Friday, May 3, 2013

The Long Road To Teach.

I didn't grow up wanting to be a teacher. I didn't grow up wanting to be anything other than an astronaut,  really. Flying through space and looking at the stars sounded like a pretty good gig to me.

In college, I didn't have any career goals either. I floated around, switching majors like it was my job. Hotel management? Sure! Journalism? Awesome. How about a dash of pre-nursing? Sounds great.

Eventually, I settled on Microbiology because I was so infatuated with the gross and gory diseases that I had seen on Discovery channel documentaries. The problem with Microbiology is that it doesn't lend itself to many careers other than medicine, which was just not in the cards for me.

Once I had that shiny degree in my hot little hands I found low-paying, long-hour jobs as a lab researcher. Then I moved on to more exciting things like bartending. That was a low point. My friends and family just stood back and hoped that I would eventually do something a little more productive, perhaps something that would put to use the degree that I had worked so hard for.

Finally, a good friend sat me down and told me to get it together and do something more exciting with my life. Right there at a Starbucks in Atlanta, I made a phone call to my summer camp boss in Florida and asked if he could help me get into teaching. Suddenly, being a science teacher seemed like the perfect path for me.

A month later I moved to Florida. I had lots of friends there, all teachers and all from my summer job, and they showed me the way. After a few exams, a lot of paperwork and a few months of substitute teaching I had my very own classroom and a certificate that said the state of Florida trusted me to teach - as long as I took education courses at night.

I taught there for two years and felt like I had finally found my calling. I worked late every night prepping lessons and grading papers. I spent many a night banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how on Earth I was going to survive the next day. How do I get these children to behave? How do I make them care about the inside of an animal cell? How on Earth do I explain to them how bacteria reproduce?!

In between my head banging sessions, I did the only other thing I knew how to do - I loved my kids and did everything in my power to build a good relationship with them. I figured that if they liked me and if they trusted me, then maybe they would listen to me and work in my class.

And, for the most part, they did. We had a blast. We built stuff, we dissected animals, we made messes, we played trivia and had fun while we did science. Sure, they needed a lot of discipline but they also got a lot of encouragement too. Every day was a perfect balance of huge highs and deep lows. I loved it.

While all of this was going on, I would go home at night and toil through my education courses that the state required for my temporary teaching certificate to magically become a professional teaching certificate. And let me tell you, many tears were shed over those courses. There were days that I thought it was never going to end.

But it did. I finished my courses and was granted my certificate just in time for me to pack up and move to Canada. Impeccable timing, right?

Surely, I thought, Canada will recognize my accomplishments and let me teach.

HA! Not even a little bit. Canada kindly sent me a letter saying that my application for certification was denied. They were also gracious enough to include a laundry list of their requirements which I would need to complete. Chief among them - a full bachelors degree in education. My Florida courses didn't count for anything. My teaching experience didn't count for anything in their eyes. I had to start over.

It took me a while to process this new turn of events and wrap my head around it. For months I refused to apply to an education program because I was mad. How was I going to pay for this? They wanted me to go back to school full time for two years for another bachelors degree?! No.

Whew. I was an angry, angry woman.

Eventually, I bit the bullet and enrolled. Thankfully, the University of Maine offered an education program that met Canada's requirements. Plus, I could take my classes online which meant that I could work while I was doing it.

That's what I've been doing for the past two years. Taking four or five classes at a time and working in the elementary schools by day.

This past Christmas I was done with my classes and was ready to start my internship. My assignment was to teach advanced biology in high school for two months and then teach an 8th grade alternative class for the next eight weeks. Even though I had experience in middle school, these were both new teaching environments that challenged me.

Tuesday was my last day. We celebrated big time at school. The kids helped grill hamburgers, we ate hot dogs, cake and ice cream. My class even gave me a framed group photo that they all signed. You know that it's going right up on the wall of my laundry room. It's a shrine to all things of sentimental value.

While finishing my internship was a big deal, I still had one more hurdle to jump. In the state of Maine, teachers are required to take a content knowledge test in their area of expertise before they'll award your teaching certification. In my case, that happened to be a biology test. A very, very intense biology test. It's the kind of test you can't really study for. It's notoriously difficult and every academic advisor under the sun will tell you to take it at the beginning of your degree. That way when you fail it over and over you haven't already poured your time and money into the courses that won't mean anything because you can't pass the stupid test. It happens all too often, they tell you. Take it early and be prepared.

Well, I didn't listen and chose to take it after my classes were completed. Why do things the easy way? That's not fun.

I packed a bag to make the trip to Maine yesterday. It's a four hour drive to campus and I only planned on going for the day. Just to be safe I gave myself seven hours to get there. I packed a change of clothes just in case I failed and would then be too inconsolable to drive back.

I was nervous for the exam but also excited for the drive. I love a good solo road trip. Windows down, sun roof open, iPod blasting and singing at the top of my lungs. I cruised down the highway and only listened to songs that brought back happy memories. Lionel Ritchie and Stevie Wonder reminded me of childhood road trips. Coldplay reminded me of late night talks in college. Metallica reminded me of long hours working in the lab. Lynyrd Skynyrd reminded me of Tennessee football games. Tupac reminded me of high school parties. Kelly Clarkson and Alanis Morisette reminded me of camp. I'm telling you, my awesome taste in music knows no bounds.

As you can imagine, there isn't much going on in rural Maine. It's farm country. Lots of potatoes, lumber, wind mills, cemeteries, mom n' pop businesses, fishing boats and tractors. A lot of the houses are run down with For Sale signs in the yards. The fire station has one truck and the post office isn't much bigger than my closet. But it's beautiful country. Maine has the most blue skies and the fluffiest clouds I've ever seen.

I rolled into campus nice and early. To keep my nerves calm I wondered around with my camera for a bit and then popped into the book store to pick up some UofM memorabilia. I won't be at my actual graduation, but that's not going to stop me from wearing my tassel and holding up an old-school pennant at the party I'm going to throw for myself.

When it came time for the test I nervously ventured into the basement classroom where I was given a number two pencil and some scratch paper. I went through the metal detector and pulled up my sleeves to prove that I wasn't a cheater. Then I sat down and took the most broad and detailed test I've ever seen.

When I was done I breathed a sigh of relief and looked at the clock. Eleven seconds remained. I held my breath as they ticked by, waiting for my final score to pop up on the screen.

Unceremoniously, a 167 flashed. I only needed a 150 - I had passed with flying colors.

I did a small happy dance and pranced right out of that classroom feeling like a million bucks. I was officially done.

Just like that, I am a teacher. Again.

It's been a long journey and I know that it isn't over yet. But for now this chapter is complete and I can move on to that part about finding a job...and then actually teaching again. There are so many people that have believed in me and supported me through it. To all of them - thank you.

 As Elle Woods so famously squealed at the end of Legally Blonde, "We did it!"


  1. So proud of you friend! :-) This post is one of my all-time favorites!

  2. Yay!!! Such a great story!!!

  3. Wow, what a great post! Almost lost my breath! Keep up the good work!