In the Suburbs: An old-dog teacher ready to learn news tricks
You know you're really old when your children start lecturing you about jump starting your teaching career at nearly 71. But that's exactly what happened this February when we learned that charter schools like ours might not receive enough funding to keep teaching assistants and we all received notices that our positions had to be eliminated at least until summer.
My older daughter, who has been a special ed teacher for 11 years, really got on my case and said that I had been wasting far too much time convincing myself that I'd continue to be employed at the teaching assistant level. She asked me bluntly when I was going to get on the stick, fill out the Connecticut application for teaching and register for the core Praxis 1 exam.
I decided she was absolutely right and I needed to stop talking about getting certified in Connecticut (I have Illinois licensure from the dark ages -- 1966) and take a shot at it. I will be sitting for the exam on June 30.
Meanwhile, I've ordered official transcripts from my original college, Northern Illinois University near Chicago; along with transcripts from Northeastern Illinois State University in Chicago where I took 27 hours of graduate credits in English literature but never wrote the thesis; and Michigan State University where I took six undergraduate credits in journalism.
I've sent verification letters to Northern Illinois to be sure that I have it on record that I graduated from the education program in 1966 with a degree in English and that I student taught. But the most ironic verification letter will go to my first and only teaching assignment out of college -- River Trails Middle School in Mount Prospect, Ill. I say ironic, because just this past week I received an email from the current principal of that school, out of nowhere, inviting me to a 50th anniversary reunion this summer and explaining that he is trying to locate other alumni teachers and students.
I told him I'd be delighted to come, provided he found my credentials and verified that I had indeed taught there for five years. He couldn't have been more cordial. Even more ironic was that he had found me through a column I had written a couple of years ago about my reunion in Chicago with a former student, 48 years later.
In early March I really took a step forward and attended a Bridgeport Board of Education job fair.
Several of the five principals who interviewed me sounded encouraged by my efforts and even spoke about the permanent substitute route as a path to a permanent position. Apparently, some 40 current teachers were hired out of the permanent sub pool, so I filled out an application for the substitute program in Bridgeport, Source for Teachers.
I even received a call barely two weeks after the job fair from one of the local Bridgeport high schools for an almost overnight interview to fill in for a junior level high school teacher for English and creative writing. While I didn't get the job, I was so appreciative of just getting the interview.
My daughter remains very supportive and encouraging now that the wheels are in motion. She will be coaching me on the reading and writing sections of the Praxis 1, but I politely declined her help on the math front since it took 13 times for her to pass. One of our math teachers will be tutoring me in that area. My daughter was hardly offended and we had a good laugh.
The gray area for me on this credentials front will be to learn what additional course work I'll need. There's no question in my mind that I'll be required to take courses and possibly a new master's program, depending on whether any of my post-graduate English literature courses are accepted.
Several of our friends have told me I must have Alzheimer's to be getting credentialed at the ripe old age of 71. But I don't see it that way. Granted, I have a few more aches and pains than I did 49 years ago, but my energy levels are way up from the work I've been doing at the charter school I am at now. And if all works out, I could probably teach or be a permanent sub for at least another 10 years.
Stay tuned for further developments on this "old fart" odyssey. But whatever happens, I'm glad to finally be making the trip back to my education roots.
Steven Gaynes' "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com.