School Teacher

School Teacher


Chicago, IL

Female, 33

Changing lives and saving the world. I've taught various grade levels in MA, CA, and IL., always at schools with progressive education philosophies. So I've done zip-lines & ropes courses, traveled abroad with students, taught Sex Ed, done service work, performed in teacher-student talent shows, and initiated lots and lots of dialogue about friendships. The longer I taught, the more I realized it's the emotional and social lives of kids, rather than the subject I teach, that I really dig.

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44 Questions


Last Answer on December 22, 2012

Best Rated

A little embarrassed to ask but what do you recommend parrents do when our kids ask for help with homework and we're not familiar with the subject material? Math was never my thing and my son's trig homework is waaaaaaay beyond me.

Asked by melissa almost 12 years ago

Melissa, I won't be able to help my kid with trig either (someday!). So don't sweat it. A couple things come to mind. If you feel comfortable and your kid won't freak, ask the teacher. Do they want the kids to ask each other? Come in before school? Can the kid get credit for trying if the answer is off AND will there be a chance to review the material to make sure he gets it? I can't imagine any teacher assumes we're all trig masters! Of course, keep a cool head and don't go storming in with a "HOW DO YOU EXPECT HIM TO KNOW THIS " attitude (which is more about our own defensiveness and insecurity, I think) but an email or phone call asking for advice should yield a positive response (egads, I hope!). You can also see if your son has a friend who is getting help (from a sibling, parent, tutor) and see if you can share services when he's feeling stuck. There are online tutoring companies but I feel like the first two routes are the most sensible. I also think it's a great opportunity for our kids to realize we're just human, that our skill sets aren't limitless and to see how we handle hard/awkward conversations. Being honest and saying you really want to help but wouldn't be an asset doesn't make you a bad mom. It makes you a good mom. You can talk about how you wish math class had been, whether you think you had skills that weren't fostered, how you've followed your talents in a different direction, etc. It doesn't fix the homework problem but there is a chance for a really great conversation.

Have you ever had a student expelled?

Asked by JayToTheKay about 12 years ago

No. I've been involved in suspensions and with decisions that the school is not the right fit, but I've never had a student leave during the school year.

What's your school's policy regarding cell phones and laptops? Are they allowed in the school? In the classroom?

Asked by Kayla about 12 years ago

Cell phones are allowed in the building. Pre-8th grade, they are to be left in the locker and turned off; high-schoolers have access but are expected to use discretion. I will say that discretion is not always a high schooler's priority or strong suit. And we probably take a few cell phones a week from middle-schoolers who have to pick them up at the end of the day. Laptops are allowed, but we are also very aware that it provides some students an advantage as they have access and others might not, so there are discussions about providing tablets to all students. If everyone in one group project group has laptops of their own and another group is reliant on loaners from the school it can create tension and disparity. Laptops are incredibly useful in the classroom and more and more incredible resources become available each year that make them almost essential. So supporting the school infrastructure so 1,000 kids can be online at once and seeking parity so that all students have equal access is a priority in quality education at all grades.

Best part of the job?

Asked by Skobes about 12 years ago

There are a few things that stand out. One is being genuinely surprised by something a middle-schooler says. They have such a bad reputation but they can be absolutely hilarious and often quite brilliant. It’s gratifying to have a true belly-laugh over something a kid says, and that happens daily. That's not some Pollyanna answer, they really are fun to be around (my philosophy is that those of us who can tolerate middle-schoolers have a civic duty to teach them since we are few and far between). And, of course, hearing about a student you worked so hard on/with years later from a parent, another teacher, or the student him/herself. It's a tough sell because it's insanely delayed gratification, but growth is often slow and incremental with the good work of one teacher being built on by another teacher the next year. I recently got a note from a mom of my first class of seventh graders telling me her daughter had gone on to be valedictorian and mentioned me in her speech even though I'd left the school years earlier. She went on to be a history major at Yale and is now pursuing graduate work in Political Science. It feels incredible to know I might have nudged that. I don't need every kid to go into historical fields, but it's fun to hear when they do.

If you suspect that a student is having serious problems at home, how do you investigate this further? Put another way, what are you ALLOWED to do if you want to investigate this further?

Asked by Crystal about 12 years ago

Allowed is an interesting word. As is problems. As is investigate! Each state has different mandatory reporting laws, but all states have some guidelines for people working with children. In general, if a teacher (or counselor or coach or clergy) suspects abuse or neglect, we are legally obligated to report it. So, for many people, it's not an issue of allowed but an issue of obligation. But what's interesting is that it doesn't always specify WHO you are to report the information to. My choice was always to report to my principal AND the guidance counselor and then to follow up to be sure authorities had been contacted if necessary. If necessary…what does that mean? Well, problems at home could be parents divorcing or money troubles. Or it could emotional abuse. Or any number of things. There are very few children who move through K-12 and never experience some kind of home stress. The key is to know what the trouble is, what the parents/guardians are doing to support, what the school can do to support, and whether authorities need to be involved. I built my career on building strong relationships with my students. So I knew of alcoholism, divorce, infidelity, job loss, step siblings, self-harm, and all kind of things that made being that kid hard. A handful of times (thankfully, very few) I had reason to suspect neglect or abuse. Asking a child outright can work and it can also backfire. Most kids want to protect their families and if you pry they pull away. I worked to foster open communication, to let kids know nothing phased me. Kids are worried they will get in trouble, their parents will get in trouble, they will be made fun of. So fostering a sense of trust that allowed a student to share without fear was crucial. Not every kid, though, adored me so we followed the guide of the "charismatic adult" hoping that a faculty and staff of caring adults meant each kid would hopefully connect to at least one. I have a senior in high school I'm still incredibly close to. I know one of my current students goes to her 5th grade teacher with trouble. My school has an incredibly strong advisory program and counseling program and we are lucky. Ultimately, a teacher has to check those Nancy Drew impulses (and Nancy Grace impulses) and act in the best interest of the child without becoming a vigilante or a spy. None of that really gets to the heart of your question: I think something is up. I have no proof. What can I do? If the proof is based on a student's fiction writing that reveals content or ideas that are troubling, step one would be to show the guidance counselor and either talk with the kid together or ask myself if we have a good relationship. If it's based on another student telling me something, I'd invite the kid in question to grab a hot chocolate and simply ask how things are going. It's amazing how candid and forthright kids are. It might take a little clever question asking but you can usually get to the heart of something if you present yourself as caring and interested. If a kid seems really tired, I ask about it. Really, I ask about all my students' lives and feel like that allows me to know when something is off. Call it intuition or a teacher super power. But most of the time, I know when something has changed for the better or worse. If it were a series of bruises or injuries that didn't have good explanations (and the kid wasn't a hockey star) I'd go straight to the principal and guidance department. And then, like I said above, I'd follow up. In light of the Penn State situation, I think those last three words ring truest. I'd follow up.

Are teachers' salaries negotiable?

Asked by hmmmm almost 12 years ago

Ah, the great "It Depends". Unionized school districts tend to have pay scales that include how long you've been teaching, your education level, and professional development. The matrix moves along with you as you continue to develop/get education/etc. Typically, you can get paid more by doing extras like coaching, advising, etc. And, high school teachers tend to get paid more than elementary school teachers (I think) in general. Some schools prioritize certain subjects (math/science) so the district might have multiple hiring scales. Charter schools operate outside that and most have their own compensation plans. Many pay more but expect more hours (which are not allowed in union contracts). They can also negotiate to get specifically credentialed people in the building. Independent schools are a whole other ball game. I worked at one in which each teacher negotiated salary independently. It felt weird as NO one discussed pay because who wants to find out someone with the same qualifications as you and hired at the same time got paid more because they were deemed more "valuable" based on the headmaster's whim? And, "coaching" wasn't a line-item supplement but something that might pay teacher A more than teacher B. Not a huge fan of that! BUT, it meant that highly desirable candidates (teachers of color are in high demand because diversity is a pressing issue in the independent school world) might be more attracted to your school because you could pay them more. As a white woman, I am the every teacher, I get that. I don't want to teach with all white women so I was glad that school actively recruited and retained quality teachers NOT like me. My most recent gig was a single-school union independent school. There was a pay scale based on years of teaching experience. But, of the ten teachers I started with, six of us were smart enough to negotiate. So, yes, I moved up the pay scale accordingly. But I started six steps higher than the contract stipulated based on my experience because that step was aligned with my current salary at my old school. So, yea, it depends.

"Bullying" amongst students has become an intense publicized issue in recent years without question. That being said, are you witnessing "bullying" amongst teachers as well as administrators bullying teachers? Or am I just working in a freaky place?

Asked by LuckyLady about 12 years ago

Agreed, bullying is all a-buzz in schools and the news. I wonder in what ways it’s due to an increase in incidents and in what ways our awareness of the issue has improved and we’re doing more (in some schools) to deal with it. Either way, it is clearly something parents want addressed and teachers/schools are grappling with. Not to be an old lady, but technology has certainly complicated things. Rather than passing a mean note (don’t worry, they still do that too), kids are sending texts, posting on each others’ walls, using FormSpring and other means to broadcast their lesser natures to a wider audience. One study showed 1 millions teens are exposed to bullying on Facebook each year. In my ten years in schools I’ve watched as each new social media platform has offered whole new ways for kids to be mean to each other. Because they are young and less experienced, they don’t always understand that a private sentiment (whether an expression of love or hate) quickly becomes public and that the anonymity and safety they feel in their bedrooms doesn’t exist in the online world. I’ve had kids use our school’s gchat functions (we’re on a Google system for email) to talk about their, um, exploits. The thought that all of those chats are archived or that an adult might see them is either an illicit thrill or an unknown reality. Now, off my soapbox and onto your question. Sadly, Lucky Lady, I don’t think workplace bullying is uncommon or relegated to schools. We are all just grown ups who used to be middle schoolers. If we weren’t educated in the home or at school about civility and character, is it any surprise people behave boorishly to one another in lines, on the roads, and in the workplace? While HR might be the best route for the now, I truly believe schools that emphasize character education, that treat it as just as critical an element to a well-rounded student as math skills, do us all right. My school has a very strong advisory program that works with students to foster empathy, communication skills, conflict resolution tactics but not every school has that kind of program. So, to me, it’s about building a new generation of citizens who don’t think being a bully is a reasonable way to move through the world. And, I’m so sorry your school is a freaky place. Lots of them are dysfunctional and not awesome. Some are, I promise. Perhaps build alliances with like-minded, non-grumps. I found having a few allies can make a world of difference.