Thursday, September 8, 2011


I've been accepted! I got into the accelerated/alternate certification program for English, grades 7-12. I applied in Spring. I waited four months to hear if I had been accepted, and then I was informed that I was second on the wait-list. Crestfallen, drying tears, I began to accept that I may not get into the program this year after all. I started working on Plan B. And Plan C. But fortunately, after two weeks, two of the 16 candidates accepted for the program bowed out. And viola! I'm in.

I'm thrilled. Also nervous, psyched and eager to start. In all honesty, I hadn't paid too much attention to the competitiveness of the program when I was applying. I knew it wasn't "easy" to get in, but I'm glad I never really took to heart the whole "30%-50% acceptance rate" when I was putting together my application. It would have been a major psych-out. Instead, I blissfully aced the Praxis I, requested my college transcripts, wrote essays, licked envelopes, stuck stamps, submitted references, and the rest was up to the Big Guy--and the admissions board.

So here I am. Poised for a major life change. I couldn't be more ready, not that I haven't already had my fair share of change in just the past 11 years. Since 2000, I've been married, bought a house, had a child, quit my job as a magazine writer to be a full-time mama, had another child, worked as a freelance writer, had my first panic attack, taught myself to crochet, separated, "went back to work" as an admin, became a certified yoga teacher, divorced, started raising two boys on my own, hit the icky dating scene, went through a rough break up, unexpectedly began dating and fell in love with Ian (a friend who I had known for years), got a different job, sold the house, rented an apartment, taught myself to sew, became engaged to Ian, got laid off, got a new job, bought a new house, made it official with the new husband, (and a month later) buried someone dear to me, became a CCD teacher, taught myself to knit, supported my husband as he served as a juror (and foreman) of a grisly murder trial, dealt with the likes of Anderson Cooper calling my house when the trial ended (GO AWAY!), managed my older son's severe food allergies, coped with my grandmother's ongoing battle with cancer, and decided that I should cut my bangs again.

Bangs. I mean, really. If I can handle that kind of change, I can handle anything.

My current job has been good to me. It pays well, it's flexible, and it's a stone's throw from my neighborhood. Blah, blah, blah. But it's not my calling. Teaching is my calling. But for a long time--like, a couple of decades--I ignored it. I figured my future was destined to be waaaaaay more fabulous than that of a teacher. (For the punchline to that joke, refer to third paragraph.)

I'm on the brink of another major life change all because of some fancy-pants "calling".

What IS a calling anyway? I ask this because not everyone seems to have one, so I'm curious as to what motivates us to act upon certain impulses (or instincts?) especially when it comes to our careers.

I think the call to give back is a mixed-blessing sometimes. In my house, it was unavoidable. I grew up, as I love to point out, in a noisy Irish-Catholic household that talked about Bobby Kennedy as if he were an accomplished first cousin. The Kennedy's, religion, charitable work, literature, art, music and politics were pretty much all that was ever discussed at the dinner table. Or at the breakfast table. Or on rides in my grandfather's old Impala full of cigarette smoke, while I slid from one end of the backseat to the other on every sharp corner as we drove to the beach.

I come from generations of people who had given back. My great-grandfather was a beloved New Haven pediatrician who blew the family's money because he refused payment from so many patients--especially those war brides. My great-grandmother was a schoolteacher who refused to marry until well into her 30s so she could keep teaching, since married women were typically not allowed to teach back in the 20s. My grandmother was an English teacher for 40 years, retiring only a few years ago when she was diagnosed with cancer. My grandfather was part of the civil rights movement, before it was the civil rights movement, in the 1940s. My aunt is a social worker. My mother founded a non-profit shelter for homeless women and children when she was still in her 20s.

I've had it instilled in me from a very young age that you give back. Even if your day-job isn't your life's calling, you find ways to give back. You volunteer. You offer your time and talents to help others. Whether you're helping animals, hungry homeless men or saving wetlands from development, you work for something greater than yourself and one that improves the quality of life for others. It's that simple.

Or is it? I struggled with it, my own charitable efforts ebbing or flowing depending on the year. I desperately wanted my career to match my desire to give back, but I resisted the call to teach because, frankly, it had been done before. I wanted to be different from my family. I didn't want to be just another teacher. I considered pursuing a JD in public health. But that was cost- and time-prohibitive as a single mom, so I then considered nursing school. I think I'd make a great nurse, but I know in my heart I wouldn't be able to turn it off at the end of the day. I cry over roadkill sometimes, for God's sake. I can't handle patients DYING on me. And while I struggled with what I should do professionally, I was teaching yoga and, later, catechism, in my spare time. And so it was that teaching slowly reintroduced itself to me. After one year of teaching CCD to first-graders, I was hooked. I wanted to do this for a living, despite the salary cut. Despite the time it would take to get certified. This is it. I have nothing to prove anymore to my family or to myself. I can be just like them, and that's okay.

I want to be an English teacher. And for the first time in many, many years, I feel like I've reconnected with some kind of truth within myself. Some sense of identity I haven't felt in a long time.

So there you have it.

I sometimes wonder if the call to give back is especially rampant among Catholics. Something driven by...guilt?...that motivates us to work in a field that gives back. I'd love to see a census of the amount of nurses, cops, firemen and teachers who are Catholic, at least here in the Northeast. Of course, not everyone who goes into those professions is motivated to give back. Sometimes they're in it for other reasons, like nepotism, pension, or salary: Their dad was a fireman or cop; Union benefits were, for a while, really good; Nurses now make some pretty rockin' money; Teachers get "all that time off".

Not exactly. As I child, I used to go with my grandmother to set up her sixth-grade English classroom every August. I'd help staple corrugated borders of leaves and acorns to bulletin boards and tack up world maps and quotes from authors. At night, every night, when my homework was finished, Grandma would still be busy correcting papers, entering grades into her gradebook, and preparing the next day's lessons. It seemed Grandma was always working. She was always finding articles, books, field trips and plays to incorporate into the curriculum. She wanted to instill in her students a love of learning. And if she couldn't accomplish that, well then at least she could teach them what they needed to know.

For me, I have a hard time working a desk job for a Fortune 500 company, pushing around papers for the benefit of some executive I've never met. If I can make a living another way, by giving back in some capacity, I'd like to try. I'm not yet 40--I have a couple of years before I get there. It's my goal to have made the switch into teaching by then. God-willing, there will be some jobs available when I'm done with the program in May 2012. There will be 200+ graduates from my program, with just 16 of us certified to teach English. All of us hold Bachelors degrees, many hold Masters degrees, and all of us have worked in a capacity related to our undergraduate degree (I was an English major who wrote professionally for several years). We are qualified out of the gate, and we'll be certified on top of it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I will be teaching by this time next year.

I can't wait for orientation. I can't wait to buy my very own new school supplies after taking such delight in purchasing them a few weeks ago for my boys, who couldn't have cared less about them. It's going to be a major sacrifice of time for the next eight months, but that's nothing. The return on this investment of time and money is immeasurable.

And once I'm certified and gainfully employed as a teacher, I'll go back for my Masters.

I've accepted that I want to teach, and that it's not the glamorous life I had once envisioned for myself. I've accepted that I'm going to be a student in some capacity for the next several years. I've accepted that I'm going to take a pay cut in order to become a teacher, but that it's worth it if I'm happy and if I can make a difference in just one student's life.

I've accepted that life is changing yet again. But I guess that's how I roll. Evolve or die, right?

Here's to evolution.


Suzyhayes said...

I'm so, so thrilled for you! Way to go mama!

Milk Money said...

Thanks, girlie. I'm pretty psyched. Beyond psyched, actually. Looked into Albertus' accelerated Masters in Ed, too. Might actually pursue that route instead of the slow train through SCSU. Either way, by this time next year, I'll be certified. YAY!