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My Next School

a/k/a So Beggars Can Be Choosers?

My work life has never seen so much upheaval. I have resigned my current district, effective the end of the school year, but until my fiancée finds her first post-grad job, I won't know my next postal code, much less if the schools there have openings for lanky math teachers.

These circumstances, which include budget cuts and statewide layoffs1, would find 21-yo Dan beneath a desk clutching his knees but 25-yo Dan is somewhat enamored of the chaos. Moreover, due to an admixture of experience and arrogance, for the first time in my employment history, I will be interviewing my employers.

As much to reckon my own thoughts as to assist other job-seekers, in descending order of importance, my employment criteria are:

  1. a faculty which sees student failure as clear indication of school failure. I want to work with people whose first reaction to below-average common assessment results is, "how can I learn from my colleagues?" not, "the assessment was invalid because I'm pretty sure I know a little something about teaching."
  2. a district-level professional development department. My small district has been so great in so many ways, but I have missed delirious fun like this for far too long.
  3. block scheduling. I'm not sure I can go back to the rapid rhythm of hour-long classes.
  4. a math department stocked with teachers young, old, and everywhere in between. The next youngest teacher in my current department is fifteen years my senior with two kids. I dig all my coworkers but, in many ways, we don't relate.
  5. a central math office to better connect with my coworkers.
  6. autonomy in how I assess my students. Because of this, I mean.
  7. a homeroom/advisory period, which my school is instating just as I resign.
  8. veterans who step up and take the tough preps for new teachers. This isn't self-serving. Lump me into the veterans and give me three preps, fine, but I want to work with people who treat new teachers better than an expendable, renewable commodity, who understand the most remedial classes need the best teachers.
  9. a deep paper budget. Not because I'm huge on handouts, but because I assess constantly and write much of my own curriculum.
  10. differentiated algebra, with placement determined by more than a middle school teacher's impression of a student's ability, a subjective measurement which shamefully shoehorned some brilliant students (however averse to homework) into my remedial math this year.
  11. regular articulation with feeder middle schools, so we can tell them to teach fractions better so they can tell their feeder elementary schools to teach fractions better.
  12. software for analyzing student achievement data.
  13. a digital projector.
  14. regular, district-sponsored time for department collaboration.
  15. my own room.
  16. a salsa bar in the cafeteria.
  17. 1:1 laptops.

There are distractions, of course. I need a job where I live and die by the strength of my work. Teaching is not that job but it has too much yet to teach me to leave it. As long as I am a teacher, then, and until further notice, this is the list by which I judge all applicants.

What have I forgotten? What have I misprioritized?


  1. Perhaps you heard about our little real estate whoopsie.

42 Responses to “My Next School”

  1. on 09 May 2008 at 5:44 amken

    How would the interview process afford you the opportunity to determine the pulse of the faculty? In my small part of the world, faculty members do not take part in new teacher interviews.

    Would you treat your employment search like a senior seeking out the ‘right’ college? Would you ask for time to observe, meet with, the faculty of each potential school?

    You’re spot-on in wanting to work w/ a group of educators who carry around mirrors rather than a group of teacher who shine spotlights in any direction except at themselves, but gleaning this type of faculty mind-set seems like a weighty, tricky task for a would-be employee.

    But if anyone can find out…

  2. on 09 May 2008 at 5:58 amJohn Pederson

    Kittens, rainbows, unicorns.

  3. on 09 May 2008 at 6:03 amMark Barnes

    Dan, your exuberance and refreshing naivetee always amaze me. I, too, would love to have most of what you desire, except for the paper, of course, since I do 90 percent of my stuff on the Internet. The salsa bar sounds especially interesting. Sadly, most districts will tell you they’ll provide most of your wishes, only to disappoint you when you sign on the dotted line.

    You see, my 15 years in four districts tells me that most school administrators are self-serving. Case in point: I recently received a Smart Board, only to have administration tell me that they can’t install it now, because we failed a school levy and it would send a bad message to the community. Scratching your head? I too puzzled over this one.

    I have done more for technological advancement in my school the past two years than most schools in my state (Ohio) have ever done, yet administration turns up its collective noses, because it didn’t sanction my work from the start and, presumably, doesn’t want parents to view the administration as not being “in the know.” A local TV station was even denied a story about my Paperless Classroom, because administrators might get upset, because they didn’t initiate the story.

    So, my URL, http://www.barnesclass.com, is blocked (I have my students access it through a backdoor link, which I had approved a long time ago, before my class site existed).

    Anyway, back to your interviews. I only wish you and your willingness to be a great teacher the best. I know I sound cynical, but I think I’m being realistic when I say you can only find a district that offers all of the technology and in-house support you desire and throw out the rest. Do all you can to influence the faculty around you with your own vigor; I’ve had some success with this approach.

    Oh, and as for the salsa bar, I suggest you bring a jar of your own and keep it in the faculty lounge fridge.

    I’d say, Keep your chin up, but I know you will!

  4. on 09 May 2008 at 6:10 amShelley

    @Mark sorry to hear that you’re in what sounds like a pretty non-supportive environment

    To that end, Dan, how about focusing on the leadership qualities you’d look for at the top of the building’s food chain? You might not be able to assess the pulse of the faculty from outside the building, but my sense is that it is sometimes quite possible to figure out what “the scoop” is on the leadership. (Pro-professional development, kind to tech-geek wanna be’s, etc. etc.)

    Warm wishes as you prepare to embark on your next adventure!

  5. on 09 May 2008 at 6:25 amJenny

    I have to agree with Shelley that the administration should be high up on your list. I think principals can make or break a school.

    I love the thought about veterans taking on loads to help out new teachers. I’ve seen veterans go both ways on this and been either extremely impressed or really ticked off. I would guess that’s tough to see before you really get into a school though.

    I’m surprised the digital projector isn’t higher up on your list.

    Finally, I’d love to see more thinking about fractions. As an elementary school teacher it is something I struggle with teaching because the concept is so tough for my kids (who are gifted and talented fifth graders, so I’ve got it pretty easy). It would make my day to have discussions with middle school and high school math teachers about how to better teach kids this.

  6. on 09 May 2008 at 7:12 amDina

    This reminds me of the delightful way the author Elizabeth Gilbert finds the best restaurant in any given town, even ones where she doesn’t speak the language. She asks shop keepers, old ladies feeding pigeons, taxi drivers, and random people on buses. I tried this myself in New Orleans and it works, categorically.

    Don’t interview your employers, Dan– or rather, don’t just interview your employers. Have lunch with the kids. Interview them. Ask who the best teachers in the buildings are. Seek those teachers out. And interview *them*.

  7. on 09 May 2008 at 8:10 amRick

    In that list, what items are negotiable and what items are deal breakers? (Already assuming, of course, #16 and #17 are negotiable…)

  8. on 09 May 2008 at 9:22 amChris Lehmann

    11 out of 17.

    Just saying, California boy.

  9. on 09 May 2008 at 9:42 amBill Fitzgerald

    Hello, Dan,

    Arrive early for your interview — not conspicuously early, but early enough so that you need to wait in a public place for 15-20 minutes. Be a fly on the wall and watch the interactions that occur in that space. Who talks to you? Who doesn’t? You can get a pretty good sense of the tenor of a school by observing interactions.

    Talk with support personnel — they are the folks who keep the school running, and can tell you more than most folks, as they interact with a broad swath of stakeholders.

    Google the administrators, and the school, and the district. See what you can find.

    In your interview, ask when you will be talking with students of the school. In all likelihood, you won’t be, but you can get a sense of their attitude toward kids by how they react to the question.

    Oh, yeah, and add # 18: I want a pony :)

    Good luck with the search — wherever you end up, I look forward to hearing of your continued adventures.

    Cheers,

    Bill

  10. on 09 May 2008 at 9:56 amdan

    Hm. Good lookin’ on a number of fronts.

    @Rick, the top two are dealbreakers. I would hate to miss out on too many of the next ten-or-so .

    @Shelley & Jenny, a strong administration is all bound up in #1. I’ll need to know what they’ve done recently to enhance their school’s culture, both from a student and faculty POV.

    @Dina & @Ken, agreed, these criteria lend themselves best to an on-site inspection, two hours on the ground, at least. However, the likely event (given my personal and statewide upheaval) is a hasty interview in late-July with fingers tightly crossed in mid-August. Sucks.

    @the cynics, I dunno how mythic or unlikely the school is that meets these criteria. One thing’s for damn sure, though, is that I’m never gonna find it if I can’t first list the criteria.

  11. on 09 May 2008 at 10:01 amdan

    @Chris, at whichever point Philly decides to relocate itself to the West Coast, count me in. That’s a promise.

    @Bill, good advice. Bet you were a tough applicant to pin down for more than a few interviewers. Yep. Kind of an odd fit for teaching, I reckon. I forget: how’s teaching going for you nowadays?

  12. on 09 May 2008 at 10:12 amBenjamin Baxter

    Try Clovis.

  13. on 09 May 2008 at 10:15 amdan

    Ew.

  14. on 09 May 2008 at 11:04 amKate Olson

    Wow, we posted about resigning for next year on the same day, crazy stuff. I’m striking out for myself now rather than looking for a new school, but I admire your determination to find a place that you love. I’m probably rather jaded already in my relative youth, but once an institution has more than 10 employees…………forget it, I’ll stop with that. I think all of your wants/needs (salsa bar could probably be optional :-) ) are excellent and I wish you luck with the job search.

    Re: critics – you SHOULD list your criteria and you shouldn’t settle than anything less than happiness (unless you have kids and aren’t able to put food on the table, that is………I guess there’s a point when happiness doesn’t come first!).

    Good luck!

  15. on 09 May 2008 at 11:21 amScott Elias

    Good luck, Dan.

    As has been noted above, whether there are teaching faculty in on the interviews or not you can tell a whole lot about the culture by the administrator(s) with whom you speak as well as the questions.

    Colorado is a beautiful place, my friend! I hired three new math teachers in the last year – two under 30, one mid-30s. There’s always room for more!

  16. on 09 May 2008 at 11:56 amChristian Long

    We’ve had this conversation before, Dan. It won’t surprise you when I simply answer, “Independent schools.”

    Healthy debates/issues of service, resources and prestige aside, I’ve am convinced that what independent schools do best is to provide a working atmosphere that is modeled precisely by the code of professional expectations you highlighted above. I can’t — for instance — think of a single independent school interview process I’ve gone through that didn’t integrate every one (minus the salsa) of your priorities as literals or very-close-to’s.

    As an public school kid/grad myself, this was a hard choice earlier in my career to embrace because I was convinced I was selling out in terms of the kids…and philosophy. And every time I’ve taught in public schools, I’ve adored the kids and adored the related complications/challenges.

    But if I were — today — looking at a sustained, rigorous, innovative, professionally centered culture that a) supported and b) expected all interview candidates to utilize such a wish-list (as you laid out), I’d put my resume in the independent school hopper…just as I’d look at innovative charter and magnet schools inside the public landscape.

    You can always turn down an offer (or three) just as you can always back-track back to the public sector after some exploration, but I’d definitely look at at any NAIS schools within 60 commuting min of the Bay Area (or wherever ‘home’ will be for the 2 of you) as you consider this current job search.

    That being said, enjoy your remaining weeks in your current district/classroom with your kids…and best of luck to you and the missus as the wedding/move approaches. Lots of great stuff coming your way.

    Cheers!

  17. on 09 May 2008 at 12:21 pmPaul B

    You might also want to give some thought to the program being used in middle school where you are looking.

    Kids coming from a fuzzy program will bring different skills to the plate than those coming from more traditional programs. Not a deal breaker certainly, but something to throw into the mix.

    I teach in a fuzzy program and my preference for a high school (which I’m looking at as we speak) will be one that is not being fed fuzzy kids.

  18. on 09 May 2008 at 1:52 pmGlenn

    Dan,
    Move to Reno. Your SO can go to UNR, and I can tell you that many of the things you ask for on your list are present in my school.
    In fact, we are rewriting our Alg 1-2 (first year) curriculum to be more in line with what you are doing.
    I have the freedom to rewrite my alg 3-4 (second year) class to be more in line with what you are doing. All of our math teachers in my school have SmartPanels with projectors, and we even have a few portable smartpanels for use in the classroom by learners.

    Bottom line, there are administrators who think like you are asking. My school has just been named as a Statewide Model school for the state of NV, and we have a chance at being nominated as a national model school. Why?

    Because of your point number 1. It is the driving voice behind what we do.

  19. on 09 May 2008 at 2:45 pmDamian

    I haven’t resigned yet, but I’m on the hunt, too. I’m taking the same approach as you – interviewing the districts as much as they’re going to interview me.

    Best of luck as you hit the interview trail. I haven’t had to do this for nearly a decade, so I’ll be a bit rusty, but if you want to share war stories and commiserate in

  20. on 09 May 2008 at 3:31 pmMagistra

    Thank you everyone who previously commented for reminding me at the end of a long week with plenty of frustration that I’ve found a school in a district that brings together 5th-9th grade math teachers to work together, that also paid me to participate in a lesson study team, that I’ve got colleagues who designed the master schedule so no new teacher had more than 2 preps, and that has weekly time built into the schedule for teachers to work together. I needed to be reminded that this week isn’t the only perspective.

    And maybe I’ve just drunk the kool-aid, but I’d look for either a small school or a school with small learning communities. One of the most powerful tools I have is working with teachers who work with the same students. Not similar students – the same students. I’d rate that over a strong department (but that’s probably partly because my only experience is with a dysfunctional department).

  21. on 09 May 2008 at 3:47 pmdan

    @Kate, like I mentioned briefly at your place, yours is the kind of decision that’d have me hiding from the world beneath furniture. Good luck. Exhilarating stuff, there.

    @Christian, poking at NAIS schools right now. While I suspect you’re right, that, on the main, teachers are better supported at independent schools, I think I’m simply too enamored with this free and appropriate public education system of ours to leave.

    @several others, thanks for the employment advice, however self-interested it might be. I think I’m simply too enamored of California, a state which frankly hates its residents, to leave.

  22. on 09 May 2008 at 4:01 pmJoanne

    I’m just glad you haven’t chucked the whole thing- that’s great news! Our kids need teachers like you. I’m in the hunt also for many of the same reasons. For selfish reasons I hope you maintain his site- I need it.

  23. on 09 May 2008 at 6:16 pmKate

    just a couple things…I like the idea of interviewing kids and talking to teachers. insist on it. they’re not worthy of you if they refuse.

    re: veteran teachers and scheduling – I’d talk to whoever makes the ultimate scheduling decisions (at my school, math department IS) about their philosophy. one thing I like about the way we do business is that every math teacher is expected to teach one, and no more, lower level (slower paced, whatever jargon you prefer) course, seniority be damned. most of us have one honors course to boot. new teachers don’t have to ride bitch and don’t (usually) bail after a few years from the strain of it all. it makes for a less stressful work environment all around.

    having some colleagues of your own demographic/generation is nice. it makes work more fun when you see your friends there. it alleviates stress when you can vent about kids, parents, and administrators at a bar or each other’s houses once in a while.

  24. on 09 May 2008 at 6:48 pmDamian

    Stupid semi-HTML code ate my comment. Sorry.

  25. on 09 May 2008 at 6:49 pmJackieB

    I too am glad there is a “next school”. I’d add a math department that has a clearly defined goal/plan/vision. That can be clearly communicated.

    The deep paper budget is one we’re struggling with right now. It was suggested we put assessments up on the overhead/projector and have the students copy down the problems in order to save paper. *sigh*

  26. on 09 May 2008 at 6:51 pmChris Lehmann

    Dan,

    I was out in Portland last week and fell in love with Oregon… so hey, you never know. :)

  27. on 09 May 2008 at 6:53 pmClint Hamada

    @Christian – I know exactly how you feel. During my first (and only) public school stint – at the high school i graduated from, no less! – I always said I would never work at a private school. I’m selling out, the public school kids are the ones that need me, blah, blah, blah. But then I moved overseas and eventually started working at independent, private, international schools. I first rationalized this by saying there was no other choice: I couldn’t work for a public school in Japan, Tanzania, Vietnam… But then I realized, these are schools that give me support, freedom, diversity…

    @dan – I would move #5 (a central office) higher up the list. This is integral in planning, sharing of best-practice, and just general collegiality. If you have this, then I feel you can scratch off #14. #13 (digital projector) and #15 (your own room) are pretty damned important as well.

    Maybe this is included in your first criterion, but I would add “members of the department who are like-minded, either in philosophy, practice, or both.”

  28. on 09 May 2008 at 7:19 pmjeffreygene

    dan: looks like you’ve got lots of edublogopeeps wishing you well / coaxing you this way or that. and, as much as i want to add my opinion to the mix…

    i’ll just wish you wisdom & peace of mind about your decision. thanks for sharing your thought process with us!

    cheers.

  29. on 09 May 2008 at 8:06 pmQ

    I think I’m simply too enamored with this free and appropriate public education system of ours to leave

    Thank god. It’s always nice to meet a teacher who is both a) not brainwashed into the cult of bleeding heart public schoolteacher martyrdom and b) strongly reluctant to abandon public schools.

    As inspiring and undeniably effective as independent schools can be (truly), public schools remain where the motivated rank and file teacher can do the most good, in my opinion. Of course, I am blessed with a prodigious capacity for emotional compartmentalization that makes the many trying aspects of public service immeasurably easier.

    I think I’m simply too enamored of California, a state which frankly hates its residents, to leave.

    Trust that instinct (both of them). I strongly regret leaving, although it certainly engendered an appreciation for what I had given up. But I shall return. Sooner or later.

    I was out in Portland last week and fell in love with Oregon… so hey, you never know.

    Beautiful city. But there’s no place like home.

  30. on 09 May 2008 at 10:04 pmBenjamin Baxter

    Clovis is in California, though in one of the hot, muggy and polluted corners of our fair state.

  31. on 10 May 2008 at 7:10 amRich

    Just got in from our 8th grade class trip to Washington, so I’m a little late joining this conversation…. but I’d like to hear more about two items:

    #3 (block scheduling) — I think that I’ve known that you teach on a block schedule, but what sort of block are you all on? Our middle school has been on an A/B block for years, such that I will see a given section of students for 90 minutes on Monday, and then I’ll see them again on Wednesday, etc. Next year we’re abandoning the block to go back to 50 minute traditional periods, and I’m actually glad. If I’d had my 8th grade Pre-Algebra class this past Thursday (of course instead I was feeling vertigo at the top of the Washington Monument, but I mean on a regular Thursday), I wouldn’t see them again until this coming Monday — four days later. That’s pretty rough on the continuity and we’ve felt that it makes for big gaps. And then when we have a three-day weekend, the gap jumps to five days.

    Second item, related to your #10 (differentiated algebra). I wholeheartedly agree that we need to differentiate better, although I’m at a small school where that’s even tougher. But my question is really about how to best assess a student’s readiness, since I guess that I’m one of those middle school teachers who must pass along our impression of a student’s readiness. I definitely agree that I sometimes miss the target, but we do use the Orleans-Hanna test, which I believe is very widely used. I’ve seen some students who scored 50% on that test but who excel in Algebra, and students who scored in the mid-80′s who don’t. Can you or anyone else help familiarize me with some other good assessments for Algebra readiness?

    I like most all of your other items, but these two particularly caught my eye.

  32. on 10 May 2008 at 8:01 amdan

    @Baxter, I guess I’ll just say once for the record that I’m trying to stay as far as I can out of the valley. Nah’mean? Go’bless.

    @Rich, we’re on a similar block. Maybe the same. It’s all/A/B/A/B. The gap has never struck me like it does you but perhaps in high school study skills are stronger, retention a little more natural.

    I would prefer a good teacher’s recommendation of a student’s abilities over a single assessment’s but a single assessment is far preferable to receiving some of these kids into my remedial math for a) being inveterate discipline problems, b) not doing their homework, c) being discipline problems, or a number of reasons which have nothing to do with how much math they know.

    Where’s your feeder high school, Rich? They have a nursing job for my fiancée nearby? I’m on my way.

  33. on 10 May 2008 at 12:39 pmDan Greene

    Hey Dan,

    If you are going to be in the bay area still, we have openings at DCP. I can’t remember what your opinion of charter schools is – but if you’re interested in visiting, let me know.

  34. on 10 May 2008 at 1:15 pmdan

    Thanks for the connect.

  35. on 10 May 2008 at 5:26 pmRich

    You do realize that I’m pretty far from your beloved west coast, right? We have our own west coast here in Florida but the surf there is pretty nonexistent. As for high schools that we feed, there are three major public high schools that our students go to (and a variety of other public and private ones) — since we’re independent we don’t really fall within a single high school attendance zone. And as for hospitals for a nursing position, I live about four blocks from our largest hospital complex, where one of my best friends happens to be a vice president (for development, but heck, a v.p. is a v.p.).

    And I’d actually prefer a grits bar in our cafeteria, but I don’t see that coming anytime soon. Before your readers who live in the real Deep South complain, Orlando (and most all of peninsular Florida) definitely doesn’t qualify as the Deep South so the grits thing is really more of my personal preference. Now if you get up into the Panhandle of our fair state, that’s another region altogether.

    But now that I think more about it, a grits bar would be awesome; something like a baked potato bar but without the foil wrappers.

  36. on 13 May 2008 at 4:54 amGreg Farr

    Dan,

    If you’re anywhere close to postal codes 75050 or 76117, I hope you’ll call.

    If I had an opening, I’d try to snag you so fast, you’d have whiplash.

  37. on 13 May 2008 at 4:57 amdan

    Thanks, man, obliged.

  38. [...] My hesitance precipitated a good discussion of the school’s advantages and disadvantages for a new teacher (each of which I detailed, however elliptically, earlier this year). [...]

  39. on 12 Jul 2008 at 3:46 pmRich

    OK, I’m just curious — in light of your recent revelation that you’re staying put, how many of your criteria (above) will you get? Looks like you get the homeroom period (#7) after all….

  40. on 13 Jul 2008 at 8:59 amRick

    Just an update: My district is implementing #14 this year. We’re excited about it, with weekly collaboration meetings, in addition to several times a week that grade levels have common preps. That’s something is impossible in high schools, but is really important at the elementary level.

  41. on 13 Jul 2008 at 11:35 amGlenn

    @Rick,

    I don’t think it is impossible at all at the high school level. Our freshman math, English and biology teachers are all teamed, so every freshman (ideally, a few slip through the cracks) have the same team teachers. We make time for the teams to meet independently of the departments, so they can discuss their own small group of learners.

    Also, in our departments, we meet once a month in content areas (Alg 1, Alg 2, Geometry, Precalc/Trig, and “other”). This has really helped our horizontal alignment, and once a month we meet to discuss vertical alignment.

    We actually have really close and supportive group of teachers, and I think the different ways we meet forces us to really think of ‘the other guy’ when we do planning.

  42. on 13 Jul 2008 at 3:14 pmdan

    @Rick: good question. At the time I resigned my district, there were some deficiencies. I’m kinda loathe to point out which, though, I will say it met only one of the top five, and that this list directed my employment negotiations to the number.

    I only signed back on after realizing I’d underestimated my principal and the part I could play in his game plan for next year.

    We’ll see.