890. A Day in the Life: What's It Really Like to Be a Middle School Teacher?
“Two things every teacher should do–both to make themselves more employable and to make more money in teaching–is to, first, add a master’s degree, and then a specialist degree. These put a teacher on a different scale and have more than paid for themselves since I obtained them.”
In the spring of 1978, John Donegan received the news that he had sufficient credits to graduate from the university of Florida with a BA in history and move on to the next phase of his life. While many would be thrilled to graduate in three years, he was terrified. The job market was wretched, inflation was rampant, and the energy crisis had Americans turning out lights and waiting in long lines for a tank of gas. Partly to avoid graduation, and partly due to some sage advice from a trusted professor, John applied to the College of Education for their one-year teacher certification program. Four decades later that advice seems to have paid off as John continues to enjoy a career as a social studies teacher.
The Most Impactful Turning Point?
“Back in the 1980s not many teachers were certified to teach gifted students. I was teaching at Columbia High School in DeKalb County at the time and decided to sponsor a team to participate in the academic competitions. I’d always been fascinated with quiz competitions like Jeopardy and the College Bowl. We began competing and did pretty well in the tournaments. The teacher of the gifted program at the time decided to move on to another job. He saw that I related to and enjoyed working with the gifted students. He called me up and suggested that I get my certification, too. It was a very insightful piece of advice and is the main reason I am still teaching today after 40+ years.”
The Most Powerful Lessons and Experiences?
1. “I enjoyed history and social studies from an early age and in fact subscribed to American History Illustrated magazine when I was in grammar school. When I’d go to the library, I grabbed biographies and histories. I don’t think I read a book of fiction until eighth grade. When I went into a one-year certification program after university to become a teacher, it was obvious to me what I would teach.”
2. “The one-year program for teaching allowed me to get certified in a broad field: social studies, grade six through 12, any social studies subject from sociology and economics to world history, you name it. I also earned other certifications during my career, including gifted certification, which was one of the smartest things I did. If I talk to a kid who’s interested in pursuing education as a career, I always tell them to get as many different certifications as you possibly can. It makes you so much more employable. It can also put you at a higher pay scale.”
3. “I tell my students to take advantage of everything you can do at the university level. If there is a guest speaker, a musical performer…go to see them. Get out there and experience what is being offered. When I was at university we saw people as varied as the author Hunter S. Thompson, Dan Rather, Dick Cavett and so many others. It was a fascinating experience. I think it helped me to become a better instructor and I strongly encourage students to take advantage of the resources of the university and don’t try and do the whole thing online if they can avoid it.”
4. “I took a class designed to help teachers be better informed about teaching the history of Asia. Because of a program called The Five Colleges Center for East Asian Studies, I was able to get a grant, along with 20 other teachers, to travel to China for three weeks and directly experience the country’s history and culture. That experience so enhanced my ability to teach about the country and led to other educational adventures in Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Africa and other countries.”
5. “One of the great advantages of teaching, more than many other professions, is that the job can move with you. Every place you go, there are children and there are schools.”
6. “My career as a teacher has been gratifying on so many levels: first, it has allowed me to focus on and dive deeply into a subject I have been fascinated with my entire life, and, even more importantly, it is gigantically rewarding to work with high achieving and gifted students.”
Connecting With John Donegan
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