With my recent move to Brooklyn, it goes without saying that I’m on the search for a new school to call home. The job search process here with the NYC Dept of Ed has been a stressful, ego-busting and confidence-questioning experience. I suppose that is the usual experience with every sort of job search, and I know that finding a school that would be a good fit both ways takes persistence and patience, but I’m finding that as an outsider, it’s especially difficult to break in to the system. First up, people don’t know me and I’m not very great at selling myself. Secondly, there are about 4,000 potential openings for the coming school year and 10,000-30,000 applicants. Thirdly, there are significantly more Teach For America and NY Teaching Fellows (fresh from college and backed by their programs) here competing with me.
I know SFUSD – I have a network, I know what the hot issues are and what counts. I know that I’m a pretty good teacher, and with every passing year I get better. Coming to NY though, I am a little fish in a really really big pond. There are so many high schools, each one of them small (>300 students) and with their own philosophy, expectations and vision. It’s no longer just “preparing students for post-high school success”, it’s now “infuse curriculum with green experiences, applied mathematics and teaching our students to be independent life long learners and critical thinkers with the skills to make solid career choices”. These types of missions are great and all, and we have those too in SF, but here, with these small schools, they actually stick to them. At TMAHS, our vision had a focus on social justice. I personally included social justice topics within every unit. The school as a whole did not.
I’m learning quickly though. Surprisingly enough, nobody cares about test scores. Considering the fact that teacher evaluations are dependent on test scores, and that 24 schools closed due to low test scores, I expected more conversations about how to raise them. Instead, each school I’ve visited or spoken to focuses on learning through inquiry and experience rather than relying on direct instruction.
While I’m all for it and would advocate for more inquiry/exploratory based lessons, I find myself in somewhat of a panic. Are my lessons, the ones that I feel so good about and have worked well for my students in the past, actually just total crap? Do I have enough inquiry in my lessons? Am I even creative enough to come up with a way to teach evolution without actually teaching evolution directly? I’m doubting myself and my lessons… I’m really great at direct instruction. Ask any of my students and they will tell you about all my PowerPoints and notes followed by some activity that supports what they just learned. So therefore, I’m a shitty teacher who propagates the memorization-regurgitation method, without teaching my students anything long lasting.
Designing a good inquiry-based lesson is incredibly hard. It takes a lot of brain power, creative juice, innovation and time. Imagine you need to teach 30 high school students the next day (and it’s now 5pm) that “Evolution does not necessitate long-term progress in some set direction. Evolutionary changes appear to be like the growth of a bush: Some branches survive from the beginning with little or no change, many die out altogether, and others branch repeatedly, sometimes giving rise to more complex organisms.” How are you going to do this without lecturing about it, and in a way where students can discover and reason out the answers an their own, therefore making it an authentic learning experience? This is just one day out of 180.
I had a 2.5 hour interview and demo lesson with a panel of 9 teachers/administrators yesterday at a small high school here in Brooklyn (they are all small, really).
Outside I tried to look like this:
but inside I was really like this:
I have until september before I give up and find a McD’s job, though I would settle for Walmart.