New Mexico Teachers: Let's Be Heard

Often when education is discussed or debated, vital and necessary voices are left out: us teachers. Who better to provide perspective on schools than those of us working with students every day? Who better to speak about teacher pay, class sizes, educational spending, and many other topics than those of us who personally grapple with these issues?

It seems as though some policy makers want teachers to use their voice, but only while we are in the classroom. I’ve seen first-hand that those days are over and the time for direct teacher voice has arrived.

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Summer Side Hustles for Teachers

By Joyce Wilson│Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Side "hustles" have become more popular as people realize they can easily make a little extra money to make ends meet or save away. You may have heard of the sharing economy, which allows you to make money doing things like driving for a ride-sharing service or renting out your home to tourists. These types of opportunities have grown exponentially over the past decade.

Many teachers are in a unique position for side gigs because of summer vacation, which leaves them with some rare extra time. Teachers also tend to be masters of multi-tasking, often working on many things at once. Money aside, pursuing interests outside of the classroom provides a great creative and intellectual outlet.


A side gig doesn’t have to be all about the sharing economy though. There are plenty of good-paying gigs out there that allow teachers to work for themselves and set their own hours. You might even incorporate a hobby you love into your new job, such as making jewelry or selling vintage clothing in an online shop. A helpful aspect about these part-time gigs is that you can keep them all year if you decide to.

Keep reading to find out more about side gigs that can work this summer, or any time of the year.


Become A Tutor

Tutoring is often a natural transition for teachers during summer months. Talk to parents of your students and let them know you’re available for tutoring sessions. You can even spread the word on social media. This is the kind of side hustle that permits you to set your own hours, and you may be able to do it from the comfort of your own home in some cases. Just make sure you keep your lesson plans transparent and keep communication open with your clients.

Be A Tour Guide

Museums, historical locations, and cities with high tourism rates are great places to find a summer gig that could turn into a year-round side job if you enjoy it. Put all your knowledge to good use as a tour guide, which will often allow for flexible hours and seasonal work. Just be prepared to be on your feet for several hours at a time.

Teach English Online

There are several online tutoring and teaching jobs that can help you earn quite a bit of extra cash over the summer, including teaching English as a second language. The great aspect of this job is that you can do it from home while you’re in sweats. Visit here for more information.

Freelance and Contract Work

Many teachers make great writers; not only because they’re knowledgeable about so many subjects, but because they have so many great stories to tell! If you have a flair for writing and have something to say, consider doing some freelance work.

There are plenty of blogs and online companies who are willing to pay good money for your words. Just watch out for scams and companies that promise to make you thousands of dollars in a week. Freelancing won’t make you rich, but it can certainly help pay the bills. You can also start a blog of your own, although monetizing it can take a while.


For teachers serious about making money outside the classroom, it’s important to remember to create an ideal workspace that can help you stay on-task. An uncluttered desk in a room free of distractions can be your best friend. Check out these great tips on how to make a workspace that boosts your productivity.

Finding the right side job for you can take a little time, so try to be patient. Keep in mind that what works for one person may not work for you. A side gig should be both fulfilling and worth your time in order to become a success.

With a little research and a good plan, you can find a side hustle you enjoy and that will sustain you all year round.

Joyce Wilson - Retired Teacher and Co-Founder of

Joyce is a retired teacher with decades of experience. Today, she is a proud grandma and mentor to teachers in her local public school system. She and a fellow retired teacher created to share creative ideas and practical resources for the classroom.

Being Prepared Changes Everything in the Classroom

By Aja Currey│Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

I clearly remember feeling nervous and excited my first day as a student teacher. It was the end of my teacher prep program and I knew I had just one semester to figure out how to do the job of teaching.

Still, I didn’t know if I was prepared enough to be the teacher I knew I wanted to be.

Eight years later, I know the reality is that I’ve spent this entire time preparing. Each year, I seek to become better for the next. I now know I was not truly prepared for the classroom at the end of my preparation program - and that I’m not alone in that feeling.

My first year, similarly to that of the many other teachers I know, was a sink-or-swim experience.

As a special education teacher, I realized quickly that the extra time I spent learning about different disabilities in my program didn’t touch on the reality I would face in my classroom. I wasn’t prepared to work with my nonverbal students with autism, or to manage the more severe behavioral problems such as when my students would kick and punch.


Aja and her students at Rio Gallinas Charter School for Ecology and the Arts in West Las Vegas


I’m lucky I had an excellent mentor who taught me to manage students in a variety of different ways. I also had support from a good school director and seasoned teachers. Other new teachers are not so lucky.

If we want our students to continue to grow and make progress every year - academically, socially, and emotionally - we need teachers who are ready for the challenge. We lose many teachers before they ever get the opportunity to feel comfortable in the classroom because they are unprepared.

This is a national problem: Forty to 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years, including includes the 9.5 percent that leave before their first year is over. It took me until my sixth year to feel truly ready, but almost half of new teachers don’t wait that long.

I see a number of things we can do to prepare new teachers to be ready on day one.

One priority should be to update our teacher training programs with expanded classroom time. Programs must provide new teachers with hands-on experience to best meet the needs of today’s students. This first-hand experience must include expanded student teaching time, more guided time with classroom management in a real classroom, and supervised lesson planning/delivery early in the program.

We must also understand which teacher preparation programs are doing well - and which aren’t.

Soon, the Public Education Department will release the first ever Educator Preparation Program report cards for New Mexico. The goal is to maintain and monitor standards for our universities.


The National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) also provides teacher preparation reviews here:


The report cards aim to provide New Mexico’s teacher preparation programs the opportunity to grow and improve in order to best meet the needs of up-and-coming teachers. This would have helped me and my students tremendously when I entered the profession nearly a decade ago.

We need far more collaboration between all the moving parts that train and create our teachers.

Our universities, local school districts, and state education department should continue to work together. Universities and local school districts need to create model learning schools or classrooms together, with the support of great teachers. And our state education department should partner with professors at universities to create learning experiences for college students that are relevant to what today's students need.

I hope to see more excited student teachers ready to make a difference in our classrooms as soon as they graduate. New Mexico’s students and teachers deserve it.


Aja Currey - Special Education Teacher in West Las Vegas, NM

Aja Currey is the head special education teacher for 1st thru 8th grades at Rio Gallinas Charter School for Ecology and the Arts in West Las Vegas Schools. She is a Teach Plus New Mexico Teaching Policy Fellow.

Preparing “Day One Ready” Teachers

by Elizabeth Long│Friday, May 4th, 2018

A version of this post originally appeared at Teach Reach NM and is republished here with permission.

Recently, there's been a lot of talk about how to improve schools—and improving instruction should be at the top of the list. Our teacher preparation programs have a solemn responsibility to produce quality teachers who deliver student achievement.

Take my story, for example. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since first grade. Yet, after my first year of teaching, I was ready to give up on this dream I had as a little girl. It was devastating. I had not been adequately prepared.

Luckily, I chose to stay in the classroom and found school resources to push myself to my full potential. In fact, most recently I earned an “Exemplary” rating as a middle school teacher in Gallup, a school that has gone from a D to a B over the past three years. Unfortunately, not every teacher has access to the resources I had, nor the resolve to keep pushing internally. And that is how New Mexico continues to lose potentially life-changing teachers.

The reality is this: when teacher preparation programs improve across New Mexico then the quality of teaching, and thus the quality of education across the state, will improve as well.

There is a positive trickle down effect when teachers enter the classroom “Day One Ready”.


Elizabeth and her students at Gallup Middle School


So, what does “Day One Ready” mean exactly?

“Day One Ready” means that teachers are not surprised by, but rather prepared for, what they walk into on that first day in their classroom. It is not about perfection, but rather about teachers who are prepared for the opportunities and challenges of teaching our students.

“Day One Ready” teachers are confident that the experiences in their teacher preparation program align with their upcoming classroom experience. As teachers, we must accept personal responsibility for our craft, and for our students’ learning. And this mindset is developed largely via our training.

The summer after my first (tough) year of teaching, I went back to the basics. I ordered Harry Wong’s classic books about classroom management, and read his words as scripture. One may ask, didn’t I do this in my training program?

The answer is “sort of” - I read many famous teaching texts, but often wasn’t exposed to the application side of these theories. Without a classroom of my own, or a classroom to visualize myself in, it was hard to imagine how to put these theories into action. I had some great courses along the way, but the problem is often cohesion and my classes were, to be honest, hit or miss.

I was also shocked by how inadequately I was prepared for the student diversity we find across The Land of Enchantment. Many universities give a “cookie-cutter” view of English Learners (ELs) and culturally relevant teaching with limited connection to New Mexico’s specific students and history.

Our students have unique needs, and these must be addressed in teacher preparation programs. Further, we must celebrate student diversity while never lowering the bar for any student, regardless of background.

This wasn’t always the message I received.


The National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) also provides teacher preparation reviews here:


The purpose of sharing my thoughts and experiences is not to demonize any specific program. Rather, as I have mentored over the years, I have seen many new, promising teachers come and go. In my experience, teacher preparation program experiences correlate with whether teachers stay in the profession and thrive, endure or exit.

It’s common sense to me that our teacher preparation programs should be held accountable, increase the quality and duration of student teaching experiences, and align programs more closely with state and district expectations.

We know that, more than anything else at the school site, teacher quality is causal to student success. Certainly teacher preparation is the very foundation of that concept.

I am thankful I remained teaching. Even with all the challenges, teaching is one of the most rewarding professions out there. And I have my students’ academic growth and their changed life trajectories to show for it, which is everything to me.

As I look back, I wish I would have been better trained to be more successful on day one, rather than questioning what has become my life’s passion. Thankfully, I stuck around, but so many new teachers don’t. There’s no excuse for that.


Elizabeth Long - Middle School Teacher in Gallup, NM

Elizabeth Long is finishing up her 7th year of teaching. She is originally from Ohio, and her family moved to the Navajo Reservation when she was sixteen. Not only is she a passionate teacher, she also enjoys photography, nature, traveling, and spending time with her family and dogs.

Trust, But Verify: Four Charters Seek A New Home in APS

Back on October 24th, I drove over to the twin white towers in Uptown that are APS headquarters. That evening was the public hearing for four state-authorized charters asking APS to take them in, despite disappointing results. The APS board was not in attendance so the proceedings were led by charter school director, Joseph Escobedo, Ed.D. In attendance were a variety of interested parties, including students, parents, teachers, and administrators of the four schools: Academy of Trades & Technology,  Architecture Construction and Engineering (ACE) Leadership, Health Leadership, and Technology Leadership. The latter three high schools are affiliated with the Leadership High School Network and the New Mexico Center for School Leadership, which also operates Siembra Leadership High School (F), which is already under the auspices of APS.

School Grades and Student Outcomes for the Four Schools

School Grades and Student Outcomes for the Four Schools

As you can see above, these schools have struggled to deliver on the promise of education for their students. (And, of course, school grades are not the entire story of a school, but they do help provide families and policymakers with a better picture of how schools are doing.) I know many hardworking, dedicated individuals who work for and lead these schools; people I respect. However, I believe that, particularly when it comes to our kids, we can’t protect the feelings of adults over the best interests of students, especially the vulnerable students who attend these four schools. Schools must be accountable to our kids and communities, regardless of their intent.

Among the many people speaking at the input hearing that October evening was a school governing board member who said, and I quote, “Our kids can’t function in other schools and bring down other students. And when they aren’t in our school they’re out there in gangs or getting pregnant.” My jaw dropped and my stomach turned.

Instead of seeing their students as assets to be developed, regardless of their personal circumstances, this “leader” was using their identities as reasons NOT to educate them. Let me be clear, such a deficit mindset about our neediest students has zero place in education. If your mission is to educate these underserved populations and you then use that fact as the reason less than five percent of them read or write on grade level, then please exit the building.

Yes, many of our students come from poverty and traumatic environments. This poses unique and significant challenges for schools. And yet, how are we to change that reality without schools embracing the challenge and fully committing to providing all students the best education possible so they become our future community leaders? Reading and writing matter, even for schools that offer a specialized or industry-specific education. How else might one become an architect or engineer if you don't graduate high school doing both on grade level?

This is also personal. As a high school dropout who got my GED after attending Freedom High School, which is an APS alternative high school (a “B” school), I was one of those students that typical high schools failed. I, too, had an IEP, grew up in public housing, and on food stamps. I’m sure I had teachers who wrote me off as “too troubled” to learn. What a shame. If I hadn’t had an instructor at TVI (now CNM) reignite that desire to learn inside me, I’m not sure where I’d be.

Oddly enough, APS offers several alternative high schools, including the aforementioned Freedom High, which are doing quite well in delivering those crucial results for children. Clearly, APS has figured out some effective alternative schooling models and can perhaps help improve instructional practices at these four sites. The opportunity for cross-pollination appears ripe for the picking. And if APS is looking to serve more "at-risk" students, why not expand the campuses and enrollment of the successful schools they already have?

APS Already Has Some Successful Alternative High Schools

APS Already Has Some Successful Alternative High Schools

My recommendation is that APS conditionally accepts these four schools. The board should allow for a one-year authorization for each school, contingent upon them agreeing to demonstrable and meaningful academic improvement. The mission and positive motivations of these schools is clear, and now the student learning needs to match those admirable values. If at the end of next school year little or no progress is made, then APS must commit to helping each student find an appropriate and academically successful school.

Comparison of APS SAMs Schools

Comparison of APS SAMs Schools

The APS board and charter school division must also grapple with the reality that by taking in these four schools, APS graduation rates will drop by a few percentage points overall, and particularly for female and Hispanic students. For a district already struggling with some of New Mexico’s lowest graduation rates, taking on these schools MUST be dependent upon a mutual commitment to significantly improve their results. As shown in the table above, APS already has seven plus similar schools with higher graduation rates. This would be a particular liability for a board and district under so much scrutiny to improve graduation rates.

I'll add that while graduation rates are incredibly important, I might be swayed if any of these four schools shared substantive data indicating their students are entering industry careers at prolific rates. For example, how many students leave school to take positions in engineering, health, or technology AND make living wages? I fully support any school that delivers these types of results for students and sets them on productive career paths. However, the onus is on each school to demonstrate they're achieving their stated mission.

Yes, the mission and vision of a school matters greatly, and so do results. Our students and city can’t afford to have one without the other. Let’s hold ourselves and our schools accountable.