It’s almost over. Provided I don’t run into any unexpected road blocks, I will finally have my college degree and official certification to teach biology in Florida schools in just a few months. I completed my three-month teacher internship and received good, encouraging marks from the two people who graded me. Now I need to write a handful of essays that summarize various aspects of my time spent teaching. I’ve been procrastinating, but should have those projects done by the end of this month. Then I apply for graduation and finally get that all-important piece of paper that says I’m educated. But, it will be a while before I actually become a teacher due to some unfortunate timing. I’ll discuss that in a minute; first, let me tell you about my recent experiences. (More after the jump.)
Let me tell you: I learned more in the past three months than I did in about five years of taking college courses! I spent that time in a local biology teacher’s classroom getting a taste of what teaching is like. The bulk of the students I taught were 10th-graders who are taking biology strictly because it is a course required for graduation. Their ability levels were wildly diverse with some incredibly bright and engaged kids sailing through and other disinterested and unmotivated students barely scraping by. There were kids with learning disabilities and English language learners to worry about. There were discipline problems, fire drills, meetings, bus duty, and paperwork. There were kids who were chronically absent or tardy, and kids who told me to my face that they just didn’t care about passing.
Some days I felt like I was teaching a box of slugs. The students would be so unresponsive that I worried that I was completely wasting my time trying to teach them. Other days the kids would be fidgety and chatty and generally disruptive, making me worry that I was completely wasting my time trying to teach them. And then there would be a day here and there that would shine through like a bright, sunny day after weeks of overcast skies. The kids would bombard me with questions, testing my knowledge just as much as I was testing theirs. Those were the times when I would allow my lesson plan to be set aside temporarily as I followed the kids where they wanted to go. “Mr. Haught, what would happen if you mixed this and that?” There was no way I was going to ignore such a request. I quickly gathered the materials and showed them.
The first month of the internship consisted of my observing the classroom and occasionally teaching lessons created by my host teacher, who remained in the room to ensure everything went OK. Then I started teaching a few of my own lessons with more frequency as time went on. Finally, the host teacher gave the classroom to me for a little more than two weeks. She left the room, leaving me in charge of all aspects or running the show.
The first week of being on my own was incredibly rough. I stayed up late at night finalizing my plans and gathering my materials. I incorporated a lot of short video clips, live demonstrations, student activities, animations, etc., which took a very long time to compile! I floundered my way through the day as I learned the harsh reality that lesson content was actually a small component of a teacher’s day. General classroom management was much harder than teaching biology! Students came in late, were called out early, were sometimes disruptive, liked to sleep, wanted to go to the bathroom, needed to make up tests and assignments, and tried to sneak in a text on their cell phones. Handling the needs of about 70 individual students is a monumental task, and I tried to teach them about cell organelles, too!
As I worked my way through the second week, the routine finally clicked into place for me. I felt much more relaxed with the students, and handling the never ending flow of management tasks didn’t bother me near as much. I can honestly say that I was having fun. There were still several difficulties that I faced, but I was able to roll with them much better. I had been unsure of myself when it came to student discipline the first week, but I gained confidence and had fewer problems in week two. Once the kids get the message that you’re not going to be a pushover, they back off a bit. I was a pushover to some extent in week one, which made that week all the harder. But once I caught on in week two, a lot of my stress disappeared. The lessons I learned here is to just say no, and stick strictly to the classroom rules and procedures. And then if a student has an issue that turns out to be legitimate, it will become quickly apparent and specific action can then be taken. But worrying about every little student problem and thinking that I have to make accommodations for all of them is an impossible mission.
Once the two-week, full time teaching part was over, I then was able to go back to occasional lessons and observations. I spent some time in other teachers’ classrooms where I gained new perspectives that are hard to see when you’re kinda trapped in your own classroom. Then on my final day each class had a mini-party for me and signed good-bye cards. The overall experience was a stressful, but rewarding one that I definitely won’t forget.
Unfortunately, I won’t be going back into the classroom for at least a year. There are no teaching jobs for me to jump into at the end of the school year. And then there are the summer months to get through, too. I have bills to pay. I was able to secure my old job as sheriff’s office spokesperson, which I’ll be starting in a couple of weeks. A compromise was required, though. They wouldn’t bring me back if I was only going to stay through the summer; I had to commit to a year at least. Whereas it is a disappointment to finally get a diploma and certification that I worked so many years to achieve and then have to postpone my teaching dream for a while longer, it isn’t all bad. The priority is taking care of my family. I’m definitely thankful that I will be able to do that while working in a job that I actually did like overall. Also, I can take my time and better prepare myself for a quality teacher job search when the time does come, rather than desperately grab any job that comes along as I would probably have been forced to do otherwise. I’m also considering using this time to study for and eventually take certification exams in other science subjects, such as earth/space or chemistry. Why not?
And I also have to keep an eye on the teaching career field here in Florida, and then weigh my options. There is a lot of negativity out there. Yet more budget cuts are looming, which can mean teacher layoffs. I know that teachers are feeling like the state legislature’s and governor’s punching bags lately. How are the new teacher evaluation methods going to work out? I do have a strong desire to be a science teacher, but the tense and insecure atmosphere in Florida teaching is a possible deterrent. I now have the time to watch what happens very closely and make a sound decision. The situation certainly doesn’t look rosy, but is it really all doom and gloom? Time will tell.