And it occurred to me that my resume is, perhaps, a little non-traditional. I'm a big believer that I am never the first person to do anything, and I find it hard to believe that my resume really is that unique -- surely there are other teachers who've gone to law school, and that's really all mine says -- but I hear again and again how my "path" is different. So I decided to try to explain my story a little bit here, for whatever it may be worth (even if it's just a five-minute distraction for you, my lovely readers).
Here you go.
"So, tell me a little bit about yourself. Your resume tells an interesting story."
I graduated college with a degree in biomedical engineering, and I decided to work towards a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology. I was assigned a teaching assistantship in grad school, and I realized that I really loved the teaching aspect, but I wasn't in love with the research. I was good at it (according to my professor, very good at it), but I'd come from a very well-funded, large, very social lab in Boston and was seeing the other side -- what it's like to beg for grant money -- and wasn't sure I wanted that for myself. Some of the professors wore mismatched socks and had crazy unkempt hair, wore clothes that looked as though they'd picked them up off the floor, and I know it sounds terribly shallow, but as a 21-year-old, it scared me. I loved the research and especially the teaching, but I was afraid I'd wake up one day and live in this microcosmic research world and lose touch with people and social skills. Is that terrible to say? I realize now that it was probably very short-sighted, but it's the truth. I think it's safe to say that I got scared about what I was doing and why I was doing it.
So, I left. That was one of the single hardest decisions of my life; it's not easy to think for 18 years that you want to do something and then decide in the span of ten months that no, maybe you don't. I had a lot of people pulling for me to come back to Boston, but at that point I felt as if going back "home" would be quitting. I'd gotten job offers on the spot when I gave my senior project presentation, and I could have jumped into a career, more than likely, with some biotech firms in Boston and picked back up with a Ph.D. program there, but I decided instead to go check out Atlanta. I figured that I would take a year or two to decide whether I had been unhappy with what I was doing (research) or where I was doing it (Actually, that's not entirely fair to say. The professor I finally ended up working with had a great lab and I loved it, and I would have been his very first Ph.D. student -- so, it wasn't that particular lab, but maybe the department in general), and if the fire got back in my belly, I'd go back to school.
I ended up finding an opportunity to tutor at Georgia Tech (made some dear friends, including WHM's godmother, through that, and I thank God for it every day), and realized that I loved teaching. In the meantime, I worked part-time for the Atlanta Braves (also made some dear friends through that experience and am thankful for that every day, too), and spent my days working full-time as a temp for an HR/Benefits consulting firm.
I did really well in the consulting firm, and had the unique experience of getting brought on full-time -- and being allowed to pick which practice group I wanted to be a part of. I was able to choose among the actuarial division, the compensation division (not management of the company, but the practice that helped other companies manage their own hr compensation divisions), and the communications division. Naturally, the communications practice made the least money in terms of salaries, but it was intriguing work to me, 180-degrees from what I'd been doing, and it was a lot of fun. And so, I ended up there, working on corporate projects and learning a tremendous amount, and generally having a great time being in my early 20's.
While I worked for the company, it was purchased by Mellon Bank, which also owned Dreyfus Financial. In short order, I ended up as part of the team that brought the Dreyfus communications "in house" to our own communications practice. And thus, I ended up flying to NY every Monday and back every Thursday, and went from working on Summary Plan Descriptions about 401(k) information for various clients, to the team that handled Dreyfus Fund Descriptions and fund prospectuses. If a mutual fund was changing in any way, I was on the semi-short list of people who knew about it, because I had to modify the prospectus and simplified prospectus in order for it to go to "legal." I also got to travel to other offices to work on small projects here and there -- Pittsburgh was one fun trip. I learned a ton about Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 and just how to be a grown-up.
But then I decided that I wanted to go back to school. Only, instead of finishing that Ph.D., two years of tutoring at Tech convinced me that I wanted to try teaching for a while. And so, I went to get a Master's in Teaching. I went full-time for twelve full months to get the master's degree (my "major," if you will, was secondary math) and then I started teaching high school math. Believe it or not, it was more of a lateral salary move than a pay cut, but it was probably very naive of me to think it would stay that way.
Like all new teachers, I had some bumps in my early road, but I really loved teaching. I was not perfect, but I was definitely good at it, and within two years I was teaching AP classes, had coached, was asked by the kids to sponsor some clubs, and I was a team leader for Algebra 2. I woke up in the morning and I wanted to go to work. And yet slowly, we could all see things changing. First, it was demographics within our system, and then it was No Child Left Behind, and suddenly what we did last week, we couldn't do this week, we needed to interrupt teaching for constant testing, and it really seemed that everything that made sense about teaching was being thrown out the window. Things went rapidly downhill in terms of what I loved about teaching.
After some frustrating blanket policies were implemented without regard to what really made sense in the classroom, it occurred to me that teaching is filled with top-down mandates, and the people who make the laws and policy have, for the most part, never been teachers. They are politicians and legislators, and primarily attorneys. And so I decided to go to law school to try to bridge that gap. Teachers don't make policy, and policymakers have never been teachers, and I wanted to be the person in the middle, who could speak both languages. My goal was -- and remains -- to work in education policy and represent the interests of teachers -- not from a "union" standpoint, but from a "what additional paperwork does this represent, does it help, do good teachers already do this, and how does it help the students in their chairs TODAY?"
My first week of law school, Mick and I discovered I was pregnant with CAM, and my third year of law school, I was pregnant with WHM. I graduated law school in May, had WHM in June, and took (and passed) the bar exam in July. When most people took smoke breaks from the bar exam, I raced out to the car where Mick and WHM were waiting, threw a blanket over me, and nursed a six-week old.
It probably goes without saying that I wasn't exactly a prime lawyer-job candidate during my third year of law school. I had an eighteen-month-old, was pregnant, hadn't taken the bar exam, and would be taking it for the first time with a six-week-old. Hmm ... I wouldn't have hired me, either. So, I ended up taking what turned out to be a very family-friendly job and went back to teaching for a year. Technically, my first day of work was also the second day of the bar exam. I had to take the day unpaid because I hadn't yet earned any personal days. It was a busy summer, to say the least.
THAT job was wonderful and awful at the same time. Wonderful because I met some amazing people and loved 80% of my day; wonderful because I was lucky to have a two-minute commute to work (I am not joking, two minutes); wonderful because my schedule allowed me to come home during a prep period to feed WHM; wonderful because the parents at the school were -- and still are -- amazing; wonderful because I got to mentor two amazing student teachers and work with the University; and awful because the administration was completely dysfunctional and morale was the worst I've seen at any school anywhere, and even the student discipline at the school was ridiculously poor. I was set to go back for a second year -- because the good outweighed the bad -- but when it became apparent that Mick would be doing a lot of traveling and I would be essentially working as a single mom, we decided to hunker down and that I would stay home with the kids last year and this year. I perhaps burned some bridges the way that unfolded, and certainly hurt my career path with the school system (my dream job has come up twice now and I'm not a candidate for it), but at the time it was the best decision for our family.
So, that's how I got where I am today. I am three years removed from law school and, other than a research position I held as a 3L, I've never worked a legal job. I feel pretty unhire-able lately; people wonder what's wrong with me or whether I failed out of law school. (Point of fact: I most certainly did not, and if you take out my one semester of grades from when I was abysmally sick and afraid to ask for help, I did very, very well, thankyouverymuch.) Do I miss research? I do. What I really miss, though, is a sense of society valuing what I did. As a scientist or engineer, I had instant "smart person, important person" cache. As a teacher, I have to prove to people that I am not an idiot. That sounds awful, but it's true. No one is ever "just" a lawyer, or "just" an engineer, or "just" a scientist ... but you are, almost always, "just" a teacher. And yet I sit here and write this, and I definitely miss teaching. I don't miss the junk that's coming along with it right now, but I sure do miss teaching, and especially the wonderful colleagues and parents where I taught last.
Anyway. When I grow up, I want to work in education policy and yes, it's cliched but true, I want to help make a difference. I have some great ideas, but I am still working on how to get people to hear them. I ran for school board a few years ago, and I hope one day that I'll get to do that again. In the meantime, I keep writing and trying to get a job and tutoring -- making my own little difference, one student at a time.