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After several months of temping and grinding out the workweeks in your typical office slob job, a school district has finally hired me as their newest teacher of social studies! I can hardly contain my excitement as the prospects of teaching the movers and shakers of tomorrow spring to life! It’s going to be fun.

And a little scary too.  Although I gained a lot of independence during my student teaching, it’s a little frightening that I’ll be commanding my own classroom, with my own rules and expectations, and my own students. I’ll be the final decision-maker in those four walls with 30+ desks; there will be no one to veto my decisions, no one else I could defer important decisions until he made the final call. I’ll be on my own. As you can tell, I’m a bit nervous.

I do take solace, however, in the vast number of teachers who start the day and do survive to see the end of it. Then they get up again and do it all over again. It’s a bit reassuring that this major endeavor I’m embarking on is about to occur.

Today I started organizing some of my old plans. I will be teaching US History II–which starts from approximately the Gilded Age to the present day–and since I have taught that before I have some ideas. I will also be teaching World Cultures to freshman, both of which I’m new at it.

But I guess the administrators in the school saw something in me. However, this isn’t a tenure-track position; the customary teacher will be on maternity-leave. Still I’m happy to have the opportunity and hopefully I’ll pick up some teaching tricks along the way.

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Talk to any professional educator in the United States today and you will hear endless gripes about underperforming students, helicopter parents, and unsympathetic and detached administrators. What is noticeably lacking (at least noticeable to me, anyway) in this discourse is a vital question: In a technologically hyper-connected 21st century, where does morality fit and, how does one achieve–as what the ancient Greeks called–the good life?

Tensions between teenagers and adults are timeless. Ancient Roman parents quipped about their undisciplined and spontaneous teenage children just as their American counterparts do. The increased relationships between parent and child, however, have never been closer. Moms and dads are more likely to act less “authoritarian” and more “collaborative;” in other words, parents are more likely to be their children’s best friends. Just like the show “Gilmore Girls”, where mother Lorelai and and daughter Rori share every thought and whim, parents have developed a much closer bond with their offspring.

Is this new bond healthy? Today’s teenagers, however, are less likely to act like the responsible Rori but parents are more likely to blindly defend their child. After all, today’s parents grew up not to trust anyone over 30; teachers were seen as antiquated curmudgeons who were concerned more with discipline than education. More than any other generation, today’s parents best understand teenage desire for rebellion.

Teenagers also understand teen angst but instead of serving as a collaborative point its a stumbling block. Part of adolescence is rebelling against authority and in the classroom teachers represent that authority. Parents today can relate to their children because they grew up with James Dean, Holden Caufield, and David Lee Roth. It’s what I’d like to refer to as “I tortured the teacher, I turned out okay” syndrome. But did those parents turn out okay?

Anyway, I’ve digressed. With all the focus on standardized testing and mastering content, how do we get our students to understand what it means to be ethical? What is the “right thing” in 2008? Have ethics changed or do they remain timeless? Does advanced communication–where an individuals can instantly communicate with one another–break down barriers that would lead to conflict, or do they speed up the process? Does a 21st century educational system need to require an independent ethics curriculum or should ethics be inserted throughout coursework? These are questions that I’ll seek to explore in further blog installments.

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It’s been awhile since I’ve last updated this blog. From January to early May, I’ve been consumed with the transformative exercise known as student teaching. At a fairly white, suburban high school in culturally-deprived northern New Jersey, I taught American history to juniors, seniors (my high school was unique in that it required a fourth year of social studies whereas the state only requires three) and–in my elective course called American History Through Film–sophomores and even freshman. So its fair to say that I experienced a well-rounded student teaching internship.

Initally student teaching can be brutal. As a not-yet-rookie teacher (education professionals still contend that the first year of teaching is the most difficult) you don’t know what you are doing. You try some things and they either work or they don’t. One particular physics teacher gave me some pertinent advice: “If you’re able to execute one good lesson a week, you’re ahead of the game.”

I’m not sure if I delivered a good lesson each week. Perhaps I did, but I certainly survived with a more fundamental grasp of what it’s like teaching in today’s public schools.

If I were to advise education majors who are about to emark in student teaching, I would give the following advice:

1. Plan, Plan, Plan. And then Plan. This cannot be stressed enough. My cooperating teacher decided to throw me into the fire quickly; consequently I did not have enough time to create any new ideas. I found myself planning the night before, especially into the wee early morning hours.

2. Be Flexible to Deviate from Said Plan. You have to plan just so you can deviate from it. And you will deviate from it. Students will ask you questions and you might go off on a sidebar. You might realize that the beautifully created activity takes more than the 40 minutes for which you planned.

3. Seek Advice From Everyone Who Will Give It. I was lucky to have such a welcoming and inspirational social studies department. Everyone was tremendously supportive and offered advice whenever I asked for it. Seek out other members from your department. Also consult teachers from other disciplines–I asked for help from English to Spanish to physics teachers.

4. Don’t Take This Too Seriously. This is advice that for the great majority of my fifteen-week experience I didn’t follow. It wasn’t until after spring break that I found that I could relax. Once I became comfortable in the classroom environment, it was time to go! Enjoy the kids and they will enjoy you back! Relax! Have fun! Experiment. This is where you can discover yourself as a teacher.

In later installments I’ll be writing more on this subject but now that my student teaching experience is finished I’m off to find a job. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

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It’s been quite awhile since my last post but I’ve returned! Here’s what kept me busy these past several months:

student teaching!

From mid January to early May, I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time student teaching in a northern New Jersey suburban high school. I taught American history and an American history through film course. It was both an exhilarating and challenging experience. Now I’m in the process of looking for a job. Wish me luck!

By the way, I expect to update this blog more frequently now that I have the time to do so.

Wish me luck!

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Today’s high schools mostly focus on academic achievement and extracurriculars such as athletics and various social clubs. Course content is conventional and subject-specific: language arts, history, science, mathematics, and of course P.E. A school in Germany, however, is adding another class requirement: happiness.

“‘We want to teach contentment, self-confidence and personal responsibility,’ the school’s director Ernst Fritz-Schubert, told reporters….”

With the popularity of positive psychology and self-help books such as The Secret, I hope this turns out to be a trend in American public education. Too many adolescents are depressed, lonely, and seek fulfillment through reckless behavior in alcohol and drugs. After all, high school is where adolescents spend most of their time–shouldn’t high school teach them out to live a happy life?

Most coursework fulfills deep subject-specific content. Students learn Newtonian mechanics and optics in physics, quadratic equations in algebra, and the causes and effects of the Civil War in US history. The vast majority of the information taught in secondary education will be forgotten, but the arguments for continuing the subject-heavy curriculum are that it will help build character, virtue, and essentially give them the tools to make sound decisions. These same arguments can be made for building happiness—or positive psychology—into the mainstream curriculum.

Although we bombard the students with plenty of subject-specific information to help them create choices, we don’t teach students how to effective make decisions from those choices. A happiness-based curriculum will help students make choices by figuring out their own fulfillment. This, of course, is a lifelong progression but the foundation needed on how to make those choices should start in public education.
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