Interview With a Teacher #1: Mr. D’Elia

A Note About These Interviews:

I taught seventh grade for almost twenty years and was constantly surprised at the difference between what friends, family, parents, neighbors, and community members imagined my job was like and what it actually was like. The few times I had the privilege of inviting a friend or family member to visit my classroom, they always left wide-eyed and exhausted. The purpose of these interviews is to allow the world a glimpse inside the lives of current educators. Now that I’ve quit teaching, I want to do what I can to support all the teachers still fighting the good fight, and I don’t want to forget what life is like inside a school.

All questions are optional. The teacher may write as much or as little as they want. If they don’t feel comfortable answering a question for any reason, they’re allowed to leave it blank or say “I prefer not to answer.” For confidentiality and privacy purposes, the name of the teacher’s school will not be published, and they may choose how they refer to themselves. (Full name, initials only, or even simply “Teacher.”) Participants have been asked to refrain from using student names or to change names. When describing student or parent interactions, they may be vague or change slight details to protect anonymity as long as the message/tone of the encounter stays the same.

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I want to give a HUGE thank you to Mr. D’Elia for being brave enough to be the first person to participate in my teacher interviews and for dedicating his life to middle schoolers. His positivity and heart shine through in his answers.

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Interview With Mr. D’Elia:

  1. In no more than three words, describe how you feel right now.

    Expectant / eager / tired

  2. What is today’s date?

    August 20, 2022

  3. How old are you?

    53

  4. How many years (total) have you been teaching?

    15

  5. Have you ever taken a break from teaching? If so, why and for how long?

    No.

  6. What is your current salary?

    $60,000

  7. Is there anything you would like to share about your personal life or family situation?

    My wife teaches ESL. We have two daughters, 18 and 14.

  8. In what city and state do you teach?

    Austin, Texas

  9. What grade(s) and subject(s) do you currently teach?

    6th grade /ELA

  10. How many years have you been in your current teaching position?

    15

  11. How many conference periods do you have per day?

    2

  12. How many students do you teach total?

    125

  13. If you teach multiple classes, how many students are in your smallest class and your largest class?

    The smallest is 23. The largest is 26.

  14. On average, how many meetings do you have per week?

    4

  15. What other responsibilities do you have at school besides teaching your own classes? (For example: bus duty, cafeteria monitor, after school club, chaperone, committee member, team leader, coach, etc.)

    Spelling Bee Organizer / Eagle Allies Sponsor (No Place for Hate) / Department Head / Lunch duty (1x per week) / morning cafeteria duty (1x per week).

  16. Are you compensated for any of your extra duties?

    Yes. For Eagle Allies Sponsor (No Place for Hate) and Department Head

  17. When was the last time you took a day off?

    Last September, 2021.

  18. Describe the reason for your absence and the process you went through in order to take the day off.

    I had one day of jury duty. It was canceled at the last minute so I took the day off anyway. I had to notify the principal ahead of time, search for a sub which took several calls/texts. I created a lesson plan and had to write detailed instructions for the sub.

  19. Describe a positive interaction you’ve had with a student this year.

    A students told me that I was their favorite teacher, because I make learning fun.

  20. Describe a challenging interaction you’ve had with a student this year.

    In my last class of the day which starts at 3:31 PM, three boys had trouble understanding that they were not allowed to talk while others were talking. After several warnings, they continued to talk and so I had to give them lunch detention.

  21. Describe a positive interaction you’ve had with a parent this year.

    A parent reached out and told me about some special-needs that her child has. I responded quickly and she appreciated it. I think sixth grade parents are especially nervous letting their babies go off to “the big middle school,” and so appreciate any communication of care and understanding.

  22. Describe a challenging interaction you’ve had with a parent this year.

    The year as young, so I have not had any challenging interactions so far this year!

  23. Describe a positive interaction you’ve had with a coworker or administrator this year.

    I was able to share some personal family struggles with a coworker who was very supportive. Also, it seems like all the teachers understand that we are in the same fox hole, experiencing the same struggles, and facing the same challenges. The years of Covid seem to have bonded us.

  24. Describe a challenging interaction you’ve had with a coworker or administrator this year.

    None!

  25. What’s the funniest or weirdest thing that’s happened at school this year?

    As my students entered seventh period on Friday, I was playing “YMCA.” A spontaneous dance party broke out in my room for approximately three minutes. It was glorious.

  26. What time did you arrive at work today?

    7:50AM

  27. What time did you leave work today? If you are still at work, what time did you leave yesterday?

    5:20PM

  28. Describe your lunch today. (Length, food, location, what you did while eating, etc.)

    I eat at my desk by myself. I think I got into this habit during Covid. That, and the teachers lounge has been refurbished and is now much smaller. I bring my lunch of hard boiled eggs (perhaps another reason I eat by myself) chips and yogurt. I give myself about a 15 minute break to chill, but during lunch I catch up on emails, complete tasks, grade, etc.

  29. Describe one success you experienced today.

    I was able to tell those talking boys that they did a good job today.

  30. Describe one challenge you experienced today.

    Starting class at 3:31 PM is really, really late. It’s hard to psych myself up for it.

  31. What time did you complete this survey?

    8:50PM

  32. How satisfied are you with your current job? (1 = not at all satisfied, 5 = very satisfied)

    4

  33. As of right now, do you plan to continue teaching next year?

    Yes.

  34. What’s the best thing about being a teacher?

    The students — being able to show kindness and acceptance to them is my joy.

    Teacher, I want to tell you something, and I want you to listen. You are amazing. You are creative and smart and hardworking and beautiful. You are valued by those who are paying attention, and you deserve so much more than you receive from society. You are a superhero, and the world is a better place with you in it. Thank you for everything you do for your students, your community, and your fellow teachers. I appreciate you. Now, close your eyes and take three long, deep breaths, then open your eyes.

  35. In no more than three words, describe how you feel right now.

    Content, appreciated, purposeful.

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If you are a current teacher and would like to be interviewed for my blog or if you know a current teacher I should interview, contact me!

My Heart is With You, Teachers

Today is the first day of school in Austin, but I am not there, and it’s not just because I moved. In May, after nineteen years teaching seventh grade English, I resigned from my career as a middle school teacher. I was not alone. Thousands of teachers across the country walked away from education this year. For me, it wasn’t the first time I quit. In 2012, after thirteen years of teaching, I felt burned out and left the classroom to write. In 2016, I came back, and I’m so glad I did because I made so many great friends at my new school. Some are still there, while several others, like me, have set off for something new.

The first time I quit, a lot of people asked me why I was leaving. This time, no one has asked. Instead, they just nod as if they already know. Sometimes they make assumptions. “I get it,” they say, and then they state the reason why they think I’m leaving. The most common fill-in-the-blank answers are covid, parents, low pay, and lack of respect. They’re not wrong, but they’re not right either, not completely.

It wasn’t just one thing; it was many things. Maybe it was everything.

Yes, teacher pay sucks. When I started my career in 1999 in Leander ISD as a first-year teacher with zero years of experience, my salary was $29,500. Last year, in Austin ISD, as a teacher with eighteen years of experience, it was $54,856. Before you start trying to do math in your head to figure out if that’s reasonable, consider two things:

  1. It is WAY more expensive to live in Austin now than it was in 1999.
  2. Last year, first year teachers with zero experience in AISD made $51,150.

Yep, my eighteen years of experience, professional development, and leadership roles were worth $3,706. (Click here to see the Austin ISD 2022-2023 Compensation Manual.)

But it’s not the pay that made me leave my job. For the first several years, I loved the work more than I craved money. Later, I had the privilege of being married to a spouse who earned much more than a teacher’s salary, and we chose not to have children, which are very expensive creatures. I was not trying to raise a family on a teacher budget, though many people are.

Covid certainly didn’t help. Hybrid teaching was terrible and caused me so much physical, mental, and emotional stress, but I can’t say it was the pandemic that drove me out either.

98% of the parents I interact with are great, and I refuse to let the 2% of terrible ones be the reason for leaving a job I love. I had already resigned this spring when a parent berated me for half an hour because his daughter plagiarized her essay and received the standard consequence according the school handbook—parent contact and a zero on the assignment with the opportunity to redo it for a 70—so he was definitely not the reason I left. (During the zoom meeting with me, he never once denied that his daughter plagiarized. Instead, he attacked my character, talked over my assistant principal, and asked that all my grading be audited. My favorite part was when he said, “What’s worse than giving a student a zero on an assignment?” and I responded, “Giving them a zero and not allowing them to redo it for a passing grade.” He never came back to that line of questioning because my answer was too logical.)

Kelly Treleaven (a.k.a. Love, Teach), a teacher, blogger, and author I’ve admired for years, calls these people “jackhammer parents.” Kelly also left the classroom this spring.

So, if it wasn’t the low pay or covid or even the “jackhammer parents” that caused me to leave, what was it? I think it was everything. Some days it was the over-testing and data-collecting. Some days (but not many) it was the disrespect from students. Some days it was the lack of enforceable consequences. Some days it was the poor communication from the district and the misguided decisions made by TEA without consulting those who the decisions would affect the most. Some days it was just the myriad of things I was asked to do without being given ample time to do them. Some days it was the fact that the AC in our school was out again, and I had to work in an 85° classroom of thirty students and thirty laptops while I sweated through my clothes and my mask.

Mostly, it just wasn’t fun anymore. I didn’t love the job like I used to, and I had the opportunity to leave, so I did. This time, I know it’s right because I’m not feeling wistful as my friends return to the classroom. I’m not having back-to-school dreams.

Still, I haven’t taken the word “teacher” off my profile because teaching is a part of my identity. Just because I’m not employed as a teacher right now doesn’t mean I don’t still feel like one, deep down. I hope to teach again in other forms, such as writing workshops and author events. (Keep an eye on my website for upcoming info about school visits.) But I don’t think I’ll ever have a permanent position in a school again.

Even though I’m not actively teaching anymore, my heart is with the teachers still in the classroom, the ones who still love it despite everything. I want to support them however I can, and one way I can do that is by showing the world what it’s really like being a teacher—the highs, the lows, the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, the hilarious, the day-to-day life of working in a school. People who have never taught don’t truly know what teaching is like. I want them to learn. Over the course of this school year, I will be posting interviews on my blog with teachers of all subjects, grades, and experience levels. I’ll ask each of them the same set of questions and let their answers speak for themselves. (Picture James Lipton’s Inside the Actor’s Studio questionnaire except longer because I could not boil down what it means to be a teacher into only 10 questions.)

Already this school year, I’ve heard from a teacher friend who was asked to remove any books “that may be considered controversial” from her shelves. (Considered controversial by whom?) I’ve heard from a teacher friend required to be a bus monitor because so many bus personnel are out with covid. (But how is she supposed to teach her own students when she’s riding a bus for five hours a day with no extra pay?) I’ve heard from a librarian friend at a school with ten open teacher positions. (Will she get to be a real librarian this year or just a babysitter for uncovered classes?) The teacher taking over my former classroom has 183 students on her roster. (I had about 130 last year in the same position.) No one expects this school year to be easy, but they’re showing up anyway.

Teachers, you are heroes. Thank you for still being there, for everything everything everything you do. Tell me your stories, and I will make sure your voices are heard.

* If you are a teacher who would like to be interviewed or if you know a teacher I should interview on my blog, send me an email at cariejuettner@gmail.com. I’m especially interested in connecting with educators outside of Texas.

* If your company has open positions, please consider hiring a former teacher. You won’t be sorry. Read “11 Reasons Why You Should Hire a Former Teacher.

* If you are just starting out on your teaching journey, I highly recommend Kelly Treleaven’s book: Love, Teach: Real Stories and Honest Advice to Keep Teachers From Crying Under Their Desks.

Welcome Home, Indigo!

They call it a “foster fail” but how could anything this wonderful be seen as a failure?

No, we weren’t planning on adopting any of the kittens from the litter we rescued*. There were many reasons for this, and we listed them over and over to anyone who asked why we weren’t keeping one, two, or all of the babies. “It’s not the right time to grow our pet family.” “We’re just renting right now; we should wait until we buy our next house.” “We already have two elderly pets we love very much.” Blah, blah, blah. I’m going to stop here because you’re not listening anymore anyway. No one was. Everyone nodded at us, rolled their eyes, and told us we’d end up with a kitten. But we really really REALLY weren’t going to. Really.

And then… we had three kittens left, and two of them got adopted together. That left one.

The last kitten was truly the last kitten. He was the one we didn’t catch until five days after the rest of the litter. He was the one who spent most of his first day in our house exploding in tiny spits and hisses if you looked at him. He was the one who we named Will because, in our Stranger Things-themed litter, he was the one who had been lost in the upside down, separated from the others.

This solid blue, fuzzy little hot pepper had been in our house for five days when his siblings left for their forever home, and I’d already managed to get him from extra spicy to medium spicy via the use of the purrito and other methods of forced cuddling. (The little guy was never vicious, just scared. Once you got ahold of him, he never bit or scratched. It was just the being picked up part, or rather the THOUGHT of being picked up, that unnerved him.) So, on Sunday, when Eleven and Dustin went home with their new family, he was all alone again. And he started crying.

The purrito

Your heart is probably already melting at the idea of a lonely kitten mewing, but let me make it even worse by telling you that his tiny cries sounded more like a screech owl than a cat. They were truly pitiful. That night, I let him out of the crate and played with him and talked to him and snuggled him and showed him the beauty of belly rubs. We bonded, and he purred against my chest as I hugged him. Then I (uh oh) gave him a real name. The next morning, I told my hubby, “We need to keep this cat.” He agreed.

Indie is ready for his first Halloween.

Foster fail? Um, no. Indigo William Juettner was always meant to be ours, we just didn’t know it yet**. Sometimes that’s just the way life works.

Indie has been an official member of the family for two days now. It’s been a busy two days of feeding him constantly (I think he’s part Hobbit), cleaning up after him (eating constantly = pooping constantly), and helping him feel like part of the family.

We introduced him to the dog. I think it went well.

Indie is currently romping around the bed as I type, falling off at regular intervals and pouncing on my back occasionally. It’s only a matter of time before he hits a button on my laptop and deletes this post or translates it into Italian or something. Any typos you find are his fault.

Indigo is such a joy, and this whole process of kitten fostering has been so rewarding. I want to thank everyone for helping us find homes for these sweet babies and for believing, all along, that one of those homes would be ours***.

Now to figure out how to live life with a growing kitten in the house. Wish me luck. (Indie just zoomed around the room, bowed up at nothing, and then hid under the bed.)

* I just asked my hubby if “rescued” was the right word for what we did, since the kittens weren’t actually in danger at the moment. He suggested we “absconded” with the kittens and told me I had to include a Willow quote, so here:

I stole a baby! I stole a baby!

** Everyone else knew it. My big announcement that we were keeping one of the kittens was met with a lot of laughter, eye rolls, fake shocked looks, and “I-told-you-so” comments. People think they’re SO smart.

*** Yes, yes, you were right. There, I said it. Happy?