A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Grad School


My first day in Grad School is in a few short weeks and yesterday I attended an orientation. Next spring, I learned, I will be doing my internships in two elementary schools, a Title I school, and a non-Title I School, plus at a high school. I expect to exit the program next May and work in my sponsoring county.

Here's another thing I learned during my orientation: a Title I school achieves its status of eligibility for federal funds based on the number of students who receive free or reduced lunches. The two elementary schools I toured yesterday had totally different feels, mostly because of different differentiation requirements of their student demographics, and partly because of the personality and life experiences of the principals.

One thing I did not get in the career switcher program I attended, aside from student teaching, was the opportunity to collaborate with a mentor in setting up a room and establishing classroom routines before the school year. I could have used a little more guidance. Earlier this year, when I subbed in Ms. P's kindergarten class, she had already set up the room and had provided a launch plan for me to follow. While my kindergarten launch wasn't perfect, it worked. Plus, I was working with a team that was supporting me and understood my needs, being new to Kindergarten.

My lead teacher had 17 years experience, we had two other fabulous teachers on staff, and my Instructional Assistant had worked with Ms. P for several years. Mrs. B, my lead teacher, introduced me to the Reading Specialist and the Math Specialists. In setting up classroom routines, I did so with a team. My Reading Specialist strongly recommended that I enter my current program if I wanted to continue teaching.

My current program has a reading club. We will be reading is Harry Wong's classic, The First Days of School. This isn't the first time I've read the book, but this is the first time I will be reading it with first hand knowledge of everything that can go wrong.

Yesterday, one of the Principals offered a formula for success that involves building relationships and establishing class routines that are consistent, purposeful, and developmentally appropriate.

Upon hearing the news about the death of Osama Bin Laden, it occurred to me that it has been nearly 10 years since I began my journey in education. On 9-11, I was working in a call center in Springfield when we heard the news about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Many of us were glued to a small television -- we didn't have You Tube back then. One of our young salesmen was crying. Then, we heard a boom from the plane crashing into the Pentagon. The ground shook like a small earthquake. My son was enrolled in St. John's Preschool about a mile away, and after the plane went down, I immediately left to get him. Backlick Road was already backed up. When I arrived, the preschoolers were just waking up from their naps. A few weeks later, I was asked to take over as operations manager at Allied Plywood's Farrington Avenue location, a job that I was totally prepared me for, which seemed like just the opportunity that I needed, but life is never that simple. Our company's two top people were preparing to retire, and changes were about to occur that were unacceptable to me. One Monday morning in February, 2002, I walked into the corporate office, handed in my keys, my pager, and cell phone, hugged an old friend, and walked away from a 15 year career without a plan, but with a line of credit, a pile of cash, and family responsibilities.

That summer, at Ocean City, my sister-in-law Donna, an Instructional Assistant, and her friend Sue Goncalves, an Art Teacher, plus another teacher friend noticed how I was playing with my son Joseph, and recommended that I look into teaching. The light bulb flashed, and I decided to become a substitute teacher during the 2003 school year. When I first stepped into a classroom, I immediately knew that teaching was a career that I needed to pursue. That is when I first began researching licensure requirements for an elementary education teacher. I began taking math and science classes at NVCC -- as an English major and History minor, I had taken the minimum classes in math and science and my grades had not been very good, but as an adult, I made the decision to earn an A in every class. My test scores were great. What I needed was the right opportunity. Meanwhile, cash was draining and my credit line was going up.

An old colleague called me out of the blue to help him with a massive inventory problem related to a difficult conversion to a new computer system, an area in which I had special expertise, and I was hired as a consultant. After my contract expired, I went back to substitute teaching and taking night classes.

With my endorsement requirements completed, I began getting serious about locating a licensure program. I applied at the logical place (which I will leave unnamed) and attended an interview. When I was herded into a room with four other candidates to sit across from five stern looking ladies, I quipped, "which one of you is The Donald?" Needless to say, they didn't like my attitude.

My parents were worried about my state of mind, and called an old friend, Caroline Mano, who was a practicing Psycholgist in DC. Steve Mano was my best friend growing up, and I had grown to love Caroline as an artist and all around cool person. While I didn't feel I needed anyone to talk to, I did call Caroline at my parent's request. Caroline and I had a couple of conversations in which she was clearly seeding my mind with affirmations and probably using hypnosis, but these were the conversations of friends, not as doctor/patient.

A few weeks later, my wife learned of a career switcher program that would quickly me the opportunity to earn a license while continuing to work full time. The open house for the program happened to be that night, on my birthday. I gathered all my credentials and drove out to Sterling, where I met the program director. A few months later, I had what was essentially a provisional license. That summer, I drove around to schools dropping off resumes. At one school, the principal called out the window for me to come in. Her dog was in her office, a bichon friese, and seeing the dog turned on a switch -- dogs have a way of doing that to me. Oddly, my guiding image was a dog. I had always wanted a dog, and my reward for getting a teaching job was going to be a dog. The next day, I was setting up my first classroom, a third grade classroom in a Title I School, with all the issues of poverty, a "5 year" delay in background knowledge, language issues, and zero lead teaching experience. When I attempted my first read aloud and the class stared at me blankly, I knew I was in trouble, but soon, I would have my Mabel.

After this trip down memory lane, time to prepare for the next phase as a Special Education Teacher. As I look up, I can see an inspirational card my parents sent me, which has the following quotation: "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars ..."