Roxanna Elden is an English and writing teacher at Hialeah High School. She is also the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, a funny, honest, practical guide with stories and tips from teachers around the country. The book has helped thousands of new teachers navigate potential pitfalls as they transition from training to the classroom.
OCT: What do you love the most about Miami?
RE: This is a city where you can go out to eat with ten people and each person at the table is from a different country. There are many other diverse cities, but Miami seems like an especially easy place for cultures to mix and match. Miami is also a city that has gone through many transformations over the years. People from all over the world who are looking to make transformations of their own are attracted to the weather, culture, and energy here. We are becoming an incubator for new ideas from all around the world that just so happen to grow better near the beach.
OCT: What are your most important goals in the next six months/year?
RE: My ongoing goal is to do everything I can to support teachers, especially new teachers. In the upcoming year, it looks like this will mean continuing to speak and write about education issues.
OCT: Why do you do what you do? What led you into your path?
RE: Teaching has an incredibly high washout rate. Half of all teachers leave the profession within five years, and half of all teachers at low-income schools leave within three years. Halfway through my first year, someone gave me the book Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul. I remember thinking I needed a book more like Hard Liquor for the New Teacher’s Soul. That was the original working title of the book, which I later changed because this reaction really wasn’t about drinking. It was about needing a combination of humor, honesty, and practical advice that wasn’t available in any book for new teachers. Three years later, when my sister began teaching, I started collecting tips and stories and writing the book I needed my own first year, which became See Me After Class.
OCT: What made you take the leap to become a teacher entrepreneur?
RE: Writing a book is an entrepreneurial process by nature. I didn’t think of it that way at first. A few years after the first edition of the book was published, I had the opportunity to join the Miami chapter of the New Leaders Council. The NLC trains entrepreneurial people to take leadership roles in the private, public, and political sectors. It was a great chance to learn new skills and meet other people with an entrepreneurial approach to their work. It also made me realize that anyone who sees a need and is trying to fill it in a new way is an entrepreneur – including many teachers and many authors.
OCT: Describe an innovation advancement happening in the city that most people don’t know about.
RE: An exciting new program that supports Miami teachers is the iHEAT Peer Review Program. The program is in the pilot stage in nine Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and allows accomplished, experienced teachers to serve as instructional coaches for teachers. Coaches work one-on-one with teachers for most of the year to help them take their instruction to the next level. Then the coaches participate in the end-of-year evaluation process. The program is voluntary, but participating teachers have a chance to earn a stipend for professional development and a bonus at the end of the year if they are rated as “highly effective.” Unlike coaching programs in other cities, the iHeat Peer Review Program offers this service to all teachers in participating schools, not just struggling or new teachers. It’s kind of like offering teachers a personal trainer to help them reach their instructional goals.
OCT: What’s the most gratifying aspect of what you do? And the most grating?
RE: The most gratifying: Hearing from teachers who say my book pulled them back from the edge of quitting or saved their sanity after a particularly long week.
The most grating: Listening as non-educator “experts” talk about what’s happening in classrooms and often get it wrong.
OCT: What wisdom would you share with your younger self?
RE: As a teacher: Avoid taking advice from anyone who says, “Well, that would never happen in MY class.” The best mentors are honest about their own past mistakes and can tell you what they learned as a result.
As an entrepreneur and author: Time spent on a project you are passionate about is never wasted. Sometimes you try one hundred approaches and only three are successful. It’s tempting to look back wish that you could have saved the time you spent on the ninety-seven things that didn’t work. You have to realize that it wasn’t the three successful efforts that made you successful – it was the fact that you tried a hundred different approaches and gained new skills and opportunities in the process.
Roxanna speaks at events around the country, providing training and support for teachers and sharing a teacher’s eye view on a variety of education issues. For more information, visit www.seemeafterclass.net.