Sunday, June 10, 2007


Having done the job search rather haphazardly and half-heartedly for too long, I am suddenly in the position of having to make up my mind fast. I have to choose between accepting an offer from a parochial school that acted remarkably quickly, or else declining it in order to wait, probably for weeks, while the public school district processes my application. This year as last year, I applied to a very few non-public schools as a backup plan. Last year the only private school I applied to contacted me, scheduled an interview and offered a position all within a few days. I declined in order to work in a public school. This year a parochial school has completed the whole process in two days, and now I have to make up my mind in a hurry.

Ideologically I am committed to the public school system and to the schools that have the most difficulty with attracting qualified teachers. I have also gained a year of hard-won experience with the peculiar challenges of such schools, and it would seem a waste not to seek an opportunity to apply this learning. I am not terribly well cut out for such jobs, however. A colleague charitably described my performance as running hard with short legs. I am knowledgeable and hard-working and care a lot about the students, and they notice all of this. I am also absent-minded and distractible, and my voice does not carry well. A lack of confidence and an inclination to feel guilty without much reason makes things worse. Predictably, classroom management is an issue.

A judgment of my ability to educate students in high-poverty areas can be tempered by the fact that the school I worked in this year is particularly dysfunctional. Many classes have had attendance rates below 50-60%, and so the composition of these classes has changed from day to day. A complete lack of access to student records has complicated planning and appropriate student placement. There has been no school-wide discipline system. The principal would reprimand teachers in front of the students for mistakes they had not made. The school will probably either be closed or under new management when August comes around, due to legal irregularities. While schools in high-poverty areas are frequently plagued with worse administrations and less structure than other schools, I have reason to believe that this one is worse than is usual even for this area. Creating a safe, productive learning environment inside the classrooms would be correspondingly harder.

Even so, a number of teachers at my school certainly were much more successful than I at establishing normalcy, routine and involvement in their classes. In contemplating the alternative to accepting the job offer I have, I am deterred not only be the prospect of waiting for weeks without knowing anything, but also by the possibility of undertaking too difficult a job. I am certainly willing to work hard and to face up to my weaknesses, but there is nothing noble about going to battle without appropriate arms. I have some hours left to make up my mind.


e said...

i only now saw this. and, what did you decide? whatever it is, i hope it works out for the best.

H. said...

Thanks, e :) I actually declined and decided to wait. And guess who called next? The other one of the two private schools I've applied to. And now I must make up my mind about their position. Wish the public schools would hurry up a little.

e said...

well, congratulations! it's nice to be wanted even if it's by the people you aren't completely enamored by. where are these public schools? and the private ones? and what type of a school is the one you just got an offer from? i understand a desire to work in public school system, and if i were teaching in high schools i would probably gravitate towards public school. to be perfectly honest though, it is not clear that the private schools necessarily get the top teachers either, if that is your primary concern. it's hard to make these decisions. i always try to think that none of them really have to be forever. if you don't like the position, you can always apply elsewhere later.

H. said...

Thanks again, e. I'm pretty sure I'm going for this second school. It's a Catholic school. The percentage of students on financial aid is much higher than at the previous school, the salary is lower (that's related), the administrators spoke with more warmth about their students, they've just installed a projector in the classroom, and they have [drumrolls] a written curriculum and formalized learning outcomes. Also, there are large, old trees outside.

The good thing about having worked in a school where curriculum was utter chaos and where the administration routinely humiliated students in public is that you learn to really appreciate things like the ones listed above. I feel happy at the prospect of working in this school. Also, if I sign up for this one I can actually start planning, like, now. It would be the first year that I'd have opportunity to start planning more than a week before the first day of school. That alone would be a wonderful thing.

e said...

Sounds like you've thought about it and all the reasons you mentioned seem very good to me. I personally have serious issues with schools with religious affiliations, but sometimes we don't have a choice, and I may not be giving them enough credit for the things that they do. Having lots of time for planning is a great benefit. I need to start my own more seriously. Don't forget to take some time off, though. It is summer after all.

H. said...

e, I actually have less problems with the religious affiliation than with the fact that it's private and therefore limits access for low-income kids, and that's even though I'm atheist myself. A deciding factor was that the school has about half of the students on financial aid and actively works to raise funds to enable low-income kids to enroll. In any case the school is pretty diverse in terms of faith, and my impression is that catholicism tends to be less anti-intellectual, less closed and unresponsive to others' experiences than was the brand of conservative Christianity that I grew up with. They also seem able to teach real, academic history and biology without too much religious distortion. I think this will be okay, though of course that remains to be seen. I'd be fine with teaching at a moslem or jewish or buddhist school too, given a certain level of intellectual honesty and tolerance of dissent, and these qualities seem only weakly correlated with creed, in my experience.