Teaching (Before and) After MAPH

Among the many great teachers that have emerged from the ranks of MAPH, this post was submitted by former MAPHer and current teacher Conor O’Sullivan. Conor graduated from MAPH in 2007 and remains in the Chicago-area as a private school teacher.

For the two years between finishing my undergraduate degree and starting MAPH, I taught high school and middle school English at the Roxbury Latin School, an independent boys’ school in Boston. While I loved teaching, and loved working and interacting with bright, motivated students even more, I knew that if I did not apply to graduate schools soon, I would reach a point of no return and end up teaching for the rest of my life. I may still do so, but as my department chair pointed out when I asked his advice on whether I should go to MAPH or stay at Roxbury Latin, it is preferable by far to make an informed decision to teach after having tried grad school than it is simply to keep teaching because it is the easy thing to do.

Now, in my first year after MAPH, I am back in the classroom in a small independent, K-8 coeducational school in Elgin, IL, called Fox River Country Day School. I got this job through Carney, Sandoe and Associates, a head-hunting firm for prospective teachers who want to work at private and independent schools. The process is simple: one simply has to submit a resume, personal statement, and letters of recommendation to the service, and fill out a questionnaire about teaching interests and geographical preferences. Teaching experience is not required; in fact, many independent schools prefer to hire young teachers who are just out of a degree program in their field, rather than teachers who have been highly trained in the field of education. During my interview at Roxbury Latin, when I expressed concern that I had not even so much as student taught for a single day, the headmaster told me that the school preferred to hire bright people who know their field well and will learn how to teach, rather than people who may know specific teaching techniques but are unfamiliar with any particular topic. This seems to me to be fairly typical of middle and high schools, where each teacher teaches only one or two subjects, while elementary schools are more concerned with the growth process of students than with their academic mastery of, say, history.

For those who are interested in teaching at an independent school, you have to know one thing: it will be your life. Teaching, even if you only spend four hours per day in front of a class, is one of the most demanding and exhausting (both physically and mentally) jobs that you will ever encounter. I currently have four preps, plus weekly work on the school newsletter, a study-skills class for sixth graders, and am the assistant boys’ soccer coach—in addition to the grading that comes with being an English teacher. I am constantly jealous of my friends whose jobs end at 5 pm; but then, they don’t get to experience the joys of being a teacher. And the joys are many: spending all day talking to bright kids about interesting things, seeing the looks on their faces when they finally understand a concept or have an original insight, witnessing their genuine gratitude to their teachers. That’s not to say, of course, that teaching doesn’t have its frustrations, too; particularly after a year of such intensive graduate work as we all did in MAPH, suddenly having to struggle to get sixth graders to understand The Jungle Book can be quite a letdown. But on the whole, if you think you have any interest in teaching, give it a try; at its best, it can be the perfect combination of fun and academics.

As for me, I am currently in the process of applying for Ph.D. programs in English. The MAPH year (and the tough time I’m having with those sixth graders) convinced me that I want to do my best to stay in academia on the university level. Of course, I can’t rule out teaching high school as a career, but at least now whether I stay with it or not, I’ve had the experience both of teaching and of grad school.

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