For all intensive purposes, I am a career changer.
My hope for this blog is to document my experience of learning to become an elementary school teacher. From my readings and classes to what I have observed in actual classrooms, my hope is to talk about it all and hear from others both inside and just joining the field. Comments and questions are welcomed, and any advice all ye seasoned pros can offer is incredibly welcomed.
But to begin this blog, I must point out that I am a career changer. When people think of career changes, many conjure images of business men and women suddenly following a life-long passion for writing, traveling the world solo for a number of years and reappearing as life coaches, or opening cupcake shops. Although I do make a mean chocolate frosting, I am not exactly your typical career changer.
For starters, I’m younger than many career changers. I graduated college (with Honors) 5 years ago with a B.A. in English and the belief that I was going to be an English Professor, a great scholar spending hours absorbed in medieval texts, straining my eyes in dimly lit libraries around the world. Unfortunately, it takes time to live out one’s dream, and like many graduates these days I had (and still have) student loans to pay and a desperate need for a paycheck. I knew what I wanted to be, but how was I going to make it happen financially?
The plan was to work for a couple of years and then apply to graduate school. As I said, this was the plan. Now, try enacting this plan in this economy. You name the job and chances are I applied for it. A friend at the time was kind enough to recommend that I take on a part-time job assisting his Professor father on a project funded by a grant. Income: check. Income enough to pay student loans: half a check. Job lasting more than 6 months: not so much.
Since this job was a temporary fix, I continued to send out applications. It was during this time that I applied for a teaching position in my Archdiocese. Although I had briefly researched a teaching career in college (and little me played school with my grandmother during summer vacations), I decided not to take any classes in elementary education because, “I’m going to be professor!” That’s what I told people, but the truth was children scared me. I don’t have younger siblings, and I never babysat as a teenager. Combine this fear with the fact that I did not have any background in education, and to this day I wonder what I was thinking when I sent in that teaching application.
Image my surprise when I got called for an interview. Then, image my surprise when I was called back to teach a lesson.
I only remember bits and pieces of the actual academics of lesson I taught that day to a (rather large now that I think about it) 6th grade summer school class in the Bronx. But the one part that I remember the most is that I absolutely loved it. I mean smiled and danced a jig all the way to the subway loved it. I had never taught a lesson in my life, but the Vice Principal who observed me said that she wouldn’t have known I had no teaching experience if I hadn’t told her. She had some pointers of course (for example, “Don’t be afraid to walk down the aisles”), but she told me that I was good at it.
I didn’t get the job (they went with someone with experience), but I did get something out of the experience: an idea. I had a blast teaching the lesson to those 6th graders, sure. But could I do it everyday, all day? At the time, my nerves spoke louder than the happy feelings, but the memory didn’t leave me.
Fast-forward two years. During this time, I found a job in the city (yay pacheck!), I moved out on my own (yay rent?!), and I got married (just yay!). Just like the plan I had originally made in college, I applied to graduate school… but not for teaching. I still remembered that lesson I taught, but I was still just as nervous. I started taking classes for my Masters in English and found that I absolutely… hated it. Talk about disappointment. I loved my Medieval Women and Milton classes, but something was gnawing at me. Something was telling me this wasn’t the right time to follow this path.
If you ever get this feeling, listen to it!
By now, any enjoyment I had felt with my work had left me. I was only twenty something, but I was going to work everyday and sitting at my desk and crying because I felt like I was dying inside. I did not feel this way because of the people (who I really enjoyed working with) or even the work itself, but rather the volume and the pressure to keep up with it became so intense that the entire department was struggling with no end in sight. I was also a newlywed and barely saw my husband. I missed him. After much soul searching, I found that I just wanted to be happy.
Happy… hmm. That word seems familiar.
I began researching teaching programs in my area and found a graduate program that seemed to meet my interests and needs: elementary education and designed for career changers. One problem: my job was in the city and I wouldn’t make it back up to my home area (where the University is) in time for class at night. It took a year (and the support of those around me), but I managed to get a job that the University. Within one month, I had applied to the program.
Do I still question if I can teach everyday, all day? Oh yeah. Am I scared about the uncertainty of employment, of unpaid student teaching, of making lesson plans and having the right answer when an answer is needed? So much so that as I type the sentence I feel a little queasy. But I don’t regret my decision. When I was in college I said I wanted to be a professor. What did not “click”in my head at the time is that professor is another word for teacher. Do I still want to be a great scholar spending hours absorbed in medieval texts, straining my eyes in dimly lit libraries around the world? Yes, I do. But I see this image differently now. Now, I see little faces “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” with me. I see the next generation of great thinkers, and me helping them to get there.