Baptism by fire: How I started my teaching career

06/02/2016

Growing up in a home where my mother was a teacher, I remember going into her classroom in the summer to help her set up-cleaning dust from the books and instruments, moving desks, helping her to update faded bulletin boards. All the while, I longed to play on the playground I spied through the window. Growing up I had no intention of ever getting into education.

A college graduate, the twists and turns in my 'big plans' landed me a sweet job waitressing to pay bills. One slow day  two gentlemen happened to ask if I knew anything about science. It felt as though my actions in the past month had shifted me far away from utilizing the science knowledge (pre-med major) I had spent the 4 years prior gaining. They asked if I would be interested in a long-term 7th grade science sub position at Draper Middle School. After a few questions I decided it might be a good opportunity.

When I went home and told my mother my serendipitous tale she thought I had lost my mind. I had verbally agreed to teach science to an inner city 'rough' middle school 7th grade class - on the spot, site unseen. Being more nervous than I was she helped me lay out professional clothing, gave me a list of questions to ask, and helped me pack a bag for the day.

Upon my arrival to the school office, I was immediately escorted down the hall and welcomed by 25 students running crazily around a classroom - MY classroom. The principal said "Thank you. Here is your first class for the day". As he left, I realized the next few minutes would determine everything. "In your seats" I stated, in the most authoritarian voice I could muster. The students sat down. In a panic I introduced myself, writing my name on the board. I asked them to take out something with which they could write. "Today we are going to trace our hands". Big-eyed I nodded, the students' eyes widened, they nodded and began to trace their hands. Wheww... that worked for the first day.  I think that's what they call "baptism by fire."

My first few days I flew solo. I exchanged daily "Hello"s with the secretaries and janitors, but no other teachers came to talk with me. The principal stopped by twice; each time so I could fill out paperwork. My mother helped me plan my lessons.

Just about the time I finally felt settled in the principal stopped by to tell me that they were going to post the position I was filling temporarily. He strongly encouraged I apply, stating I could easily balance teaching and my course work.  He had my transcripts and a rough outline of what classes I would need to take to be certified to teach. He had also taken the initiative to call four area universities. He  and my colleagues gave me the pros and cons of each.

It turns out, the students at Draper Middle School found their permanent science teacher as I found my way-graduate school for education. I am an educator today because they saw a gift that I couldn't recognize. They elevated me. I could never thank them enough.

— Amanda Zullo
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About the Author: Since 2005 Amanda has been a high school Chemistry Teacher at Saranac Lake High School. A strong advocate for hands on, meaningful, student centered learning, she involves her students in using process oriented inquiry learning in class and lab activities along with problem based learning to help students develop applications for the concepts they are learning. Amanda has worked with the POGIL project, contributing to the development of four books on classroom guided inquiry activities and one lab book. Amanda earned a certificate of Advanced Study in National Board Certification and Teacher leadership when she earned her National Board Certification in 2012.

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