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08 November 2004: Job Posting: Unreasonable Diligence and Paperwork Required (4 of 5)

But, should you be diligent enough to complete your application, and lucky enough to have it not be lost, then you are rewarded with an interview.

My first teaching interview was on the phone. I had zero experience. Not even student teaching. I was enrolled in an intern program and would be going to school while I was teaching. The interview went like this, “I have two fifth grade openings. Would you like one?” Wow. The principal’s commitment to bringing dedicated, innovative, effective teachers to his school was unwavering. Now, to be fair, that is what he got, more or less, but he certainly had no way of knowing that from my application.

My second interview was twenty minutes, in person. We talked about curriculum I had used and touched on my philosophies, but I landed the job when I answered the principal’s questions: Has there ever been a student you just couldn’t reach? What did you do to try? I felt silly tearing up as I nodded and told her about Janae and the hours of meetings, the endless list of classroom strategies, and the lack of desired results.

09 November 2004: Job Posting: Unreasonable Diligence and Paperwork Required (5 of 5)

After she gave me the job, the principal told me that it had everything to do with the way I answered that question.

She said it didn’t matter if I was already a good teacher. She said I proved to her that I desired to be a good teacher, and she knew that with her help, I could be. When I think about that interview now, I wonder, how do you interview a teacher?

There are so many questions that get asked that don’t reflect the quality of teaching, how can you wade through the “Have you worked with Harcourt Math before?” and ask questions that really reveal the skill?

Can you gage the quality of teacher by asking what their students’ test scores were? Can you gage their effectiveness in management by asking if they ever take away recess privileges? Can a teacher’s dedication be judged by how many hours they spend outside of school prepping, grading, and organizing?

I’m pretty sure the answer to all of these questions is no. I’ve also had interviews where I was asked to comment on provided magazine articles, from the point of view of my teaching philosophy. I’ve had to teach sample lessons to rooms of adults. Though I expect some will protest, this seems to be getting closer to the kind of teacher interviews that will really reveal quality.

10 November 2004: No Wonder There's an Achievement Gap (1 of 4)

As a white woman in this country, I had to be taught that racism is alive and well and active everywhere—even in our schools. It may not sound like such a revelation, depending on where you are, but for me it was ugly. Rarely have I witnessed actual, ugly, personal oppression of a person of color. It seems that because our culture’s institutions have grown up around racism so well, it’s easy not to see it if you are white. But then, one day at school, I had to witness the blatant, painful force of racism on a ten year old. I’m not talking about name calling. This isn’t about someone saying the N word on the playground, or choosing a partner of like race. This was much, much uglier.

11 November 2004: No Wonder There's an Achievement Gap (2 of 4)

Larry was an African American student who had been absent for a day or two, and as a result, was behind the rest of the class in his writing process. He needed a quiet, thoughtful place to work on his first draft, but our classroom was slated to be buzzing with the sounds of peer revision and editing. I was thrilled when he initiated a request for a more appropriate work environment (I don’t have to tell you that sometimes our job is all about the little things!). I chose to send him to the office, thinking that it was more likely that it would be quiet there than any of the other upper grade classes. To the best of my memory, I sent him with the following note: Please give Larry a quiet place to work. Thanks! While I am willing to take some responsibility for what happened as a result, I am sure that a white student would not have had the same experience.

12 November 2004: No Wonder There's an Achievement Gap (3 of 4)

Larry knew he would be working on his story until recess and then rejoin the class. When he came back to our room five minutes after recess and in tears, I knew something very ugly had happened. He explained to me that the white school secretary had “yelled” at him for disrupting his class and being sent to the office, and she wouldn’t let him go out for recess because he was “in trouble.” I was in shock. What had I done to indicate that Larry was being disciplined? What had he done to warrant such an assumption? I certainly had not requested any disciplinary action be taken by the office staff. I thought that I had made it clear that he needed quiet. My error, I suppose, was in what I did not say. You could fault me because my note did not specify that Larry was making a remarkably responsible and mature decision to leave his peers and work independently. You could say that if my note had been more specific, this wouldn’t have happened. You could also say that if Larry was white, the secretary wouldn’t have made the assumption that she did.

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teaching quote of the day

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

- Chinese proverb

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