Choosing the Challenge
Early-October 2015—I am a bit surprised at how hard it is for me to find the challenging teaching assignment. The way I see it, components of a challenging assignment are simple—a classroom with traditional or reluctant learners in an urban, low-income area. From my experience, this should not be hard to find.
It is no secret that students who live in low-income areas typically bring a set of circumstances that students in suburban or even rural areas do not. Limited school resources also intensify the situation. Both conditions, limited resources and student circumstances, oftentimes act as barriers for students to approach learning as enthusiastic participants. Teachers are then faced with navigating those barriers to prime students for opportunities to learn. The complexity of this process far supersedes anything anyone can describe.
The demand of fulfilling all that is required of a teaching assignment in an environment of this sort remains stressfully difficult. This type of work environment causes quick teacher burnout and high turnover rates (Claycomb, 2000). Considering all of this, I thought that finding and securing such a position would be relatively easy.
My teaching niche is Secondary English and Language Arts, preferably high school. I comb through local and surrounding district job boards in a strategic search for the right teaching opportunity. When I see what I think is a suitable one, I immediately check the Department of Education’s website for demographic data in order to remain focused on job postings for schools in low-income areas.
Just because a school is in a low-income area does not mean that every student who attends that school is a struggling or reluctant learner. Within every school dwells an eager population of students capable of meeting and surpassing academic expectations. These particular students are often placed in advanced or honors-level classes, as they thrive on stimulating conversations. They are motivated participants who require less encouragement than their counterparts in regular classes.
Teaching honors-level classes at this point would not give me the experience of my search. Any teaching assignment will not do. My quest is to test one of my previous colleague’s claim—that students are far more different and challenging now than they were the last time I was in the classroom. By engrossing myself into a less than ideal classroom at a teaching level, I could really see if students in a regular classroom setting are as different as stated.
Although I find five teaching opportunities that suit my “challenge” criteria, three of them include teaching a mixture of honors and regular-level classes. In my early years as an educator, I successfully fulfilled similar teaching assignments with two or three different preps that included some classes of remedial, advanced, and honors. Whether students were in the honors or remedial class, they achieved as a result of our [students, parents, colleagues] efforts. I had been there, done that well, and had no desire of returning.
Therein lies the difficulty with finding the right assignment for me. It’s not that teaching jobs in low-income areas were not out there. Clearly, there were enough from which I could choose.
Right now, however, I am searching for a different experience. I want to teach most classes of reluctant and/or struggling students, so I eliminate the three that include honors-level classes, as they were a challenge I had not already experienced.
Of the two left, there was only one that really piqued my interest.
This one required teaching 9th-12th grades in four different classrooms with no planning period. Half of the school day I would be molding the minds of freshman. The other half of the day, my charge would be to counsel, coerce, and motivate upperclassmen to successfully complete English courses they had not previously passed.
A teaching assignment in a low-income area that required traveling from one classroom to the next to impress upon immature and unmotivated minds might typically be one that most teachers would avoid. However, that is exactly the one I want—the most arduous challenge.
I now had a new goal of confidently and unapologetically interviewing for a position that would test me in ways I have never been professionally challenged before.
Claycomb, C. (2000). High-quality urban school teachers: What they need to enter and to remain in hard-to-staff schools. The State Education Standard, 1(1), 17–21.