Magnificent Nose: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by Magnificent Nose. Could you start out by telling people the sort of teaching work you do, and why you do it?
Sara: For the past six and a half years, I’ve taught English to public school ninth graders. This year, I actually have a brand new job: teaching seventh grade English in a very religious, Jewish private school.
It might be worth noting that I’ve worked in some very different types of schools over the last six years. I started in a large, inner-city school in Phoenix, Arizona, but I left that job voluntarily so that my husband and I could move back to New Jersey. After the move, I got a job in a smaller school in a low income area. After two years there my job was eliminated, and I took a new job at a high-performing public school in the richest areas of Bergen County. Three years later I found myself again looking for a new job (work isn’t so steady for NJ teachers these days). I accepted a job at this new private school because the hours are shorter than they’d be most everywhere else, and that allows me more time to spend at home with my one-year-old son.
I was an English major in college, but I never quite knew exactly what I wanted to do with that. My original plan was to maybe move to NYC and try to make it as a playwright. When I graduated college, I took a job as a traveling stage manager with the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, NJ. Along with a group of four actors, we traveled to schools throughout NJ, putting on educational shows for the children. I spent one year doing that, and a second year working as an assistant stage manager for the George Street mainstage. I met a lot of interesting people and had fun for a while, but I quickly learned that I wasn’t cut out for the starving theater artist life.
Meanwhile, I had enjoyed visiting the schools, and I had begun to thing that perhaps a life of teaching kids to read and write was more up my alley. As a stage manager, I spent my days doing a lot of grunt work (during rehearsals for one play, I literally had to mop up after one actress’s daily spit take), and I thought that, as a teacher, I might actually get to spend more time doing the reading and writing I loved–and making a positive difference in a kid’s life didn’t sound so bad either. After two years in the theater world, I went back to school to get my teaching degree.
What you did over this past summer?
Most summers I do freelance writing work, but this year I really wanted to focus on just being home with my little boy. We went for walks and to library story times, and just bonded with each other. I did manage to do some writing in the evenings after he went to bed, mostly for a young adult novel I’m working on. Incidentally, I’m very lucky that I had the option not to look for paying work over the summer. Most teachers I know aren’t so fortunate.
What are you looking forward to most this school year? Will you have any specific projects or new programs to work on?
This year is going to be a challenge. Starting in a new school is like starting all over again, and it’s even more difficult for me because I’m working with an age group that I’ve never worked with before. Plus, this particular school is a bit of a culture shock. I get a week off for Rosh Hashanah and no time for Christmas, I don’t know how to pronounce about half of my students’ names, etc. Still, I’m a bit disillusioned with public schools as of late, so I’m actually looking forward to trying something that’s bound to be a whole new experience. The people at the new school are extremely nice and welcoming, and my supervisor has been extremely supportive, so I can’t ask for much more than that.
How do you prepare for the transition from summer to the school year?
This is always a bittersweet time of year. It’s hard to say good bye to summer, and the first few weeks of school are always rough, no matter how long you’ve been teaching. Most years, I spend a few days at my new school, setting up my gradebook, making sure all of my materials are in the right rooms (I haven’t had one room all to myself since my first year of teaching), writing lesson plans, etc. This year it was much harder to prepare. I didn’t have anyone to babysit my son during the last week of my break, so I spent the time at home, sorting through materials my supervisor gave me and trying to figure out what I would do with a bunch of seventh graders. At times like this, I try to remember the advice given to me by a mentor teacher just before my first day in my own classroom: Plan just enough to get you through that first day, then plan enough to get you through that second day, and so on.