English Literature Teacher – Chelly Wood
Tell us about your educational background.
I attended college at Clark Community College in Vancouver, Washington and Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. I graduated with honors, earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature with a minor in French and a teaching certificate.
Can you tell us about your journey through your career, how did you end up working as a English Literature Teacher?
When I graduated from college, I found very few opportunities for employment in Washington state, where I lived at the time. Most graduates had to work as substitute teachers for a few years before becoming full-time teachers. But I had worked hard putting myself through school, and I really wanted to start working full-time immediately. So I took a respectable, but significantly low-paying job in Idaho, a neighboring state, teaching English at a middle school.
I have taught middle school English/language arts and reading for the past 20 years, and I don’t regret the decision I made to start working full-time straight away after earning my degree, even though Idaho is one of the lowest-paying states in the US. The cost of living in Idaho is equally low, so it balances out to some degree. And Idaho has a fairly low crime rate, so it’s a very safe, affordable place to raise children.
Where do you currently teach and which grade and subject do you specialize in?
I currently teach 10th and 11th grade English at Wendell High School, in Wendell, Idaho. So I taught middle school English for 20 years, and in the past year and a half, I’ve been enjoying the thrill of working with high-school level students, teaching world and American literature.
How many hours per week do you think you currently work and in your experience is it easy to manage your work load and personal/family life?
On average, I work about 36 hours per week, not including the time I spend grading papers.. It’s not easy to manage my workload and family life, simply because nearly every weekend I bring home papers to grade. English requires that students do a lot of writing, and anyone who has ever taught English can tell you essays, stories, and other writing projects take a lot of hours to grade. When I take home essays to grade, I can expect to spend 25 to 30 hours grading one set of essays.
Exploring your work life, can you tell us what a normal 9-5 day looks like for you?
The best way to answer this question, I think, is to simply type out my daily schedule:
7:00 AM to 7:45 AM — At the start of each day, I prepare lessons for the coming week, make photocopies, and/or update my assignment website (where students who are absent or behind can download the assignment sheets they missed and watch educational videos).
7:45 AM – 12:12 — Facilitate learning in sophomore English classes (world literature).
12:12 to 12:40 — During lunch hour, I either rush to wolf down my lunch or help monitor the cafeteria.
12:40 – 1:40 — I share my classroom with the senior English teacher, who often has the classroom during prep, so often I take papers with me to grade during my prep hour, which I spend in the staff room. Sometimes I meet with other staff or parents during this prep hour.
1:40 – 4:00 — Facilitate learning in junior English classes (American literature).
4:00 – 4:30 or 5:00 — I grade papers, enter grades in the electronic gradebook, and prepare my classroom for the next day’s lessons.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I found, from a very young age, that children enjoyed my company. I also enjoyed working with children. So I believed this profession was my true calling.
What gets you excited about your job and why?
I’m very excited about creating a stop-motion film of a Shakespeare play with my students this year! I’ve spoken with our geometry teacher about doing a cross-curricular program in which our sophomores will design doll clothes and stage props in geometry class, make these in English class, and create a doll-sized stage where they will use their phones to create a stop-motion video of Othello with dolls during my English classroom.
I’ve been experimenting with stop-motion filming at home, with my own two teenage daughters, and we’ve had a lot of fun with our production of Romeo and Juliet. I designed all the costumes for our production, while my daughters created the stage backdrops and props.
My doll costumes’ patterns are available on my website, ChellyWood.com, and they’re free for the public to download and print. So if any other English teachers would like to do something fun like a stop-motion dolly version of a Shakespeare play, they can use my website’s free resources.
Helping students create adventurous and inventive ways to learn is what inspires me most!
On a scale from 1 – 10, how hard was it to get to where you are now? Was it worth the journey?
If you consider my education, it was a 10 for difficulty. That’s because I come from a blue-collar family background, and I had to put myself through school while raising my younger sister. It was very difficult but, as long as I continue to get summers off (to spend with my own two children), I will be able to say it was worth it.
What is one thing you would like to see changed in your field?
As I said, I came from a family of blue-collar workers, so I was very sad to see our rural schools slowly abolish their vocational and art-related programs, due to the economic changes brought on by the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Act. It breaks my heart to see classes that students adored — home economics, shop, art, drama, music — disappear, one by one, from the three schools where I’ve taught over the past 23 years. And it makes me wonder where our next generation of blue-collar workers will come from.
Not only that, but students don’t enjoy school anymore, now that they’re forced to take two math classes and two English classes–rather than taking art and vocational classes–just to bring up test scores. This isn’t what’s best for a student who wants to grow up to be a farmer, mechanic, or cosmetologist; rather, administrators are making curricular offerings based entirely on funding.
Higher test scores means more money, so regardless of what’s best for the student, schools offer coursework that will enhance test scores rather than offering coursework that will truly educate students in their areas of interest and create lifelong learners who have a passion for their own education.
What aspects of “field” are the most rewarding?
I’m most rewarded when I meet a former student as an adult, and see how my lessons have helped them achieve their personal career goals.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Anyone who wants to be a teacher needs to realize that the financial rewards are minimal. You’ve got to love working with students. You’ve got to love your job. If you don’t, you’ll burn out in five years or less.
Chelly Wood also runs an educational website called EnglishEmporium.WordPress.com, which offers assignment sheets and lesson plans for English teachers.
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