“Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love.” ~ David McCullough
I am a very blessed girl with an amazing job that I know I will have for at least the next school year. However, talking to friends and co-workers as the year winds down brings back memories of sleepless nights, tedious hours filling out job applications, and the stress of wondering where, and if, I’d have a job in the fall. I remember it all too well.
When I tell people how I found my first job, they look at me like I’m nuts. All throughout my undergraduate program, I’d been very vocal about my desire to work with children with emotional disorders. It was my passion and I connected any project I could to students with ED/BD. I was also fortunate to have incredible professors and advisors who listened to me and supported my endeavors. As my December graduation date approached, I assumed I may have to sub for the remainder of the school year, or perhaps continue my job as an educational sign language interpreter.
Then an alumna from my college e-mailed my advisor; she was now an assistant principal of an alternative school and they were looking for a mid-year teacher, as they were opening a brand-new classroom. Did my advisor know anyone who may be interested? My professor thought this position was exactly what I was looking for. I called the assistant principal, interviewed, and was hired within a week.
So if I have one piece of advice for new teachers, it would be to make sure you communicate what you’re looking for! You never know who is listening and who may end up connecting you with your dream job.
But with many dreams, reality sets in. I worked at that alternative school for a year and I learned many valuable lessons and met many amazing people. My time there really shaped who I am now as a teacher. After a year and half, though, the school went through administrative changes. I didn’t feel that I was growing as much as I could. Being the only early elementary school teacher in a very small building, it was hard to share my ideas and experiences with other teachers.
So I did quite possibly the most impulsive thing I’ve ever done: I quit my job without another one lined up. Sheer frustration literally made me feel my choices were to quit my job or quit teaching, and I knew that I still had a lot to offer.
When everyone asked, “So where will you be going next year?” I had to answer, “I’m not really sure yet.” It was a huge gamble, but I knew I needed to make the change. I was betting on the fact that someone would recognize my passion and give me another chance.
As summer approached and no new job materialized, panic started to set in. Being someone who meticulously makes decisions, I questioned my own judgment. I had faith, however, that I would land where I was supposed to. It’s naively optimistic, but I believe everything happens for a reason.
I filled out numerous job applications and finally realized how hard the job-search process is (seeing as my first job had found me). It was daunting figuring out online application systems, tweaking my resume, and writing my essays. My good friend from Australia visited me for two weeks, and I spent much of that time just filling out applications while he saw the sights of Chicago without me. As anyone in Chicago knows, good weather is fleeting and I was spending all the warm, sunny days cooped up browsing the internet for jobs. Sweatpants and take-out in front of my laptop became my norm. I even applied for a job in the United Arab Emirates (I figured it’d be an adventure).
One day, I came upon a job description that seemed like it was written just for me. I had seen it posted before, but in my frantic search had somehow lost the Web address. Seeing it pop up on my screen again felt like a sign; the application deadline was the next day. I flew to Kinko’s to fax my resume, and within 30 minutes I had a call back! I interviewed two days later, and again two days after that.
Two years later, I am still completely happy where I landed. And that crazy decision to quit my job? It ended up being the smartest one I’ve ever made.
As it gets harder and harder to find a job, I would encourage all the stressed-out, unemployed teachers to have faith in themselves. You will end up where you are supposed to! Maybe the job you take is not your dream one — that’s okay. My first job taught me so many lessons that I would never trade that experience in a million years. Was it where I was meant to stay? No, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be turned into a positive learning experience.
When looking for a job, it’s important to think what assets you bring to the table. But I find it’s even more important to look for what you can gain from that experience. Ask yourself how you can grow. I’ll be honest — at this point in my career, tenure is not my main goal. My main goal is to continue to evolve as a teacher. My current school is the most supportive environment; I feel like I am always learning from my fellow teachers and administrators. It’s a great feeling to come to work and wonder what you will learn that day, rather than just thinking of what your students will learn.
So as the end of the school year (and graduation for many of you) approaches, keep your heads held high and your resume handy. Sometimes jobs fall into your lap, sometimes you have to forge your own path. But in the end, you need to have confidence and faith that no matter how things turn out, you will be the better for it.