Math and English: A Marketable Combination
After working so hard to earn that degree in art history or English literature or sociology, the hard truth comes in that perpetual search for a job in your field. Good thing you thought of that beforehand. You decided to add a teaching certification because teachers are needed everywhere. Still, the job search can be just as discouraging when competing against plenty of other qualified, passionate and experienced teachers. The truth is that even teachers need to make themselves marketable. That might mean an expertise in ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language), PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies), or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), or better yet a combination of endorsements. A unique combination of skill sets and a variety of experiences can really set you apart from other candidates.
When I was choosing my certifications in my education program, math was all the hype. Everyone told me: “We need good math teachers” and “You’ll always have a job teaching math.” When I sat down with my program advisor, with my degree in English Literature, I had expected to plan a course of study for K-8 with a language arts endorsement. My advisor recognized that I already had several math credits and she suggested I get a math endorsement with my K-8 certification, as it would have been the same amount of additional credits. While I was told that I would never teach English due to the overwhelming number of teachers certified in that subject area, I decided to take that extra semester worth of classes in order to add the endorsement to my certification anyway.
Though the additional endorsement was almost an after thought, it better prepared me to teach students in urban and international schools. My first teaching job was at a cooperative school in Micronesia working with students who came to school from an oral culture, as opposed to a literate-rich culture. I taught ELL, reading and writing as well as Algebra. I used predictive reading strategies and word walls daily with my students just to help them use their textbooks and learn content-specific vocabulary. I also incorporated ethnomathematics and regularly discussed math as another language; this helped my students to value math in their own culture and meaningfully relate to the subject. This has continued to be the case in the school I work in now, with many students having immigrated themselves or with parents who have immigrated, and with students that don’t have a strong literacy or technical background. This is more and more the case, regardless of the demographic, as the mainstream culture becomes more and more passively audiovisual as well.
Now if I had never taught a single reading or writing class, that extra semester of classes might have been pointless. I’m glad to say that it has been an added perk in every job I’ve been interested in thus far. I seem to regularly go into an interview for a math position and walk out with an offer for some kind of Math-English/ELL offer. In Detroit, I interviewed at a school that wanted to use the morning and afternoon homeroom time as additional reading mini-lessons. At a DC Public Schools hiring fair, a DC Teaching Fellow standing next to me in line said something to the effect that the program only licenses in high needs subject areas such as math. That same school that interviewed both of us for math called me back to interview for an English position. Most recently I interviewed for a part-time math position, and the school offered to increase my position by adding an additional English course as well as Newspaper and Yearbook Club. I bring a unique skill set to every position for which I apply. In schools with high ELL populations, I know how to best utilize math journals, teach technical reading skills, and model written and numerical presentations on assessments and student portfolios.
Even as I have found my way into teaching only math classes, my reading and writing background helps me work with ELL students and students of all reading abilities as well as create more versatile lesson plans to complement the Common Core.
This article is sponsored by Western Governors University, a non-profit, accredited, online university. WGU's Teachers College offers multiple online degree programs for current teachers or those looking to become teachers. To find out more, please visit www.wgu.edu/wisecareers_teachers