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Career Spotlight: Susan Chyczewski


Middle School Science Teacher


Type of Education/Training Required:

Teaching in New York requires a license and Masters degree.

Special Talents or Skills that Contribute to Career:

I have worked as a scientist in both pharmaceutical research and social science research (drug prevention). That experience lends a more authentic understanding of scientific method as well as a familiarity with what actually goes on in the field as apposed to textbook science. My research in drug prevention involved a lot of interviews, conducting focus groups and surveys of children the same age that I currently teach.


Depends on locations and experience - In Long Island it is rather high- between $50,000 and $70,000 a year.

Why did you choose this career?

I found when doing research that I really enjoyed the interaction with my young subjects. I did not enjoy the hours being chained to the computer analyzing data.

What steps did you take to obtain your current position?

I had to send my transcripts to NY and wait 18 months (yes, 18!) for them to tell me I needed 6 additional credits in literacy to obtain a NY certification. I also had to take a workshop in drug abuse (which is funny considering my research background) as well as a workshop in child abuse. Fingerprinting is also required for teacher certification. To maintain my current certification I must complete 175 hours of in-service credits every 5 years though my initial application was sent in before that requirement became law.

What suggestions do you have for others who would like to break into this field/profession?

Find a way to volunteer in a classroom or shadow a teacher for at least a week before taking steps to making it your career. The reality is quite different from the fantasy.

What is involved in a typical workday?

I teach 5 classes of about 24 students and have one team period (which is a sort of enrichment period). I typically have 5 or students come to my room during lunch for extra help. Typically I bring an hour of work home with me each night in the form of grading or plans.

What do you like the best about your work? The least?

I love the kids- there is never a dull moment. I hate that our education system is being twisted by artificial assessments that eat into instructional time and do little to truly evaluate a student’s individual progress.

What are your career goals?

My goal is to stay in my current position until I retire. I would like to write some grants to bring in a greenhouse and other equipment to give our students authentic experiences. I would also like to try my hand at mentoring some students in some science contests.

Do people tend to stay in your field for a long time or is there a lot of turnover?

I believe the attrition rate for teachers is still something like 30% before they reach their third year.

In what ways does your degree help you with this job?

The resolve and determination it took to finish a dissertation is helpful, of course. I feel what I learned in my many years researching youth-at-risk helps me to understand my students who need me most.

How does your current position compare to working in other settings, like academia or industry?

The rigid schedule of teaching takes some getting used to. You cannot just get up from your desk and get a cup of coffee or use the restroom. There is also no room for zoning out or having a bad day (or even sitting down). The kids need you to be ‘on’ all the time whether you are feeling your best or not. You also have to be ready to change tactics mid-lesson if something is not working- whether it be a new lesson plan or a discipline strategy with a particular student. It can be draining, but the days are never slow and definitely not boring.

July 2006


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