career, monthly updates, student loans

Full Circle

It’s hard for me to convey how excited I am to be starting at my new job today. I actually find it a bit amusing because a good number of the wonderful blogs I follow are written by people who are trying to escape from regular jobs—and yet here I am, super psyched to be starting one. I suppose if I had spent the past twelve years since college working at regular jobs, then I might be trying to get away from them too, but the reality is that I’m jumping out of my seat with excitement that somebody wants to hire me and pay me to work at their organization.

There are a bunch of practical reasons why I’m excited about this job:

  1. As I mentioned, it’s a regular job. And by a “regular job” I mean a job that is not an offshoot of being a grad student. Grad student jobs are definitely jobs, and they are definitely demanding, but they can sometimes cause one to feel like a perpetual trainee rather than a competent professional.
  2. I’ll get to meet new people: co-workers, clients, etc.
  3. I’ll get to learn new things, be challenged, improve my skills, etc.
  4. I’ll be getting a fair amount of exercise at work, and will get to step outdoors multiple times per day. I’m purposely keeping the details of the job a little vague here, but it’s a multi-site clinical job, and I’ll travel between sites by some combination of biking, walking, and public transportation.
  5. And of course, once I start getting paychecks, I will finally be able to make consistent progress towards paying off my student loans.

There’s one more reason why this job is appealing to me, but this one is a little harder to explain, so I’ll give some background.

~Flashback to 2003~

Immediately after graduating from college, I moved to New York City to be a public school teacher. I had never studied education, but I’d been accepted into the New York City Teaching Fellows, a “fast track” to teaching that substitutes a summer crash-course for an actual degree in education (NYCTF is roughly similar to Teach For America, if you’re familiar with that program; the main difference is that NYCTF is specific to NYC).

Part of the reason I applied to NYCTF was because I really wanted to make a difference. Now, making a difference is a pretty vague goal. I was unsure of exactly what kind of difference I wanted to make, or how I could make it, but I thought that teaching in a high-needs public school in New York City seemed like a good bet. Again, I had no teaching experience or expertise, but that was the whole point of NYCTF: to put idealistic people with no teaching background in struggling schools, in the hope that they could have a positive impact.

So I moved to New York and, after my summer crash course in education, started teaching Literacy (i.e. English/Language Arts) at a public middle school in the Bronx. Each morning I got up at 4:45, got on a train and then a bus, and arrived in my classroom by 7:00 to prep for the day. I taught and prepped till 2:30 when school let out, stayed afterwards to prep some more, and took the bus and the train home so I could sit on my bed and continue prepping until I eventually fell asleep.

There’s a lot to say about that year, and perhaps I’ll write more about it someday. But the takeaway, for the purposes of this post, is that despite my very best intentions and efforts, I didn’t really know how to do the job I was doing. Sure, I knew the subject matter that I was teaching, but I did not know how to keep students quiet and in their seats, much less effectively organize a classroom or adhere to educational standards. It probably didn’t help that I was 22 years old and looked about 16. We were rarely able to get through an entire lesson, and on more days than not, I had to call the assistant principal in to help get the class under control.

I don’t want to paint it as though the whole year was a fail, because it wasn’t. I remember our poetry unit, during which a number of the students wrote beautiful poems that they were truly proud of and bound them into construction paper books. There were occasional days when everyone sat in their seats and did their work. There were a few students with whom I connected really well. But at the end of the year, the principal told me I wouldn’t be returning—and I can’t say that I blame her.

~end of flashback~

And now, twelve years later, here I am, starting a job in a clinical field—i.e., another profession where one of the goals is to make a difference.

But this time I actually kind of know what I’m doing! I still have a ton to learn, and I’m sure there will be bumps along the way…but I have a master’s degree in my new field, I’ve completed many hours of relevant internships, and I have a ton of resources at my disposal. I can’t go back to 2003 and be a more effective teacher, but I can do my very best in this new situation. And so I feel like, in some small way, I’ve come full circle, except maybe, just maybe, my intentions and efforts will make a little more of a difference this time than they did before.

(Side note: I believe that pretty much any job presents opportunities to make a difference and have a positive impact on other people’s lives. It’s just that the potential impact is somewhat more clear-cut in some jobs than in others.)

And finally, here’s my February update.

  • I spent a ton of money in February, mostly because I made a bunch of health-related purchases that I’d been putting off for years, including new glasses and a Sonicare toothbrush. I also switched my phone service onto my brother and his fiancée’s family plan, which will save me a ton of money in the long run but required a larger payment up front. And I bought a few items of clothing for work.
  • I put $1406.78 towards my loans during February (about half of this was my tax refund; the rest was savings). Wahoo! I also made a snazzy debt payoff pie chart that you can see on the sidebar of this page.
  • Due to the purchases and the debt payments, my savings are dwindling. It’s not that bad—I still have some money left—but I’m glad I’ll be getting paid soon. I also shouldn’t really be buying anything except groceries and shampoo for quite a while.
  • And last but not least: I know I said last week that I didn’t have a lot of useful tips, but I just wrote a guest post for the blog “From Frugal to Free” on one of the very few areas where I do actually have specialized knowledge and tips. Check it out!

Anyone else done one of those fast track to teaching programs or want to comment on them? There’s a lot to say.

36 Comments on “Full Circle

    1. Ha, thanks! I really would like to write about it more, but I need to think about what exactly I’m trying to say about it. I was hesitant to even write about it for this post because it’s the sort of experience that it would be easy to draw a simple value judgment or conclusion about, but in reality it was much more complex and ambiguous.

  1. That sounds like an exhausting year, so I’m sorry it wasn’t more rewarding. But yeah, it can be hard for younger teachers to command a lot of respect. So hopefully you don’t feel bad about that.

    I’m glad that now you’ll be going in with a little more experience (in both years and, more importantly, training) — and that you’re so excited to begin. I agree that people who are ready to quit their jobs have usually been doing them for quite a while. I’m only about 6 years back into the workforce after being on disability. I can’t imagine giving it up.

    1. Thanks, yeah, I wouldn’t say I feel bad exactly (though at the time it was highly stressful). I think the source of the problem was my lack of training more than anything else. I read that at the time when I did NYCTF, 50% of teachers dropped out after the first year. It’s tough to teach when you don’t know how to…teach.

  2. I love the pie chart! I’m sorry about your teaching experience, but I, too look forward to hearing all about it. And also hearing all about your new job!

    1. Thanks, Maggie! The teaching experience definitely had its ups and downs, but if nothing else it was definitely a learning experience. I want to try to figure out how to write more about it soon.

  3. Wow, your flashback reminds me a lot of my first (and only) year of full time teaching. I studied education and started teaching the week of my 21st birthday. And I’ve always looked young for my age, too. I taught 11th & 12th grade students at a suburban high school & was also an assistant coach for the speech team (required to get the job). I worked way too much and, although I enjoyed teaching, I resigned at the end of the year. That’s a long story, but I’m glad I did, and I’m also glad you found a new path that excites you. I hope your first day went well!

    1. Oh wow, you taught 11th and 12th graders as a 21-year-old?? At least you had studied education, but still — to teach students only 3-4 years younger than you must have been quite a challenge.

      Thanks for the good wishes — it was a good first day! 🙂

  4. I’ve been following your journey for a while and so I’m really excited you’re finally starting your new job, Sarah. I know you plan not to share many details about that part of your life, but I will look forward to your updates on this! Exciting!!!

  5. Congrats on the new job! A change of pace can be a wonderful thing and it can be great to finally be regarded as a professional. Your teaching experience reminds me of why I only coached cheerleading for one year. I wouldn’t take it back, but I have no plans to go back to it either.

    1. Thanks, Harmony! Gosh, I can’t even envision what coaching cheerleading would be like, but I bet it does have a lot in common with teaching. And I’m definitely loving the change of pace, as well as the change of suddenly being regarded as a professional! 🙂

  6. Congrats on the new gig! I look forward to reading more about your experience at the new position. I’ve been at my job for a little over 3 weeks – and while I miss my daughter, it’s good to get back to making money. 🙂

    1. Oh wow, you’ve already been there three weeks? I bet you said that in a post — I really need to catch up on blog reading (much harder to find time to read when you have a full-time job, haha). Anyway, that’s great! I bet it’s hard missing your daughter, but I’m sure the two of you bonded a ton over the last few months.

  7. Wow, it’s interesting to get a glimpse at your year of teaching. I haven’t met that many folks who did TFA who feel like they knew what they were doing or were actually skilled at the instruction part. But I think it’s super impressive that you’d jump into such a hard job with so little training in it — you get big points for that. I can’t wait to hear more about how it is working a full-time job after so many years as a student (recognizing that you were *working* all that time, but that it’s different, as you said). There’s nothing wrong with being excited to have a job, even though plenty of us are trying to get out of ours. 🙂 I wonder if I’d feel so compelled to quit if I had found the “right” profession for myself out of the gate. But, alas, I didn’t, and so here we are!

    Congrats on the big loan payment! That’s such an awesome start. Can’t wait to watch that pie chart change colors. 🙂

    1. Yeah, I have very mixed feelings about TFA/NYCTF. I think there are some people who do those programs and really end up succeeding and thriving…and then there are lots of people like me who basically get passively fired, haha.

      I can’t wait to watch the pie chart change colors either! Though it may be a bit of a slow transformation. 🙂

  8. Congrats on the new job! I know how good it feels! I realized I didn’t want to be a professor after getting my M.A. It was tough, but glad I didn’t go any further with my education.

    1. Thanks! Yes, it’s important to think about what you really want and what the purpose of a grad degree really is. I’m glad you figured out what you wanted/didn’t want after finishing the M.A.!

  9. Wow congrats on the new job Sarah (It’s been a few weeks and I’m hoping you’re enjoying your new position).

    I love this “full circle” theme – that you reflected back on a not-so-great experience and instead of lingering on that, seeing your new job as a new opportunity to improve. You’re so inspiring lady!

    1. Aw, thanks, Jaymee! It’s going well so far — I definitely still have a lot to learn, but I’m enjoying everything, so it’s all good!

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