Thanks for Making 2014 the Best Year Ever.

It’s been two and a half years since I started Those Who Teach, and 2014 was the blog’s best year yet.

Average daily views grew more than tenfold this year, and subscriptions to the blog increased by more than 360 percent!

How TWT readers make me feel…

Another fun fact: more than 75 percent of the hundreds of reader comments on the blog were written this year.

All this, despite my embarrassingly infrequent posts — only 12 this year, including this one.

So embarrassed…

So thank you for reading this blog — and sticking with it — despite the lack of steady content. I’m grateful for your time, and for your comments, ‘likes,’ shares and follows.

And I pledge to give you more of what you’re looking for in 2015. This includes more positive stories about teachers — both those who’ve found a way to stay in the game, and those who’ve found life after teaching. And I plan to share more career change tips, as well as personal reflections on leaving teaching.

Also, if you’d like to contribute to the blog, please let me know. Advice from veteran teachers and those who’ve found post-teaching careers is especially welcome.

Just leave a comment below, or email me at thosewhoteach[at]gmail[dot]com.

Thanks again for reading and I wish you the very best in 2015!

And for all you teachers, here’s a friendly reminder to enjoy these last days of holiday break, even Sunday!

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Life After Teaching Interview: Marie Ardito, Retiree Advocate

marie pic 2 001Marie Ardito spent 31 years in the classroom, where she taught first through eighth grade, spending most of her career as a reading specialist.

When it came time for her to retire, though, it didn’t quite happen.

After two months off, Marie began a new career helping others like her. She’s now an information coordinator for MA Retirees United (MRU), a nonprofit group that educates public sector workers about their retirement rights and benefits. Before that, she was the executive director of another retirement group.

When I read about Marie in a recent New York Times article about “second-act” careers for retired workers, I knew I had to reach out to her. In the article, she says,

 “One of the things that drives me crazy is the comment, ‘I can’t do anything but teach.’ I say, ‘If you can relate to kids, normally you can relate to anyone.’ The skills are transferable.”

This is exactly what I’ve come to realize in my own second-act career as a writer — and what I’ve tried to communicate through posts like Five Skills Teachers Have that Employers Want.

Marie was kind enough to speak with me about her career path and share her take on what teachers have to offer in the workplace. Here are some highlights from our phone conversation.

What made you interested in helping retirees?

Basically I loved teaching. When I was thinking long-range, I knew I had to put some teaching into my retirement. My first thought had been to develop a seminar I would do for seniors, and then a neighbor of mine told me to catch them before retirement. And so I looked at what I had done, saw that I could adapt it, and developed a “Preparing for Retirement” seminar that I started doing years before retirement.

I’m not saying that all of my retirement is teaching — it isn’t. Ever since I was a kid of 16, I’ve had an interest in older people. I had worked in a nursing home, and thought that that was an age group that I someday wanted to reach out to.

I feel that my experience as a teacher enables me to do an excellent job with presenting issues, whether it’s preparing for retirement, living in retirement as an informed retiree, or understanding social security and Medicare, which are all seminars that I do. It enables me to present it in an understandable way, and I feel I’ve gone beyond teaching to a new way of life.

How did you get your current job?

I had been approached by Kathy Kelly  (who was, at the time, the president of the American Federation of Teachers in Massachussetts) to help form a retirement group. So we talked, and MRU was born. We started with a couple of hundred members, and now we have close to 2,500.

So your work after teaching came about because you were approached by people based on work you were already doing.

Yes, and I think this happens a lot to people. What I find over the years, dealing with several members, is that when they’re asked to do something that’s outside the teaching profession, sometimes they’re reluctant. I’ve had them call me and say, “Well, what do I know about that particular thing?”

I know for myself, when I initially took the first job, I was thinking, “I’ve got to speak at board of directors meetings; I’ve got to speak at chapter meetings.” So I think that there’s always a little bit of fear of the unknown and questioning whether you’re really up to the task, but I think what those who have either retired from the teaching profession or are thinking of moving on to something else very often don’t realize, is that the skills that we’ve developed as teachers are so marketable and transferable.

I feel really strongly about this too, based on my own experience with changing careers. So what helped you gain confidence? How can we convince more teachers to be proud of the skills they’ve acquired and help them communicate all that they have to offer to employers?

I think sometimes we forget what we’ve taught. I can remember repeatedly saying to students no matter what age level, grade or subject I was teaching, “There are no stupid questions in my classroom.” And I think that we as educators who have said something similar to that — “Don’t be afraid to ask a question,” or “Don’t be afraid to try something” — I think we don’t hear ourselves when it comes to our own personal life. We look for the safe and the sound and the tried and the true and then realize that maybe putting your feet in the cold water could turn out to be a great adventure.

That’s something I’m still learning, too. In my new career as a writer, I’ve realized all those things that I said to my kids about good writing — they still apply, and I’m still learning them.

Yeah — I can remember, back when I first started teaching, putting bulletin boards up with sayings, and I can remember the saying, “It’s better to try and fail than fail to try.” I think that that’s something we have to learn — that yeah, you might fall on your face, but you can fall eight times or 80 times, but just get up and just keep moving.

And I don’t feel this is limited to teachers. I think people don’t think about what they might like to do — whether it’s retirement or changing careers — and the fact that they can do something else.

As part of one of my 12 hour-long seminars, I used to hold up a peanut. You know, the kind you eat at the ballpark — the double peanut? I’d say to them [the retirees], “I used to be fascinated when I was a kid learning about George Washington Carver.” And I said, “He took this stupid little peanut and came up with 300 different uses for it! Somehow or another, I kinda think big ol’ us must have more than one use — more than one thing that we can do.”

You mentioned your presentation skills earlier. What other skills from teaching have helped you be successful at your job?

I’m involved a lot with legislative issues, and I think the research skills I developed both as a student and as a teacher have been absolutely invaluable. I also worked in different systems, different buildings, so I think that another one of the skills that I’ve found invaluable is to adjust to change. I think every teacher has a little of that, because every year you get a new group of kids.

So what other skills do you think teachers have that set them apart?

It depends on the field they want to change to. I bumped into a woman who worked at an inpatient hospital. She was a retired teacher, and her people skills, her computer skills and her organizational skills helped her. She revamped the whole admissions process for them, and she just got a promotion to some other department.

As someone who successfully transitioned into a new career after retirement, what advice do you have for older teachers who want to begin a new career?

I think you have to have confidence in yourself. You’ve got nothing to get discouraged about, because there is one job out there for you. If you don’t let somebody deflate your balloon, and you believe in you, age is just a number! Especially as teachers, I think we become so engrossed in kids that we forget ourselves. Everybody, no matter what their profession is, has to think, “I can do it!” Like I used to tell the kids at school, “Do the impossible.”

Age is a number, and if you’re bogged down by a number, shame on you! And if someone asks me, “How old are you?”, I have to do the math, because I don’t stop to think how old I am.

You’ve got to have curiosity and always want to know more. Try something new. I don’t care if you’re 65; you can still get a job. If I believe I’ve got something to give, if I can sell myself, they’re going to grab me at 65. It’s attitude.

Countdown to Lift-Off

Teachers, take heart! In less than two months, you’ll be free.

Free to trade your teacher bag for a beach bag, or better yet, a fanny pack…

fanny pack

Don’t forget matching bangles.

swap your textbooks for a beach read or a glossy magazine…

beachreading

Just you, David Sedaris, and the sea…

ditch your gradebook for your journal, sketchpad, passport (or all three!) …

passport book

Time to add new stamps to your collection!

trade school projects for home projects…

garden-bounty

A little gardening, perhaps?

— And those hours of grading?

Poof!

How about hours of Netflix watching, sunbathing or sitting in a coffee shop to just…
you know, drink coffee?

No grading to see here!

No grading to see here!

Don’t you feel lighter already? 🙂

And for another boost to cap off Teacher Appreciation Week, check out Thank-a-teacher.org.

It’s an app for sending teachers thank-you notes created by engineering students at Olin College!

I discovered it via Twitter amid all the #thankateacher tweets.

From the website:

“We want more people to look back and thank their teachers; they put a lot of energy into helping us get to where we are today.”

Amen! And let’s keep the good vibes going: please send me any thank-you notes you’ve received. I’d love to publish them!

 

Life After Teaching, Part Four: Five Little Things I Look Forward to at My Desk Job

In the first post of this series, Rose shared the story of how her office job lets her ease into the workday, go to the bathroom whenever she wants to, and enjoy other simple pleasures that weren’t part of her previous life as a high school biology teacher.

Two-and-a-half months into my desk job, I can confirm that it’s all indeed possible: I now get bathroom breaks whenever I need them and much, much more.

Here are five small perks of my new office job:

1. Enjoying breakfast at 9 a.m. 

Usually it’s a big bowl of Fage with strawberries:

yogurtandstrawbs

This is a big deal for me. When I was teaching, there were years when I taught three, 40-minute classes in a row starting at 7:55 a.m. (with homeroom in between). Lots of days, I hadn’t had anything to eat by 10 a.m., and also hadn’t gone to the bathroom until then. If I had been more of an adult (and more of a morning person), I would’ve gotten up earlier to eat a proper breakfast, but I always chose sleep over eating and looking nice for school.

Now, the first thing I do is eat breakfast while working at my computer. This takes much less energy than trying to speak in coherent sentences and motivate teenagers before any of us are awake.

2. Enjoying lunch every day

Since I’d usually sleep rather than get up early to prepare food, on busy days I’d get the cafeteria lunch, which some of my co-workers wouldn’t touch. The chicken patty sandwiches and pasta with meat sauce weren’t bad in my book, but they were not particularly healthy or satisfying.

Don’t get me wrong — we had our share of good food in the English department: ordering in from the local Vietnamese restaurant, bringing in goodies for birthdays — and cook-offs, too (including who could make the meanest chili). For a few years, my awesome department got me Popeye’s fried chicken (my favorite) for my birthday!

But it was rare that we got to just enjoy our food and each other’s company. On most days, it was a fistful of food in between taking attendance, grading essays and quizzes, or blowing off steam after some earlier incident in the classroom.

Now, I leave my building every day around 1:30, take a short stroll to my local bodega  and bliss out on a hearty helping of fresh veggies and roast chicken or baked salmon (I’ve managed to sidestep the fried chicken for now).  It’s tasty, and sure beats the many school lunches I’ve settled for.

3. Reading a book at lunch

I love this one so much. Right now, I’m reading The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley on my Kindle. Reading for pleasure while eating used to be one of my favorite things to do, and I’m happy to welcome this habit back into my life. Again, way more enjoyable than trying to read and grade three essays during lunch (and belated apologies to students who got their essays returned with grease stains on them).

4. Having a window near my desk, and a pretty nice view from it

Staring at cinder blocks and a sad, beat-up desk was the norm in both of the public schools where I worked. In my first school, we used to be able to look out at the baseball fields, but then they constructed a new wing that blocked our view.

Now, I get to look at this every day:

officeview

I realize that a lot of people in office jobs don’t get windows or a nice view, either, so I consider myself doubly lucky in this respect.

5. Having a clean, spacious and functional work area

I never had my own classroom and, in the department office,  my plastic crates  crowded my feet. Not to mention the piles of papers that would slowly consume my desk space, making the task of grading them even more unappealing. In my first school, all twelve of us in the English department had to share two desktop computers, along with two old laptops that were always on the fritz.

And did I mention the mouse problem? No kidding: we had to clean up mouse droppings regularly, and the janitors tried to find creative ways to kill them (drowning, if you must know). My school was in a very nice town too, and in nowhere near the level of disrepair of Trenton’s schools.

True story: once, when I reached for the emergency bag of peanuts that had been sitting on my desk for the better part of the school year, there was nothing inside it. A mouse had chewed a tiny hole in the back of the bag and eaten everything, leaving only shreds of foil that I hadn’t seen until I lifted the bag.

Now, I’ve got my own computer, phone and corner cubicle with lots of room to do my work. And thankfully, there is nary a mouse in sight. I’m even thinking about decorating my office space with photos, and possibly plants!

So, while my office perks don’t include catered lunches, foosball tables or masseuses, the little luxuries I do enjoy make working so much more pleasant than it used to be.

(Former) teachers, which small pleasures do you enjoy (or wish you could enjoy) at work?

15 Ways to Be Kind to Yourself on the First Days of School

Whether you’ve been back for a few weeks, or just a day or two — you did it!

You made it out of bed at an ungodly hour, rocked a fresh first-day outfit, and presented your Teacher Self to a new crop of kids.

You’re taking attendance, writing those first parent e-mails, planning lessons, doing lunch duty, attending meetings, assigning first homeworks, and collecting first homeworks.

Maybe you’re teaching a brand-new course this year, or taking on a new responsibility as coach or advisor, too.

Through all of this, you’re delivering instruction to multiple groups of differently abled, very distractible kids.

So, please remember — it’s OK if…

1. You don’t know most of your students’ names yet.

2. It takes you a full five minutes to remember old students’ names when they say hello in the hallway.

namesticker

It’ll come to me…

3. Your desk is already a mess of papers.

This week's grading

100% authentic piles of grading

4. You didn’t have time to make that perfect bulletin board / seating chart / welcome letter like you’d planned to do.

marvelous-multiplication-bulletin-board

I’ve never made a bulletin board this pretty. Ever.

5. You already had to change a lesson because the copier was jammed or occupied.

jammedcopier

Sad sight for sore eyes

6. You already had to change a lesson because the computer / projector / DVD player / TV / internet didn’t work.

test colors TV

“Hey, who here is good at TV stuff?”

7. You forgot to turn off your phone during class.

8. You forgot to go to the bathroom, even when you had a minute.

Imagine going to the bathroom when you need to...

Should’ve gone during prep!

9.  Your perfect “first days” lesson was not the raging success you’d envisioned.

10. You haven’t had time to catch up properly with your colleagues because of all the work that needs to be done.

11. You’re already grading or playing on your phone during the first full faculty meeting. (Do as I say, not as I do…)

facebook-30-iphone-app_1

Official story: teachers don’t have friends or use Facebook.

12. Your second-day outfit was not as polished as your first-day outfit. (Soon, you’ll be proud to have made it to school with matching socks!)

13.  You didn’t have time to make lunch and/or dinner.

School Food - Chicken Nuggets

School lunch it is…

14. You didn’t have time to make that doctor’s appointment.

15. You’re already falling asleep on the couch when you get home!

It's OK to be dog-tired!

It’s OK to be dog-tired!

Remember, teachers do heroic things, but you’re still human!

Rinse and repeat if you’re a first-year teacher.

Also: what would you add to this list?

What a Great English Teacher Makes

Got my first thank-you letter submission of the summer, and boy, is it a tough act to follow.

It’s basically every English teacher’s dream for her students: that they become passionate, prolific readers; sincere, reflective writers; and critical thinkers about themselves and the world.

I couldn’t help but think of Taylor Mali’s famous, “What Teachers Make” in titling this post.

I’m also reminded of “The Decline and Fall of the English Major,” from this past Sunday’s New York Times. English professor Verlyn Klinkenborg writes,

Writing well used to be a fundamental principle of the humanities, as essential as the knowledge of mathematics and statistics in the sciences. But writing well isn’t merely a utilitarian skill. It is about developing a rational grace and energy in your conversation with the world around you.

No one has found a way to put a dollar sign on this kind of literacy, and I doubt anyone ever will. But everyone who possesses it — no matter how or when it was acquired — knows that it is a rare and precious inheritance.

Thank you to my old colleague Lauren for sharing this letter, and for being the amazing teacher who passed on a “rare and precious inheritance” to this student!

msmthankyoucard

msmthankyou2

Mrs. Malanka,

Thank you so much for everything that you had done for me this year! 🙂 Even though, initially, I felt as though I was never going to improve my abilities in English class, through your instructions and encouragements,  I was able to transform my past inclinations — to be shy and silent at all times, to cherish books of my savor only, to accept all opinions as truth, and to adamantly write as I had done in the past. Now, I feel a lot more comfortable to share my own stance, and to sort out some other stances that contradicts mine. Nowadays, I am in love with reading! (which is very new for me. As a child, reading used to [be] my least favorite)

I have started my summer reading and will be reading A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, as you had advised the students who enjoyed Mark Twain’s satirical style of writing that made the readers chuckle every few paragraphs or so. In addition, unlike I have been used to, I learned to ponder as I read, and pay attention to the profound meanings that the authors hoped to portray. And since I had discovered this exhilarating exercise, I fell in love with all kinds of books! 🙂

Additionally, from you, I have learned to try my best to read news articles as frequently as possible to expand my horizon. So far, it has been an fortifying experience. I truly believed that if I were not in your class, taking an AP course, I would never have (or really late) encountered the beauty in reading and writing. I became more used to editing many times and cutting out parts that were [not] important in a coherent essay. Although I still have a long way to go as a writer, I believe you have launched me into the world of reading and writing that I have been avoiding my entire life. So I thank you for this exposure to a fascinating way to look, not only at novels, but also at nature, appreciating the harmony that is embedded everywhere amongst the readers, people, nature, and novels. Thank you so much also for writing my recommendation! 🙂 You’re a great teacher, and this year (English) was honestly the best experience that I have ever had regarding a humanity class!!! 🙂 Oh, and I hope you don’t find the pen* too troublesome; I thought you would enjoy collecting another set of pens! 🙂

Plus, I can definitely see you writing a great novel with such a pen! 🙂

Have a great summer, and I will keep in touch! Thank you!

*The student also gave her a cool feather pen along with the card.

Everything he needs to know, he learned in 4T.

It’s been more than two months since my last post! To help make up for that gap, here’s a story so good, I think it’s movie material…

Almost 40 years later, Jeff Kelly Lowenstein still remembers the feeling of community in “4T,” Paul Tamburello’s fourth grade class at Pierce School in Brookline, Massachusetts. “He knew all of us, and had high expectations for us,” Jeff says. “He was really good about letting us know that he saw what we were doing, whether it was doing well or misbehaving.”

Jeff (right) learns to use chopsticks in 4T.
photo credit: Paul Tamburello

Though he graduated from 4T in 1974, Jeff kept coming back to visit his old teacher, even throughout high school and college.  During these visits, Jeff recalls, “He would always say, ‘What do you remember from 4T?’ Then he would use that information to think about how to approach the class.” This commitment to continual improvement inspired Jeff, who began working at Pierce – first as a recess aide, and then, after graduation from Stanford, as an apprentice teacher to Tamburello for two years, beginning in 1987.

Jeff as Mr. Tamburello's apprentice teacher Photo courtesy of Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

Jeff as Mr. Tamburello’s apprentice teacher
Photo courtesy of Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

On the experience of having Jeff back in his classroom as an aspiring teacher, Paul Tamburello writes:

I was used to training student teachers but none with whom I had this kind of history. I hesitated. Was my work good enough, rigorous enough, to keep him engaged? I knew Jeff held me in high regard, maybe even considered me a role model. It’s a long fall from a pedestal to the solid, hard earth. Finally, I took the advice I gave my students. Don’t be afraid to try, maybe even fail.

(…)

There were days I shook my head and grinned in wonder. Jeff’s initiative was taking our relationship into rich uncharted territory. This was giving the term “student teacher” a whole new dimension. It would give us things to talk about for years to come.

By our second year of co-teaching, it was, “Jeff and I expect you to…” or “Mr. Tamburello and I expect you to…” as we ran the classroom. Jeff may be the only kid in America who got a post-graduate degree in fourth grade. It was the richest experience of my 34-year career.

In 1992, Jeff finally had his own classroom: he began teaching Social Studies and English at Brown Elementary School in Newton, Massachusetts — only five miles away from Pierce School. Mr. Tamburello continued to guide his student of now 18 years:

“I would emulate a lot of the things I learned from his classroom, including his sense of discipline, and the positive environment he established.” Jeff adds, “Now, when I would go back to visit, he would still be trying new things, and this would give me more homework to do as a teacher.”

Jeff’s memoir about these experiences, On My Teacher’s Shoulders, was published in 2012.  On his decision to write a book about Mr. Tamburello, Jeff says, “A big motivation was to honor the different, but related types of impact he played on me over the course of 30 years. It was not a static relationship: each time [I came back] there was something different that I had to learn and he had to teach me. I feel very fortunate that he had the strength and humility to let me know what he was gaining each of those different times. That helped me understand the reciprocity of shared important experiences.”

Paul (left) and Jeff (right) at Paul's retirement partyphoto courtesy of Jeff Kelley Lowenstein

Paul (left) and Jeff (right) in 2012
photo courtesy of Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

Many of us are fortunate to have had teachers who’ve shaped us for the better, including what kind of teachers we are and aspire to be. I also love how this story highlights the lifelong learning and cameraderie that can grow between teacher and student — and how the distinctions between these roles can blur in exciting, unexpected ways.

Have you kept in touch with a teacher long after leaving his or her class? Have you returned to teach at a school you attended?

Grab this jet pack.

The very first comment on this blog was from a teacher who said of the opening post,”Reading it has given me a little ‘jet pack’ to get me going and excited again about what I do.”

I’ve got about a week before school starts, while many other teachers are already back in the classroom.

It’s time to power up!

Here’s a “jet pack” from Molly Rankin, an English teacher at Prosser Career Academy, a Chicago public school. Molly also leads her school’s chapter of OneGoal, a program that aims to get at-risk students with leadership potential into four-year colleges.

Ms. Rankin

This letter shows how teachers often provide vital emotional support in addition to academic instruction – and reminds me once more that student progress cannot be measured in grades or test scores alone.

Hope it gives you a small boost for your first days of school.

And please – send in more jet packs!

Ms. Rankin.

The school year is at an end and did in fact end the way I wanted it to. I know that D’s aren’t what I should be aiming for, however in the situation I’m in now, they are acceptable. I passed mostly all of my classes (even MR. F’s class) and I am very proud of myself, and I want to thank you for helping me pick my head back up. You made sure that I didn’t ever give up on school.  You came to every meeting that Ms. S and Mr. C held on behalf of my grades, and you were with me every step of the way. You made me work as hard as I could and motivated me all of the way.  You made sure that my situation did not discourage me from being at school and scolded me when I needed it. You and my mom were literally the main two people I did not want to disappoint at the end of the school year (also Mr. C). Without your help I really believe I wouldn’t have made it this far, and I’m glad even when I was screwing up you still believed in me and that’s all I needed. Thank you so much for putting time in to support me when you already have a heavy load on your hands. You just don’t know how grateful I am and this note still don’t describe how I feel, but it is a summary. Have a great summer.  Speak to you soon… BYE and thanks!  

Outstanding special effects

I had to share this story from “Ms. I,” a K-12 Lead Technology Teacher for students with dyslexia and autism. She uses her dual license in art and technology, and IT field experience, to teach programming, video production, and 3D animation.

Since 2008, I’ve taught with Scratch, a free application that lets students create computer games. It’s been a great way to promote creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.

sample Scratch game screenshot

My school, however, thought I was “crazy” to teach programming to students with learning disabilities. I forged ahead because I wanted my students to go beyond their limitations and discover their strengths.

My greatest success story was John, a 12th grader.

During first period, I presented the Scratch project and, as usual, helped John start it. I often couldn’t tell what he was thinking because he generally didn’t display emotion.  He would tell me, “I can’t do this,” at the beginning of every class project.

This time, rather than asking  for help every five seconds, he worked independently.

Some weeks later, he pulled me aside to proudly show me his animation. He also stopped complaining for the rest of the year. I was amazed.

When John gave a speech at graduation, he said, “Thank you, Ms. I, for helping me do things I thought I couldn’t do.”

John is dyslexic and on the autism spectrum. His rehearsed speech did not include his thank-you to me; he spoke from the heart.

To get any reluctant learner to begin to say “I can” is impressive on its own. Having taught students with autism and dyslexia myself, though, I know the progress John made with the support of “Ms. I” was no easy feat.

Teachers, what’s your greatest success story?