Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Pieces Falling in Place

Going through the process of finding a job is nervewracking.  The last time that I went through the process of a move and a job hunt was when I graduated from college in 2005.  And while I remember that process being stressful, it wasn't as if I was unemployed at the time.  Was I employed doing something that I wanted to do for a long time or for the rest of my life?  By no means, but I was working fulltime at Applebee's and substitute teaching, and for where I was living at the time in Marquette, Michigan, I was actually making decent money.  However, decent money, if you are not content with what you're doing, doesn't mean much.  

A few months back, my wife, Mary, was accepted to grad school and after talking about it, we decided that we would move to Reno so she could pursue her master's in speech-language pathology.  Her program will be a little under two years, but she will not be working so she can concentrate on school, so it was imperative that I find a job.  The problem was, nothing was available for me in my licensed areas, so I had to be willing to either drive to other districts outside of Reno or find a position in special education while working on the requirements for licensure.  

The idea of teaching special education was intriguing to me.  I have always enjoyed working with students in a one-on-one setting or small group, something that a special education teacher gets to do on a regular basis.  Special education teachers also get to experiment with new ideas that could potentially reach students that may struggle in a traditional classroom setting.  But it wasn't just the intrigue of trying something new, I HAD to get a job, so I enrolled in a program through Western Governors University to take the credits necessary for licensure in special education.  

I had seen the commercials and knew a little about WGU, but the extent of what I knew was that it was a nonprofit school that was online.  I looked into their education programs and applied after learning that they had a special education degree, their tuition was very reasonable, and it was completely online (I already have two online degrees, I love the ability to work on my own time and I am self-motivated to get things done).  At first, I was interested in just taking the required classes for licensure, but when I learned more about WGU, it made sense to pursue the Masters in Special Education.  

Low tuition, all online, competency-based?
WGU is very unique in how they charge tuition and fees and how you move through your degree program.  WGU assigns classes to six-month terms, rather than semesters that are typically around four months long.  You could take the minimum number of classes during the term or you can take as many as you can and the tuition is the same.  My degree program is 31 credits and I am hoping to complete 18-20 of the credits during this first term.  How can you do that, you may be asking?  WGU is also unique in that you complete the classes on your schedule and because it is competency-based, with a pass/fail grade assigned (something that I have really become more interested in and passionate about lately, you will see a post on competency-based learning soon!), you can take the final exams when you are ready, not on a specific day at the end of the class.  For example, I just completed my first class in about 15 days.  I completed some of the activities with the class and realized that I knew most of what it was covering, so I requested to complete the final exam and writing prompt, passing both and finishing up the class.  I have now started my second class and hope to have it done by the end of June, finishing the first six credits of my program in a month.  

So, it's great that I got into a degree program and that WGU is a great fit for me, but how is the job hunt going?  I applied to a few positions in Reno, one in Carson City, and one in Lyon County.  Each of the positions was special education, with the exception of Lyon County, which was a technology coaching position that covered the 18 schools of the county (this one was my number one, even though it would have required driving up to 180 miles roundtrip on some days).  My anxiety began to build when I wasn't getting any responses back from the Reno schools and a notification that the position in Lyon County had been filled.  However, I did get a call from Carson City requesting if I would like to interview, which I gladly accepted.  

Conveniently, Carson City wanted to interview me after school had ended for me in Las Vegas and my family and I had planned to go to my parents' place near Redding, CA.  It was easy to pull into Reno for a night and go out to Carson for the interview and take care of some other things in Reno, like getting the kids registered for school.  So I prepped a sample lesson, cut my hair and put on a tie and headed out to interview at Carson High School.  

I don't get nervous for interviews.  My philosophy is to be confident, be honest, and the rest will take care of itself.  The panel for my interview asked me some very tough questions on some things that, frankly, I didn't know a lot about because I haven't worked as a special education teacher before.  However, I was very honest and stated that while I wasn't licensed in special education, I had been cleared by the district to complete the requirements if I was hired.  I answered questions to the best of my knowledge and experience and relied heavily on my classroom management, teacher-student relationship philosophy, and educational technology skills.  In my sample lesson, I demonstrated how Pear Deck can be a game changer in a classroom, especially with special education students because it provides a safe platform in which all students can participate, regardless of learning styles, fears, etc.  I left the interview and made the 25-30 minute drive back to Reno confident that I did well, but still preparing to apply for other jobs.  

As I got off the freeway when I got back into Reno, the phone rang, displaying a 775 number on the screen in the car.  For the non-Nevada folk out there, 775 is the area code that covers the entire state with the exception of Clark County, which is mainly 702 or 725.  Maybe I was being presumptuous, but I assumed that it may be Carson High School or the Carson City School District, or maybe a school in Reno.  I answered to hear the voice of the assistant principal that I had spoken with just 45 minutes before, asking if I would be interested in joining the team at Carson High School as the newest special education teacher! Like I have previously said, I felt confident that I did well in the interview, but I was floored that I received a call and offer so quickly.  I gladly accepted and told her how excited I was to become a Carson Senator!  

Over the next few weeks, I will be busy beyond belief, completing as much of my degree program as I can, traveling to Carson City for my new hire orientation, packing my belongings, and making the move to Reno.  My kids will be back to school, or in the case of my youngest, going to school for the first in pre-K, on August 6 and I will be completing new hire training the same week before reporting to my new school the following week and starting with students on August 20.  While I like to think I wasn't worried about getting a job, I do know that now that I have a job and everything is starting to come together for the move, a large weight has been lifted off of me and I can prepare for the next chapter.  And as for my wife, she has her class schedule for her own grad program and she is preparing for the next step of her profession and passion.  I couldn't be prouder of her and get to celebrate our 10th anniversary on June 21st!  

Enjoy your "time off", learn something new, watch some amazing soccer during the World Cup, and do something that you love!  

Until next time... 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Wow, 13 Years!

While it hasn't quite hit me just yet, I have completed not only my 13th year in education but last as an employee of the Clark County School District in Las Vegas.  My entire career thus far has been in CCSD, with three high schools, one middle school, one behavioral junior and senior high school, hundreds of colleagues and thousands of students.  I have grown from a fresh from college and brand new to Nevada 23-year-old to a seasoned veteran teacher with so much more to learn and do.  I have completed a Master's in Education, an Educational Specialist in School Leadership, and have embarked on a Master's in Special Education.  I have taught American Government, United States HIstory, US History - Honors, AP US History, Physical Education, and served as a school technology coach and a dean of students.  I coached football, baseball, and volleyball, advised a ski and snowboard club, and chaperoned countless academic and senior trips.  I am very proud of what I have done so far, but it is far from over.  

How does one really narrow this down?  Tough thoughts...
I can also say that none of this would have been possible without some really amazing people that I have had in my life over the past 13 years.  Countless teachers and professors helped steer me to this profession, and many, many of my colleagues and supervisors helped guide and mold me into the educator that I am today.  While I could probably write a book about all of the teachers, professors, coworkers, supervisors, etc. that had an influence on me, I want to take some time to recognize five people that really mean a lot to me.  While my time in CCSD may be over, I hope that our relationships, professional and as friends, continue over the four hundred plus miles between us.  

Alison Levy
When I began my first year teaching back in 2005, Alison was the social studies teacher in the room next to me.  She was also assigned to me as my mentor, to make sure I knew what the procedures of the school were going to be, to check in to make sure I wasn't losing my mind, and to guide me through the hell that the first year of teaching can be.  Alison was more than a mentor; she became one of my best friends and introduced me to her husband, Mike, who is also one of my best friends.  Alison is somebody that shares a love of history with me, so we could always geek out on that.  She also loves to travel, stopping at historical landmarks, and maybe more importantly, the best food venues.  Because of Alison, I became a better teacher, learned more about history, and probably gained more weight than I should have, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.  

Jayme Rawson
Jayme and I first met my first year as well.  As an English teacher, Jayme was nowhere near my classroom, but as somebody that has an unbelievable passion for students and teaching, she was somebody that wanted to make sure that all first-year teachers, not just me, were succeeding.  She also has an eclectic taste in music and knows her random facts and history, things that are right up my alley.  Jayme left to teach at another school after my third year, but we were reunited a couple of years later when we had classrooms next to each other and worked as English and social studies curriculum partners, working with the same group of students in our classes.  We have had lots of happy moments, we've seen each other cry, and we have been there for one another to yell, scream, and curse when we just need a moment to let it out.  My children refer to her as Auntie Jayme, and while we don't see each other nearly as much as we should, we joke that we will probably see each other more now that I am moving because she is in Reno often enough to visit family.  

Tina Statucki
Tina was my supervisor for many years.  When I met her, I was not in a very great place in my life.  I had recently lost my brother and I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue teaching because of some frustrations coming from my previous school.  Tina and I have a very similar view on education: set high expectations and stick to them, because even if your expectations aren't fully met, you will get much better quality results than if the bar is set low.  I always knew that Tina would have my back and if I wanted to try something new, she would be the first to see me, success or fail, and offer her thoughts on how it went and how to improve.  Tina is also the one that really turned me on to educational technology, as she was one of the first to embrace Google Apps for Education, sharing her love for edtech with me and turning me into the monster that I am today with tech.  She has become like an older sister to me, and while I am moving, I know I'll still be able to see her, as she happens to have family in Reno.  

Lucas Leavitt
Lucas is somebody that I have looked up to for a long time.  When a young athlete is coming up through the ranks, a common question for them is, "Who do you try to model your game after?"  If I am the young athlete, Lucas is the man I am trying to model my game after.  His passion for education and young people, his knowledge of technology, both pedagogically and technically, and his leadership skills are things that I envy and strive for on a daily basis.  On top of that, his sense of humor is something that legends are made of; I never fail to laugh continuously whenever we get together.  Not sure if I'll be able to convince him road trip it to Reno, being his Runnin' Rebel blood turns redder in the presence of the Wolfpack... 

Ron Kamman
I only got to work with Ron for a short time, but the time that I got with him was unforgettable.  Ron was my supervisor when I was working as a technology coach.  Ron was relatively tech-savvy, but definitely had some areas in which he wasn't as knowledgeable.  The site-based technician and I worked with Ron on a daily basis to give him an idea of the daily ins and outs of the school's network, hardware, software, teacher/student needs, etc.  But Ron was more than somebody that I simply reported to and received direction;  Ron was a great inspiration to me as a leader.  I had completed my degree and district training in school leadership and Ron allowed me to annoy him constantly with questions about his role as an administrator, allowed me to sit in on his conferences with students, showed me the ropes of inputting data into the district system, how to write observation notes and evaluations, and so much more.  When I left that position to become a dean, I was better prepared because of Ron.  That job didn't pan out because of the time commitment, but nobody can do anything but tell you about it.  I know that someday, I may return to administration and will be prepared and ready because of Ron's leadership.  

Of course, I must give credit to my amazing wife, Mary.  She has been by my side for nearly 14 years, with our 10 year anniversary coming up on June 21. She has stood by me through the good and the bad and supported me in countless ways.  I cannot wait to see what the next 10 years bring us and the adventures of her experiences in grad school and beyond.  

There are so many more that I could recognize, but once again, it would fill a book.  For every educator, administrator, support staff, etc. that I have had the privilege and pleasure of working with over the past 13 years, I cannot thank you enough.  I cannot wait to begin my next chapter, knowing that there will be more amazing people to further mold this lump of clay.  

Until next time...