Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

My Rookie Year

Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

My Rookie Year

Article excerpt

I gave up a $65,000 a year job with no overtime and little stress to teach people how to get a job and make a better life for themselves. I didn't know what I was getting myself into.

After 14 years in the petrochemical industry, I joined Tulsa Technology Center in Oklahoma as an instructor for the laboratory technology program. I had worked as an analytical chemist, technical representative, laboratory supervisor, quality manager and environmental expert, but I stayed close to teaching by training employees in team skills and quality management tools.

Ever since I was a little kid, I had wanted to teach. When my friends and I played games, I was always the mom, the boss or the teacher. And I laugh about it now, but I really envied how my teacher would write on the chalkboard. So when I saw an ad in the newspaper for the Tulsa Tech position, it was like it was made for me. With my experience in industry, it was a natural next step.

It's funny to look back at my first concerns about being a new teacher. I worried about what my students would think of me. I didn't want to be a "mean 'ole teacher," but I also knew that I couldn't be a pal. I thought everyone had to make A's and if they didn't it was because I didn't teach them well. And I worried about speaking in front of the class. I was afraid if I made a mistake they would think I didn't really know what I was talking about and roast me. But those concerns quickly took a back seat to harsh reality. The laboratory technology program had a handful of books, no curriculum, aging facilities and old chemicals. I had to put in lots of overtime to make improvements.

I begged and borrowed from other teachers, made do with the materials I did have and had a little luck. The medical teachers lent me some books, I used some materials from my old job and a former student gave me his old lab tech notebook. I just gathered bits and pieces wherever I could find them. Putting together lesson plans during that first year, I alternated between exhaustion and excitement. I was working day and night, but when something came out just right in class and the kids understood the concept, it inspired me to keep going.

The laboratory technology program, which averages about 30 students, teaches high school juniors and seniors and adults the skills necessary to gain an entry-level position in a laboratory or go on to college. Students learn how to operate all basic laboratory equipment, such as stirrers, hot plates and ovens; other skills they learn include making solutions, weighing, distilling, using analytical instruments and typing blood. A number of oil refineries, hospitals, medical laboratories and environmental industries in the Tulsa area are potential employers for students who have completed part or all of the two-year program, and several already are working. About half of the students go on to college, especially Tulsa Junior College, and about another 20 percent go on to a four-year college. Some students are headed toward medical degrees, veterinary school and chemical engineering. Still others join the armed forces.

As a rookie teacher, I also was unprepared for talking with students about their personal lives. When I was in high school, we sat in rows quietly, did our work and kept our problems to ourselves--or at least waited until after school to talk to someone. I was totally unprepared for students with attention deficit disorders, blatantly rude students, boyfriends who hit girlfriends, theft, seizures, suicide attempts and parents who wanted me to mediate personal problems. I had no idea that I would have to deal with these sorts of things. I thought I would just teach! But now that I've survived my teaching debut, I can say the good far outweighed the bad.

Since those first few months, the school has purchased a lot of new equipment for the laboratory technology program. The equipment includes computers, desks, analytical instruments, microscopes, analytical balances and a gas chromatograph. …

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