I went to Walmart the other day to buy toilet paper and popsicles. It was the first time that I had been in our local Walmart in…a very long time. I grabbed the goods and joined the shortest checkout line. Two customers in front of me, my former principal was checking out. I hadn’t seen Ms. Williams since I left full-time teaching in May of 2013. I abandoned my toilet paper and popsicles and walked over to put my hand on her arm. “Ms. Williams?”, I started to say, “MARTINA!” she exclaimed. “How are you?!” She glanced down and noticed my belly. “Pregnant!”, I responded. The last time she had seen me was two days before the birth of my second son. This time, I was three days past my due date with baby 5. We chatted for a minute or two and then hugged goodbye. As I checked out and drove home, I was hit with a huge wave of nostalgia, and I hope that you’ll bear with me as I share some of the things that have been churning in my mind since then.
It is impossible to know what the future holds for us. We all have bucket lists and we all have dreams that vary in likelihood of realization. And we have dreams that we don’t even know are dreams yet. After my first son was born, my dream was to leave the classroom and be a stay at home mom, period. I was a full-time teacher mom for awhile until a string of unexpected opportunities presented themselves. Now, I am working from home, doing something that I didn’t even know was a thing back when Ellis was born! I never wanted the ‘best of both worlds’, but that is what I ended up with.
Four weeks ago, my dream was to live in Alaska for a long time to come, in my dream house with my dream neighbors and my dream friends. My husband’s dream was to keep building his business here in Alaska and eventually expand to the East Coast so that we could be closer to family.
“Poof!” went that dream! At the end of this month, I will be saying goodbye to Alaska. Matt and I will once again be making the cross-country trek; this time, our road trip will end in Burlington, VT. The move is very unexpected, and we have been so busy trying to figure out how to make it happen that I hadn’t had a chance to feel anything about the move…until Walmart and Ms. Williams.
There was nothing special about my job at Clark. It was a middle school Spanish teaching position in a large, diverse school district. I taught five sections; two levels at first and three levels in the last two years. I wasn’t using the job strategically to do or to be anything, just like my husband wasn’t conducting his business in such a way as to attract attention from the mega agent that he will be partnering with in VT. And yet somehow our very ordinary jobs had an extraordinary impact on our lives.
Maybe you have already found your dream job. Or maybe you are exhausted, frustrated, and unfulfilled at the end of another lackluster school year. No matter what situation you find yourself in, you can live your work life in such a way as to discover your perfect place in the world:
Work really hard.
When you love what you’re doing, it’s often easy to work hard because you enjoy the work. But most of the time, working hard feels like hard work. We all look for ways to make our jobs easier and to be more efficient—and that’s smart—but at the end of the day, your circumstances will not improve without some good old fashioned elbow grease.
Be authentically you.
The world needs you. You can model many of the things that you do after successful colleagues, but don’t lose yourself in the process. As you learn and grow as a teacher, try out anything that seems promising but only keep those things that suit you and your situation. Passion is contagious, and your students will feed off your enthusiasm for what you are doing in class.
Generosity might mean giving up a planning period to help a colleague. It might mean sharing something that you’ve done in class in an online group for other teachers to use. It might mean purchasing a conference registration for your bully goat department chair or purchasing an additional license for that TpT resource that you love so that same bully goat can try it out, too. It might mean signing up as a mentor through ACTFL or in your local school district. It might mean organizing and leading a PLC for teachers in your area. It might mean hosting an observer even though the thought of it makes you want to faint. It might mean buying a coffee or a McDonalds milkshake on your lunch break for your teacher friend that is having a rough day.
Do the right thing.
Fulfill your contractual obligations, even though they are asinine. Be available for your students, even though you’re exhausted. Help your colleague, even though s/he’s a jerk. Be a shoulder to cry on. Advocate for your program and for your students. Do the right thing when no one is looking; even when no one will ever know that you did it. I am convinced that this is why my husband has received the opportunity that he has! He has consistently done the right thing by his clients since he first began his career in real estate, even when it has cost him a paycheck or meant taking the fall for something that wasn’t his fault. Doing the right thing will NEVER come back void.
Fake it ‘til you make it.
Be brave! Do not allow fear to keep you from trying something new or for advocating for change in your program. If you wait until you are ‘ready’ to [ask a TPRS® story, do a MovieTalk, present at a local conference, share a resource online], you’ll be waiting forever. You won’t do it perfectly, but you will do it! You will increase in confidence and ability as you keep stepping out, and you will identify specific areas for growth so that you can take action and improve. To get where you want to go, start walking! If you want something different than what you have now, you need to do something different, even if it’s scary. “Do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”
Learn from everything and everyone.
A few days ago, I sifted through a box of papers from trainings that I have attended over the years. I found the handout from the mandatory QAR training with Susan VanZant that my principle organized. I found the CHAMPS flyer that my Vice Principle distributed multiple times per year. (Actually, I found three copies of it.) I found notes from my first AFLA conference, where I learned from greats like Susie Gross and Laurie Clarcq. I found the syllabus from the PD course that Michele Whaley ran back in 2010. I found notes from observing Betsy Paskvan and Victoria Gellert at Dimond High School. If you have the opportunity to attend a training—whether or not it is related to language teaching—take it! Attending trainings with an open mind is the very best way to find yourself and your perfect place in the world. As the saying goes, “We don’t know what we don’t know”! I didn’t know that TPRS® was a thing until I observed Michele Whaley through a local teacher mentor program. Had I not signed up for that mentorship, I might still be in the classroom thinking that my students would learn language by speaking the language! Oh, the horrors!
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Good things come to those who wait”, but I would encourage you to NOT wait. Don’t wait for your dream job to be a dream candidate. Be the best you that you can be now, even when your circumstances have given you every possible justification for just biding your time until you are able to move on.
My prayer for you is that you find your perfect place in the world!