A few thoughts for Sara and Amanda, two of my nieces, graduating in May and are interested in teaching.
Talk to children. Talk to parents. Visit as many schools as you can. Find the school you would want to spend the next 13 years at if you were a kid again. Read Ted Dintersmith’s new book, What School Could Be. He does a wonderful job detailing powerful learning across America while he also points out the our great weaknesses.
Relax on the thought you, at 22, will find a dream job in an urban public school and change the world. Take a year or two to explore the “field.” Look for schools, or other places where kids are learning. Places where learning is at the paramount of the daily life. Schools where the children are at the center; where the adult leaders know learning is messy and children are born to learn. Look for crayons and paint, grass stains and bandaids. Listen for music and laughter. Are the children hemmed in by rows of desks or free to move? Is the staff relaxed?
Look for the school, not the job. Working in traditional public schools is rugged. Intense pressure. Tight constraints. Large classes. Testing. The upside. You can make a difference. There is joy in connecting with children on a daily basis. The potential exists for a rewarding career in public schools. The challenge is to find the right fit. A school and a district which fits your style and ambitions. Find a school where you are celebrated“I know too many teachers for whom that first contract was the kiss of death to their wanting to continue teaching,” said a colleague who knows his way around New York Schools. He recommended doing a year of service with City Year. “You see a ton of schools and what they have to offer before signing a contract with any one school.” Americorps, is worth a look. They place thousands of young adults into intensive service positions where they learn valuable work skills, earn money for education, and develop an appreciation for citizenship
Here are some celebrated schools: There are the long-standing Montessori and Waldorf schools. Here is a public Montessori in NYC. It appears there are no public Waldorf Schools in NYC but there is an Alliance for Public Waldorf Education. I learned more working in a Montessori school about learning than I did in graduate school. One of my most respected colleagues has three young boys attending the local Waldorf school and she is over the moon. These schools usually require specific training to be a head teacher but you can get jobs as assistants to feel it out.
There is a burgeoning movement of contemporary schools championing the best of the modern world while trusting children’s innate desire to learn. Schools such as the Agile Learning Centers, reclaiming the joy of learning; Acton Academy, turning learning upside down; Brightworks, everything is interesting, we can create anything; The Primary School. Here’s a link to 85 Elementary and Middle Schools Worth Visiting. Here is a link to the 41 Most Innovative K-12 Schools in America.
Follow your heart.