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High School Technology Teacher

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Art Weidner is a technology teacher for the Business, Technology, and Life Studies Department at Rolling Meadows High School in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

What advice would you give to people who think that they might be interested in a career in technology education?

I would tell them to be prepared for a major commitment of time and energy. Some people think that they might like to teach because they have this idea that high school teachers work from eight to four and have all summer off. If you want to teach in this field, you have to be available whenever the students are. That might mean evenings, weekends, school holidays, or before school meets.

Why do we have to be so available? The basic reason is that many parents want their kids to take a college preparatory curriculum, and that curriculum doesn't leave much time in a student's schedule for any elective courses. Kids have to choose between band and art and vocal music and technology. If you're teaching technology and you want to work with these kids, you have to be available when they are, and that means a nontraditional schedule. After school or evening classes or classes that meet before the school day starts allow kids to expand their schedules to include technology.

Right now our students are working on the U.S. First robotics competition. We are working with partners from Motorola who volunteer their time during the evening to coach our students. It's very exciting to see our students test their limits in a competition like this. Time after time I hear kids saying, "I didn't know that I was this smart," or "I'll bet you never thought that I was this smart." This is a wonderful opportunity for these kids, but in order to make it work, you have to be in school to supervise, encourage, and help. That means you're in school from seven in the morning until nine at night. And you have to be there because you want to be there, not because somebody's watching over your shoulder.

What kind of preparation would you recommend for someone who is interested in this field of teaching?

In order to work with high school students, you will need to earn a teaching certificate. While you are in college, taking the classes you need for your certificate, try to get certified in as many different teaching areas as you can. Investing the time and money to become certified in several different areas makes you much more employable. Remember that most high schools have salary schedules that are based on education and experience. If you have an undergraduate degree and then go back for a master's degree in another area, you are more expensive to hire than a teacher who has an undergraduate degree but can teach in several different areas.

Experience is also very important. Most people who go into teaching were good students and liked school. It's hard for them to work with students who don't like school and who aren't good students. Tutoring, coaching, and part-time teaching can help new teachers deal with the kinds of motivation and discipline problems that they'll face on the job. Experience in industry is also very helpful, especially when it's time to develop or rework the curriculum.

What qualities would you look for in a good teacher?

Good teachers enjoy working with kids and are willing to keep learning. This field changes all the time, and you have to keep up with the changes or your program will die. You need to be willing to work hard and invest long hours in your students. You need to be able to explain the same thing eighteen different ways until it makes sense to the student you're working with. You need to be so well organized that you can get a class started, listen to an excuse for late work, take attendance, and solve a discipline problem all at the same time. You need to be so focused that you can teach a beginning section and an advanced section of a class at the same time and in the same room.

Good teachers need to be self-motivated. Nobody's looking over your shoulder to check on your work, which is nice, but at the same time, nobody's around to tell you what a great job you're doing. Motivation has to come from your own sense of accomplishment. Probably the most important quality is the ability to work with kids who don't like school and don't want to be there. It's hard to focus on a kid's potential when the kid is a discipline problem day after day. Good teachers don't give up easily. Anybody can teach a class of nice, polite kids who want to make their teacher happy. Good teachers are the ones who don't give up on troubled kids.

How would you describe a typical day at school?

I meet five classes a day. I teach in a couple different areas, so the material is different from class to class. I present material, I super-vise projects, I work with counselors and parents, and I coach kids on the U.S. First competition. On some days I spend time on committee work to change the way our school day is organized. I work on a committee that wants to change the way we teach technology, so students are better prepared for work when they graduate.

What would you describe as the biggest frustrations in your job?

Anybody who teaches will talk about the frustration they have with parents who can't give their kids the kind of support they need. We have kids who come to school exhausted because they work after school until late at night. We have kids who have never learned any kind of self-discipline at home, and who just get lost here. We have kids whose parents pull them out of school to baby-sit for younger siblings even when it really hurts their work at school. A lot of it is economics. Parents are really pushed and they don't have the time to supervise their kids, to make sure the homework is done or that kids make education a priority. My other frustration is that we don't allow kids enough time in their schedules to take some classes that they might enjoy. The college prep curriculum ties kids up, and in many cases, parents want their kids in these classes when they aren't planning to go on to college. I think we could do a much better job of preparing kids for work if we had the opportunity to work with them. Probably the biggest frustration anybody in teaching faces is in working with kids who just seem to be drifting by and who need to be connected to the school. You have this sense that these kids could get so much out of the four years that they spend here, if somebody could just turn them around. Sometimes we're successful, and those success stories are really neat; but there are kids that we just can't reach, and those are the kids you worry about.

When I started in this business, you had kids who wanted to work with their hands and be able to move around in class. They took auto shop or wood shop or printing or machine shop. It gave them something to look forward to every day. But now, everybody wants to go to college, and nobody's got time for shop classes. If you want to offer electronics, you've got to combine it with something else so that there are enough kids to fill a class. It's like trying to teach band and English in the same classroom at the same time.
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