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

What's the most difficult parent-teacher conference you've ever dealt with?

Asked by Greggers3 over 12 years ago

My most challenging conferences are ones in which the parents have expectations of what a 7th-grader should be, and yet they don’t see the child sitting in right front of them. Trying to gently guide parents to see who their child is can be heartrending. Some parents are reliving their issues as middle schoolers onto their kids: wondering why they aren't more popular, talking about other kids, wanting their kid to be The Jock or The Intellectual. No 7th-grader needs to be taking SAT prep classes (and I've had ones who are) and no 7th-grader needs to be feeling like they need to specialize in things already. High school might be the time for that, but a middle schooler should be all over the place and trying on different interests and identities. The most specific difficult one was a student whose parents were both alcoholics. I had been made aware of the situation before I taught the student, but he did not know that I knew. His attempts to polish over his parents’ failings were devastating to watch. All he wanted was for his family to look normal to me.

Why isn't personal finance a mandatory part of the U.S. curriculum? Wouldn't we be far better off if we started educating kids about saving, debt, and credit cards early on?

Asked by lauren buffet over 12 years ago

Yes. And yes. YES! Funny thing? I'm teaching that exact course this summer! But it's not for credit and is not required. Sigh. I totally agree and think anyone over the age of 18 agrees. So then, why isn't there a mandatory US curriculum? There isn't a US curriculum. Each state mandates the curriculum required in schools and required for graduation, so it would need to be a push at all 50 state levels (and DC too). For a while, only Utah and Missouri had personal finance requirementsI Now Tennessee and Virginia do as well. Indiana and Kansas, Ohio, New Jersey and Colorado are all also considering adding it. You can check out JumpStart, a financial literacy non-profit to see how standards are changing. And I found this bit from US News in August: One recommendation? Write your state rep and ask them to push for it in your state. Because the other thing I think is as important as financial literacy is civic engagement.

If teachers are underpaid, what do you think would be the appropriate salary range?

Asked by moolah talks over 12 years ago

My gut response? MORE. I'll say a starting salary of 65,000 (assuming a certificate to teach and perhaps an advanced degree). Bear with me as I explain. Stealing from a Dave Eggers' editorial, the average teacher salary has sunk for 30 years (I'm 34, bummer). Average starting in under 40K. Average ending (after TWENTY FIVE years!) is 67,000. OUCH. He goes on to say that in over 30 cities in the US, that would make home ownership impossible. I'm not saying I should have a yacht and a butler. But a house? Seems reasonable. It leads to a few things. Many of us work extra jobs. That makes us tired. Not good for a room full of kids. And it leads to a talent drain. If you had a great brain, a degree from a good school and were being told you'd get a less than cost of living increase each year, would you stick around? If you were noble, maybe. He goes on to talk about Finland, which was JUST mentioned in an Atlantic article for its awesomesauce schools ( They pay for teacher training. I graduated with a 400/month loan payment (remember…40,000 a year). So even though their salaries aren't insanely higher, their teachers aren't in debt and they are granted wide curricular freedom rather than being forced to teach a narrower and narrower curriculum. Would more quality US teachers stick around with lower pay if they were given the chance to really, truly teach? I think yes. And would it be a more competitive market to get the jobs? YES (They have way more qualified applicants per teaching job than we do, even in this crap economy). A McKinsey report showed that the best performing students from the best performing colleges would be much more likely to consider teaching if it paid just 65K a year. Not 650K. Remember my starting salary was 40,000. And that's with an undergraduate and masters degree from Ivies. Not trying to be a snob, but I am wondering if I had gone into consulting or business or real estate what that starting salary would be. And yes, I chose this career. And social workers choose theirs. So we knew what we were getting into. And we still did it. Perhaps we're suckers. Or maybe we're deeply Finnish. My sources?

What are your thoughts about kids being prescribed Adderall, Ritalin, or other "smart drugs"?

Asked by Kyle over 12 years ago

Hmmm. There are a few parts to this question. "Smart drugs" generally refers to medications/herbs/supplements that purport to improve memory and brain function. There are varying opinions about efficacy and when/how/why/if some of them work or should be used. Heck, even nicotine could be classified as a smart drug because it is a stimulant. Do I drink caffeine to improve my function? Yes, I'm a new mom. I'd be borderline incoherent without it. Did I take NoDoz in college to finish papers? Yup. But I also know another teacher who has a buddy prescribe Ritalin when he has no diagnosed ADHD so that he can stay up late to finish work during times of stress (if I am getting this right, Ritalin works differently in your body if you do not have an attention issue so that instead of helping you calm, it hypes you up.). Do college kids pass meds around like candy? Yup. Is that good? Nope. Rather than learn time management or to not over commit it can become cool to be on meds. That kind of use is irresponsible and ultimately not beneficial to anyone. In terms of treating folks with diagnosed conditions like ADHD with proven medications? I'm all for it if it's done ethically and responsibly. I have seen students transformed by medication. Two years ago we got a boy into treatment and he was transformed. He was so much happier too as it helped him with his self-control and impulse control. Many kids with something like ADHD are not comfortable in their skin when they're undiagnosed. Most want to pay attention. Most want to feel like the are in total control of themselves. A good diagnosis by a qualified doctor can be a gift for a child who truly wants to pay attention. We treat illnesses. If a student had diabetes I would want the best care available to them. Same with something like ADHD (or a mental illness like depression/anxiety). Ideally, it's also paired with education, awareness, and strategies for the student, parents/guardians, and teachers. One thing that we struggle with in the middle school arena is that kids are growing so quickly their meds can need regular adjustment as many are weight based. Or, they are changing so quickly that strategies and plans need to be altered. Now, that being said, do I think some meds are over-prescribed? Yes. Do I think parents want an easy fix sometimes rather than deal with a kid who has self-control issues or keep seeking out different doctors until they get the diagnosis they want? Sometimes. Do I think students use/abuse them to gain an advantage or trade with friends? Sometimes. But I think on the whole it's best to assume most parents, doctors, and kids are doing the best they can and making good decisions. At least, I have to keep believing that in order to not lose hope in humanity!

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about teachers?

Asked by CantHearU over 12 years ago

Our schedules. Friends would joke that I worked 9am-3pm. That's classroom hours (and for the record every school I've worked at starts at or before 8am). I leave for work by 5:45/6:00am and get home after 5:00pm most days. Prep work, grading, reading, learning more about content, working on committees, being available to students and their families, and being a part of the life of a school is truly beyond a full-time job. Or, maybe I'd change the early start-time! I get cranky when I drive by people out for morning runs and I already feel like I'm running late to work. It's also hard not to punch someone who wonders aloud why I went to "good schools" to pursue education as a profession.

Are teachers underpaid?

Asked by LizChiTown over 12 years ago

Absolutely. It’s all about the "9am-3pm” perception of our hours, which is grossly off-base. I've read that, on an hourly basis, teachers make the same as parking lot attendants. The emotional aspect of our job is also something to consider. What we do is tremendously taxing and exhausting. I think the underpaid aspect of the job comes from a general attitude in the US towards teaching. In some countries, teaching is considered a very high-status job, while here in the US it is not. We undervalue teachers and then wonder why the education system is broken (this is a problem in other areas as well, such as social work). If we paid teachers well, we'd attract more rock-stars in their fields (there are lots of rock-star teachers already ... we'd just have quite a few more). Considering what a valuable resource each generation of children is, it's surprising -- and sad -- that we don't invest more in education and in teachers.

Did a lot of teachers hook up with one another in your schools? Is that allowed?

Asked by athena75 over 12 years ago

Ahem. It happens. A lot? That's a good question. I'd say no more than any other workplace environment. We have holiday parties. We have happy hours. Stuff happens. I've worked at 3 schools. There were couples that met and married while working at all three of them. There were couples that dated. There are two affairs I know of. There were a couple epic break ups. At one, there were at least six sets of teachers I can think of that were married. Two married while I was working there, one was hired as a married couple. I dated a teacher at that school (briefly, and dating is a generous word). Most schools seem to be ok with it so long as it doesn't impact your job, just like most jobs. Some schools have a disclosure policy...that you have to alert the administrators (blech). I worked with one very, very young and inexperienced teacher who didn't quite get that you can't pout at your desk or run out of the room crying if you are rejected or if it ends. She was ridiculed by everyone in the building--kids and grown ups. Most handle things very professionally that even I, a gossip maven, couldn't always get the straight story. So, most of the teachers who dated kept it on the way, way DL until they were practically engaged. "Oh, we just carpool" is heard a lot. A break up with kids asking questions is pretty heinous. The key to kids, especially middle schoolers, is that if you give them even the briefest glimpse into your life they want more, more and more. I didn't let my students know much about my now husband until I was pretty sure he was in for the long haul. If you need kids to think you are cool because you have a boyfriend, you have other things you need to deal with. So if a teacher were daft enough to tell students he/she was dating another teacher or had hooked up, I say they have whatever intense adolescent scrutiny they've got coming. So yes, hook ups happen. Not as many secret trysts in the copy room, I imagine.

Do most teachers take the summer off, or do they work other jobs during that time?

Asked by RyGuy over 12 years ago

I don't think there's a “most” because there are so many different types of teachers: teachers who are parents, teachers who are single, teachers with huge graduate school debts, and/or teachers who work at higher-paying schools. Most teachers do *something* during the summer. It may be a job, it may be parenting kids who are off for the summer, or it may be pursuing graduate work or professional development. I think very few teachers spend the entire summer watching TV, at least amongst those I've worked with. Even if teachers aren't working a second job, we meet and plan curriculum, go to workshops, attend courses, or travel. I worked full-time during summers when I was younger but try not to now. I needed to then because my salary did not cover my (what I consider modest) living expenses. Now I don't as I was coming back in September less and less refreshed. But I still pursue grants for travel or writing. I know many, many teachers, though, who need to work in the summers and often during the school year too to supplement their income.

A couple months ago a teacher in California was fired when her porn past was discovered ( Do you think this was fair?

Asked by BX almost 12 years ago

Oh.Hmm.Can I skip this one?? Here's the thing. I teach Civics. And Ethics. So I'm clearly a nerd who never did much wrong. I don't speed. I pick up litter. I return my shopping cart EVERY time to the shopping cart thing in the parking lot. I do. I never downloaded music illegally. And I knew I wanted to be a teacher forever. And I vote and do good things because I want to model that for my kids. I don't even complain about jury duty. I LIKE JURY DUTY. And so, I'm going to do the magic teacher trick. Instead of answering a question I just don't know the answer to, I'm going to turn it back on you. Sorry, buddy. I believe in the redemptive spirit of mankind. That we can be people who grow and change and evolve and improve. I've seen people change. But maybe this teacher sees nothing wrong with it and thus feels it isn't something she needs to redeem. Perhaps she believes porn and teaching are not mutually exclusive things (well, I'm assuming she thinks they should at least not be done at the same time). And with what people under 40 are putting on "Texts from Last Night" and Facebook and Tumblr the number of folks who are likely to have damning things appear from their pasts seems like it will be maybe 5 people total in 10 years who are able to be teachers without any questionable past. So what do we do with that? What if someone was a really raunchy comic on weekends? Is that bad? I don't think so. But what if they made jokes about religious groups or homophobic comments? Yes, that is bad. But what if he made a joke about women? Or about something some people found offensive and others didn't. The challenge is that morality and ethics are, well, they're subjective. What if she was dancing topless during a parade. What if she is in a Mardi Gras troupe? Is that bad? What if it was a gay pride parade? What if she participated in protests against/for gay marriage? Abortion? Who decides what an immoral thing IS for a teacher to do? If porn is legal and she was of age and consented, did she do something wrong? So, here's a super oblique answer. If she lied about it on her application or during an interview, yes, she deserves to be fired. If they asked about previous careers and she omitted this (assuming she was paid and not just a really, really bad decision maker) then she lied on a job application and that's not awesome. Man, my brain hurts. I will say, I'd totally gossip about a coworker who did porn. Not gonna lie. But I wouldn't be the one telling the admin to fire her.

Every few years I hear some education pundit clamoring for year-round schooling, primarily to "catch up" to the schooling of other cultures. Do you love or hate the idea?

Asked by Detentionagain over 12 years ago

Oooph. You want to get me blacklisted with my teacher friends? So. The traditional (as in one room) school year is based on the farm cycle. Did you know that? So, crops get harvested, kids are no longer needed as much...ship them off to school till the Summer planting season. We were an agrarian society and families needed kids as labor at specific times. And school days are sometimes dependent on bus schedules and things like that (while teens need more sleep they can also wait safely for a bus in the pre-daylight hours while an elementary kid can't as easily, hence the younger you are the later your day tends to start.) Many schools are extending the year or starting them earlier. I certainly don't think we should keep doing what we're doing because that's what we've always done. But I also like the idea of recognizing that not all learning happens in a school. Camp, summer jobs, internships, travel, all those are good for the soul and the mind. I've been the beneficiary of that because I grow basil and that's about it. And I've LOVED using summers to A) travel B) develop professionally (sometimes through travel) C) recharge (I've mentioned the emotional toll teaching can take in previous answers). And I really don't like the idea of doing something because we FEAR some other country "beating" us. We could do a HECKUVA lot more to improve the majority of public schools and make them unbeatable by investing in schools, teachers, and kids. Sure, more days might help. But I don't think it's the only answer. Or the best one. It might be a very good one and we might find that we need to do it AND a bunch of other stuff. Can you imagine no summer vacation though? Who would keep ice cream trucks in business? It makes me sad to think of my daughter not having idle days in the sun. Perhaps that's just nostalgia. But I also know I am not worried about her quality of education because I am fortunate to live in a well-funded district that is doing great work.

When you hear something as tragic as the Connecticut story today, does that alone make you never want to set foot in a classroom again?

Asked by so, so saddened... over 11 years ago

I'm sorry for the delay. I wanted to take time to process and consider without just replying through pure emotion. Because I have been just so, so sad this week. My honest answer is no. Sadly, I can say no because I was training to be a teacher when Columbine happened. And since then, there were at least four others I can think of off the top of my head before Sandy Hook. Are you a bit rattled? Sure. I can fully and totally reconcile the statistical chance of me being harmed in my classroom or my students being harmed or there being an incident in my school being very, very, very low. Years of being afraid of flying have made me better about saying, ok, things happen but that doesn't mean thing is going to happen to me. I'm not anymore scared of being in my classroom than I am of being at a movie theater or a mall. The sad truth is that these events are happening in many places. So I don't worry, per se, more about entering the school the next day. I have the heaviest of hearts but more I'm sad that this is happening at all, anywhere. And, I feel equipped, as best any of us can be, to talk with my students and colleagues. I've done a lot of counseling training in an effort to best serve my students. My first week of teaching was 9/11 and that profoundly shaped how I view the role of teacher in times of crises. So as horrific as it is, I can be a person kids talk to. I know the way their brains work and know how to toggle between the terrifying and the inane as kids their age do. I know what's appropriate to share, how to know which kids are struggling more, and which kids to keep an eye on for other reasons. When I heard the news on Friday I had two parallel reactions. One was as a teacher, angry beyond measure that someone would desecrate my holy place. As a child, school was the only place I felt totally safe. I loved being in schools. In previous answers I shared how critical good schools were towards me being somebody, anybody. To target a school is just blasphemous. It's horrific. It's unbelievable. The fact that I've had to explain to 7th graders why the walls of windows that make my room so warm and welcoming are dangerous during lock down drills. The fact that we're discussing concealed carry laws in daycares make me want to scream. My other reaction was as a mother. These little children were so, so little. To think of the joy of a first grade classroom, the small feet and the tiny chairs and tables. Cubbies with pictures of families as anything other than a beautiful, warm space made me die a little inside. Thinking of my friends' new kindergarteners. Thinking of my own daughter skipping into her preschool now because, aside from home, it is her favorite place in the world makes my heart leap. Knowing that 20 families had that joy ripped from them makes me want to curl up in a ball and quit. But it doesn't make me want to stop teaching. Would I be as heroic as the teachers who cleverly hid students? Or read to them so a story was soothing? Or put my arms around a group of students willing my body to be a shield? God, I hope I would be that teacher. I don't think I should have to be willing to die for my profession. I realize firemen and other professions take their jobs knowing an inherent level of terrifying risk. I don't think teachers should be in that camp. That's a long winded answer, I know. But no, I don't fear going into the classroom. I fear guns. There was a mall shooting and a theater shooting in recent memory. I cannot allow myself to begin fearing going anywhere and everywhere. So I return to my school as sanctuary model and hope society finds its civic and civil core.

How do you see parents failing in aiding their children's education?

Asked by Jonna over 12 years ago

Most of my teaching has been in independent schools with well-to-do families. In that environment, over-protection is hands down the most prevalent parent-related issue that I see hampering kids. It’s totally understandable that parents would advocate for and protect their child. As a mother, I understand. But many parents so badly want their children to succeed that they prevent them from ever failing. Along with protecting them, parents have to help them build self-reliance, resiliency, and a sense of consequence. If a kid forgets an assignment, they'll bring it up to school. I've seen one mom at school almost every day for the last three years. Rather than bolstering her son, she's become his crutch. Parents should trust that we won't just let a kid fail ... that we are there to help and will let them know what we see (even when that's seeing the mom at school way too much). Children need support while also learning to put weight on themselves (at a developmentally and individually appropriate pace).

With so much new technology, are kids coming up with more sophisticated ways to cheat?

Asked by Merideth over 12 years ago

Fabulous question. Yes. And, eh. So, technology is so much more than things with cameras and wireless. I imagine every teacher has quietly cursed against every technological advancement. While they all make teaching better, easier, and more effective (truly), that means every clever student who wants to cheat has a new tool. Phones I'm sure caused stress a hundred years ago when they were rotary dials! But, the internet, for example, is a middle schooler's best and worst friend. So many kids who don't understand original research (or who don't want to) are caught by the beauty of Google. If a phrase in a paper sounds too sophisticated, entering in Google will often pull up the site (and sadly, sometimes the whole paragraph) a kid used. So it's a cat and mouse game. Kids can buy term papers online and teachers can submit papers to sites like turnitin that use fancy algorithms to see if the paper was taken from an online source. As more and more stuff in the classroom happens online and plugged in, it is hard. I'm not going to lie. Our whole grade was granted iPads this year. Awesome for sure. And our school was on a Google email format. Double awesome. But that means googlechat and googledocs allows sharing of information. But it also allows for tracking changes and chat records. The immediacy of the internet and access to insane amounts of info (not all good) diminishes the hard work of research sometimes. Please, kids, don't give me a paper with the hyperlinks still blue and underlined from Wikipedia. I am on to that. I've been on to that. I've had far more problems with quizzes that happen before and after lunch than I've had with kids transmitting answers via text. Word of mouth is the worst enemy of authentic assessments of students. I HATE having to write four versions of a quiz, but you do. And sick days. When kids aren't "sick". I've had problems with tutors or parents helping too much. Kids who maliciously steal from the internet are fewer and farther between and often have already been caught using luddite cheating methods like copying off a classmate's paper. More often, a younger student has no clue you can't change one word in a document and call it paraphrased. I think education and responsibility are the keys. (As usual) I had a student in LA who asked me about cheating. I always told him I had tried it all and if he could get it past me, he should be prouder of himself for coming up with it than for a fake grade. I was totally lying because I was WAY too scared to cheat in school. But he and I spent a lot of time discussing options. His best? Clues/help/whatever written inside gum wrappers that were then re-wrapped around the gum. So, not so hi-tech. Really, a kid who is going to want to figure out ways to cheat is going to do it. I think figuring out how to teach ethical and responsible use of resources is critical. And that's not the easy answer. Having some kind of laser beam or program that catches it is. Being a teacher...meaning teaching kids how to do the right harder, takes more time, but ultimately, works. And still some kids are going to cheat.

Do most teachers aim to become administrators, or do they prefer to remain in the classroom?

Asked by jrock83 over 12 years ago

That's a tough call because administration means many things. There are administrators who manage/oversee teachers, those who deal primarily with parents, those who deal with students, and then those that work at an intersection of those groups. Most teachers stay in the classroom, and if they leave teaching, they may stay in education (reform, policy, training). Growth is also in the classroom so it's easy to feel challenged with each new year (new technology, a new crop of students, new units to teach, new opportunities for collaboration). There are also administrators who've never taught in the classroom (my personal belief is that is not always awesome). I think most of us begin to think about next steps or areas for growth but that might mean changing subjects or grades. For some, it does mean stepping outside of the classroom.

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 about 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 over 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 over 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 over 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.

Are teachers' salaries negotiable?

Asked by hmmmm about 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.

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 over 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.

"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 over 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.

First off, I come from a family of teachers, and am familiar with what you go through. I just wanted to say thank you for doing what I think is the most important job of all!

Second, what kind of schooling did you get when you decided to become a teacher? I'm assuming you took whichever test your state required of you to teach, but what did you focus on in college/grad school?

Asked by Osirius about 12 years ago

Well, you are welcome! Thanks for the kind words. My undergraduate degrees were in American History (19th century focus) and American Civilization (not pluralized! with a focus on the youth experience in America). As an undergrad I took and TA'd a bunch of ed courses including the history of American Education, etc. My college did not have minors. I also worked in schools and camps and did whatever I could to understand the adolescent world. A bit messy and stinky at times, but worth it. I then went to Harvard and got a Masters in Education in Teaching & Learning with a focus on secondary social studies. It was a one-year masters program that included observation and student teaching. I was certified in MA and then went to teach in CA. Many states have reciprocity so your certification transfers (but you often have to take a few more tests). Now, I went the spendy route. Many colleges also have programs that allow you to get certified as an undergrad in 4 or 5 years. And many non-Harvard programs are ROCKING teacher training. And elementary ed is a major in many schools. I wanted a strong background in history before I got my training to teach because it drives me batty when people claim teachers don't know their stuff. Funny thing? I went on to teach World History. But a historian is a historian is a historian. Do it! The country needs good teachers!

Was there a particular teacher that inspired you to go into education, or was it something else?

Asked by Selma_J over 12 years ago

My 11th grade AP US history teacher. He was phenomenal. I'd always worked with younger people as a babysitter and counselor, but I hadn't really thought about teaching until I had his class. Not only did he make a huge impact on me academically, he was also the only person to sense and reach out when things in my family were rough. He was a constant source of support and strength and I never once asked for it. He made me realize how much more of a job teaching is than just imparting knowledge about a content area. It was about my development as a person. Only after a few years of teaching did I realize I was trying to model what he had done.

I'm currently an Intervention Teacher ~Language Arts,. I was, however, a Math Specialist for 10 years prior to this position awa a 1st & 4th grade teacher prior to Math Specialist position. Two years ago, Math Specialist positions were entirely eliminated district wide.
Are Math Specialists positions part of your teaching community & what's your opinion of them, if so?
By the way...........let it be noted that as a Math Spec I was servicing 36 homerooms a week, modeling lessons for students awa teachers. I have 2 Masters degrees, one in Mathematical Foundations.

Asked by MathSpecialist09 about 12 years ago

Ugh. I'm so sorry. There's nothing sadder than the blanket elimination of a position or department, especially one so awesome for a school (and a kid who loves OR hates math). My most recent school had a Math/Science enrichment teacher for the Middle School who partnered with those disciplines' core teachers and helped plan curriculum and also ran programs like Science Olympiad, Math Counts, and Lego Robotics. I think it was funded at 75% (ridiculous, in my opinion). And, you never to justify the awesome/major work you did. It kills me when positions like yours (and art and PE and anything that enriches the life of a school) are eliminated. It makes schools feel bare bones and duller.

Why do male teachers who have sex with female students get treated more harshly than when a female teacher has sex with an underage male student? Aren't they both pedophiles?

Asked by guest123 almost 12 years ago

Hmm. I gotta say. I don't think it's true. I don't think men get treated more harshly. In fact, I personally know of three male teachers who have gone on to marry former students. Whether relations were happening while the student was a minor, I can't say for sure. But they were accepted by the school communities and allowed to stay in their positions. One is now the head of a terribly prestigious independent school, the school that he met his wife at in fact. His wife is in her 30s (she was in my graduating class from high school) now so the shock factor isn't there but I know I kept looking at my colleagues with a "seriously? NO ONE is mentioning this??" look. But the idea of an older man/younger woman seems far less scandalous than a older woman/younger man. And, age of consent in many states means a high schooler could technically consent to sex. Statutory rape laws often make it illegal because of an age gap. Before you assume I'm justifying the behavior, know that I'm not. Even if a teacher truly truly thought they were in love with a student, the power dynamic means there's an inherent imbalance. A teacher should have the mental faculties to realize that just isn't good, right, or what we signed up for when we became teachers. And the ethics of the job mean you just DON'T do that. And, I mean, ew. The ick factor is super icky. I'm not terribly knowledgable about what the specific medical definition of a pedophile if a 22 year old teacher has sex with an 18 year old...but it's just not right because of the teacher/student relationship. Heck, I even get weirded out when I hear a professor married a former student, who is most likely of age. I happen to think there is an honor and privilege and responsibility of being a teacher that rules out lusty stuff. BUT, I think if you truly think about the public reaction, the country seems to love a good young (often kind of cute) female teacher doing something gross with a teenage boy. If you look back at the news, female teachers having sex with male students get sensationalized attention on sites like CNN. Starting with Mary Kay Latourneau in 1995 and the parade of gross just continued from there. It is ALL over the national news when a woman does it. Male teachers, like the guys in California who were busted for molestation of very young children and many of them, also make big news. But the interviews and made for TV movies are more likely, I think, to be about some 25 year old blonde lady.

Awesome Q&A thread. I want your job. Maybe you can walk me through the most efficient way of doing so given my personal circumstances:

I have an undergrad degree from a large state university with a mediocre GPA. I have no full-time experience, but am interested in teaching social studies at the secondary school level. It's very overwhelming to view all the different options offered by graduate schools of education across the country. Ideally I'd like to eventually teach at a private school. Is a master's degree required or is a generic certification sufficient? Is there any difference between a MA and Masters of Education? Do I even need to enroll in school if I only want a certification? So lost on the whole problem is that I've heard that much of the schooling is ultimately useless in preparing one to teach well so I'm just trying to find the fastest way to a teaching position in a non-inner city area.

Asked by AC about 12 years ago

Sorry for the delay! End of year nuttiness.... There's a whole lot of -it depends- I'm going to give you, so I apologize in advance. Not every independent school requires or expects an MA/MS in education or even in your field. Some do. Some expect a major/concentration in that field. Some don't. The two independent schools I've worked at expected the vast majority of teachers to have at least a Masters and usually also prior teaching experience, preferably at an independent school. That, I know, creates the whole "How do I get the job to get the experience I need to get the job" mess. There are so, so many awesome schools out there though. I think folks thinking independent school think of the top 2-3 schools in any given city. Be broad in your search and you might find a smaller one with more open hiring practices. Competition can be a bear at some super elite schools. The MA vs EdM is interesting. If you get the MA you might have a great knowledge base but minimal exposure to how to get a 13 year old to care about the Inca. If you get the EdM you will have lots of opportunities to understand kids but if you are nervous about your expertise, you typically don't have to take many courses in your area. I happened to do my undergrad in history so I felt pretty good about being a historian...mind you, my degree was in American history and I taught non-western world history. But I know about how to study history. Most elite private schools smile more on a field area advanced degree, which I think is a bit misguided. I've taught with some really weird PhDs. I know I lost out on an interview because of my EdM because the teacher later told me she wished she'd hired me for the high school when I began working at the middle school but didn't interview me because of my degree field (I, by the way, only ever want to teach middle school...those kids are a hoot). Just know that many independent schools have rules they break, exceptions they make, and it might never make sense. I did a dual Masters/certification process. The classes towards certification were, at my Ivy League program, not impressive. My teacher skills came from my student teaching as I was luckily placed (by total chance) with an incredible teacher with a similar teaching style to me. So, sorry, I don't have the magic bullet here. But I'd say if you want to teach at an independent school, don't sweat certification. Either do an MA program at a school with a respected Ed program and try to take classes in tandem or vice versa. Do the EdM program and take as many classes in the social sciences as you can. Summer classes, whatever. I took my full course load and then added an extra class each semester in history/social studies because I was so excited about the course offerings. Your job is to help kids be good at social studies. If you think your skills in that discipline are sharp enough, focus on being a great teacher. You'll learn about the age your interested in teaching and methods and practices that may make you awesome. But great teachers know their stuff. So you can't go in with great lesson plans and then not know what you're talking about. Good luck--> I love that you want to teach! Don't let a confusing path stop you.

Report card time! If a student is right on the brink of getting a higher vs lower grade, how do you decide?

Asked by Janice dub almost 12 years ago

Brinksmanship! I like it! Let me start by saying I despise letter grades. Blech. What does an A mean in a world of totally different schools, teachers, whatever, grade inflation, parents threatening to sue, kids feeling like they should apply to 23 colleges? I can tell you: not much. I took all my classes in college for Pass/Fail. Yup, that was me. It was my one moment of revolutionary zeal in a very quiet life. BUT, I got written narratives by professors (or, you know, TAs) that were far more revealing, I think than a simple letter grade. Specific papers were mentioned, skills I had honed or needed to hone, contributions I made in discussions and one claim of "insubordination". I sought out a school to teach at, then, that allowed for narratives since I think they do a much better job of telling a student's story. That school also felt like it was obligated to still assign letter grades to kids at the semesters, so I've done those too. I'm not a total hippie. So what then to do with the kid on the brink? Unless you are a teacher that just straight up calculates an average, you are going to deal with this. The 89.9. The 64.5. It's totally subjective for many teachers. But that doesn't mean it is unfair. All of my projects and work include rubrics, standards the kids must meet. So they are accumulating wisdom about what it takes to be successful in my class (and I think as a human being) as the year progresses. When I sit down to do the semester grades, I look at the scores of all of those things. I look at whether they consistently turn in work. I think about what is going on at home (I am not going to fail a kid who doesn't turn in homework AND I know mom is battling cancer, if that makes sense). And then I come up with a letter. And often, kids are stuck in between. My logic for the bump up or down includes some of the following: 1. Effort. If the kid was coasting and getting As on tests but unprepared daily and not trying to engage, I'd go lower. If a kid was killing themselves to do well and was SO close to a B but not quite there, I'd bump them up to motivate them. You want to figure out if the individual kid is going to be inspired by needing to bring it OR in being rewarded for trying really hard to bring it. 2. Trajectory. If a kid had struggled all semester and really seems to be making progress, I consider the second half of the scores more heavily than the first half. Some kids have to adjust to a new teacher or new grade and find their groove. And, change over time matters. It really does. 3. Class participation/attitude. If a kid is a turd during group projects or is rude and dismissive, that factors negatively into the grade (and I make sure all my students are aware of that from day 1). I like the wiggle room of classroom demeanor/civitas/whatever. A kid who struggles a bit with writing but is just awesome in discussions, a wonderful cooperative partner, helps classmates should be rewarded for that as those are skills society needs. The nice thing about my school is that I can then go into more detail about what I'm seeing in my room and why that grade makes sense. I also choose my language carefully. A kid never "gets" a C in my class. Or an A. They earn it.

what do you think of the idea being kicked around about arming teachers and school officials?

Asked by ernesto over 11 years ago

No. That's what I've got for you. No, never. Metal detectors change the vibe of a school. I know they are deemed more necessary in some schools but there is a different feel when you walk through one to go teach or learn than when you walk in a building without one. I know many schools that have a buzz-in system. I know schools that have security. But arming teachers? No, no no.

What do you think we should do for COVID-19? And what do you think on school choice?

Asked by Martian almost 4 years ago


Is it true teaching is more of a lifestyle then a job?

Asked by Doc Johnson almost 4 years ago


When you teach about politics and civics are you very biased? On purpose

Asked by Donna over 4 years ago


Question what do you think the rest of this school year (and possibly next) look like?

Asked by Lola about 4 years ago


Do teachers HAVE to have a bachelors degree

Asked by Jamie over 4 years ago


What if you lose something at school and it's in lost in found and another kid takes it. What would happen ?

Asked by Nicole over 9 years ago


As a teacher, can you tell which students might have a crush on you? (Because I'm in high school and have a slight crush on my history teacher, and wondered if he could tell.)

Asked by Rexy Stewart over 8 years ago


What do we do about this disaster of online learning? Many kids can not even get online and so many kids also just wont do the work. Things sometimes get turned in at strange hours and then like I said not at all. Some kids who always did their work and always got it done on time are some of the kids who are not doing anything. ANYTHING NOTHING gets turned in by at least half of the kids, another quarter of them get things done late and somethings don't get done. Then becuase of confuseion someitmes is the issuie. I don't even know what to do anymore. I doubt we will really open in two weeks, month, next year or EVER. I think this is a goverment coo and I always thought those people are crazy but I am pretty sure their right at this point. Where being taken over and no work is being done by students because they don't want to and there is no one to make them.

Asked by 788473 about 4 years ago


What do we do about this disaster of online learning? Many kids can not even get online and so many kids also just wont do the work. Things sometimes get turned in at strange hours and then like I said not at all. Some kids who always did their work and always got it done on time are some of the kids who are not doing anything. ANYTHING NOTHING gets turned in by at least half of the kids, another quarter of them get things done late and somethings don't get done. Then becuase of confuseion someitmes is the issuie. I don't even know what to do anymore. I doubt we will really open in two weeks, month, next year or EVER. I think this is a goverment coo and I always thought those people are crazy but I am pretty sure their right at this point. Where being taken over and no work is being done by students because they don't want to and there is no one to make them.

Asked by 788473 about 4 years ago


What do you think of paraprofessionals?

Asked by Jamie over 4 years ago


Why do teachers really give out group projects?

Asked by Anonymous almost 7 years ago

What do you think of this rant?

Asked by Bbsndn over 4 years ago


how do you deal w/poorly behaved students that are a bane to the classroom, but aren't *quite* bad enough to get kicked out of school or moved to special ed? are there ways to contain them?

Asked by dana about 11 years ago


Who do teachers have tenure? Can't think of too many other jobs that have anything similar.

Asked by fun_in_boise over 11 years ago


What do you do when a parent is rude/out of line and you disagree with their parenting style. Does that make it more difficult to teach or work with their child?

Asked by Tina about 11 years ago


How do you deal with students who come to school constantly coughing or develop a chronic cough while in class?

Asked by John Delatorre about 9 years ago