Thursday, February 25, 2010

I had a classroom in Africa.

I have been a crazy busy teacher since January 1. Teaching is such a high. But I gotta have some more of it. So, this letter is more or less a cover letter for my teaching resume. Yes, this post is a blatant expression of self-promotion. (pic from my classroom in Africa)

Dear Head of School et al.

When a parent walks into a teacher’s classroom, anything can happen.
“Hi, I’m Pam,” she said. “Lauren’s mom.”
Was this a good thing?
The bangles clanged on her wrist as she extended her hand. “I’ve heard you’re the kids’ favorite substitute.”
“I’m so happy to meet you,” she continued. “Lauren just loves writing, now.”
“That’s great,” I said. “She’s such a good kid… what do you expect.”
“No,” the mother said. “She loves writing because of what you said.”
“What I said?”
“You told her everybody could get on the internet, but only she had access to the stories in her head.”

Bullets and PowerPoints are not enough.
Without stories, we are lost.

In this highly distracted age, a teacher has to bring excitement to the classroom. After a writing sabbatical, I have returned to the classroom with a contagious passion for excellence in English, History, Geography, Modern Languages, and Writing. I would like to apply for any current or future open positions at the school that would best use my talents.

In West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer teacher, I planned, developed, wrote, and taught all language materials for five classes. Stateside, I have taught History, Geography, and English in DC Public Schools. I have been the Business Manager of $2.5 M Independent School and have been Director of Development, Head of a Foreign Language Department, French Teacher, ESL teacher, and an English teacher.

About eight years ago, roughly September 12th (yes, that one), I left the everyday classroom in search of a world classroom. I started writing. I wrote stories, mostly for children, in hopes of inspiring travel and openness. Now my writing portfolio consists of a middle-grade series of five manuscripts, a middle-grade novel, two picture books, a chapter book, an edgy YA novel, a collection of short stories, micro-fiction, and even ad copy and a screenplay.

None has been published and not for lack of trying, but such is the world of New York publishing. I am currently a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I attend the annual conferences and am plugged into anything and everything going on in contemporary children’s literature. For me, progressive education means I need to know what is being published for kids, not only today, but also tomorrow. I happen to know the Tenners, personally!

The research for my own stories took me (and my family of four) to France for a year and Spain for two years. If you ask the sixth graders at Graland Country Day School, they will tell you my stories are ready to publish. But, as I wait for the editors in New York to catch up to Graland’s children, I realize I am wasting my talent by not teaching every day.

I have a B.A. in English and American Literature from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, with a minor in French. I have an M.A. in Intercultural Management from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont.

I speak French at a U.S. Foreign Service Level of 4.0/5.0. Spanish at a 2.0 level. While in the Peace Corps, I tested in Hassanyian Arabic at 2.0 (it’s awful now). I am a dabbler. I know the greetings and other practical and fun stuff in Portuguese, Wolof, Soninke, German, and maybe a word or two in Mayan.

An English curriculum is my sweet spot, although with my background, I am prepared to jump into any of the liberal arts and/or administrative fields.

What would I do differently in an English classroom?

Writing is thinking.

I would have every child write every day. Every. Child. Every. Day. In addition to thinking and communicating, daily writing for the younger set is also a means of practicing penmanship. Writing every day in middle and upper school improves typing and computer skills. From the teacher’s perspective, writing, especially first thing in the morning, can be an insightful tool for assessing a child’s current emotional needs.

Necessary as it is, grammar can be boring. I would streamline grammar lessons and I would dramatize the teaching of vocabulary, where possible. Without drama, how else would you teach the word “anguish?” I would add more poetry to the curriculum as a means of teaching the true meaning of words, but we would have fun with the poems (and the poets, too!)

As a current parent, I offer a unique understanding of communication between home and school. As a teacher, I clearly convey what I expect from the students at the beginning—and the end—of the school year.

Recently, I gave a speech to the 700-plus student body about teaching in Africa. Every day, as the sun set over the Sahara, I knew it was my love for kids that kept me giving and giving even in the most difficult of Africa’s environments. I am always amazed at how deeply (and quickly) I care for each child, which was abundantly clear when I conducted the most recent fifth-grade parent conferences.

Anyone at Graland Country Day would give me a resounding recommendation, especially the kids. I believe in children and I think pedagogy should be child-centered.

The other day, standing outside the lockers in the hallway, McKenna Daily (fifth grader), summed it up for me.

“Mr. Aertker,” she told me, “when you’re in the class, I’m inspired.”


Paul Aertker

Thanks for reading.
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