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There’s been so much in the media the past couple years about public education and teaching, it’s easy to understand why many teachers are growing more and more discouraged about the career – or as it’s better known for most of us, the calling – we’ve chosen to pursue.

As many colleges are celebrating their commencement ceremonies through the month of May, sending pre-service teachers out into the world with what we hope is a solid foundation in pedagogy, it seems a good time to offer a bit of advice for those who are about to teach.

It’s a scary world out there. I know. I’ve been in your shoes. Most of us start our education programs with stars in our eyes and an intense fire in our bellies to get out there and change the world by impacting the lives of children, even if it has to happen one at a time. Some of us fizzle out before we even start. Others find a way to stay on top of the latest reforms, methodological trends, and best practices, providing the best instruction we can in an increasingly hostile environment without letting it impact the face we show to our students every day in our classrooms.

I’m not a guru. I’m just a teacher in the trenches. I’ve been “in the system” for ten years, eight at the helm of my own classroom. Now I’m looking to reenter that world after a year of maternity leave, and even for me, a veteran teacher, it’s a little intimidating. The advent of Common Core, which came on the heels of the much-touted Reading First initiative and the drive for data-driven instruction, has left a lot of teachers, including me, on the edge of burnout. And even since last June, so much has changed and so much new stuff has come onto the scene.

The question has risen in my mind, as I’m sure it’s risen in the minds of every new teacher – be they fresh from college or starting over in a second career.

Do I have what it takes?

In my case, it’s a “do I still have what it takes” question, because I’m looking to return after a year off. But for those just starting out, it’s daunting to realize how many challenges you face as a teacher. Not only in terms of what you have to do when you’re standing in front of that room full of bright-eyed (hopefully) pupils, but also when it comes to landing that job you’ll love.

So I have some advice for those who are about to teach.

  1. Stand out. When you walk into that interview, show your stuff. When I first interviewed, I brought props in the form of an object box I’d created as part of my Master’s thesis project. Nowadays, technology allows us to create everything from PowerPoint presentations to interactive portfolios. Find a way to showcase your knowledge, abilities, and talents.
  2. Enter every interview as if it’s for your dream position. Even if it’s not. Sometimes we don’t get the call from the school we’d love to teach at, but sometimes landing a job at a school that wasn’t in the top spot on your list can become your dream position, or eventually lead to it.
  3. Even if you don’t get the job, don’t give up. Many schools, especially desirable schools, get hundreds of applications for a single position. If you interview and don’t get an offer, make sure you thank the administrators and interview team and express your continued interest in any future positions that may come available.
  4. Sometimes it’s worth taking a job you hadn’t planned to take in order to get the job you really want. When I first finished grad school, I was hired as a teaching assistant to work one-on-one with a little boy with autism. Was I over qualified? Oh yeah. Did I learn a lot? Tons. Plus I was able to sub for the special education teacher and inclusion teachers, and when a teaching position did finally open up at my school, I basically slid into it. I mean, I interviewed and had to prove why I was better than the other guy (see item #1). But if I’d turned my nose up at that TA position, I might not even have been considered.
  5. Don’t be afraid to substitute in the school and/or grade levels you want to eventually teach full-time. Many teachers, including me, often end up having favorite subs they always request when they’re going to be out. If you make yourself available to sub, people get to know you. If you end up being a favorite who subs in the same classrooms over and over again, you will start to be known. You could end up landing a long-term sub position. You may rise to the top of people’s minds when permanent positions open up. In a lot of districts, subs are considered “internal”, so when positions are posted internally at first, subs can often get first crack at them. Plus, you really can build up your teaching chops, beef up classroom management skills, and often start contributing to your state’s teacher retirement system.
  6. Stay on top of current trends, programs, initiatives, and legislation. When I was finishing my undergraduate work, No Child Left Behind and Reading First were just starting to gain traction. Because it was in the nascent stage, it wasn’t discussed too much in my college classes. But within a couple years, it was all anyone was talking about. The same has happened recently with Common Core. We might not like it, but it’s here, and you need to know about it, because you will be asked about it in an interview.
  7. Always improve yourself. Take continuing education classes in areas you might wish to have more knowledge of. See if there’s coursework you can take that may lead to a different certification area or an extension to your existing license. Most professional development courses are facilitated, or at least made known to teachers, through school districts, but sometimes you can find a way to attend a conference or in-service if you’re willing to pay your own way.
  8. Know your state’s regulations for certification, both initial and professional, and stay on top of the requirements. The last thing you want to do is let your license lapse because you didn’t keep yourself aware of what you had to do to keep it valid. Most states require a certain number of full-time mentored teaching experience in addition to your Master’s to move from initial to professional certification. Additionally, most states also require a certain number of professional development hours each year/every five years to maintain professional certification. Know what you have to do, and make sure you do it.
  9. Network and use your contacts. It might be the principal you met at the job fair. It might be the cooperating teacher from your pre-service placement. It might be your Great-Aunt Sally’s third cousin who teaches at the school you want to work in. Stay in touch with those people and make sure they know you’re looking. They might at least be able to mention your name when positions come available.
  10. Keep your resume current. Even if you aren’t actively interviewing, constantly make sure your resume is up to date with degree information, work experience, training and professional development you’ve done, and you’re most recent contact information. If you stay on top of it, it won’t be so daunting to update everything when it comes time to submit an application.

Got all that? Ready to start applying, if you haven’t already?

Not sure where to start?

Many districts have online systems, or at least online listings, for applicants. You may also find some success using a career resource site, such as TheLadders, to find job postings in the places you may want to teach.

Now, my biggest piece of advice? It’s so big it’s beyond a numbered list.

Remember why you got into teaching in the first place.

It’s not the money. It’s not even the job. Yeah, you know you’ll have to put in extra hours outside of school, hours that will take away from your family and social life. And yeah, it will be stressful.

But why did you want to teach in the first place?

It’s the kids.

I guarantee you, the kids will make everything worth it.

At some point, you will know you’ve impacted a child’s life for the better. You will become the rock for 20-some-odd students at some point in your life. They will depend on you.

They will love you.

You will love them back.

And that’s what will make you a great teacher.

So to those who are about to teach…. I salute you!

To someone living outside my perspective, today, my first Mother’s Day, didn’t proceed in any unusual or special manner. In fact, in a lot of ways, it proceeded just like a normal Sunday.

And yet all those normal moments are so special because, at long last, I am a mother.

My day started before sunrise. Babycakes has been sleeping a lot better overall, though we’ve had several disrupted nights as she’s actively cutting teeth. Last night, she woke up twice needing to nurse, the second time around 5:00 am. She was awake again at 6:00, at which point the hubs brought her to our room so I could nurse her a little more (she really didn’t finish the first time) while laying in bed. Of course, being snuggly and warm resulted in her finally falling back to sleep.

So there I lay, tummy to tummy with my beautiful daughter, my husband curled against me on the other side. Not sleeping because of my hyper vigilance any time we bring Babycakes to bed in the early morning like that, but feeling completely blessed because, in that quiet pre-dawn time, I was literally surrounded by the peaceful warmth and breathing of the two people I love most in the world.

Somehow, Babycakes managed to get crying hard enough to revisit part of her breakfast while the hubs was getting her dressed for church (fortunately while down to her diaper). And I felt the sweetness of being needed in that desperate, deep baby-sigh of relief when she saw me walk back into the room, her beautiful, long-lashed eyes following mine as I murmured quietly to her, got her cleaned up, and dressed.

We did go out for a late lunch, and there I was able to enjoy the dimpled smiles as Babycakes took everything in, waving to strangers and making friends with another baby sitting nearby. The peals of laughter as we played peekaboo with our napkins.

Even though the nursing gymnastics in the car before we headed back home meant a failed feed and a rather fussy baby, the way Babycakes curled against me when we got home and nursed until nearly asleep for an early evening nap made up for it. Her little warm hand pressed against my shoulder. Her knees tucked up against my side. Her feet daintily crossed at the ankles, as she’s done while nursing since the day she was born.

The splashes and giggles during bath time while I sang “Rubber Ducky” and “Under the Sea.”

The way the hubs got her riled up during the pre-bed playtime, even knowing it would take a little extra effort to bring her down from the high.

When it was time to go upstairs and get ready for bed, she pulled herself up to standing by tugging on my pants, then reaching with her chubby arms for me to pick her up.

More nursing gymnastics that settled to the tunes of “London Bridge is Falling Down” and “For the Beauty of the Earth”, as they do every nap and bedtime, cuing her to drift toward dreamland in the soft glow of her crystal nightlight.

A last sip of water as she rested her heavy head against my shoulder, then turned to wrap her arms around my neck with a sigh.

Up to turn off the crystal nightlight.

Retrieving the musical giraffe and turning it on just before laying her in her crib.

Watching her lay her hand beside the glowing tummy of the giraffe as it started cycling through the seven or eight tunes it plays three times before turning off.

Little tired eyelids going blink, blink, blink.

And my day ends watching her watch the yellow light of the giraffe slowly fade to darkness as the music plays on, tonight with no final glance in my direction to see if I’m still there.

Then there is nothing but her soft breathing, the whir of the white noise machine, and the slight creak in the floor as I lean over to adjust her blanket before tiptoeing out and closing the door.

She will probably wake at least once in the night and need us. She may go readily back to sleep for the hubs, or she may need me to nurse her back down. But even those middle of the night times, as frustrating as they can be and as tired as I sometimes feel, are just part of the sweetness of being a mother.

Every moment so normal and mundane. And yet every moment worth treasuring.

Every now and then, you come across an article or some other resource that talks about how to begin writing a story. Some people swear by outlines or long synopses, while others believe you should just start writing and see what happens.

The first sort are known as Plotters. The second sort are known as Pantsers.

Up until about two or three years ago, when I decided that I was going to “get serious” about this writing thing, I was a bonafide Pantser. I would sit down at the computer (or in the early years, with the spiral-bound notebook and mechanical pencil) start at the beginning, and write until I reached the end. Occasionally I would jump ahead and write out a scene that came later in the narrative. (I may or may not have spent a fair amount of time doing this during my Intro to Computer Science class in college.)

This method worked well for a while. After all, when I started rewriting the “magnum opus” in 2005, I pantsed my way through about 3/4 of the manuscript, typing along in Microsoft Word. Then one day, I realized I was spending more time thinking about what was going to happen than actually writing it. So I decided it was time to try outlining the remaining major plot points.

The hour and a half I spent to make this outline was well worth the effort (and also killed some time while I waited for the hubs to pick me up from one of my teacher certification tests). Outline in hand, I completed the first draft of the “magnum opus” within a few weeks.

Shortly after this, I downloaded WriteWayPro, a writing software program that allowed me to organize my manuscripts by chapter and scene. (Happily, it sorted the “magnum opus” automatically when I imported it). I’ve since moved on to using Scrivener, which works the same way. But the moral of the story is that I learned that plotting was not the enemy and could, in fact, help me stay on track.

I still pants to a certain degree when starting a new story. Sometimes this is due to having a little Plot Bunny nibbling at my ankle. Other times it’s because I don’t know whether or not I want to pursue a story idea. But I’ve learned that by taking the time to either outline or write an extended synopsis, I save a lot of work for myself on the drafting end of things.

Every writer needs to find a method that works for them, and for many, pantsing will always be the way to go.

As for me, I know I’ve been converted. Now that I have a contract for a series, I have to plot the next three books, or I’ll never get them done. It’s all about time management at this stage in the game.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a mini-history lesson, and today, the 150th anniversary of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, seems a worthwhile reason to provide one.

The Beginning of The End

For a good year before Robert E. Lee decided it was time to surrender, the Union and Confederate armies were essentially locked in nonstop combat. Consider the opposition: Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign in Virginia through the spring of 1864; Phil Sheridan’s cavalry actions that would later be known as “The Burning of the Shenandoah”; Sherman’s drive to capture Atlanta and the subsequent “March to the Sea” that marked the summer and fall of that same year.

The odds were seemingly stacked against an army that suffered from a lack of food and ammunition. There were no more reinforcements. Many civilians had had enough. The only thing the Confederate army really had left was guts and determination.

But by April 1865, Lee knew he didn’t have many options left. Johnston was still fighting in North Carolina, and in the far reaches of the Confederacy, armies were still holding out. But in Northern Virginia, Grant was closing in. Petersburg had fallen. The Confederate government had fled Richmond, destroying records and supplies as they went.

The Confederate army continued to make valiant stands through those early days of April, including a battle at Appomattox Courthouse itself. If they could get to the Appalachians, many believed they could continue fighting for years through what we would today term guerrilla warfare.

Lee made a tough decision.

He decided was time to ask Grant for terms.

Meeting at Appomattox to Discuss the End

There’s a lot of legend surrounding the meeting of Lee and Grant at the MacLean house in Appomattox Courthouse. Yes, Lee did wear his best uniform. Grant did ride up and sit down with the famed Southern general with mud splattered boots. Whether or not Lee planned on surrendering that day is up for debate, but once he saw the terms Grant offered, he agreed to them.

Lee Surrenders to Grant at Appomattox

Grant did offer very generous terms, given the bitterness of the past four bloody years. While military equipment had to be given up, officers and enlisted men alike were paroled. Officers could keep their sidearms, and any man who owned the horse he rode could keep it as well.

Both armies were tired. It was time to go home and resume the business of being Americans.

Contemporary accounts state that the meeting between these two generals was respectful, and the surrender is sometimes referred to as “The Gentlemen’s Agreement.” Certainly Grant, and definitely President Lincoln, wanted to avoid the terrible Reconstruction years that would follow Lincoln’s assassination.

But Not Quite The End

Lee’s surrender at Appomattox is usually considered the end of the War Between the States, though it really only dealt with one army in one corner of the South. Perhaps the proximity to Washington is what made the Army of Northern Virginia’s surrender so important, why history marks April 9, 1865, as the official end.

But Lee wasn’t the only one still fighting.

Remember that in 1865, there was no television or internet. There was the telegraph, which was extensively used by the Union, especially in those final months between Lincoln and Grant. But generally word traveled slowly on a good day, and in the war-torn south it traveled at a snail’s pace, or slower.

Other standing armies in the Confederacy eventually got word that Lee had surrendered. Johnston surrendered to Sherman on April 26th, near Durham, North Carolina. May 4th marked the surrender of General Richard Taylor’s army in Alabama, and Confederate Cherokee forces in what is now Oklahoma surrendered on June 23rd. The last Confederate victory of the war actually occurred on May 13th, at Palmito Ranch, Texas, before word of the end of the war reached the army there. And the last Confederate naval vessel to surrender was the CSS Shenandoah, which continued to harass Yankee whaling ships in the Pacific well into the summer. It wasn’t until August 2nd that the CSS Shenandoah’s captain accepted a report about the Confederate surrender (up to that point, the news had been dismissed as rumors), and it wasn’t until November 6th that the ship surrendered to British authorities in Liverpool.

The exact casualty rate can only be estimated, especially since the standard number of those killed between April 1861 and April 1865 (long set at about 620,000) doesn’t usually count civilians, enslaved blacks or those who freed themselves by escaping to contraband camps, or those who died after the war from disease or wounds. Even the official numbers of Confederate dead can only be estimated because many official Confederate records were destroyed when Davis and his government fled Richmond ahead of Grant’s army. Current estimates now place the death toll around 750,000, though there’s argument that it could be even higher.

And the toll of the war would continue to be seen in the millions of men left invalided by disease and crippled by horrific wounds, the result of Napoleonic tactics fought with modern weaponry.

Still Not The End

Lincoln wanted the Southern states to return to the Union as soon as possible, and for the entire country to get moving forward as one piece again. But after Lincoln’s assassination, all hope for a peaceful restoration of the Union went out the window. Radical Republicans had control of the United States government, and many wanted to punish the South for the past four years.

Enter the Reconstruction Era: nearly a decade of what many termed (and still term) a military occupation of the South by the Union army. Former Confederates were bitter. Their homes were ravaged by war and privation.

Black men were enfranchised by Federal law, but those in the South would effectively be disenfranchised by Jim Crow laws. Slavery was made illegal in the United States, but well into the 20th century, blacks in the south still existed in a state of slavery as they became sharecroppers, often to the families who once owned them and their ancestors.

Reconstruction was a violent era as well, spawning the birth of the Ku Klux Klan and many other paramilitary groups who sought to reestablish what they believed was the South as it once was. Supreme Court decisions like Plessy v. Ferguson paved the way for segregation laws, which wouldn’t be overturned until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – 99 years after Lee surrendered to Grant.

Bitterness and hatred continue to plague us, even into the 21st century. Our country has come a long way in the past 150 years, but we’re nowhere near the ideal of equality and freedom we often believe the Founding Fathers envisioned for the United States. We’re still divided along lines of race, as well as gender, religion, and sexual orientation. But many of us are trying to figure out how to erase those lines, and understanding the outcome of the Civil War is an imperative piece of understanding who we are as a nation.

On that April day in 1865, Lee probably wasn’t thinking about the decades of turmoil yet to come. He was probably just thinking about his soldiers – starving, worn out, determined to go on if he just said so, even though they were running on empty.

It’s left for us to understand the aftermath, to learn from it, to make our country a better place for the sacrifices that were made – on both sides.

For more information about Appomattox, check out the Civil War Trust’s interactive learning site.

So… remember how I’d submitted the Chick Lit Romance to a couple small presses back in December? And how I got requests for fulls?

Well, I am now officially signed with Soul Mate Publishing for that manuscript…

excited

…as well as…

excited2

…subsequent titles in a series!

squee-o

 

No release date yet, but you can bet your buttons I’ll keep you all updated.

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