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.