JR: Dorman High School
ST: What subjects/grade levels do you teach?
JR: 10th-12th Employment Training
ST: How long have you been teaching?
JR: I am in my second year teaching in a traditional school setting. I taught for one year at a postsecondary transition program so three years total.
ST: What has been the hardest thing for you as a teacher?
JR: I would say the hardest thing is holding everything together. No one thing stands out as being especially hard. Lesson plans aren’t super difficult. Making a behavior management plan takes some time and effort but is not impossible. Even the paperwork is manageable if you are properly organized. Throwing and catching anyone of these balls is not hard, but when you start putting all the balls together, I feel like a clown trying to juggle fiery orbs. The hardest thing for me is doing all of it at the same time.
ST: What do you feel is the best thing about teaching?
JR: The best thing about teaching for me is knowing that what I do on a day to day basis matters. Nearly everyone you talk to today has an opinion about education. Some people think education and teachers are the demise of our society and need reform; others think education and teachers are a panacea for all of society’s wrongs. In both opinions the bottom line is teachers and the education they provide matter. Not all occupations go to work with that kind of self-efficacy. There are real-life consequences for what I do every day at work. That kind of pressure is exciting to me.
ST: What is the biggest issue in education that you wish the state or federal government would address and why?
JR: This was a very difficult question to answer. I could come up with issue 1a, 1b, 1c, and 1d each with its own argument for being “the biggest issue.” In my opinion as a new special education teacher, I think the biggest issue is teacher development and teacher retention. There is a “sink or swim” mentality in education with regards to teachers. I guess the opinion is that the good teachers will stick it out and last longer than anyone else, but I believe the statistics showing problems with teacher retention demand a fresh look at how we develop teachers after graduating. When half of all teachers are done with the profession within the first five years, you lack the consistency and experience that older teachers have. I am a young, new teacher, and I will be the first to defend a lot of the “new kids on the block trying to change everything”, but I will be the first one to say that I make certain mistakes as a teacher simply because I am new and inexperienced. I think schools need a better system of developing good teachers.
ST: What piece of advice would you give to a new teacher in order to be successful in the classroom?
JR: One of the biggest things I heard from current teachers when I was in a teacher preparation program in college was that a lot of the things you learn in college are useless or inapplicable in real-life. It is my experience that this advice couldn’t be further from the truth. In college, you learn the ways things should be done. Yes, teachers are right when they say that many of the things you do during student teaching or other classes are not required when you get a teaching job, but that does not mean that you should give them up all together. Continue writing strong lesson plans, putting time into long range plans, evaluating student progress, and all the other skills you learned in college even if the teachers around you aren’t doing so. You learned those things on college for a reason. There is evidence supporting the things you learned. You will be a better teacher as a result of the extra time you put in, and your students will be better prepared for independent life as a result.
ST: If money was no object, what would you want for your classroom?
JR: I would want a set of iPads for every student in my class to use during instruction. Nearly all jobs now require a certain level of technological proficiency. I think in some ways we are still teaching students the same way we did in the 70s and 80s, and the jobs available have changed. I would also want students to be able to take the iPads home to help facilitate communication with low-income parents.
ST: If you could have anybody in the world visit your class, who would it be?
JR: I thought about this question for a long time also. I could invite my students’ parents and say, “This is the behavior I am talking about.” I could invite my past college professors, and ask, “Why didn’t you teach me about this?” I could invite a hip hop star who raps about quitting school when he actually has a college degree and have him tell my students, “I lied. I stayed in school, and you need to also.” I didn’t want to give a political answer, but in the end, the one person that kept coming to mind is Dr. Mick Zais, the South Carolina School Superintendent. I have immense respect for Dr. Zais’s military service to our country, and I don’t want to disrespect him in any way. But when it comes to teacher evaluations in relation to education reform, he is sadly misguided—dangerously so, in my opinion. His proposed teacher evaluation has several dangerous unintended consequences for teachers of students with disabilities and the students with disabilities themselves. Respectfully, Dr. Zais has never spent a day as a teacher or administrator of a public school. I would like him to spend a day in my class and see what so many teachers are concerned about with his new system. For more information about the proposed teacher evaluation system, you can go to my blog article here.
ST: Is there something special or unique that you do in your classroom? Is so, please share.
JR: My students are pursuing an occupational diploma. To practice employment skills in a real-life situation, we operate a coffee and smoothie shop during the three student lunch periods. Three days per week my students spend my entire class in the smoothie shop. The other two days we are in the classroom practicing and working on skills that are more appropriate for the classroom. We raise money for things like Special Olympics field trips, special student events, and we recently purchased a small set of iPads for the classroom.
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Original photo by Pat Hensley