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A Series of Impressions (some unfortunate but mostly pretty darn fortunate)

Welcome to my new life. I jumped ship, moved to a whole new city, and sort of randomly got whole new job in a ritzy private school.

Are you grumbling deep in your throat? I would be.  In fact, I fully recognize my selling out. In the midst of the most fascinatingly good first weeks, I often, really often, feel pretty guilty.

I didn't plan to go private by the way. It just sort of happened. They called me back, created a brand-new-position-of-my-dreams just for me. Asked me, if I could do anything, what would I do. None of the public schools called.

So here was exactly what I wanted. I teach two tiny classes of flower-like 9th graders, and, drumroll please, am starting a writing center for the whole high school. Dreamy.

I constantly compare the new with the old. Trying to understand my total culture shock. Feeling like this is the way things should be—how good the hard-working teachers from my old, beloved department should have it, but don’t. I’m almost afraid to be happy in this place. But it’s new. It’s a process.

Here’s random bits from the last few days in order of their composition:

1. Seeing the fine distinctions between students will be challenging. I am used to seeing grades and home information and making assumptions about their possible success or need for extra help in my class. Are they from the “good” part of town, or are they from the “ghetto”? Do they have a long string of As or Fs on their transcript? Do they live with grandmothers, aunts or “cousins”? Have they had thirty-seven different addresses in the past ten years? Does the student have an arrest record or a parole officer? Will I have to file grades with the court? Do they have no records at all that anyone can find? 

I have had great students and terrible students, but few regular, average, B/C-type students. Now I look at the same sort grade and home information about my new group of 9th grade advisees, and I can tell very little.

Here’s what I do know about my advisees and the school in general (so far):

They have money. They “do” school. They’ve been exposed to art, music and technology in a big way--think animation classes, smart boards and projectors coming out their ears, constant traveling back and forth to New York. Their parents have a penchant for family names (many, many II, III, and IVs). Some of them have names that suggest Asian ethnicity. None have names that suggest “ghetto” ethnicity. As and Bs are the norm—only one F and a couple C on the transcripts from middle school.

The handbook contains a different set of rules. Boys have to tuck in shirts. No “unnatural” hair color. Boys must be clean shaven and have hair above the ears.

No bells ring. Taking attendance is a “new idea” this year. Another teacher, who the other teachers all call “The Hobbit,” bemoans discipline problems in the classroom because of “the girls and their giggling.”

Howard Garner is coming to do a professional development day. Right.

I am coaching a JV quiz bowl team. There are enough interested students to form a JV team. This feels semi-ridiculous.

The copier has no operating code. There is a supply closet roughly the size of my classroom. You wander in and take whatever you need without record-keeping of any kind. The lab got a slew of the brand-new Mac Pro Quad Xeons on the day they came out. And they gave me a couple for a new student publication which I am, apparently, going to sponsor.

Students willingly eat lunch with teachers on occasion.

I’m either in heaven or totally out of my element. Perhaps a bit of both. I need a firm pinch and a rah-rah speech all at once. Yes I know. Poor, poor me. As my momma would say, “Do we need to have a little pity party?”

What is the latitude and longitude of heaven?

2. I teach in a teen movie. When the assembly ended, the students in the control booth cut on the trendy music as everyone filed out of the auditorium. It felt good. And then I thought of Beverly Hills 90210.

3. They don’t say much, my students. But they do take a lot of notes—even when I am totally rambling. I gave them a lecture about thinking for themselves instead of buying into my every syllable. I felt all Mr. Keating.

And every single child turned in a set of summer reading essays. I stared at them in disbelief as they carefully laid stacks of paper in my outstretched hand, as they said, “Thank you, Ms. Hipteacher. See you tomorrow.”

4. I sent an e-card to my old department today. The card read,” You have received the Golden Apple Award. To the most marvelous, superlative, magnificent, dedicated, caring, outstanding, Teacher in the Universe. You deserve it.
Have a great year!

I wrote:

You deserve to be treated like the royalty of the teaching profession. I wish for you a year of supportive administrators who always have your back, colleagues who respect and encourage you, and students who treat you like a Queen/King of English.

Ok, I realize that this may be unrealistic. But it should be that way, and you all deserve that kind of treatment. You all work so hard and care so much. And, frankly, I know you don't hear good things or thank yous too often.

Therefore, I hereby appoint myself your official English Department cheerleader-at-large.

Take good care of yourselves. My thoughts are with you.

Love, hipteacher

For the first time, I realize how it should be. Everywhere. All the time.

5. Um, they brought me cookies. And a card. Parents did, I mean. And an umbrella. I really hate umbrellas, but that was really freaking nice.

And then a child called me. To check to make sure he was doing his assignment correctly.

I keep pinching myself, but I’m not waking up.

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Comments

It's a different world, isn't it? I used to teach in public school, too. This year will be my 3rd in private. You're going to love it, but it has it's set of headaches, too -- which you'll discover. However, they can't touch the headaches of public school.

Dana beat me to the punch. It will have its own set of headaches. One thing about teaching at that level is the accountability will be merciless. You'll have to really buffalo the kids into thinking you are very much smarter than they are. Of we are but sometimes it takes quite an act to convey that.

Best wishes in your new job however. Certainly don't feel guilty about leaving public school. Someone has to do the private gig, why not you?

What's this about a "new school publication?" I advise high schoolers who create a newspaper and others who create a yearbook. Have done a "literary magazine," too. There are a bunch of high school advisers who help one another on the JEA listserv. Sign up!

Sounds like a dream.

O Captain! my Captain!

As educators it is important to experience various teaching settings. Perhaps this is the setting for you. Perhaps, by the end of the year, you'll have realized that you belong in public schools. Good luck and I look forward to reading about your private school experiences.

It sounds a bit like Anonymous Academy. Are there boarders? Kids calling about homework is annoying, but remember that you don't have to pick up.

Congratulations and please enjoy yourself!

HT,

Time to change your blog's tagline. ;)

I also teach at a Private School; the comment above about accountability is spot-on. Soon, the parents will be done with the start-of-year presents, and will begin demanding weekly updates on their children's progress. Then, the fun begins.

Good luck! :)

Well, it seems that you will have a comfortable position with students that are eager to learn. I actually got Pre-Ap students this year and can't believe how different they are from the "regular" students. Enjoy your new job!

Oh, I was there last year, thinking I had hit the teacher jackpot! Every situation has its pros and cons. Being supported as a teacher, especially with the things money can provide, is nice. Good luck!

Meanwhile, I'm back with the public school kids. It's a lot more paperwork, but my kids are sweet as can be. Maybe because it's the 6th grade and not the ghetto.

It would be so nice to have kids who want to learn. At the same time, those parents are paying A LOT to send their kids there. You know what that means? You'll be answering to them. And the kids might be a tad spoiled and WILL get their way.

Don't let me sound all negative. All kids, rich, poor, etc etc deserve a great education. It's hard out there. In the urban schools we crave parent involvement; in private we wish the parents would go take a vacation to a far away island and leave the teachers alone :)

I'm wondering if I can ask you a couple of questions about teaching. I'm currently in public relations (and have been for a year, not including internships, etc), which is what I went to school for, and for quite a while, I've thought about teaching. I toyed with the idea of teaching when I was younger, but at my Southern Baptist school, it was seen as a pansy major, for the girls who just wanted husbands. I can't get these thoughts out of my head that I should go back to school for my master's and become a high school teacher, but one part of me is stuck on the pay vs. doing something--meaning, I'd love to help kids learn, but the pay's pretty crappy. PR isn't fulfilling me, but I want to be able to afford sending my kids to college one day, et cetera.

Sorry if this is a lot of questions or information, but I'm really trying to figure out how to go about this. What are some of the pros and cons of teaching high school?

Thanks :)

Re: feeling guilty. I was talking to a teacher who shifted from a 'poor' school to a 'rich' school and had felt guilty that she wasn't doing her part for the kids who really needed her, but then she realized that the world needs rich kids with a conscience and compassion, so that's what she's focussed on. The kids you're teaching now will someday have power over the lives of the ones you were teaching, so remember the ripple effect of teaching and banish your guilt--you are playing an important role!

"...the world needs rich kids with a conscience and compassion. . . The kids you're teaching now will someday have power over the lives of the ones you were teaching, so remember the ripple effect of teaching and banish your guilt--you are playing an important role!"

True words, Catalin. Change comes from the top as well as through grassroots. I taught at-risk kids in public schools for three years before entering priviate ed, and I still wrestle with where my true calling rests.

Sometimes, the most subversive thing we can be is a teacher who challenges the status quo.

But then again, you already know that, HT.

Glad to see you back in the blogosphere.

The big question is:
will you still use blogs in the classroom?

Where are you? Just a hint will do? In the same part of the country?

wow!
i bumped into your blog by 'accident.'
great post- i can relate to it.

follow your passion.

faaraa

I teach at a private, rich school too. It's easy to get caught up in the perks in the beginning, but don't fool yourself. Wait until the honeymoon period's over and you have to deal with their parents.

I have been following your blog for awhile, and I tear up when I read about your teaching experiences. You sound like you have a passion for teaching as we all should. I am new to blogging, but trying to become more familiar with it. I appreciate you sharing your experiences; it helps me put a positive perspective to what I am doing as a school teacher as well.

It sounds like a private school is the ideal place to be. Unfortunately, for me to have that opportunity would mean I would have to travel about two hours each day. When I think about all the testing and accountability that is required on teachers these days, it may be worth the travel time. What instructional criteria does a private school have to meet?
AMG

I taught at a private school when my husband and I first moved to a new city. Why? None of the public schools were calling me back. I didn't think I was selling out. If anything, it was a blow to my self-esteem. Here I was, a veteran teacher with a Masters degree and a "Teacher of the Year" for my district award under my belt - and nobody was even calling me for an interview. So I took a job at a private school. The classrooms were small, the building itself was a beautiful restored mansion, and the children took school trips to London. I hated it. I hated getting 1/3 of my usual salary, less insurance benefits, and no retirement plan and that drove me insane. I wanted to teach in a public school. In my state, our teacher unions, retirement systems, insurance and other benefits are outstanding. Plus the salary for a veteran teacher is pretty nice (not great, but it's fine). I never understood how private school teachers can stand it. Is teaching at a nice school worth getting paid less and the other slights? I guess it all depends upon your priorities. To me, working in a public school is more of a sell-out move than working in a private school. Private school teachers (in my experience) love their subject and pass it on to their pupils for little benefit other than knowing they've taught a child. That's more noble to me. I couldn't do it, but I think it's noble.

Anyway, as I was working at Le Swank School de Prep, I was still sending applications and CVs to the big public school district here. I ended up finally sending my information directly to prinicpals of schools who were looking for teachers since the ordained approach wasn't working. I finally got a job in November. I gave my old school plenty of notice and lots of time to find a new teacher. I don't know if that was kind or professional or appropriate, but I do know that I needed to look out for myself and do what I know is best for me.

Anyway...no, you're not a sell-out.

I love reading other teachers' blogs. You write with great style and with enthusiasm for the profession. I feel inadequate as a blogger and a teacher!

I'm a little confused. What do you mean by a "'ghetto' ethnicity"?

I'm also confused about "ghetto ethnicity". Also it sounds like those ghetto kids are better off with someone like you tucked safely away bland, snotty rich white kids.

What is the difference between "ghetto ethnicity" versus "asian ethnicity". As a black person I get so tired of things that have to do with class status always being attributed to race.

I have worked in a poor, toothless rural white school, where there is a three tooth maximum, and the family trees do not fork. I felt it was a waste teaching all that white trash who still even though being nothing more than a blight benefited from white privilge.

I taught so many Brandilynns and Tiffanys, whose parents didn't realize "colored" was a no no.

so it's not really a race thing so much as a class thing.

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