Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Money vs. Happiness

I’ve been thinking about money vs. happiness a lot lately. All in terms of ones job.  Some people hate their job but it pays well so they stick with it. The good pay allows them to do what they want outside of work and buy shiny fancy things. Others get by on very little pay but love what they do. It makes some things harder in life but they enjoy going to work everyday and tend to be happier outside of work.

Recently I had to face the option of money vs. happiness head on. Based on the circumstances at work I need to start looking for another job. A company I had interviewed with was working on making me an offer. They knew where I needed to be salary wise so presumably planned to match it. I knew a phone call was coming so I seriously pondered how I felt about this job. All the people that know me and this company said it was a great fit, a great opportunity for me. So many things seemed right, in a nice area, close to friends, and a stable company that looked out for their employees. The job was something I’d done for years so I knew I was perfectly capable. All of my potential co-workers seemed very nice. They were even willing to wait for me to become available in 2011. All of these things were checked off in the “pro” column in my mind but something didn’t feel right. All signs said I should be  excited about this opportunity and I wasn’t. Part of me was even dreading the call with the offer. Hoping it would be delayed so I could have something else pop up and I could put off giving them an answer and keep it as a fall back. I finally realized all the pros were things  I was trying to use to convince me to take the job. Nothing about the job itself excited me.

When they called to make the offer they wanted me to come back in to make the offer in person. I had to be honest. I told them I wasn’t interested. I wasn’t going to waste their time or mine anymore. I didn’t even want to keep it as a fall back. I thanked the manager for her time and the opportunity. She left the door open in case I change my mind later.

I really hoped I had made the right choice. Then a co-worker said something to me after I told him what I decided.  He said, “Whatever decision you make will be the right one. Don’t worry about it.” He was right. No one knows me better than me. As long as I trust my instincts I’ll be OK.

I’ve realized that being happy in what I do is ultimately more important than making a bunch of money to buy shiny things.  I’m going to spend way too many of my waking hours at whatever job I find for it to be something I don’t enjoy doing. I’m not sure where I’m going to end up but I feel like I’m at least in a better mental frame of mind now. I know I can’t wait forever for the perfect shining job to come along but I’m not to that point yet. For now, I’m going to be picky and look for something that will make me happy.

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Back to the Workforce

Eckstein Middle School, Seattle, Washington. T...

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For awhile now, I’ve been praying I’d be able to write the following:


I am now employed by Seattle Public Schools. I work as Special Education Generalist (read: I teach all subjects) in a north Seattle middle school.  Soon, I’ll have a paycheck and benefits! I’ll be able to go to the doctor! I can get new glasses!

Seriously, though, it all happened pretty fast.  I applied a couple of weeks ago.  The position was opened to applications for exactly one week, and it closed on Friday after school had started.  I received a call from the school on the following Tuesday and was scheduled for an interview on Wednesday afternoon.  I was subbing for a former colleague all that week, so I left school, ran home and changed into my interview suit, pet the dogs, and headed down to Seattle.

The interview went really well.  The principal was there, as was two of the three asst. principals and one of the special education team.  We went through the questions, all of which I feel I answered reasonably well.  After a particular question about behavior programs, the principal commented on my behavior experience.  I asked my questions – mostly about number of students served and case load size.  I left, feeling good about how the interview went.

I got home and ate my dinner. Afterward, I noticed I had missed a call on my phone.  It was the principal, requesting me to call her back to discuss something.  I did, and during our conversation, she unofficially offered me the job.  “Unofficially” because any offer has to go through Human Resources and the District Office.  She told me I’d hear officially in the next two days.

I heard the following afternoon and accepted the position immediately. I was scheduled to come into HR on Monday morning to sign my contract and turn in my other paperwork. From there, I went to my new school! The substitute that had been there since the first day of school was scheduled through the end of the week, so the transition would go smoothly.  I spent the day meeting new people, desperately trying to remember everyone’s names and not get lost in the confusing building.

So, my position is a new one, as is the program that I am working in.  Previously, my school had a large number of inclusion students, meaning that there was usually a co-teaching situation – one content teacher and one special educator to help with compliance and modifications.  However, they decided to expand their program to include those who need a more intense situation.  Thus, the self-contained program was born. The students started out all day in my room, but over the last three weeks, have slowly been integrated into general classrooms as appropriate.  I teach one period each of Language Arts, Social Studies, Math, Science, Study Skills, Literacy Support, and Study Hall. The number of students I have in any one period varies from one to eight.  I’m getting a new student next week who will have more intense needs than most of the rest of my students, so my position continues to grow and change.

I admit, I’m nervous about my job. It’s not that I don’t think I can do it – it’s just that there’s a lot going on, I’m three weeks behind, and I’m trying to catch up as quickly as possible. I already have an IEP meeting week after next and I don’t even have access to the IEP system.  So far, I like my job very much, but ask me in about two months for a more accurate assessment.

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Teaching: Not My First Calling

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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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Impending Transition (Insert ominous music here)

My Career (Ha! funny story about that). Let’s not bury the lead.

Earlier this Summer the president of our company gathered everyone for a meeting. He then dropped the bomb that they are shutting down the wholesale division of the company.  Translation: You are all losing your jobs. Happy Thursday! Really, it was a Thursday.

There are various things that made this announcement worse than it already was. A significant percentage of the employees are from Puerto Rico and don’t actually speak English. As the president is dancing around the bad news telling us we’re wonderful (It’s not you it’s me…), he’s stopping every two sentences to let the translator…well…translate. It took at least 20 minutes for him to get to the big news. Eventually he told us someone would be by later to discuss us our exact end date and what sort of severance we’ll get (Peachy!).  Later, our CFO dropped by to individually tell us our fate. Here’s mine. My last day is December 31. My 8 years at the company have earned me one month’s severance. What am I thinking when presented with this news? “I have to work through the Christmas holiday to get my severance?! Seriously?!” Really, that is all my brain could process.

So how have the past three months been?  To paraphrase “You’ve Got Mail“: “It has become something really depressing…” Honestly I drive around the half empty nursery with Meg Ryan‘s voice in my head saying that line over and over. I’ve also had to deal with many uplifting conversations that go something like this:

Customer: I can’t believe you’re closing. What am I going to do?! Where am I going to go?!

What you think: I”m losing my job I could give a crap what YOU’RE going to do. I’ve got other things to worry about right now.

What you say: You’ll be okay. (YOU still have a job!). And other similar platitudes.

Customer: Why are you/they doing this?! You guys are great! Your stuff is the best around.

What you think: Hey genius this wasn’t my idea!

What you say: Basically a summary of the letter the company sent out explaining what is happening. Also politely remind the customer that “this wasn’t my idea.”

Customer: So what job are they going to move you in to? (OK, so most people did realize that us closing meant we were all out of a job but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve been asked this actual question)

What you think: Where did you get this crazy idea that I still have a job?

What you say: There isn’t a job for me. They’re letting me go at the end of the year.

Customer: Oh no! I’m so sorry. What are you going to do?

Such a good question…

Luckily my job requires me to interact with many different people in my industry. As it turns out, I have a pretty good network to tap in to. Who knew? I’ve had a couple interviews.  One place is very interested. But, I’m not so sure I want to stay in this industry.

Here’s the bright side (really there is one). As of January 1st, I am a free woman. I have a college degree, money saved up, and that severance thing. To be completely honest, I was thinking of changing jobs anyway (I just don’t have a  choice about it now). Who knows where my career or I am going to end up? This concept scares the crap out of me. One thing is certain. No matter what I decide my life will be totally different next year and that’s kind of exciting.

Wow…that was very therapeutic. Thank You for your time. I need to find some chocolate…

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When does your job become your CAREER?

My Dad: “Aren’t you glad I got you that job?”

Me: “No, dad.  I’m happy you got me the interview. I got myself the job.”

The search for a job is never easy. At least not for me.  I have a friend into whose lap jobs just seem to fall like so many acorns from oak trees.  But, she also has a vast network of friends and professional acquaintances who know and like her and make connections with and for her.  She’s great at networking, without even trying.  That, I think is the secret to her success.  She networks because she loves knowing and meeting people, not because she’s trying to get something out of it, so it works.  I’ve always been a bit more retiring, less extroverted and less adept at following up with professional connections.  So, for me, it’s a slog.  Always.

Until three years ago, I was working at a foundation in New York.  It was a job that lacked challenge.  I learned all there was to know about my job and my organization within 6 months of starting, then kept at it for another two and a half years after it became obvious that there were no more challenges coming and that there was no opportunity for growth.  I went through waves of job searches, but it was exhausting and after months of applying, I’d take some time off and resign myself to my job for however long it was going to take.

Then, my father called and said that an organization in his building was hiring, was doing international something and wanted my resume.  I sent it to him, and three days later, I got a call from their CFO.  We talked for about two hours before I was invited to come to Boston for an interview.  This was a Friday afternoon.  Monday morning, I had my interview, and Tuesday I had a job offer.  Three weeks later, my life moved 250 miles north, and I started work.

When I was hired they said that they wanted a two-year committment, that it could be a springboard into some other work in the field.  After a year and half here, I was promoted, and sent to work interviewing people and running meetings in foreign countries.

Now, like everyone else, my organization is feeling the crunch of the economy.  We just moved into a smaller office this week, we’ve been asked to take temporary pay cuts and now, even though I really don’t want to, I’m thinking again about updating my resume and looking for something else.   I’m going to wait until I absolutely have to start looking though.  I love my job, I like my co-workers and I feel, for the first time in my professional career, like I’m doing something important.  I’m helping contribute to the body of knowledge that will change how people do their work, make them want to do better, to be better, to think more and work harder.  I’ve already felt a personal transformation from my work here.  It’s starting to feel like I’ve found what I want to be doing with my life.

I’ve stopped having a job.  Now I have a career.

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