet for a new project; redid my grade book; and dealt with some parents. It could be anything.

Q: I had a teacher once who said she never made mistakes.
A:
Mistakes will always happen. For example, I wrote the date wrong on a morning message, and several students called me on it. You need to learn to laugh at yourself, and the way you handle it sends a message to your students.

Q: What are the credentials required for teaching?
A:
Generally, you need to complete an educator preparation program and have a valid teaching license or certificate. Private schools can be exempt from meeting state licensing standards. And vocational education teachers sometimes don’t need a bachelor’s degree, provided they can demonstrate expertise in their field.

Q: Have you ever gotten the proverbial apple from a student?
A:
I never got an apple, but one high school girl made me a homemade Teacher of the Year certificate. She was very meek, but by the time she graduated in May, she was a young woman ready for college. It was a thrill to see her mature. I’ll take that over any apple.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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33 comments so far...
  1. Massachusetts REQUIRES a Master's Degree within five years of starting to teach.

    Posted by c May 5, 09 05:32 PM
  1. teachers - underworked and overpaid. the truth hurts.

    Posted by homer May 5, 09 09:01 PM
  1. I was employed in business (Financial Services and High Tech) for twelve years, before changing careers and becoming an elementary teacher. I taught for five years - fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. Having been on "both sides of the fence" I think that I can offer an objective snapshot of what the career is really like. To anyone aspiring to become a teacher, please don't fool yourself: this is not a job for the timid or weak - this is a challenging, demanding, all-encompassing profession that requires every fiber of your existence in order to be successful in the classroom.

    The pros of teaching:

    1. You are rewarded every day with the gift of working with children. The old saying is true – it really is one of the few professions where you are actually making a difference in the lives of another human being.
    2. You are “your own boss” in the classroom – if you are good and skilled. I never felt that I was micromanaged from my administrators when teaching.
    3. The 12-13 weeks of vacation is undeniably a nice perk.
    4. If you teach at the “right” grade level (matching your own aptitudes and interests) you will enjoy the rich discussion with curriculum.
    5. Generally, it is a “fun” job – where you do laugh with your students. I never dreaded going to work when I taught.
    6. There is a pension in place (after so many years of service) that you will earn upon retirement.
    7. The comradery and collegiality of the staff in a school can play a huge role in your job satisfaction. I found that educators generally were positive and helpful individuals.

    The cons of teaching:

    1. You are under public scrutiny at all times: “Big Brother” is watching. I always said that being a teacher was the equivalent of being a celebrity – without the fortune and fame. A local visit to the grocery store can turn into a “meet and greet” with everyone from the butcher to the bagger. Be careful that your personal life does not eclipse your professional life (just ask the principal in Lawrence who just got fired for publishing an adult themed novel).
    2. The salary really is LOW. I took a 40% pay cut when I left private sector business and entered the classroom. Be prepared for this shocking reality. When I entered the field of teaching, I knew the pay was significantly lower than what other professions would be paying – I had no idea how much it would significantly impact the quality of my life. There will be no BMW in your driveway; forget about the summer vacation home. After teaching for five years, I decided to leave the classroom and I became certified to be a principal. In two years, my salary has increased by 80%.
    3. Teachers work like dogs, and they are not always respected by society. The general public has no idea how hard teachers work. Yes, it is true – the vacation time is there. But most teachers take second jobs to subsidize their income. You don’t leave when the kids go home – there are always after school meetings, conferences, committees – not to mention the required grading and planning. Every Sunday afternoon was another ˝ work day for me to prepare for the upcoming week.
    4. You will have to fund (and enroll) in continuing education – a master’s degree in education is now required to be a public school teacher. And you will have to continue your professional development with classes to maintain your certification.
    5. The days can be stressful and fast paced: generally speaking, most teachers start their day around 7:30 (before the kids arrive) and stay long after they leave. There is no time for personal phone calls or personal appointments during your workday. Forget about a leisurely, long lunch in a restaurant – I usually had 20 minutes to choke down my sandwich if I was lucky.
    6. Kids carry germs and you will get sick. A classroom can be ripe with bacteria. Coughs, colds, the flu – your immune system will go into overdrive, particular during your first year.
    7. Student discipline can be an issue, and parents can be very entitled and demanding of your time (in my experience, most were very supportive – but you will always get the one or two mothers with too much time on their hands). Teaching is the one profession where “everyone” knows how to do it, because “everyone” went to school (not everyone has practiced law or medicine, but we all sat in a classroom at some point in our lives). Be prepared for this.
    8. The curriculum and profession (in general) can become monotonous and routine, unless you change grade levels, schools, or positions within the field. (An experienced, effective teacher takes advantage of professional development, and adopts a variety of teaching strategies to stay “fresh” and not burn out).

    That is my take on the profession – the wonderful and the not so great. Seriously weigh the pros and cons before deciding to embark on this career choice. Despite the cons, I have never regretted entering the field of education – it has been a rewarding experience indeed.
    Te

    Posted by Teacha May 6, 09 10:26 AM
  1. Any more details available on "educator preparation program" and how to get a "valid teaching license or certificate" ?

    Posted by kate May 6, 09 10:45 AM
  1. Google MTEL for more information on getting certified

    Posted by owefourmtr May 6, 09 12:35 PM
  1. Teacha--- thank you for the honest and accurate view you offer on the profession. It is one job that no one truly understands until they have done it. You can not imagine the demands of what it is to be "on" at all times in your classroom. On the other hand, there are moments everyday that make me laugh and smile. What is a shame is how difficult it is these days to have both husband and wife work as teachers and survive in our "Commonwealth" financially.

    Posted by Corinne May 6, 09 12:45 PM
  1. Kate -- go to mass.gov and follow the links to the Education Dept. They have a flow chart showing the paths to licensure.

    Or check out the alternate routes around Boston such as the MATCH Corps and continuing ed at Emmanuel, Lesley, UMass, etc.

    :)

    Posted by Tiff May 6, 09 12:47 PM
  1. Wait! Don’t make becoming a teacher so easy. Today any teacher in the classroom that has been teaching less than 8 years MUST have completed the following,

    A Masters Degree

    You must pass three required exams Reading, Writing-- which originally had a 60% FAIL rate-- they are not easy exams --

    If you are a high school teacher you must take the subject area exam which is NOT easy-- but fairly expected you need to master your content area.

    Then every five years your certificate expires and you need to renew it – you can Only do this if you meet the requirements of additional courses or pdp’s

    Last but not least – what job do you know requires all of the above and has a starting salary of only 35,000 to 38,000 per year!

    Vacations what vacations? The only teachers I know that can really enjoy their entire vacation without doing prep work or working an extra job to compensate for the ridiculously low salary are teachers that have been in the classroom for over 15 years and even then I question why they don’t have prep work to do over vacation.

    Most people that think we have it made couldn’t last in a classroom for a week. And the ones that think we have it so easy I would tend to bet were the ones that skipped class a lot!

    The best and most rewording part is the students. It really is an amazing feeling when you know how much your students are learning, loving and caring for you as much as you do them.

    Posted by Clair Eloqin May 6, 09 01:13 PM
  1. Oberlin College offers a one-year M.Ed. and Teaching Licensure program -- our next group begins June 18th, 2009, and we still have a few spots open in Early Childhood Education (preK to grade 5). Check it out at www.oberlin.edu/teachereducation

    Posted by Christa May 6, 09 01:24 PM
  1. Teacha-that is the single best summary of the teaching profession I have ever read and I taught in a public school for 37 years. Congrats!

    Posted by smacomber May 6, 09 02:03 PM
  1. Great post teacha.
    I taught only a couple of years, may go back to it. Everything teacha said was bang on. Loved it, but had a really bad experience where I worked. It was like going through high school again. There were the 'popular' teachers, the 'gossips', the 'jocks' the 'drinkers/socializers', the 'nerds' etc and they all talked about each other like it was high school! At the couple of schools where I taught and subbed, I had never encountered such a group of gossips.
    I did not take a teacher prep course but passed the exam. In the high school where I worked, many had not passed this exam (yet)
    Anyone who says teachers are underworked and over paid has zero experience in this area.

    Posted by kxs999 May 6, 09 02:14 PM
  1. Kate: if you have a bachelor's degree, you will need to (within five years) earn a Master's degree in education. There are alternative certification programs available (go to www.doe.mass.edu for certification requirements). I decided to bite the bullet - I completed my Master's degree in education program first, and then I started teaching. You will also need to complete a student teaching practicum - basically, spend four months in a classroom being supervised by an experienced teacher. There is a stronger need right now for special education, math and science teachers; there is a glut of elementary teachers in the market. Some districts (Boston Public Schools comes to mind) will waive certification requirements if there is a need to fill a position (often because some districts cannot recruit qualified teachers with the necessary credentials to fill these positions).

    Good luck!
    Bea

    Posted by Teacha May 6, 09 02:47 PM
  1. I would love to hear Homer's idea of the average teacher's salary, and Teacha's report of the average teacher's salary.

    Posted by futcha teacha May 6, 09 04:21 PM
  1. The person who wrote teachers, underworked, overpaid, should spend just a week in a school as a substitute teacher. After that experience I know this person would have a new respect for teachers. I have been a teacher for over 25 years. It was so hard at the beginning of my career, I was not sure I could take it for much longer. I hung in there, in big part because I made a difference in several students' lives. I have to say though that teaching is getting more and more difficult, it is a real struggle and a whole lot of energy and enthusiasm to motivate the cherubs. So called "reforms" in education like No Child Left Behind are a joke.

    day, but it felt

    Posted by Armelle May 6, 09 08:43 PM
  1. Kate, Boston Teacher Residency is a good start. There was an interesting segment on NECN. http://www.necn.com/node/32734

    Posted by phishbone May 6, 09 09:12 PM
  1. I am a special education teacher and run a program for middle school students with severe emotional and behavioral issues. Although I find the work rewarding, the pay certainly isn't. I'm currently working 12hr days ( with a second job) to subsidize my income. Also, I have never " had the summer off". I've always had to work for a summer program, to subsidize my income as well.
    The worst part about teaching is the MCAS and the MA DOE. Don't be confused, they are both AWFUL! MCAS is ruining education, but I won't get into that. However, the DOE makes me want to get out of teaching. I have a master's degree, have passed all of the required tests and have been teaching for six years. Yet now, because I didn't go to school in MA, I have to pay thousands to attend a MA " teacher approved program" its all BS and a money game. Seen as how I don't have anu, it's certainly frustrating!

    Posted by bevumass May 7, 09 10:00 AM
  1. Teacha you are right one. One thing you forgot to mention to young teachers is the yearly layoff drama. The teachers who have been teaching for years, don't even acknowledge another teacher until they have been there for at least three years. The reason, most are gone with layoffs each year. You could be the best teacher in the world and pay the same union dues, but you get NO protection and are GONE if there are budget problems or whatever reason they feel like. (They don't like the looks of you. You won't have sex with principal, etc.) Look for towns that have stable budgets or you will be out the door. Now administrators use this as an excuse and just hire first year teachers at a low price and it is a revolving door. One system I know had 75 percent of teachers that had under five years experience and 50 percent that were brand new first year teachers. Image the quality of education and the discipline problems (Tthey say they are saving money that way. What a joke.). It can be really BAD. Just be careful where you apply for a job or it can be a living nightmare.

    Posted by young teacher May 7, 09 10:43 AM
  1. Smacomber - I would say (very generally speaking) that the first year salary for an inexperienced teacher would probably fall in the high $30's range. If you have a master's degree (or more), you would enter the field at a higher range (pay is based on degree attainment and years of service - NOT merit); maybe low-mid 40's range. The exception to this rule would be Boston Public Schools (they pay more due to the fact that teachers struggle with the urban, inner-city problems that they face). Also, one of the "W" towns near Boston will probably pay more (Weston, Wellesley, Winchester come to mind – be careful here as the parent population will be EXCEPTIONALLY demanding!)

    Good luck!
    Te

    Posted by Teacha May 7, 09 12:10 PM
  1. I feel bad for people like Homer--people who comment on things they clearly know nothing about. (By the way "Homey," having been a student does not qualify you to comment on what you assume about how hard teachers work!) Most teachers are incredibly hard-working, dedicated invidividuals -- of course, there are some who are not, but there are those types in all professions. (Home-slice, I feel that you might be one those people, incidentally, but I don't want to make this too personal.) So, you're being presumptious about how hard working teachers are, but when you claim they're overpaid, you're being absurd.

    Posted by mcgillicuty May 7, 09 02:40 PM
  1. Hey bevumass...my wife does exactly what you do. She is working year-round one way or another and her work day drags on into the night. MCAS is a joke.

    If only bad teachers could easily be fired. That alone I feel would solve a number of issues. So much dead weight in the classrooms.

    Posted by Matt May 7, 09 03:31 PM
  1. Young teacher-You are exactly right. I have been teaching for three years in a public school, and each June I never know where I'm going to be the following September. I was "bumped" after my first year to another school in my district. This year, I most likely will be laid off due to budget cuts. I think this is a major aspect of teaching that people don't realize-the uncertainty. Most people assume teachers' jobs are totally "safe." Until you earn your "professional status", you have no security.

    Posted by teacher4 May 7, 09 05:48 PM
  1. Young Teacher:

    You are ABSOLUTELY right! I completely agree - beginning, new teachers (often, the best, sharpest, hardest working teachers) are let go and laid off. I was pink slipped for three years in a row - until I earned professional status. True story: one morning, I was presented with a “Teacher Excellence” award from my district for outstanding teaching and professionalism in the classroom. That very afternoon, my principal handed me a pink slip and laid me off! (I was always hired back, but this experience was upsetting to say the least!) Very, very frustrating. Unfortunately, the system is antiquated and I believe that (in this case) the unions FAIL our students and do not serve our highest performing teachers well. The system is definitely flawed, and now that I’m a principal I see it first hand, every day. The union can (and does) support and back underperforming teachers that should not be in a classroom. The vast majority of teachers are very hard working and very dedicated to their craft - but the “clunkers” (who really should be out the door) are very hard to get rid of. It is an unfortunate reality that I face daily.

    Posted by Teacha May 7, 09 08:21 PM
  1. If you really want to make a difference, work for the boston public school system. Not only are you a teacher, but you are a parent, a counselor, a cop, a friend, and a parent (i said it twice for a reason). I work for bps and feel like I get hit by a train on a daily basis: arriving at 6:45am, getting a 20 minute break if i'm lucky, dealing with individual issues, teach students about positive behavior, attending meetings with staff and parents, leaving at 3:30pm...if i'm lucky. I then go home to plan, call parents, grade and research new ways to gain the students' interests. Underworked? I don't think so. Although it is an exhausting career, I wouldn't trade it for the world. It is those ignorant people that post judgment on our profession and our students who make it difficult. Witnessing a student go to college or straighten out their life is worth all the extra time that we DONT get paid for. It is the only career that demands a higher education with a Masters, yet neglects to higher the salary scale.

    All the previous posts are right. If you come into the career thinking it is cake, you will fail miserably and blame it on everyone but yourself. They all do. It is a physically, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and professionally challenging job.

    Homer seems to be in an obvious unhappy desk job who needs to experience more in life before he posts judgment on anyone.

    Posted by VtmnD May 7, 09 09:20 PM
  1. Phishbone,

    That's me in the NECN video :)

    I am currently in the Boston Teacher Residency Program and I can't say enough good things about it. I am currently placed in the BPS system, and it has prepared me to teach. I learn new things every day, but I love my job!

    Posted by Josie May 7, 09 10:12 PM
  1. I am the resident in the NECN link above, and must say that the Boston Teacher Residency was a great choice for me. It put me directly in the classrooms of BPS, and has prepared me for working next year.

    Posted by Josie May 8, 09 05:39 AM
  1. Teacha, you did a great job discussing the pros and cons, and truths about education. As a 30 year alum of the profession, I can testify that you are telling the truth. However, the salary issue is a huge one. The starting pay is upper 20s to low 30s in this state. Consider the fact that many teachers start their career with a college debt of around $100,000; it doesn't make teaching very enticing. Add to that the yearly pay increments of $300 to $500. A second job is a neccessary evil for most. In addition, we must go to school and continue our education, on our own dollar. All of the tests, licenses and courses add up to a huge debt. If you move to another state, you most likely will have to begin your teaching all over, schooling, student teaching, classes, more tests and licensing requirements. After 30 years of teaching, my salary is pathetic and I will have to teach until I am close to 70.

    Posted by headergirl May 8, 09 10:16 AM
  1. I have been working in a Norwegian elementary school for 8 years. "Teacha"s description of the job matches my experience of working in Norway very closely. I would add to the positive that teaching is a job you can use your creative abilities. It demands that you improvise every day and no day is like another. Especially working with first and second graders. They are very responsive to storytelling and
    to philosophying about life.

    Posted by Mark May 8, 09 02:26 PM
  1. Thanks for elucidating for Homer and any others what a teacher's job is like, Teacha. I've been teaching for 10 years and you are spot on. Someone else mentioned the INCREASING difficulty of the teaching profession, and unlike some here, I have to admit that due to the stress level of my job I am considering leaving the profession someday. It IS rewarding--but there is a point at which the cons start to outweigh the pros. Homer's comment might actually give us all a hint as to why public education in America seems to be lacking. Certainly, there are myriad flaws in the public education system. However, I have personally always felt that in other countries where performance is higher, education and teachers are held in MUCH higher regard. Teachers are more respected--this is reflected in their students' attitudes, the parents' attitudes, and in their salaries. This very fact most certainly sends a message to everyone involved in education: education is IMPORTANT. I'm not sure the same message gets out here and I don't think we can ever underestimate the effect of this on performance. We ALL work harder at that which we feel is important: parents, teachers, and students. When our country starts valuing education by putting more money into it than pork and war, maybe we might start to see some better results.

    Posted by Cassie May 9, 09 08:01 AM
  1. I've been a special education teacher for 3 years,in Cambridge. I have to say, I think its a shame what people are going through in the BPS right now with the layoffs.

    However, 3 years ago I interviewed at an BPS elementary school in Charlestown. It was for a classroom teaching children on the autism spectrum. The interview was at 4pm. I arrived 30 minutes early. They sat me on the playground ( how degrading, I was in a suit). I was interviewed by the principal and 3 other women who were not even special education teachers. The principal started to nod off in my interview, then 2 of the 3 women started to split a bag of chips while I was talking. I was glad that I never heard back from that interview, because they had no professionality and were disrespectful of my time spent trying to interview under such awful conditions.

    I wonder if the new superintendent for BPS thinks this is the way to attract new, excited graduates from the top colleges in the Boston area.

    Posted by StellarD May 9, 09 09:24 AM
  1. There are no cons to teaching.
    I worked in the Boston Public Schools for a period of time. I have an advanced degree in another subject.
    1)If you real carefully scrutinize based upon the number of hours you are supposed to work, teachers make some of the highest salaries around.

    2). As long as you don't touch the students (which seems to be very difficult for
    most teachers and you have professional status, you can't be fired.
    3)It is not as stressful a profession as doctors, firefighters, cops, bank tellers..

    Posted by teachingsiseasy May 11, 09 10:10 AM
  1. Dear teachingiseasy,

    Obviously you did not work as hard as the average teacher. The reality is that we work far more hours than those in the school days. I know that I attend school events after hours on a regular basis and participate in many school activities. My salary is VERY low for the education, experience and hours I work. Your comments about touching students, not being fired and stress indicate that you are not really a teacher. Someone who has been immersed in education for any period of time will agree me. It is probably a good, no great, thing that you no longer teach.

    Posted by headergirl May 11, 09 05:35 PM
  1. Elizabeth has the right attitude about her role. People in all walks of life should aspire to be like her. There is so much responsibility attached to a teacher that it boggles my mind that there are still some people in the general population who believe that we have an easy task. And elementary teachers have an even greater responsibility because they lay the foundation of all future learning. Kudos to my colleagues and keep up the good stuff.

    Posted by Joseph Oliveri May 19, 09 02:10 PM
  1. I "taught" for five years until I recently was accepted to law school here in Boston. I have EVERY intention of making teachers (like every other American system) be judged on their performance, attendance and assessment......so long as you have professional status, it seems like you can get away with ANYTHING. I am a great teacher. I have wanted to be a teacher since pre-school. I have an MA in my subject area and passed two secondary school licensure exams. But what I have seen in the past five years is quite simple: amazing students vs. teachers with NO passion for the work any longer. but who get away with ripping off parents and kids because they have "tenure" whatever that means.

    Posted by Krista July 31, 09 11:04 PM
 

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