Monday, October 1, 2012

Irons in the Fire

What am I good at? Since it's a rhetorical question, I'll specify: What am I good enough at to do professionally? I grew up around teachers; my parents and their friends tended to fall into that category. Since I graduated from the University of Georgia, the only job I've had is to teach. I taught English formally and informally in Japan. I tutored college-level math at Indiana University before snagging an Associate Instructorship that let me teach Japanese. While I finished up my thesis, I was teaching Japanese part-time at a local high school, which I suppose helped propel me to a full-time job teaching it at a middle school in Atlanta. I'm good at teaching, being a teacher. I've spent more of my life in classrooms than almost anywhere else, and now, temporarily unemployed, I'm looking for opportunities around Astana, Kazakhstan to use the skills I've honed over the past seven years.

Of course, there are aspects of teaching that I'm not happy with, things I don't like or don't want to do. I don't like having to be a disciplinarian. To give an obvious example, middle school is absolutely not on the menu. I did not get along with middle school students while I was teaching full-time, and I did not get along with them while I was substitute teaching. Even the best kids on the best day were still soaked through with hormones, optimistically cruel toddlers in oversized bodies. Actually, "cruel" is probably too much... they wish to be cruel, but they aren't smart enough to do so effectively. Regardless, we do not get along, middle schoolers and I... not when I am their teacher, at least. Some people find teaching middle school great. One of my friends and mentors while at the middle school was amazing. She related to the kids and had fun with them, inspired them, made them interested. She ended up teacher of the year the year after I left, and she deserves it. I did not, and would not.

On the other hand, when I am in a classroom with high schoolers or college students, it's an entirely different situation. I know how to engage them, they know how to behave without being strapped to their chairs and made into little wind-up citrines, and we both can communicate with each other without one side compelling the other to shriek. I loved every day of teaching at high school. The kids were better, the speed was better, the responsibilities I could give them were better. Even subbing was fairly good, with the occasional speed bump of some kid deciding to succumb to his ex-girlfriend provocation and get in a fist fight with her, or make Thursday into "Don't Do What The Sub Says and Instead Disrupt All Of The Other Students" Day. I almost never felt like the students genuinely disliked me though, they just sometimes felt indignant that a sub wanted them to do anything at all. As a side note, that always turned out humorously for me, because as a sub, I don't honestly care if you decide not to do the work you were left, mess around in class, or call me names. Just don't make it personal. I have recourse with the administration and the teacher I am subbing for (imagine their pants-wetting terror they faced when I called the teacher on the number they left and put it on speaker phone), and 99% of the time I know the kid's name even if they think I don't. It inevitably turned out worse for them, and there was never a larger grin on my face than when some kid I hardly recognized passed by the door to whatever room I was in that day, stopped and said "Hey, you got me in trouble!" Not me, man. You got you in trouble.

I like the part of school where I get to explain and discuss and open up entirely new avenues of thinking and looking at the world. I know that for some people, especially those who aren't teachers, that sounds corny. I'm happy being corny as long as I get to do that stuff. Which leads me back to the general idea of this post... I want to be a teacher. I'm good at it and I like it, which isn't something that everyone can say about their job. Even when I'm not teaching, I'm thinking about what kinds of cool stuff I could do if I were. I read articles about great teachers, I look at blog posts where people talk about cool projects and teachers. If it weren't a job, it would be a hobby.

Only a few things stand in the way here. The first is that I'm not a certified teacher anywhere, so I always imagine that people look a little askance when I talk to them about working at their school or in their program. I know in a lot of ways that doesn't make a difference, but if it prevents my hiring, it prevents my hiring. It has been the only thing standing between me and a career for a couple of years now, and with our living outside of the United States, it's much trickier to figure out how to get that certification. The second thing is that the opportunities here are much smaller in number than in the United States. There are a small number of international schools with a small number of openings in each year, and at any given post, there might simply be no opportunities. I've gotten in touch with four schools so far, and it's looking mostly grim.

All hope is not lost, though. There are a couple of partial positives on the teaching job front that might lead to more (but not quickly... nothing here seems to move quickly). I've run into a couple of people who have volunteer opportunities that might be used as stepping stones to further work. I'm also in touch with a couple of universities with online programs that could potentially help me to get certification, which would probably be worth the effort and further student debt. I'm doing what I can.

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