What to expect in grad school

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So what does it mean to be “highly qualified?”

The Every Student Succeeds Act (No Child Left Behind’s big brother) got rid of the law requiring all teachers to be “highly qualified” (a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in the content you teach & teaching certification), BUT the new law lets states decide on their own definition of an “effective teacher.” Some states will bend the definition for areas of high need, while others require a master’s degree to even get in the door. Many states haven’t even updated their websites to tell us what their definition of “effective teacher” now is. See Virginia for example. So if you want to teach, you need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in your content area and a teaching certification (in most states) and the addition of a master’s in many others.

College here we come..

The classes pile up on top of practicums, observations, and courses in your content area. At times it feels like they’re throwing more work at you for no reason other than to see if you can handle it. They are.

A professor of mine in graduate school, the venerable Margo Figgins at The University of Virginia, admitted she gave us more work than otherwise necessary because that is what teaching is like: there are no days when you can just sit behind a computer and pretend to work.

Teachers are “on” every day. We plan at least 180 days’ worth of lessons for about six hours of active teaching a day (which varies depending on the level). That means teachers are planning around 1,080 hours of lessons each year. How long does it take to plan a lesson? That depends on you, but streamline that process (keep reading to learn how) because that’s just the planning, not the actual teaching, or grading, or meetings, so all that work that gets piled on during graduate school is teaching more than just theory. It’s teaching time management and stress management. (A reminder why teaching is extra awesome?)

Figgins also gave me the best advice I received in graduate school. She drew my attention to the fact that she couldn’t possibly thoroughly read, grade and reflect on all of the work we did. It was our job to figure out what was most important and focus most of our energy on those assignments. Those assignments usually being ones that would directly affect us once we were out in the classrooms of our local community.

It blew my overachieving mind to think that I wouldn’t do my absolute best on everything, but she was right. I learned how to “do school” all over again and we, as teachers, must be experts at “doing school” and teaching our students how to do the same.

We need to figure out what is most important and focus there first.

From there, we can expand our reach and our time to everything else, making sure to get it all done, but understanding not everything needs to be done to perfection.

Just like professors can’t meticulously grade everything their graduate students did, we can’t meticulously grade everything our students do (and we shouldn’t). Formative assessments, for example, shouldn’t generally be graded for correctness because they are just a marker of how well students are comprehending the material so that we can determine what we need to do to get them to fully achieve the learning targets. That doesn’t mean that homework and other formative assessment can’t be scored for completion or participation.

These skills carry over to the classroom.

A colleague of mine recently caught herself focusing on and spending her time on what wasn’t important. She printed out a short story for her students to read and realized that it didn’t have page numbers. Before she went to make copies she decided she would print out and tape on the numbers to each page so that it looked like they’d always been there. It took another pressing matter to make her realize that the kids wouldn’t care if she wrote in the page numbers with her own, not so perfect handwriting. Sometimes not everything can be pretty.

Take the opportunity in your teacher prep program to participate in as many practicums as possible. Sitting in a lecture hall or college classroom will help you learn many of the things you’ll need as a future teacher, but nothing compares to being in a K-12 classroom experiencing what teaching really looks and feels like.

A Teacher's Guide

I am a National Board Certified educator currently teaching in Virginia. I have taught the following: English 9, 10, 11, and 12 (on academic, collaborative, and honors levels); Dual Enrollment English; Mass Communications, Yearbook, Newspaper, and Communications Technology. I have experience in five different school systems, four in Virginia and one in Maryland. I served as my school’s 2019 Teacher of the Year and was a top five finalist for the Teacher of the Year for Virginia Beach City Public Schools. I am passionate about recruiting and retaining quality educators in our public schools. Let me help you find your path to changing lives through teaching!

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  1. April 3, 2019

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  2. October 10, 2019

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