Sunday, August 18, 2013

My First Summer in Texas (When I Quit My Job To Be A Teacher)

While the Texas days may be hot, the nights are wonderful. Wonderful enough to make you quit your job and decide to become a teacher. 

When I moved to Texas, I entered the post grad world as an advertising-marketing gal for an online media company. It sounds cool in theory, but it quickly became a slow turtle race against the clock. Between counting down the minutes until lunch time to sitting in the same position staring at a computer for 8+ hours, my days felt full and I felt empty.

This cumulative void made me start questioning…Is this really the best way for me to spend my time? They told me, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and quite honestly I couldn’t fathom any dreams coming true in that computer chair.  

Not because I didn’t like it there, I really did. The people were great and the team felt like a family. You see that’s the problem with us millennials—we have these grand dreams and always want more. More human interaction…more freedom to use our strengths…more opportunities to do meaningful things in the world.

So now what?
Feeling a bit lost, I decided to focus on what I’m passionate about.  When my friend Maggie entered a scholarship contest to create a yoga program for her homeless and mentally ill clients in Montana, I felt incredibly inspired to help her with this mission.

So I got involved volunteering with the homeless community here in Houston. Following my inner passion for working with youth, I started volunteering at a homeless center for young adults (around ages 18-24). And no, I was not prepared for the harsh reality of it all.

A day in the life.
I met kids from all backgrounds; nice families, foster care families, broken families and abusive families. Conversation after conversation, the thing that really plagued me about this population was their innocence. They seemed so vulnerable. I wanted to help them yet so much damage had already been done. They already dropped out of high school, got into trouble, had parents and friends give them chances and then give up on them. To get these kids back on track, they needed consistency and positive role models…people in their lives to give them hope that they could turn everything around.

I saw some of them once or twice a week; others would come once and never come again. The unpredictability made it nearly impossible to help them in the way they needed it. Most days, the only thing I could do was greet them with a smile and listen to their stories.

I really struggled with the idea of how I could tangibly help these kids. And then one fine night in Houston, it all came together.  

The Aha Moment

Some people have their Aha moments brushing their teeth or on their morning jog. Mine came at an evening happy hour with a bunch of oil and gas engineers (typical, Houston).

Each person I met would reel off their company names…Exxon, Shell, Chevron, FMC, BP…all pretty standard in these parts of town. And then, I met someone with a very different career. He was a teacher.

Fascinated by his career path of studying to be an engineer and opting to teach high school physics, I had so many questions. Later that night I looked into the school system and read about their mission: to create schools in low income areas and send 100% of these kids to college. Could this be my way to reach these kids and intercept them before they ended up on the streets?

Wondering if I should act on this and quit my job to become a teacher, I asked my sister for advice. “You gotta find what makes your heart sing,” she told me.

So, I listened.

Fast Forward
The first week of school just ended and honestly, it felt like the longest week in America. I am officially a YES Prep teacher for 6th and 7th grade Middle Schoolers. I teach a class called Reading Intervention, for kids that are very far behind where they should be. My kids are reading around a 3rd-4th grade level and are from an area where less than 7% of adults over the age of 25 have a college degree.

I started my class with an inspirational speech about how they are all capable and can make it to and through college. The next day, one of the little girls came up to me during lunch.

“I really liked your class yesterday Ms! I found it really enterspiring!”

Talk about a heart-melting reality check. I definitely have my work cut out for me. Almost every night this week I woke up having restless dreams about more things I could be doing to help these kids. It’s daunting and stressful and I finally understand why people say teaching will be the hardest job of your life. But you know what? Someone’s got to Teach 'Em Up. Let’s do this. 

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