January 5, 2006
New Teacher Learning: Second career, first-class
As published in the Dec. 24, 2005, issue of The Spokesman-Review
First-year teacher Bruce Market made his way through the halls of University High School in September like a fish swimming upstream through a sea of bodies.
Like many teachers at the crowded Central Valley school, he doesn't have his own classroom. All his papers are loaded onto a Wal-Mart kitchen cart-turned-desk.
"Coming through," Market shouted. One student shouted back, "Nice suit, Mr. Market. You look pimp."
The 53-year-old former businessman stepped into his assigned classroom for the day. The 20 eager freshmen seated in front of him did not make him nervous.
This may be his first teaching job, but after spending 20 years as an executive arguing with Japanese electronics moguls and making six-figures, quarrelling with a 14-year-old over vocabulary homework is a piece of cake.
Market is a second-career teacher and when he steps in front of the students, there is no fear. Classroom management has not been a problem. Teaching seems to come naturally, with a booming voice that can snap any student out of boredom.
His only vice is that he works too hard.
Eager to teach kids what he knows, he had been assigning a five-paragraph essay each week. That's 90 papers a week to read and grade.
"I basically had no life," Market said.
By November, he had it figured out with a little help from veteran teachers and staff. If he kept up that pace, he'd be hitting "the wall" that most first-year teachers hit this time of year.
December came and so did the end of the trimester. Market looked back on his first four months as a teacher, and as 90 new faces sat in front of him, he couldn't have been more excited for the challenges ahead.
Market is one of 56 classroom teachers hired by the Central Valley School District this year. He joins a pool of about 28 teachers in the district who are new to the profession.
A teacher's first year is challenging, with new lessons in managing classrooms full of pubescent youths, dealing with parents, handing out discipline, meeting deadlines, and, most importantly mastering the task of teaching America's future what they need to know in order to be successful in life.
"The most challenging piece is the classroom management, and that's one of the things that we start working on with new teachers right away," said Lise Louer, an assistant superintendent who handles new teacher training.
Market, so far, has met those challenges head-on and is nothing but typical, his peers said.
"Bruce is a lot older and has had a lot of different life experiences," Louer said. "Rather than, say, the very young teacher who is 24 years old."
Market graduated this year from the Whitworth College Master in Teaching program, a rigorous 14-month curriculum that graduates about 50 new teachers a year. Some of those, like Market, are students who are coming to teaching mid-career, following a dream or looking to give back to the community.
"It was kind of like joining the Peace Corps for me," Market said.
Market, who grew up in California, graduated with a bachelor's degree from Occidental College. He went on to become the vice president of consumer electronics and marketing for Yamaha. When he retired at the age of 40, he was making roughly $240,000 a year, a far cry from a beginning teacher's salary of about $30,000 a year. A teacher with a master's degree makes slightly more.
"Many times, I find that second-career teachers who choose to pursue the profession are very intentional about their professional pursuit, this is not a default position," said David Cherry, director of Whitworth's MIT program. "They either want to give back to society as adults, or many times they are those who have reared children and see the real need for quality teachers. They realize that persons with experience can provide compassion and support systems."
It doesn't make them better teachers than their younger colleagues, it just means they are more grounded in reality, he said.
At his age, Market said, he was the oldest student in his program and once contemplated quitting.
"I came very, very close to throwing in the towel at Whitworth," Market said. "I just wondered if I was doing the right thing. Should I go back to the corporate world? Is this dream worth dreaming? Should I be doing this at my age?"
When Market was hired as a full-time freshman and sophomore English teacher at U-Hi, he was told he had one task: to teach the students to write. He also did his student teaching at U-Hi.
As a former businessman, Market knows the value of the written word. He often tells students that he got his first corporate job because of his ability to write.
His previous experience became clear as he stood in front of the students one day in September.
Handing back the first homework assignment on using new vocabulary words, Market grumbled, "Homey ain't happy," using bad grammar intentionally.
"These kids just butchered the words," he said.
The lack of enthusiasm from the students startled him.
"It's like triage. There are 300 dying people out here, and you've got one doctor," Market said. "I can see how a doctor must feel at a plane crash site."
The first essay assigned was mayhem. Students groaned, a few used foul language just loud enough to be heard but not loud enough so the teacher would know who said it.
"I think they would rather be hit in the face with a board of nails than write an essay," Market said.
Novels assigned to each class weren't being read. When the first progress reports were released in October, parents started calling.
"I remembered a phrase I learned from Whitworth; that teaching is like building a plane in the air," Market said. "So that is what I will do."
While he was older and more mature, he wasn't completely free from the stress that first-year teachers face.
"There is a certain maturity that comes with age, but so much has changed about education, it has been an enormous learning curve," said Stacey Reser, a 35-year-old first-year teacher at Shadle Park High School in Spokane. "I don't have a good feel anymore for what the kids should already know at this age."
Reser graduated with a degree in education in the early 1990s. Instead of going right into teaching, she spent 14 years doing missionary work.
"Coming back was a very conscious choice that I made," Reser said. "The students know I want to be here. That's the difference."
More than anything else Market faces this year, it's the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, also known as the WASL, that terrifies him the most.
This year's sophomore class is the first required to pass the high-stakes test in order to graduate.
Starting in December, Market will be teaching only sophomores until the end of the school year.
Three times so far this year he has administered the WASL-like tests to his students. He uses each pre-test as his own lesson for which areas need work. Students are shown examples of acceptable WASL writing and ones that won't work.
He tells the students, "Every paper you write for me is going to be graded in WASL format." And if the students don't start using the WASL format for their papers, he tells them, "I'll be on you like a rat on a Cheeto."
Market reminds the students that in Washington last year, only 61 percent of sophomores passed all three areas of the WASL.
"If I told the Japanese that I came in at 61 percent of the quota, I can tell you exactly where I would have ended up. On the street," Market said. "I tell them this because I want them to know how the real world works."
As the trimester came to a close and the holiday approached, Market discovered he was also in the real world. He became very critical of himself, once again second-guessing his decision to teacher this late in life.
The vice principal told him some students complained they never wanted to take his class again. A parent was upset over her daughter's failing grade. One student told her parents that "Mr. Market just didn't like her."
But he was reminded by his colleagues that the first year is like a marathon: "You need to pace yourself or you will burn out." You can't dwell on the small stuff.
"I'm just looking forward to really becoming a better teacher. I think I've still got a lot to learn about what works and what doesn't," he said. "This Christmas for me is about the joy and the reward of hanging in. I can't tell you how often I have pulled into my driveway on the way home from school, and just sat there and thought, wow, what a year it has been, and that I'm finally getting to do what I wanted to do."
David Cherry, director, Master in Teaching Program, professor of education, Whitworth College, (509) 777-4408 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julie Riddle, public information officer, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3729 or email@example.com.
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