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Featuring Derek Long '04

Position: English Teacher
School: Pittsburgh Oliver High School
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Graduate School: Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Graduate Program: MA in teaching English

Information about Derek's graduate school experience

(Profiled: December 2011)


  How did you connect with this job opportunity?

♦  What attracted you to this position?

♦  What are the most gratifying aspects of your job?

♦  What has been/was your biggest challenge as a first-year teacher?

♦  How did your time at GCC prepare you for the teaching field?

♦  What advice would you give to a current pre-service teacher in order to better prepare for his or her future classroom?

♦  What job search tips would you give to GCC students?


How did you connect with this job opportunity?

At Grove City, I got involved with Urban Impact Foundation through Steel City Ministries. Urban Impact is a Christian non-profit on Pittsburgh’s North Side, and I volunteered with their basketball and education programs. I also worked as a summer day camp counselor. Through those experiences, I felt God calling me to the North Side. After graduating from IUP with my Master’s, I immediately applied to Pittsburgh’s Public Schools, but I was on the 3rd tier. I was hired at Valley High School in New Kensington, so I spent a year teaching there. 3 days before school started, Oliver called me for a job interview, and I was hired the next day.


What attracted you to this position?

Based on my experiences with Urban Impact, I knew that Oliver was a difficult school with a lot of problems, but I felt God calling me there. I am now in my 4th year here, and I love it. I love coming to work and teaching students most people say can’t learn. I love coming to a building that a lot of people have written off as a school where nothing good happens. I love being a part of the community we have here at Oliver and everything we have done to prove all those on the outside wrong. We definitely have our challenges, because we have students who are significantly behind as far as reading ability. We have students who have non-existent parents. We have students who live in housing projects. But that is part of the fun. Every student wants to learn; no one grows up saying they want to be a failure. It just takes a little longer and a little more love to tap into that potential. While most people have already written some of our kids off, it is my job to get them through high school and into college.


What are the most gratifying aspects of your job?

The best part of being here at Oliver is getting Facebook friend requests from former students who have “Edinboro University” or “Lock Haven University” under their names. Knowing they have gone to college and are doing well is great. My first group of students at Oliver are now sophomores, and there are so many kids doing really, really well. It is especially gratifying when students who have not cared at all finally start to come around and do something. I have a student who was all set on dropping out of high school. Just this week he started opening the book we are reading, and yesterday, he was spouting off the answers. Those are the aspects of the job that make it worth it. Another aspect of the job I love is when kids say stuff like, “You give us too much work” or “You expect too much of us!” My favorite was, “I am telling the principal you have too high of expectations for our class!”


What has been/was your greatest challenge as a first year teacher?

I am going to reflect on my first year as a teacher here at Oliver; my first year of teaching at a public school was at Valley High School in New Kensington which wasn’t terribly difficult. The most difficult thing for me was earning the right to be heard. There was such a high teacher turnover here at Oliver, the students saw me as another white teacher coming in to “save the black kids.” No one wants to be a charity case, and it took me at least half of the year for them to understand that I was a North Sider just like them. I saw the community high school as the lynchpin of the North Side, and it was only after the students started seeing me as an advocate for them that things in the classroom got a lot easier. Everything that happens in the classroom (and in life for that matter) all goes back to the relationships you have with your students, co-workers, and other people. There is a reason Jesus was relational in his approach to ministry; it works.


How did your time at GCC prepare you for the teaching field?

On the car ride home from commencement back in 2004, my dad asked me, “What do you remember the most?” My answer was, “My time here allowed me to get serious about my faith.” Praise God that I chose to come to Grove City (and thank you to Coach Steve Lamie for recruiting me), because my 4 years at GCC helped me realize that there is nothing like following after Jesus. Being a Christian affects every aspect of my life, and knowing that we serve a God who loves and is just makes me want to do my job better every day. Most of my students have been shown very little, if any, love in their lives. So when they come in my classroom, I want to make sure they know they are loved. For some of my kids, my classroom will be the only church they ever step foot in. If they don’t learn anything else, I want them to know they are loved.   Also, I feel called to seek justice. Most of my students have been cast to the outer fringes of society because of their race, socio-economic level, or something else. Even the school system has tried to hinder them, so I come to school and teach at this school to make sure that every student receives a quality education and not just the ones who can afford it.


What advice would you give a current pre-service teacher in order to better prepare for his or her future classroom?

I would say to get as much experience as you can whether it is working summer camps, tutoring, whatever you can get. Getting an idea of the kind of student you work best with whether it is middle school or high school, urban or suburban, etc. Getting a feel for where your strengths are is critical to being successful in your first teaching job. God created you a certain way, and it is important to discover what He has blessed you with as far as strengths.   Any teacher will tell you this, but ALWAYS, ALWAYS plan more than you could ever think you can cover. It is always better to have to push something to the next day instead of not having something else to do in a period. Kids can always tell if you are well-prepared or if you are winging it. Classroom management gets so much easier when you have activities that are engaging.


What job search tips would you give to GCC students?

My advice is to be picky about the job you accept. Don’t accept a job just because it is a job and will pay you. “Wait upon the Lord.” Certain people are meant to teach in city schools, and certain people are meant to teach in the suburbs. If you are not cut out for the city, and you take a job just because they offer you one, you will get burnt out and be jaded toward teaching. Teaching is such a great profession, I don’t want someone to have one bad experience and to write off teaching as a career! Pray about where God is calling you and what kind of students He is calling you to serve.


More information about Derek's graduate school experience


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