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Throughout life, there are certain benchmarks that indicate you are making the transition from child to adult. Some personal markers of my own include (but are not limited to) shaving my legs for the first time, being smart enough to understand The West Wing, and finding my first chin hair (every woman in my family has a singular unruly chin hair).
Another benchmark of adulthood even more shocking than the chin hair, however, was when a few of my childhood friends became high school teachers. I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that they we were getting high behind the bleachers?
Honestly, I never thought I’d be old enough to utter the phrase, “Holy shit! Bobby who used to buy us handles of Vodka with his brother’s ID is now teaching science to America’s youth!?”
But alas, the time inevitably comes when we all must transition from student to teacher. Fortunately for the children of today, most of us just transition to “metaphorical” teacher. Others, however, they become the real thing.
This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Preston, a public servant far cooler than I’ll ever be. He’s a reader and commenter, a teacher, a coach and, get this, he doesn’t hate his job. In fact, he loves it. He has a really nice voice, too. I don’t know why that’s relevant, but it’s true.
I hope the below interview is as enjoyable for you as it was for me. Let it swaddle you in warmth like a newborn baby.
What is your job title and how did you get there?
High school self-contained special education teacher, head basketball coach for sophomores, varsity assistant coach. When I was still in college, I emailed the head coach at my current school to inquire about volunteer coaching (been shooting my shot since 2012) and was brought on to help out with freshman. Teaching wise, I have always wanted to teach and while student teaching, I was able to experience general ed students interaction with special ed students and loved it. Bridging the two worlds became my passion.
How did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
The first thing I wanted to be was a coach, and teaching followed as a complement to that. I knew college sports wouldn’t be conducive to a more settled family life (with all the scouting, traveling etc.), so I figured high school was the next best thing. Both my grandparents were also teachers.
What does your day to day look like?
I arrive around 7:15 a.m. and the school day lasts until 3:25 p.m. I have my students (8 total) for 3 periods of the day, 1st,3rd, and 4th. 2nd period they go to PE and I go to basketball practice. The typical classroom day involves developing life skills for the students once they graduate, like grocery shopping, job skills, or working on fine motor skills like hand-eye coordination activities, etc.
What do teachers eat for lunch? I’ve always been really curious about this! Do you go to the cafeteria?
That’s so funny you ask because I didn’t know what to do about lunch when I first started! I didn’t want to be like Steve Glansberg from Superbad eating my pudding cup alone every day. I used to go out for lunch with all the coaches, to places like Jersey Mike’s, but now that I’m married and trying to save money I started packing my lunch. I guess I could eat in the cafeteria if I wanted, but the food is typical high school food (read: shitty).
How is work-life balance?
It is great, if I were strictly a teacher, I would leave every day by 4 p.m. at the latest, and obviously, everyone knows the vacation days, we also get 8 personal days that roll over. Coaching wise, I am usually at the school until 5:30, or 11 p.m. on game nights. I am fortunate to work for a coach who believes in life outside basketball. We do not have to scout our opponents in person, we do not have weekend practices. There are some real horror stories about other schools where the head coach has 8 a.m. Saturday practices or 2-3 hour after school practices. I am fortunate, and I think more in the minority as far as coaching work-life balance goes.
A your friends with traditional 9-5s exceedingly envious of your chill ass schedule?
Yes and I constantly rub it in their face. This past summer I went on a beer crawl on a Tuesday and sent my friends selfies all day.
Do you feel “fulfilled” in your job?
I never dread waking up. I feel really lucky, maybe more lucky than most general education teachers, because my students are full of excitement. For example, during my first year teaching, on the Monday after Christmas vacation, all the teachers were dragging ass just as much as the students. We got to the busses to get our kids and a few of my students came SPRINTING off the bus. There were yelling and laughing and full of excitement to be back! They love Monday morning like we love Friday afternoon! That moment and day humbled me so much. Athletics-wise, our varsity has made the playoffs the last 3 years but I try not to get fulfillment out of wins and losses, that becomes draining.
Is there anything, in particular, you want people to know about your special ed students?
A lot of special ed kids can do a lot more than people assume. A lot of times I watch the general ed kids be super cautious around my special ed students, but once they get to know them they realize they are perfectly capable of hanging out and having fun too.There’s a lot of untapped potential in my students that people don’t recognize.
What do you fucking hate about your job?
Paperwork suuuuuucks. There is a ton but because all my students are modified curriculum and have accommodations, nearly all of what I write or sign is binding and has more of a scope on it from an administration standpoint. Athletics-wise, parents can have an elevated sense of their child’s skill set and that can be difficult, and if one more fucking player says “Who?” when I say we should listen to Tupac or UGK instead of Uzi Vert or 21 Savage, I’ll lose my mind.
Has a parent ever done something crazy?
Parents have pulled kids out of the high school if they don’t make a team. I think that’s insane.
Is the money good?
Ah, yeah, I think so. With my coaching stipend ($7k) and my 5 years in, I make $63k pre-tax. Contracted work year is like 196 days and another 5-6 days or so of various trainings. Retirement is 80% of your top 3 earning years, which is why you see so many late career bumps into administration. Each year is about a thousand dollar raise. Health insurance is middle of the road, not as great if you are a family with kids, amazing if you are single.
I know you’re married. Is there anything you have learned from your job that you think you will carry over into being a parent?
I have learned how to adapt and adjust easily. If plans go sideways, I am able to be flexible and not be so regimented.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years professionally?
I love the school I am in. The town is amazing, I could see myself working here my entire career. From an athletic standpoint, I would love to be a varsity assistant or possibly a head coach but I think unless the job is in as good of a location, I would stay here and with how happy I am, I can afford to be picky.
Have you ever dipped your pen in the company ink?
Ha, my now-wife worked at the same school for a year but we met beforehand, does that count? There are some relationships at the school, not as many hookups. Our school is kind of tame in this regard compared to our middle school feeder staffs. That’s generally where fresh out of college teachers start, middle or elementary schools.
Do you ever chaperone dances and get a little saucy?
We have a prom for the special ed kids where a general ed kid will generally accompany them. That is a really special night. Being a teacher is a lot like being in high school, there are cliques of teachers that go out together and throw parties and I know some teachers will go for drinks after they chaperone dances. I’m sure there are one or two teachers that hit the sauce before a dance, but nothing crazy. The English teacher clique goes out for drinks after the general ed prom I hear.
What do you get to wear to work?
Since I coach and work in self-contained class, I can get away with team-issued sweats, the general dress code is business casual. Most male teachers wear chinos and polos, most female teachers wear anything they want except leggings. Fridays we can wear jeans, so that’s wild.
If someone came up to you on the street and told you they wanted to get into your industry, what are 3 tips you would give them?
Have a passion for it other than summers off. So many people get into teaching for that, it won’t get you through a small paycheck comparative to other professions. You need to be relatable and able to adapt parts of your personality to each kid to reach them, and from a special ed POV, you have to be able to see the fulfillment in small everyday accomplishments and be ready to stretch them the next day.
What is the one thing your students love to do the most?
Get on their iPads! People don’t realize the special ed students are so similar to the regular students. They live for PE and lunch and are obsessed with their iPads. When they get free time they all want to play games on the iPad…except for the one kid that is does karaoke in front of the class while no one pays attention.
I don’t know about you, but Preston sounds like the kind of coach and teacher I’d want around my children. He’s excited about his job and the kids he helps, plus he recognizes that he has it good.
You know what, let’s all be a little bit more like Preston.
Or, even better – let’s be a little bit more like Preston’s student, the one that sings Karaoke in front of the class. That kid knows how to party. .