Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Ambitious, Yet Vague

Special education classrooms (shown here at th...

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My mother bought my sister and I memory books that corresponded with each year of school. We diligently filled them out each fall with the start of the new school year. One of the questions was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Each year it changed. When I was in first grade, I wanted to be a ballerina. It didn’t seem to matter that I had never taken a dancing lesson in my life and had no idea what that really entailed. In second grade, I wanted to be an astronaut. I think that ended when the Challenger blew up later that school year.

In third grade, I got really ambitious. I wanted to be a millionaire. I have no idea how I was going to make this million dollars, but that didn’t seem to matter. In fourth grade I upped the ante and wanted to be a billionaire. In fifth grade, yes, a trillionaire.

For the next few years, I don’t remember having any specific employment goal. I did well in my classes, but there wasn’t anything in particular that I was drawn to. I enjoyed band the most, but never seriously considered that as a profession. I was good, but not that good.

When I was 15, things changed. I was in marching band with a rather intimidating band director. It wasn’t that he was mean, he just had high expectations and didn’t have patience for those who didn’t live up to their potential. As a sophomore new to the band, I was nervous around him. However, I found the courage to ask if I could move from the 10th grade band to the Junior/Senior band because there were too many saxophones in the lower group. At first he said no, but a few days later, he told me to talk to my guidance counselor to see if I could change my schedule. He gave me the boost of confidence that I needed and the idea of being a music educator was planted.

I actually applied to Penn State School of Music with the idea that I would become an instrumental music teacher. A number of things over the fall of my senior year forced me to pull my application and reapply to the Division of Undergraduate Studies, aka, The I-Have-No-Idea-What-I-Want-To-Major-In Major. I ended up a theatre major, but I by the time I had done academic theatre for four years, I had no desire to do it as a career.

The turning point was really when I opted to serve two years in AmeriCorps. I was assigned to a position at my old high school, working with students with moderate to severe disabilities, training them to work in the student store to set them up for future employment.  I wasn’t there for more than two weeks before I realized that I wanted to be in the classroom. I really could help young people by being a teacher.

I found a grad school that combined my theatre major and English minor into a dual certification program. I taught Special Education English for two years (New York City was so desperate for teachers that you didn’t have to be endorsed in Special Education to teach a specific content), general education English for two years in a different state, and then opted to go back to school to get my Special Education certification. This is my second year teaching full Special Education in a middle school and I love it.

Looking back, I shouldn’t be surprised that I ended up where I did – there were definitely signs along the way that should have made my trajectory obvious. I had volunteered multiple times with students with special needs, from the time I was 10 through college. Nothing I have done is as satisfying, and I am glad I ended up where I did.

 

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Teaching: Not My First Calling

Theatre small

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I sort of always knew I’d be a teacher, although it’s not where I originally started out. I was planning on working professionally in technical theatre, mainly stage management and lighting.  I was a theatre major in college, I worked at the campus concert/sports arena, did any freelance theatre/concert work I could get, and had even started looking into touring companies for my post-college employment. However, by the time I got to the end of my undergraduate degree, I was rather burnt out on theatre.  Too many semesters doing academic theatre in which everyone was doing what their professor expected of them to get the best grade possible plus years of working as a grunt in any place that would hire me wore me down.  I left school with a degree that I didn’t think I’d be using anytime soon.

Due to a friend’s recommendation (and later reference), I ended up serving in AmeriCorps for two years.  I worked with low-incidence special education students and loved it. During that time, I also tutored some of the general education kids in English.  Around the beginning of my second year, I started looking for a grad program for teacher certification because by then, I knew that teaching was where I needed to be. I found a program that combined my Theatre major and English minor into a dual-certification program at New York University. Two years and two student teaching placements (one elementary, one secondary) later, I was certified to teach in New York State.

NY - Albany: New York State Department of Educ...

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I was hired by the New York City Dept. of Education at a huge job fair in February, three months before I graduated.  Now, the way the NYCDOE does their recruiting is that the main administration hires teachers and then puts on a series of job fairs for those new employees to meet potential principals.  I had a job, but I didn’t have a school. After a snafu at the main office, I was placed in the wrong area of the city at an elementary school.  After multiple calls to my recruiter, she got me into a high school, but still in the East Bronx instead of Manhattan/West Bronx, which would have been much closer to where I lived in New Jersey.

Anyway, I showed up to the comprehensive high school on the first day of school. No one had any idea I was coming.  I ended up sitting around for two days, shuffled back and forth between the English and Special Education departments.  Finally, halfway through the first day of school, I was sent to teach self-contained English to students with learning disabilities. Not having an official training about teaching special education, I was making it up as I went along. I had no curriculum, no textbooks, few novels, and fewer resources. If it wasn’t for a veteran teacher who took pity on me, I would have been lost during that first month.

After two years, I decided to return to the Seattle area where I had grown up. Armed with glowing recommendation letters, I applied to several districts, including the one that I had been in. However, due to a unforeseen and completely out of my control incident, I was unable to get my teaching certification in Washington before the beginning of the school year. Turns out that only one person at NYU can sign off the paperwork stating that you have completed an education program, and that one guy was out of the office for six weeks because of an emergency knee surgery. I got the papers signed before I left the state, but it took another eight weeks to go through Washington state.

Fortunately for me, an English teacher at the high school less than a mile from my house retired at the end of the September. Turns out he’d been on medical leave the year before, returned in August, and shortly realized he couldn’t do it.  I applied, interviewed and started on October 15th. Unfortunately, it was a non-continuing contract, meaning the school district was under no obligation to keep me the following year.  I started the next school year without a position, but then took a long-term sub position that turned into another non-continuing contract. A letter from the superintendent in February informed everyone that while there would not be any layoffs that year, no non-continuing contracts would be renewed. I decided to take the opportunity to go back to school and get that Special Education endorsement that I had been thinking about.

So, here I am, at the start of another school year. I have my certification in English, Drama, and Special Education, four years of teaching experience, and no job. A large part of that is due to the state that the economy is – one of the first things cut was education.  While people aren’t being laid off any longer, no one is really hiring much either. I have had three interviews and no offers so far with another two or three coming up. School starts either Sept. 1 or 8, depending on the district, so the jobs are starting to taper off.  If nothing else, I can sub or get a job in a tutoring center somewhere.

I had hoped at this point in my life, I would be at a school somewhere, well integrated into the school culture, and involved in after school activities.  Hopefully, I will have excellent news in the next couple of weeks – that I have found the school I want to be at long-term and I love my new job.

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May I Introduce Myself…

I’m Samantha. Of the lot of us, I’m the oldest by about seven months.  I’m also the only one not on the East Coast, though I used to be. I currently live just outside of Seattle, where I was born and raised but have lived very little of my adult life.  From the time I was 16 until I was almost 29, I lived in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York City.  I moved home a few years ago.

I went to Penn State for undergrad, which is where I met many of my best friends.  I served two years of AmeriCorps before deciding to go to grad school at NYU. Career-wise, I am a high school English, Drama, and Special Education teacher. I taught in the Bronx for two years and then in a suburban Seattle school district for two more.  During the second year there, I was told that I would not have a position for the coming fall. Fortunately, this allowed me to go back to school to get my Special Education endorsement. I have recently graduated with my Masters in Education from the University of Washington and now face the challenge to find a job. The employment situation isn’t as bad as it was two years ago when districts were laying people of, but they still aren’t hiring much.  Fingers crossed!

My little guy, Toby

I am the mommy of a two-year-old dog named Toby. He’s a Bichon Frise/Shih Tzu mix, though he looks much more Shih Tzu. Toby makes me laugh, as I have never met a more good-natured, happy little dog. He likes people, likes to go on adventures, and likes playing with his brother (who is owned by my mom!).

Nasturtiums on the balcony

Finally, in what spare time I have, I enjoy reading, writing, gardening, sewing, and I’m getting into cooking.  I have a small garden on my balcony – not that it did much with the weather we had this year.  I am in the process of sewing a comforter set for my bed and I’m almost done.  As for cooking, I am starting to experiment with new recipes. More on that later!  I’m hoping to get more into bike riding. We have a lot of great trails around here and I recently purchased a great new bike.  Now, just as long as the weather stays nice a little longer!

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