Sunday, August 19, 2012

An Education in Education - Part I - Getting Lost on My Career Path

As a new school year is about to begin, I'm once again reminded of my short-lived teaching career. Teaching, for me, was one of the biggest failures of my life. Basically, I failed because I quit. Yes, I am a QUITTER. This is not something I am proud of...quite the opposite. My husband, Rob has always told me that I am my harshest critic, and that trait played a huge role in my decision to leave the profession for good, but it also made that decision a very hard one to accept. Although I think I ultimately made the right decision (for my health and sanity), I know that my decision let a lot of people down, and that is notsomething that I take lightly. 

1970s HoJo Waitress Uniform
Teaching was not my earliest career aspiration. When I was really young, if anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would tell them that I wanted to be "a doctor, a nurse or a waitress at Howard Johnson's." Why did I want to be a waitress at Howard Johnson's? Honestly, I have no clue. I always did like the color turquoise and Howard Johnson's had those cool turquoise pointy roofs. I don't remember loving the food all that much (though I know that my mom was a huge fan of their clam roll). Maybe I liked the uniforms (though I can't imagine - found the lovely number at the right on eBay)! Now, a career in medicine would have been a brilliant idea. As a young child, I loved to read about the human heart in our circa-1968 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia. Throughout my life, I have been fascinated by the human body. I love watching Discovery Fit & Health - especially anything to do with unusual medical conditions. Why I didn't pursue a career in medicine, I'm not quite sure. Maybe it was the fact that Science (other than Marine Biology and Anatomy and Physiology) wasn't my thing. Chemistry was my worst subject in school, and I'm pretty sure that's an important one if one is pursuing a career in the medical field. It certainly would have been a more lucrative career choice!

I've always a little nerdy. :)
I loved to play "school" as a child. I would pretend to have a class in our garage. I had a chalkboard hanging on the wall that I would use to teach lessons. I'd even have a grade book and call roll. I wonder if my parents worried about the fact that I was constantly talking to a class of children that weren't really there. In school, I was always a good student, often getting straight A's (in everything but P.E. (shocker) and maybe Music). I was definitely a teacher's pet. I LOVED to help my teachers grade papers, prepare art supplies, etc.

As I got older, I started to get more into art and photography in high school. At that time, I really thought I might like to go to the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and study Graphic Art or Photography. My parents did not support my decision. I was an 'A' student and they insisted that I go to college and get a four-year degree. That meant I needed to redirect my ambitions. I'd always loved to read and loved to learn, so I figured that teaching might be a good career path for me. (Obviously, at this point in my life I had completely blocked all of those years that I dreaded going to school out of my mind. Had I stopped to consider this, my life may have gone in a totally different direction.)I really only applied to one school (Florida Atlantic University) and not only did I get accepted, I earned a full scholarship. 

Me & Mrs. Bolte
She was an AMAZING teacher!
As always, I worked hard and graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education and a 3.8 GPA. I enjoyed planning lessons and using my creativity to make the fun for kids. Even upon graduation, though, I was leery of teaching. I had completed my field experience at two of the toughest elementary schools in our area (during my first field experience, the teacher asked me if I thought one of the (5th grade) students might be pregnant!). I did my student teaching at Norcrest Elementary under the guidance of an absolutely wonderful First Grade teacher - Mrs. Bolte. She was phenomenal and taught me so much about how to be a great teacher, but even then, I had my (self) doubts. I vividly remember losing the battle of wills (with myself) and having tears rolling down my cheeks while trying to teach a math lesson (all while being observed by my college supervisor.) Nothing was going right and I couldn't hide my disappointment in myself. In spite of that, my college supervisor gave me a wonderful recommendation. Clearly she saw something in me that I did not see. After graduation, I began searching for a teaching job.

In the fall of 1992, teaching positions were almost as hard to come by as they are today. As the new school year approached, newly married to Rob (whose business, KMC Marine, (see link at right - shameless plug), was struggling to get off the ground), I knew I needed to find a job, so I decided to try substitute teaching. Oh. My. Word. WTF was I thinking? On the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, I received a call from the automated (and soon to be DREADED) "Sub Finder" system that I was needed to teach a fifth grade class at Norcrest Elementary (where I had student taught). FIFTH grade? I was intimidated by first graders! Keep in mind, at the time I was all of 5'2" and 91 pounds. I was terrified. But, I took the job (and honestly hated every second of it). Because I had no choice, I continued subbing through the end of the year. I subbed everything from Kindergarten (which often had me in tears in the Teacher's Lounge) to a horribly-behaved fourth grade class (the teacher repeatedly requested ME as a sub because she thought I was doing such an awesome job). Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure I was developing an ulcer and the early seeds of anxiety and panic disorder were taking root in my psyche. Don't get me wrong, I was a good substitute in the fact that I followed the teachers' lesson plans (if they were kind enough to leave me any), I'm organized (to a fault!) and I always left a detailed report of the day. When it came to classroom management/discipline, though, I was terrible. I think the straw that broke the camel's back was having a student that I'd sent to the principal (yes, I actually did that - ONCE!) for constantly being disrespectful and disrupting the class I had been subbing all week, return to class (with the principal) eating candy she had given him. Oh, HELL NO! Thanks for the support, Mrs. K...I'm DONE! By the end of 1992, I realized that pursuing a career in teaching had been a HUGE mistake. People tried to convince me that subbing is very different from having one's own class and I should just hang on. But I  had  lost all confidence in my teaching abilities. My heart was no longer in it and I felt like a complete failure. 

Following a brief stint as a receptionist for a company in a very "questionable" business (when shipping people fail to return to work with no further contact, color me suspicious), I landed the job that changed my life. For the next 13 years, I worked as an Assistant Editor, then Associate Editor, then Editor for reference-book publisher, Omnigraphics, Inc. The anal-retentive perfectionist had found her place in the world! :) Although I started my editing career working on business reference books, I eventually transitioned into travel reference books. I LOVED researching cities - their history, attractions, quality of living, etc. It was fun, and the best part was, I was able to work full-time FROM HOME. I probably would have been happy doing that forever, but the Internet quickly made reference books all but obsolete, so thanks to cut-backs, by 2006, I was out of a job.

By now, the economy was on the downslide and jobs were hard to come by. I volunteered at my kids' school (Norcrest Elementary, where I had done my student teaching and subbing what seemed like ages ago) and really enjoyed it. At the spring Volunteer Breakfast, the principal (who knew that I had a teaching degree) told me that she had an opening for a Kindergarten teacher in the fall, and asked if I'd be interested. Hmmmm... I needed a job, I LOVED volunteering at the school, loved my kids' teachers, and I figured that, now that I had my own kids, maybe my classroom management skills would be better.  Why not? What did I have to lose? (Oh, just my mind, my health, my dignity...) 

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. OMG!! I can't wait to read the next part!!! I totally thought of you, Nancy. I, too, am extremely relieved NOT to be teaching and have no idea why I would feel anxious that school starts tomorrow! I don't even have kids!!

    Tonya :)