As you all know, I am trying to get a job. The thing is, I don't want just any job; I want a job where -- like teaching used to be for me -- I wake up in the morning and I am excited to get to go to work that day. Now that I've got two kids and have been so fortunate to stay home with them (mostly; I was still in school while CAM was very young, and I worked for a school year after WHM was born), the idea that I need to actually be passionate about my job is very important. After all, I'd be sacrificing what little time I have with my own children; the sacrifice needs to be worth it for all of us.
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 I 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
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
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
p.s. Want to see my actual resume? Leave a comment and I will be happy to email it to you.