By Bridget Cassidy
For the last three years, working in an investment company, I fumbled to answer questions I barely understood, like how to calculate the 30-day yield on a bond fund and why the stock market went down. Sitting in a cubicle all day, spinning in my office chair was like watching an apple turn brown.
Memories of teaching English in Japan kept returning – walking into the high school, removing my outdoor shoes, placing them carefully in a cubby, putting on the required indoor slippers, sitting in the staff room reading a Dave Barry article to my Japanese co-workers, struggling to explain why it was laugh-out-loud funny, making my co-workers giggle from my constant misuse of their language, and being thrown into a classroom with 60 students who were more interested in chatting with each other than learning English from me. I captured their attention, finally, by showing a movie, Beauty and the Beast, and having them talk to me about the story. One girl came up to me afterward, saying it was the most beautiful movie she had ever seen. Before I left, a group of students presented me with a thousand paper cranes that were strung together as a colorful farewell gift. Although I was drowning from lack of training, it was the most fun and creative work I had ever done.
Inspired by a story of someone who had gone back to college at age 30, I pondered the possibilities. What was my passion?
I considered other career choices, recalling my mother’s warning, “You’ll never make any money in education.” But after my sister-in-law, a 3rd grade teacher, offered to let me shadow her on the day she came back from maternity leave, the reality that I loved teaching was now firmly planted.
The dark natural wood in her school was warm and inviting, lockers stuffed with backpacks and jackets reminded me of my childhood. When the kids saw her walk through the door, they ran to greet her, yelling, “Mrs. Dean, you’re back!” The exchange of love between them was obvious, as they reached out to hug her and she ruffled their hair.
Something within me burst open, the clarity that I was home.
With my newfound clarity, I wanted an end to the doldrums of the call center as fast as possible. But which type of teacher, what grade level, what subject? I knew classroom teaching, though heroic work, was not for me. The choices narrowed to Reading Specialist, Librarian, or English as a Second Language teacher. Looking at the cost of surrounding colleges, meeting with advisors, my decision was made- English as a Second Language. I enrolled in a linguistics class and the journey began.
Often exhausted, jerking awake while driving to night classes, I had just enough energy to make it through another day of work and study. At times I thought my brain might explode from all the new learning, but the possibility of having a creative meaningful job at the end of it gave me enough hope to keep trudging.
Gratitude helped. After all, the boring job was paying for my schooling, and the new classes were filling a creative need I hadn’t realized I was craving. One of my fears of going back to school was not having money to see it through, but I earned a small scholarship for student teachers in ESL, and the investment job taught me about buying stocks. A small investment paid off, and helped pay for a few courses.
Finally, I landed my first job as an ESL teacher in a Spanish bilingual school, an old red brick building with a concrete playground surrounded by a high chain link fence, in a neighborhood where car break-ins and drug deals were not uncommon.
But when I went back to my office, fear crept in again. Why did I quit a job at a well-established company? Was my mother right? I could feel my financial insecurity rising again, and part of me wanted to run out of there. I didn’t feel prepared for shaping someone’s life, and I would probably never be able to afford an actual house. Staring up at the tall bookshelves in my new office, full of teachers’ guides and workbooks, I wondered if they were going to discover I was a fraud, that I wasn’t actually up to the task. But I remembered the Japanese student who was moved to tears after seeing Beauty and the Beast and the thousand paper cranes.
I called a friend, who reminded me that I wasn’t brought this far in the journey to fall on my face. Maybe I had been given what I needed for this work, and I was exactly where I should be.
It has been 18 years, and I still don’t feel like I’ve mastered teaching. But I do believe that I am home.