Elementary & Special Education Teacher – Terri Tharp
Tell us about your journey through your career.
I have a B.S. in Elementary Education, a M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling, an Ed.S. in Administration & Supervision, and an Ed.D. in Curriculum & Instruction. I love school!:) When I retire, I’m going to take classes just for the enjoyment of learning!
Where do you currently teach and which grade and subject do you specialize in?
Right now I am an assistant professor in the Elementary & Special Education Department at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). I teach teacher candidates who are primarily juniors and seniors. A real perk is that I’ve come full circle in my career. I started as an elementary school teacher, and now I have the privilege of working with teacher candidates who are becoming elementary teachers.
How many hours do you work each week?
Honestly, it changes from week to week on what’s happening – do I have school visits, is it registration time, etc. My “normal” work week is about 40 to 45 hours, but that can vary. Last Tuesday I left my house at 6:45am and didn’t get home until 8:35pm. I had to be at an elementary school that morning, had office hours, and then taught a 4:30pm class at one of our off-campus locations.
However, no complaints! The great thing about higher education is there is a lot of flexibility with your work hours. You have your set class times and office hours, but then you get to determine the rest. I might stay at the office until 7:30pm working on a research project, but then I might take off a Friday afternoon to go out of town for the weekend and so forth. I can also grab a cup of coffee in the middle of the day! When you’re an elementary school teacher, you are locked into the school day, and you do not have the freedom to take a break and clear your head!
Exploring your work life, can you tell us what a normal 9-5 day looks like for you?
Here’s a typical week for me this fall semester:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Get to the office by 8:30am, check phone messages and e-mails and respond, review for class, go to class from 10:00am – 12:30pm (six hour class), 12:30pm go back to office and eat lunch while checking e-mails, 1:00pm – 3:00pm office hours meeting with class students and advisees (I have 78 advisees), 3:00pm – 5:00pm preparing for classes & whatever needs to be done (this is always a moving target!:)) I really try to leave by 5:00pm unless my hubby is out of town, and then I’ll stay later to get more things accomplished.
Tuesday: Leave house at 10:00am to go to off-campus site, 11:30am-3:30pm office hours, 4:30pm – 7:30pm class
Thursday: Get to the office by 9:30am and shovel out as much work as possible since I don’t teach on this day!! In a tenure-track position, it is critical to be address the areas of teaching, research, and public service.
Also, committee meetings with those responsibilities and collaboration with the public schools require a great deal of time which must be worked around other work responsibilities. Sometimes there are never enough hours in the day!
How much time are you able to spend with your family and friends?
This is where I feel we don’t have a healthy work/personal life balance in America. I specifically don’t teach in the summer so that I can have more time for my family and friends. During the actual school year, I’m pretty devoted to work which does cut out some family and friend time. My oldest daughter lives in FL, and my youngest goes to school in KY so I do wish there was more time to visit them. It’s hard sometimes to make that work with work!
Do you have time for hobbies/recreational activities? If yes, how much?
Okay, part of my issue is that I need to make time for these! Right now I am in a tenure track position so sometimes hobbies take second place after the job responsibilities. The work/personal life balance is still an area of struggle for me. The work is never done so I need to learn to give 110%, but then leave at a decent hour!
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
As corny as it may sound, I became a teacher to make a difference. I believe teachers can really make a big difference for a lot of children (regardless of their age!) and their families. I would highly encourage anyone who wants to be a teacher to view http:makeadifferencemovie.com; that’s what we’re to be about!
What aspects of special education are the most rewarding?
Every time I see the light bulb go on in a student’s face or when I see them collaboratively working together to make a difference for our children, I’m thrilled!
On a scale from 1 – 10, how hard was it to get to where you are now? Was it worth the journey?
I have to laugh a bit here because I certainly took the long road to get my Ed.D., but it was absolutely worth it, and every experience along the way was a great stepping stone to get here. On a scale from 1-10, I would say a 5.
What is one thing would you like to see changed in your field?
I would really love to see more collaboration between higher education and K-12 schools to really make a positive impact for our children and communities. Too many times we are on different pages and have different agendas.
What do you hope to have accomplished by the end of your career?
I hope I have influenced a lot of teacher candidates to do the right thing by our children. I hope they remember to always have the best interests of the children at heart and to make a positive impact each day.
What kind of advice could you offer to someone looking to enter the field of Special Education?
Go for it! Find your passion, and soak up as much as you can from every experience. Volunteer in K-12 schools, take classes, join professional organizations such as the International Literacy Association, and be the best learner you can be.
You have to be passionate about teaching and learning as well as being focused, organized, flexible, open-minded, and I guess I should say driven!
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