Susan Muse, English Teacher, Buford Middle School
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
One of the most challenging aspects of my job is the ongoing preparation teaching requires, coupled with the high expectations I have of myself. My job as an English teacher for both 7th and 8th grade students as the Gifted Specialist in English, and as the Co-Director for the National Junior Honor Society, requires that I not only get to know each of my 80-100 students each year–both their strengths and their needs–but that I also continually learn in order to create valuable and creative lessons.
This process takes time and energy: constant researching and reading the latest educational research, taking courses and attending workshops to keep current with the latest teaching philosophies and strategies and collaborating with my Buford Family. It is exciting to realize that I continually am evolving as an educator, that I have the opportunity to continue to learn and grow and teach others. Challenging, yes, but it is gratifying to know that I am having some small impact on those who will guide our world some day. I tell my students that I hope they will be better (writers, students, human beings) today than they were yesterday. Who wants “to be” when you can “become?” I have those same expectations for myself.
What’s the most common misconception about your job?
Unfortunately, some people who are not in education don’t understand what the pace of the school day is like: planning lessons, preparing materials, dealing with technology, talking with and emailing parents and their children, individual and group conferencing with students, teaching a writing workshop before and after school, communicating with administration and counselors about achievement data and student issues, attending professional learning communities for three groups as well as staff and committee meetings, doing extended duties and supervising students, attending after school events like band concerts or athletic games, grading papers, arranging for guest teachers to come in the classroom to support students, thinking of and creating new ways to challenge students, substituting for other teachers, coordinating and attending field trips, preparing student work for publication, coordinating the spelling bee–and the list goes on. In reality, every day is a well-choreographed ballet of many activities, all of which are valuable to the growth and maturation of students. The pace is rapid, and the days are long.
Where do you see the teaching field in five years?
Change is part of education. Education has been in a summative assessment mode for a number of years. My hope is that Virginia will move away from high-stakes testing that requires a multiple choice end-of-the-year assessment. All students are so much more than a choice between four answers; they should have the opportunity to show who they are and what they have learned. Some possibilities include experiential opportunities and a portfolio format. One specific way to do this is problem-based learning. One summer I taught a group of students who used the Buford Community Garden as the basis for their PBL experience. Exploring how the garden had impacted the community resulted in students working on math and English to produce a cookbook titled Out of the Garden.
This hands-on learning opportunity allowed students to showcase their math and writing strengths and to grow as learners; they used 21st century skills, such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and problem-solving, all skills that they will need in the real world. I believe my job is to prepare students for the future. Project- and problem-based learning and portfolio assessments offer students a snapshot of their future, what future challenges they face in a real job when perhaps they will likely collaborate and communicate with colleagues who might not be in the same room with them. Instead they may be working with others who are somewhere else in the world. We all have to learn to collaborate and effectively communicate in this community we call our world.
What outside experience prepared you best to become a teacher?
I look at my life and realize that everything I have done in the past has prepared me in some way to become a teacher. I was fortunate to have attended rigorous schools where every teacher demanded excellence. From experience, I know that “if you build it, they will come.” If I spend the time to build a classroom environment that give students the tools to expect more of themselves each and every day, then they will rise to that challenge.
This is harder than it sounds. A necessary component of this is making personal connections with students and their families. I also think my involvement as a parent has helped me know what these middle school years are like emotionally, physically and mentally. From the moment my children entered Mrs. Payne’s kindergarten class at Venable, I tried to be a support to their teachers and to every school as a whole. I had the opportunity to wear many hats throughout their years in this school system, from being the PTO Co-President to forming the Band Boosters at Walker Upper Elementary School to starting numerous community service endeavors that modeled for students that giving back is what life is really all about.