Name: Katie Ragsdale
College & Majors/Minors:
Troy University – Bachelor’s of Science in English & Minor in Business
The University of West Alabama – Master’s of Education in Instructional Leadership
The University of West Alabama – Educational Specialist in Instructional Leadership
Current Location: New Brockton, Alabama
Current Form of Employment: Teacher
Where do you work and what is your current position?
New Brockton High School in New Brockton, AL – English Language Arts teacher
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
I am blessed to say that my first job and my current job are the same. There was not some long, arduous job hunt. I took the Praxis exam (the exam required for all prospective teachers in Alabama) in my field of study - on a whim - my last semester of college. I had heard horror stories about this exam and felt a little irresponsible taking it so nonchalantly. However, all of my coursework in the English field paid off and I passed it on the first attempt with very little preparation.
In the state of Alabama, a person with a degree in a content area (rather than a traditional, teaching degree) can pursue an alternative route to a professional teaching certificate. With my English degree and a successful attempt at the Praxis exam under my belt, I went to work putting together resume and application packets which included a grainy headshot of myself that my college roommate took of me with an old Sony digital camera, an incredibly long and wordy resume fraught with useless information, and a cover letter that all but begged for a job. I sent off those packets to local school districts two weeks before graduating with my Bachelor’s in English.
By the summer, my superintendent from back home had offered me a job teaching high school English Language Arts. Armed with a pretentious amount of knowledge in my content area, I faced a room full of eighth graders without ever even completing a teaching internship. I was required to complete four education courses within three years of being hired. Once completing that requirement I earned my full teaching certificate. My first year on the job was a true baptism by fire experience. I have never had a year since that was more difficult. My one true strength that school year, though, was all of my English knowledge. I may not have been able to express it or teach it well, but I definitely have been a content expert since the beginning of my career, and I used that as the only weapon in my arsenal my first year teaching.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
I haven’t had any other writing-related job. In my career, it’s more of a when-am-I-not-writing question. As a teacher of English Language Arts to upper secondary students, I write much more than perhaps anyone would imagine. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about the craft of effective writing, whether it be fiction or research papers or resumes. On a daily basis, I am looking at student writing every hour, on the hour. I cater many of my lessons to the state writing standards so that students must write often and, eventually, write well.
If I’m not instructing on effective writing, grading writing, or creating writing rubrics, I am writing myself. Just last week, I wrote a fictional passage which I included on a grammar quiz. In the passage, I purposefully incorporated some commonly confused homophones which I asked students to identify and correct. Next week, I will be writing a sample, Anglo-Saxon boast (as a part of our unit on Beowulf) that I will perform for my seniors as a model of the same type of boast that they will write about themselves. I also stay busy writing lesson plans, curriculum, and teaching materials. All of this is on top of the piles of letters of recommendation I have written throughout the years as well as the papers that former students often send me to proofread.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
In college, I truly relished my classes and coursework. I found something to enjoy about every class I took. I found deep satisfaction in completing each of my English classes. I was purposefully reflective and introspective, especially in my last few semesters. I knew what I liked. I knew what I was good at. I knew that I wanted to keep the trajectory of passion for English moving forward. So, knowing myself and being honest with myself was the biggest piece of preparation. Also, I fostered a healthy rapport with my professors. I truly respected each of them, and I believe they knew that, too. These relationships led to some very complimentary letters of recommendation for my overzealous packets that I sent out to school districts.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
As I mentioned before, my advice is to be honest with yourself. Know yourself enough to enter the career field which suits you best. As an English major, you are incredibly versatile and valuable and hirable. You just have to know yourself enough to pursue a career which will nurture your needs and personality. Not only have I always been good at and enjoyed English, but I have also always been a natural leader. I have always desired to be in charge. So, the classroom suits me. Find what suits you.