Friday, August 20, 2010

Destiny! Destiny!

No escaping that for me! Destiny! (Start at 2:36)

My mom and stepdad came to visit for a few days this week. Along with half of my beloved horse Ziggy's ashes, she brought a bunch of memorabilia from my childhood. Old newspaper clippings about my 3 appearances in the Akron Beacon Journal Regional Spelling Bee (1983-85), report cards from kindergarten etc which remarked on my intelligence and my difficulty with organization of my workspace (smart and a packrat with tendencies toward slobhood--some things never change).

One thing that caught my attention was my California Achievement Test report, its dot-matrix print barely legible on the yellowing paper. Date: 10/82 and I quote:
This student's achievement in basic skills may best be summarized by looking at the total scores. It can be seen that her total scores are better than approximately 98 percent of the nation's 6th graders in reading, 95 percent in language, 70 percent in mathematics, and 92 percent in total battery. 

She has strengths in selecting words having the same meaning, selecting words having the opposite meaning, using words with more than one meaning, identifying subjects and verbs, identifying complete/incomplete/run-on sentences. 

She has weaknesses in addition, division, multiplication, subtraction, geometry, and measurement.

Some things never change, I guess. I'm still terrible at math. When I took the GRE general test for grad school in 1992, I scored in the bottom 5th percentile in the quantitative section, and 92nd percentile in the verbal section.

What floors me is that when I was 11, I had apparently already started down this road to becoming a professor. My love of books and reading from an early age seems to have pre-disposed me to the career route I've been on. Granted, during the first two weeks of my freshman year at Hiram College, I had intended to be a biology major--until I found out that I'd have to take more math, chemistry (which had algebra in it--shudder), and a bunch of classes to get caught up because I didn't take calculus or physics during my senior year of high school. The next day, I declared an English major. The following year, I declared a second major in philosophy, to my parents' consternation.

"What are you going to do with THAT??"

I gave thought to law school, but when I spoke to my philosophy professor towards the end of my junior year, he told me that he didn't think I'd make it. 

"Not enough heart?" I said.

"No, too much heart. Being a lawyer would kill you because you take everything to heart," he said. And he was right.

So I took a year "off" after graduation, and worked on a Thoroughbred hunter-jumper farm as the head trainer's assistant. I lasted almost 9 months. The straight salary was terrible because I often worked 7 days a week. I lived in an "apartment" above the office in the showhorse barn, and paid them rent. Stupid. But I was working with these lovely animals, and I was outside 10 hours a I put up with it. When I quit to go back to school, the farm had to hire two people to do the work I'd been doing by myself. Duh.

Anyway, I went to grad school. The short version of my story is that I started teaching in 1995 as a graduate assistant, taught as an adjunct instructor at various schools from 1997 to 2000, and quit to work full-time as a researcher at an investment banking firm in Chicago. When the economy tanked in late fall of 2001 (9/11), I found myself without a job. I was newly married, and Hubby was from Wisconsin. We moved to Milwaukee. In 2002 I began working as an adjunct at Marquette University through my connection to one of my grad school professors. I was also hired by the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, and thus began my first-ever teaching job that paid an actual living wage, with benefits. Whatever we say (or think) about the UW System, it does take better care of its adjunct faculty than any place I've ever been. In 2004 I began as an adjunct on my current campus, and wowed the hiring committee with my teaching demonstration for a tenure-track position that began in the fall of 2005.

All of this has got me thinking (again) about getting through the next several months without having the kind of panic attack I had on Wednesday. I have felt destined to be a teacher since I was a kid (having a mother who was a teacher had a lot to do with it, too). I know that there are options, and certainly there are options that pay better--but teaching satisfies something in me that money cannot. I made more than $50K one year (2000) while working at the investment bank. That money enabled me to pay all of my bills (including my horrific student loan debt payments) AND pay for my own wedding in 2001. However, that money didn't make up for the lack I felt when I wasn't teaching. I felt like I was wasting time booking flights for cranky executives that would be better used helping students learn how to write.  So when I lost my job in November of 2001, I chose to see it as a blessing--the Universe trying to tell me to go back to teaching.

So here I am: 5 years down a road that's had its share of bumps. I know that my fate is in my hands, up to a point. Beyond that, I must trust that I have done all I can, which I suppose is the most that any of us can really do.


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