Should I be teaching?

Should I be teaching? For me, the answer is yes. But I long to teach in a collaborative environment where the content specific and Special Education teacher actually plan lessons together and teach so seamlessly that it’s hard to identify which teacher is which.

I’m a first year teacher, or really a first year teaching resident and for the first time ever I doubted whether I really want to teach. I came into the school year “unstoppable”, nothing would stop me from my goal of becoming a teacher and teaching for years and years but that all stopped momentarily this week. I work in Special Education, but working in Special Education was nothing like what I imagined it to be. The “norms” set for me as a teacher were so contradictory to my desires and aspirations.

Let me paint a teacher. You step into a ninth-grade classroom, my “focus” class. My focus class is essentially  the one class I take on as my own. You see two adults, one in the front teaching the lesson, one at a table who you would almost mistake for a student if they weren’t so much older, all alongside a class of 30 something students. I am that adult sitting on the side who sometimes really doesn’t know what lesson is going to be taught until I walk into the classroom. I feel uncomfortable with the content I’m teaching and always have to “catch up”.

But somehow I was content with this. I thought, “It’s only one year. Special Education looks different elsewhere.” I was reminded of my friends teaching a particular subject and truly being seen as equals to their fellow teacher in the classroom. But then I was reminded that in most settings, Special Education is exactly what I’m doing and how scarce jobs are for the type of job I want.

Don’t get me wrong- there is still good in this model. I look at my mentor teacher and feel astonished by his ability to master all 4 subjects to such a degree that he often teaches it better than the content teacher because of his ability to break down difficult concepts for Special Education students. But it’s difficult for me to accept a career where by default I essentially become a helper in the room instead of an educator. I am unwilling to stay in a position that does not leverage my strengths and abilities. I want to be challenged every day in my job.

My focus may be wrong. In my position, I still influence my students heavily. I learn every day and my life is filled with stories about my students. Interning in business never left me as satisfied. But despite my love for my students, I still want more. There are plenty of other jobs that would require me to work with students one on one or in small groups. But I chose to teach because I want to plan lessons and units that engage my students. I long to  challenge traditional curriculum and try out different ways to engage all types of learners in my class.

When met with the reality that I may always feel “one-step” behind in the classroom, I want to stop teaching. I can acknowledge the fact that I will get the same pay as content specific teachers with a smaller workload but I didn’t leave a possible career in Business behind to do less work. At my core, my real passion is to help others reach their potential. And I always think back to those teachers that changed my view of education.

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New Visions- Hunter College Urban Teacher Residency (UTR)

This post includes edits after I’ve been in the program for an entire summer and now a semester. 10356686_1638234789722586_389733343400126363_n

The above picture is from the launch event after residents were paired with mentors. It was such a cool experience. The New York Hall of Science was rented out for us. 

My senior year of college I came to the abrupt realization that I didn’t want a career in the major I studied in college. What was I to do next? Honestly, I could write a whole blog post about how I decided to become a teacher but for the purpose of this post all you need you to know is that I decided to become a teacher.

There were three major routes that I saw on the alternative route to certification: Teach for America (TFA), New York City Teaching Fellows and the Urban Teacher Residency (UTR)

When I was doing research I hardly saw any blog posts about UTR so now that I’ve finished two full months I thought it might be helpful to write about my experience with the program this far. Keep in mind, this is very limited! But I hope over time I will have more to share for readers and even future residents. I’m so happy I chose this program but there are things to be aware of when choosing this program over others.

The Good

I was rejected for Teach for America but was accepted into New York City Teaching Fellows, and obviously UTR. My interview experience helped to really sell UTR to me. My TFA interview was in a swanky Deloitte office that felt ‘off’, I have no other way to explain it. Teaching Fellows was a massive interview in a cafeteria that made me feel like one in a million. UTR was in the New Visions office, an office residents actually go to pretty often and I felt important and heard throughout the interview process.

When deciding to teach, I didn’t want to be thrown into a classroom. That was what appealed to me about this program. Residents have 18 months of training in a cohort and it’s an amazing sense of community. I also have a mentor who guides me through my first year teaching and meets with me to help me grow in this craft. For me, this is a huge plus! But this depends on who you are paired with. A mentor/mentee relationship works well based off personality types and there are inevitably going to be partnerships that do not work well.

I’m especially grateful for the relationships I’ve formed through this program. My amazing co-resident Shadey, my dynamic cohort and most importantly my mentor. I couldn’t imagine beginning my teaching career without this support system. 

The Bad

One huge aspect to consider is that your first year, you take a pay cut because you’re not working full-time. Because I wasn’t working full-time this wasn’t so hard for me to deal with but is still difficult at times. It’s even harder for other people in my cohort who left well-paying jobs. However, many people told me they saved prior to joining to program to offset some of the costs. I never expected the financial burdens I faced when starting the program. I had saved around $2,000 but before my first paycheck I was almost broke even living at home. There’s a least $1,000 spent for teaching exams and workshops and then my transportation/food/living/textbook expenses when waiting for my first paycheck. You are given one paycheck for $1000 in the summer then you get around $300 as your first check in September. (This changes every year)

Also, because UTR is a small program (I believe there are around 40 teaching residents), the program lacks the big marketing zeal of other programs. It’s funny because when I mention this to other residents they tell me that the big marketing campaigns actually dissuade them from applying to other organizations.

Additionally, you are placed in a partner school for one year and can voice your preferences but the program ultimately decided your placements. This makes sense because there are only a certain number of spots and residents so UTR needs to make the final call. But for me this meant moving out even though I was already not in the best place financially. 

Overall, in my opinion UTR was the best fit for me because I wanted more training before entering the classroom and was willing to make less money my first year, the only thing I would have changed is I would I have saved more money before starting the program.