Friday, July 24, 2009

Red Hook

Not much of a post, but today I took a drive out to Brooklyn. I wanted to go to DUBPies in Cobble Hill. (Completely worth the trip; I picked up four pies: Thai chicken curry, steak & cheese, chicken & vegetable, and Tex Mex vegetarian. Really good stuff.) I cruised over to Steve's Authentic for a couple swingles too. It was a nice day out and I hung out at the pier, and enjoyed the sun and the flowers and just being outside. (Steve's Authentic is in an old brick warehouse on one of the piers, and you can see lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, so it was cool to just stretch my legs and walk around for a bit.) The drive home was pretty terrible - bumper to bumper all the way from the time I got on the BQE until I got off the LIE (took about an hour to get fewer than 8 miles).

Enjoy some video handiwork:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Universal Healthcare

On FaceBook, the stupid quizzes are spiraling out of control - polls that ask whether you'd vote for Obama again, whether you support Universal Healthcare, etc. I tend not to partake in the polls because, quite frankly, I find them irritating and pointless, and I don't want my profile clogged with all manner of polls that reflect the opinion I'd rather just discuss with people. It's interesting to note, though, that of the friends who have completed those two FaceBook polls in particular ("Would you vote for Obama again today?" / "Are you in favor of a government-run healthcare system?"), the responses have unilaterally been "I did not vote for him the first time" (or "no") and "no," respectively. These are mostly from self-identifying Republicans or from those who wouldn't have voted for Obama. I've begun to wonder whether the people who voted against Obama are also against universal healthcare because Obama is supporting it; I wonder if a conservative or Republican candidate had endorsed universal healthcare would garner their support.

These types of polls are an irritant because they don't allow for discussion as to why folks are against universal healthcare. I know admittedly less about such an issue than I should, so I'm doing some reading on the topic, but my initial reaction is one of support. I think it oversimplified to state that "[w]hen half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is the beginning of the end of any nation." This, to my mind, is lumping the uninsured into one category when there is so much more to the issue than that, and so many degrees and levels of assistance that need to be provided. I think it imperative to view the country as one large community in which all are entitled and deserve a basic level of care and compassion.

I could make this personal and say that I would love to be working enough that I had my healthcare provided by my employer; with unemployment hovering between nine and ten per cent, though, finding a job that provides this is difficult (especially with there being a hiring free in the New York City Department of Education). I do not want to be a burden; I do not want to have to ask for help if I needed care. And right now, that's not really a problem - no one's offering. I think there's a sense of social responsibility to care for others who cannot care for themselves. Making the distinction between those who can't take care of themselves versus those who won't take care of themselves seems to be the real issue in withholding health care and similar services.

This article states that universal health care "(a euphemism for socialized medicine) is both immoral and impractical; it violates the rights of businessmen, doctors, and patients to act on their own judgment." I would say this need not be the case.

There's a lot of detail in these arguments, and I've really only begun thinking about this issue of universal healthcare. The fact that a few friends are against it so vehemently got me to thinking about it. We do need a more comprehensive plan that covers those who really, sincerely need the help. I don't know what the answer is; maybe it's universal healthcare, and perhaps it's not, but I'm not ready to dismiss the possibility out of turn just yet. I would like to hear arguments that provide practical, implementable solutions, as opposed to just hearing why universal healthcare won't work.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Scary Application Process

For several reasons, I am bothered that there are services like those mentioned in this article. First, that's a lot of money to pay for a service that helps you get your ducks in a row when planning for and applying to college. Second, It seems to be directed at students who "need" to attend Ivy League universities, potentially on the (mistaken) presumption that if they don't attend such a university their college experience won't be worthwhile. There's a bit of false advertising in some these services that are offered by those who claim to have an inside advantage (i.e., claiming to have insider knowledge that really any teacher would have; or worse, a guaranteed acceptance). And what about students who have a genuine need of the help sorting through college information but can't afford it?

What passed through my mind, unfairly, was the suspicion that the parents who pay for these services are Ivy Leaguers themselves - and/or are very wealthy parents - who don't have much of a clue about how to guide their children through the college application process. What it takes, though, would be talking to the teachers on a regular basis - not just once a year, if that - as well as the school's guidance counselors and administration. Preparing for and applying to college isn't as difficult as some would lead you to believe, but I also recognize that my parents and grandmother, being college-educated and teachers, had a level of comfort in the application process that most students parents don't have.

Here in New York City, in 1970 CUNY schools implemented the nation's first "open admissions" policy (guaranteeing any NYC student who graduated from a NYC high school a place at a CUNY school). Even today many students are still the first in their families to go to college; many come from families who haven't even graduated from high school. When you don't know the first thing about going on to higher education, you don't know all the ins-and-outs, not only of what colleges might be looking for, but of financial aid, campus life, how to determine if a school is a good fit, etc.

I would love to see more guidance counselors at urban high schools, and I would love to see these guidance counselors specifically trained to deal with a population that could prepare these students more, either in getting them to and through college or some manner of career training program. A college degree is not synonymous with intelligence, nor is it a guarantee of success (however defined), but preparation in any form for life beyond high school is imperative. I would love to see more students have access to that training.

The programs mentioned in The New York Times just make me wary.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What "English Education" Means

I was reading this article, submitted to a community college dean, in which a reader questioned the wisdom behind getting an English Education degree - in this particular case, an M.A. in English Education. Reading the response, and a few of the comments, I realized that there is a tenuous grasp regarding what an English education degree actually is. I've encountered some confusion held by teachers at the university level who have never taught at the secondary (or primary) level. I'm not sure I agree that it's a "hybrid degree," since it tends to be geared towards those who wish to teach at the secondary level. There are a lot of overlapping certifications - even I don't know what they are are, but aside from elementary education and secondary education certifications, there are also certifications for Early Childhood, Special Education, Birth to Age X, etc. And the grades that are encompassed are dependent on the state. In New York secondary certification ensconces grades seven through 12, but you can teach grade six if you're working in a school (building) that includes grades seven and eight. In Illinois, secondary certificates are valid for students in grades six through 12. And then there are the Initial Certificates, Permanent Certificates, Provisional Certificates, Transitional Certificates, and so on. Each state has its own definitions. I can barely keep track of the requirements for my own certification.

And then there are the differences between the requirements of a teacher preparation program and an education degree. Universities offer either a teacher preparation program or a degree in education, not both. Teacher prep programs differ from school to school in terms of where they are housed; at Stony Brook Univ., while there was no Education Department, there was a Professional Education Program, although the directors of each teacher preparation program were professors in their own departments.As I did, one graduates with a degree in the subject (in my case, English), as well as teacher certification (assuming one passed all the state exams), no matter which level of student they are (undergraduate or graduate level). I figured that the training I got through a teacher education program would give me enough of a foundation when it comes to teaching, and that experience and networking will teach the rest. I'd personally rather be familiarized with subject matter: Expose me to more authors, more styles of writing, more media interpretation. I can observe how my teachers teach; I can analyze their teaching styles and methods and usurp those methods and decide what works and what doesn't.

Education degrees come at it from a different angle: There's more an emphasis on education pedagogy, and lesser emphasis on the subject matter. I suspect a lot of students who go into teaching don't necessarily consider the differences professional outcomes in choosing one degree over another: Education majors tend to stay in primary or secondary education, and with an education degree might more easily move up the hierarchical ladder (principal, superintendent, etc.), while not having that degree in education leaves one freer to move into college or university teaching. One path is not necessarily better than the other; it's a matter of professional choice and where one may want to stay. And it doesn't mean that with an education degree you can't make the jump to teaching in higher education; again, it depends on where you want to go - teacher training, for example, or adjuncting. I'm really a big fan of teachers who stay in the trenches before moving up to principal and superintendent.

Ultimately, defining an English education degree as a hybrid degree would be more apt if all English teachers, regardless of the level at which they taught, were required to take a number of education classes. This would help some teachers, and I'm sure on others it would be lost, just as it is for those of us who teacher at the primary and secondary levels. But that would be my wish: All new teachers, even those who teach at the university level, would be required to take teacher education classes - regardless of subject matter, regardless of level.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Professional Rejection

In terms of job applications, I'm being rejected by a lot of places these days. And that's fine; I understand how these things go, and while it's not exactly personal, someone else was deemed more suited/better qualified/a better match, etc. I've gotten some very politely worded letters in the mail from schools and colleges stating that the positions for which I've applied have been filled, with no real reason given. I really do understand that applying for teaching positions by nature is competitive, especially for English and writing teachers, and especially given the job market.

Being that I've broadened my job search, there's a whole new range of employment to be rejected from. However, this afternoon was a new one for me: I was one of 69 CC'd recipients who was e-mailed a rejection notice that simply said: "Thank you for your interest in our open position. The committee has reviewed your materials and determined that the position is not appropriate for you at this time." No personalization, and the phraseology itself was a bit odd. The only thing I can determine from this e-mail is that the position would have been at a Christian church. In no way can my religious background be ascertained from my resume, so I'm curious as to how the position would not be appropriate. (In very specific situations I mention having volunteered as a catechist for elementary school-aged children at a previous parish, but I mention this only when applying for a teaching job that might involve younger children.)

In any case, I can't even remember which position it was I applied for, but since the position was not appropriate I suppose it doesn't matter. One rejectee responded to the entire list, asking to be kept in mind for future positions. To his credit, the fellow who initially e-mailed the rejection notice to everyone realized what had happened about 45 minutes later and sent an apology - via BCC.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Teacher Burnout

Both my parents have been teaching for decades, although Mom is planning on retiring within the next couple of years; Dad took early retirement and has been retired for a several years now. I think one of the reasons he took early retirement was because he just started really disliking the job - not just the administrative minutiae that most people don't know teachers have to face, but the kids too; he started disliking teaching itself, and the kids he was facing every day. There were a number of years that the administrative stuff just drove him up the proverbial wall, but teaching was still a lot of fun, and he loved the kids, so he could put up with the nonsense. Once he could no longer find the joy in teaching or the relationships he had with his students, he hung up his slide ruler. (Dad was a math teacher.)

I've recently begun to read a couple teaching blogs: 
one by my new friend Maria in Rome (because at heart I'm really nosy, and I like to see other teachers' materials), who also has a personal blog; a former classmate's girlfriend's blog (she teaches in Brooklyn); and a veteran teacher's blog. I've only  just discovered the veteran teacher's blog, so I've only read the most recent blog entries, but this entry caught my attention especially, because she speaks about the extent to which she has begun to dislike teaching. I think this was the first time I had considered what I would do if I discovered I disliked teaching, and disliked it to the point where it was soul-crushing. I'm not entirely sure what I would do. I'm more prepared to be unemployed than for the possibility that I'd develop an aversion to teaching.

I thought of former classmates who did exceptionally well in high school, went to college at 18, graduated at 22, and began teaching the following September, having had no other full-time professional experiences, who might conceivably teach for the next 40 years without interruption. (I only occasionally get twinges because of their having gotten jobs right away.)

I thought of myself, and others, who worked before going back to college, had to discern through trial and error what they would like to do professionally. I question whether I would become burned out after teaching for 30 years: Will I get burned out before that? If so, how much sooner? Teacher burnout is a big deal; I don't have any numbers, but occasionally I hear things like the average amount of time it takes for teachers to become burned out is between five and seven years. It goes hand in hand with teacher recruitment and teacher retention - how to recruit teachers who will stay.

What if I don't actually get a teaching job? I'm not being a pessimist. There's a hiring freeze in New York City right now, in effect until the end of the summer; new positions can only be filled from within. Think about that:
There's a hiring freeze in the largest school district in the country. And it's damn near impossible to get a teaching job in Long Island unless you know someone. I do not know anyone here, not having any family in the area, not having gone to any of the local schools.

I'd be happy to get a job within a related field, like directing a writing center or tutoring center, even an academic coordinator or something along those lines; I have a background in writing centers and I love that type of work. I can't remain unemployed simply because I can't find a teaching job, which is why I've broadened my job search. I'm actually thankful I worked before I went back to college, because I have a resume that illustrates a skill set that isn't based on summer work or inconsequentialities. I had a life, such as it was, before college. But I
love teaching writing, especially at the college level, like I've not enjoyed any other previous job, and I think I'm good at it. I think I could be even better.

I'm just not sure what I'd do if I discovered I hated teaching. So much of it depends on the age of the students (you can hate middle school but love high school; hate college but love middle school); where the school is, geographically; even the specific culture of an individual school can affect a teacher. All these are potential deterrents for new teachers who hadn't considered such variables, thinking all variables are the same, that they'd  love to teach any students in any location at any level.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Lifecasting: Episode 1 - The Beginning

I enjoy being late to the proverbial party, and I thought I'd give lifecasting a try. May not be regular, definitely won't be interesting, but what the heck. We'll see where this goes, if anywhere.

I had some initial trouble getting TalkShoe to do its thing - my file took a couple of days to upload, and I couldn't get anyone to tell me why, which is the exact opposite of helpful and convenient, but on the flipside one can allegedly subscribe via iTunes (thanks to their Submit a Podcast feature), so more on that when I see how things work. For now, you can listen here, over at my TalkShoe page, and/or subscribe via iTunes.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4th

How I spent my holiday weekend, in a spiffy video that I shot and edited, effects, music, and all:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Made A List

I'm not planning on applying to doctoral programs for awhile but I am keeping a few programs in mind. Although I'm not likely to apply to all these schools, I want to bookmark them for comparative purposes; these are some of the programs I'm interested in (in alphabetical order, because that's how I roll) :