Life Shift: Springing Forward

It has finally sprung on me. Not only the spring season but also m-o-t-i-v-a-t-i-o-n. The near 70 temps and the demise of this brutal winter we just endured have me feeling it.

In December, I started to feel bored. While my fiance worked, I began to yearn for a social network of new friends, most often initiated through a career. The transition to the east coast culture and mentality started to feel like a lump in my throat. I’m not a hustler savvy with networking abilities by nature. Yet, this is the life. So at that point, I set out to find teaching or school counseling jobs. After all, I love structure. Consistent and steady is all I have known.

From mid-January to late March, I devoted just about every ounce to finding that magic school. I have applied for approximately 18 different positions, including paraprofessional positions. It has been mind boggling to experience this much competition in the education field. In 12 years as an educator, it has never been this tough. I have relied on my connections to get some interviews, but that has only been three total. Three out of eighteen!

One school was a public, low-performing campus in Newark, teaching bilingual 1st, 2nd, AND 3rd grades in ONE classroom with an immediate start date as of this current school year. My first reaction was “Whoaaa! Three different grades in one room? I don’t know.” But I visited the school for the first interview, and I started to have a great feeling. But then the principal shared that the school is in danger of closing if she doesn’t get the right teachers to help turn it around. Oh, and she wanted to fire a lot of teachers. Yep, she told me that. However, I remained open to seeing where this would go and agreed to the next phase of a second interview with a model lesson. It also had the potential to turn into a bilingual counselor position, but she could not guarantee that, although she felt confident.

I returned about two weeks later after our early March snow storms. But it was kind of frustrating planning for the lesson and not getting replies on what materials would be available. “We don’t interview like this in Texas,” I thought. “We don’t give model lessons. I think it’s a fantastic idea, but it is completely new to me.” Nevertheless, I ordered materials and marched on, planning a math lesson. The lesson went well, even though I was not able to finish it. Afterwards, the assistant principal had me sit in on a mock response to intervention (RtI) meeting. “Eh, this is it?” I felt no vision. No goals. Then I ended with another visit with the principal. Mind you, she had already asked me to “tattle” on some low-performing individuals, and she asked me how the meeting went with those said individuals. I just didn’t feel comfortable being put in that position. I shared respectfully and honestly without compromising my values or damaging any particular teachers. A few days later, I received the call and was offered the position. It was the most enthusiastic exchange I had received from the principal since I started the process.

But it was not the right fit for me, and I knew it. Marco had warned me not to accept the first job that comes along out of desperation. I did not accept it, which shocked her, as the majority of candidates up here take the first job that comes their way. I wanted it to feel like the right place, and with what she had shared with me, it did not feel like the right campus culture. I was okay with returning to the classroom, planning and instructing for three grade levels, working some Saturdays, and hoping that the counseling position would open up. However, I did not want to be someone’s minion, and that spoke louder to me than the positives.

Thankfully, I had two more options. One was a second, face-to-face interview with a KIPP charter school, also in Newark, to teach Spanish. The lesson? Introduce the words rojo and azul to 30 kindergarteners. Now, this was stressful, especially since they wanted to see unit curriculum plan for the year, a data-tracking document, and a detailed lesson plan BEFORE the lesson interview. Never mind the fact that, although I am fully bilingual, I have never taught Spanish as a second language. That is completely different from teaching in Spanish to English Language Learners (ELLs), which I did for ten years in Texas.

No worries! I came up an awesome lesson, and I wanted to make sure they got to see all the content possible. However, I left out a very important aspect in my short 30 minute mock lesson – my classroom management. Oh, it’s something in which I am very strong. I even coached other educators on classroom management. But I think I lost some points in not stressing it enough in my lesson. It wasn’t absent, but it was enough, I believe, to not get the job. I remained excited and hopeful about the position, but I got an email a couple of weeks later. They chose someone else. I was a little bummed, but honestly, I did my best, and I was genuine, honest, and myself during the whole process. I patted myself on the back.

My third option turned out to be a bust, and it was the one I wanted the MOST! A school counselor position at a Brooklyn charter school that focused on teaching ethics and human justice. Well, hello there! I’m extremely ethical in my counseling practices. The phone interview went great! I used my connection to the school (my fiance’s cousin’s nephew’s boyfriend is an assistant principal at the school) to get an interview with one of the head honchos. She only asked me two questions before stopping herself and told me I would be the perfect fit for the school and did not need to complete any more questions but wanted me to come in for a face-to-face interview with the rest of the team. Awesome! We scheduled it for a few days later.

Coincidentally, that very same day, the school received notice from the NYC Department of Education that they would be shut down at the end of this academic year due to low performance and lack of progress. Even with the campus’ peaceful march and protest of the closing, the city would not budge. Strike three!

So after all this, I was not exactly feeling encouraged, as one would imagine. Then I realized that it has not happened yet because the right place is still awaiting me.

The right place, as it turns out, may not even be working at a school. I have reinvigorated myself by shifting my focus back to my hobbies and original idea of tourism. I ordered the Blue Guide New York, and I have been ramped up my goal of taking tours and increasing my social network. Sure, it scares me. Becoming a tour guide and starting my own business or working for a tour guide company is not as structured as I would normally like. I do prefer the known over the unknown.

But when it feels right, it feels right. Two friends agree. Two friends that don’t even know the other. One told me she had imagined me doing tours for quite some time before I even told her. The other – without actually going into details – has many connections in the Dominican community – here and in the DR – and wants to work with me as somewhat of business partners, where she sends tourists to me from the Dominican Republic. I could write another 1,300 words just about this vision, but I won’t. I want to nurture it.

However, it is bringing me so much clarity. I feel like my seven-year-old child self, when I had a world map with push pins of all the countries, cultures and languages I wanted to learn about…back in 1984. I feel like that twenty-something self that walked through Downtown Austin, noticing the Duck Tours going by and thinking to myself, “Hey, I would love do that!”

So now, I’m following that dream. I have created a vision wall that has been tremendously inspirational to me.

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In addition to this shift in focus onto becoming a tour guide and reading up on NYC, I am studying for my sightseeing license exam. Once I pass that, I am licensed and can legally serve as a tour guide in NYC. Furthermore, I am also looking into working as a docent in a museum, and with my experience as an educator and my passion for history and art, I can combine all these hobbies into one, soulful, thirst-quenching career. Granted, regarding museums, I probably need another master’s degree in museum studies or museum education. Tomorrow night, I am attending an open house at Bankstreet College to find out more about a degree in museum education.

Now, I have a third friend who told me she would hate for me to waste my skills as a teacher and counselor. Well, why I know I am good at being a counselor and teacher, and I know the good that I do for kids, it is time to feed my soul. With all that I have done, I just don’t feel like I want to step into another school as a teacher, especially with the emphasis on standardized testing that goes against my philosophy. No, I’m ready for something more. It is still education, and it brings out the little child in me.

Since I gazed endlessly at the world map on my bedroom wall in 1984, I have been to 20 countries and lived in another. I learned Spanish. I hold trivial facts close to my heart. This is the time to explore that. I don’t know all the answers, and I have no experience in business. I can learn that, though. I will. I’m taking a leap and know the net will appear.

Here I go.

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