ADL 212 – Assessment – University of Calgary (Career and Academic Advising)
Looking over my life journey, I am humbled by the wisdom and experience I have acquired through my early jobs as a teen, into leadership positions in my 20s, into developing mastery as a teacher, and hopefully into a side-step position as a future career and academic advisor at my high school. It is evident that my persistence for learning and passion for helping others has always been at the forefront of my work identity and successes. I have been employed ever since those first days of nanny-dom – 34 years ago – thanks to: a strong work ethic, a desire to please, a calling to learn and teach and counsel, being a creative and conceptual thinker, and leading as an educational mentor. My greatest career satisfaction is in helping students achieve their personal excellence by motivating them through hope and efficacy – truly. I love when students geek out with me in our shared passions of reading literature, writing great sentences, and performing under stage lights. I also have loved being a teacher to teachers with the world of blogging, receiving international kudos with an interesting fan base in the Philippines and China? But something I love most, is the ability to tutor and conference with students one-on-one – seeing epiphanies and possibilities of understanding unfold in front of me.
The Early Years:
My early teen years saw me initially gainfully employed as a reliable babysitter and a summer nanny to three precocious children all under the age of 5, and I was darn good at it too. I innately seemed to understand that children were best behaved when they were engaged – so keeping my client happy, so to speak, was the focus of my time with the children – plus I had a serious Mary Poppins idealization that was being realized. But to also further impress the parents – I would ensure the home was better when they returned, than when they had left. Being seen as responsible was profoundly important to me. This experience led to my first “real” job – an easier job – of minding a doll/toy store at the age of 16 for a few summer months. It would have been easy to sit behind the counter and read for hours, but I’d buzz about cleaning, redesigning displays, and when a customer came in – I seemed to carry my dad’s ease of sales and often had successful cash out’s at the end of the day – impressing the owner.
Upon entering my Grade 11 year at school, after a summer of savings from the doll store, I was seduced by the prospect of a school trip to Paris in March Break. My savings were meager compared to the cost of this trip, and my parents shut down any hope of being able support this dream, so out I went to the mall with determination knit on my brow and a host of resumes in my bag – leading to an instant hire as a cashier on my first stop – Loblaws. This happenstance successful moment led to 10 years of loyalty with this company. A grocery store is a great opportunity for work as a teen busy with academics and extra-curricular activities – their flexibility with availability works well as a part-timer (yes, I did make the money and loved every moment in Paris – but that’s another story).
The following summer, I was offered a second job as a Summer Student for the North Bay Police – on word-of-mouth from my former nanny-dom employer – I was hired for the position of data-processing in forensics and community relations with block parents, neighbourhood watch, drug education. So my next four summers into university were filled with work days with the police, evenings doing summer theatre musicals, and weekends cashiering – and workaholism seeped into my blood.
My first year of uni took me away from northern Ontario and into the heart of Ottawa where I spent my first year immersed in all academic demands while maintaining my seniority at the grocery store in North Bay. Once a month I’d speed up the highway on a weekend to work – which was well worth it given union wages. In the summer between 1st and 2nd year, I learned that my job would be lost at the end of the summer due to the store closing. But as a union position, all staff were entitled to choose one of three options: a pay out, a partial pay out but be hired back at the new grocery moving in – with a pay cut, or to “move to and Ottawa store with a $10,000 moving allowance”. Yep, you read that correctly. I was paid to return to Ottawa, where I already went to school, and be given a job where I could work weekly and avoid a monthly 360km commute to and from the north – to a store near my home and school. No greater luck could befall me. In school, abandoning Communications and Politics for Theatre, I achieved great success and built heaps of skills in my hands-on Theatre programme – where countless hours acting, directing, teching or managing in the blackened boxes of illusion led to me achieving an incredible amount of skills and honed talents.
Graduating three years later with a degree in Theatre, working as an actor and doing tech in summer productions, while also working with Loblaws (being as flexible as it was), led to me seeking more reliable paychecks and employment. So, Loblaws again to the rescue, offered me a department manager position – a 9to5 job – managing the newly minted Photolab in its new flagship store in downtown Ottawa. What did I know about photography and dark rooms? – well, not much I tell you – leading to my mother’s critical gaze and exasperated sighs. But in my resume and interview, I had the instinct to sell my skill sets as “transferable skills and strengths”: photographs are pictures – in theatre I use light and composition on the stage; machine and computer processed film and pictures is merely tech and mechanical skills – I use technology with lighting and sound, plus I can build sets (hence I have a mechanical know-how – admittedly, this was a stretch); management of people – ah, my wheel-house of ability for I have spent thousands of educational dollars to learn how to collaborate with, direct and stage-manage theatre artists (the most ego-centric and belligerent of workers) all towards a common vision within a tight timeline and budget. Bingo – I was hired. And I excelled at this career all while continuing to study a second degree in English Literature and Creative Writing (because why not? But really because my dream was to pursue Education for Theatre and English), and also continuing casual work in the theatre with friends and former professors, while building volunteer experience with Children’s Aid for my Education application. Busy with varying hats that I was wearing – overworked, but highly engaged – I was feeling good with the paths I had carved.
Professional Work and Further Education:
Soon, with two art degrees under my belt in Theatre and English – Loblaws came a-knocking once again; with their need for gender equality in the workforce, they were offering me a Master’s in Business – which they’d fund in the expectation to groom me towards store management. With the countless number of times I had been left in charge of the store – with automaton mindless workers and customers whining – I knew that store management was really an uninspiring future for my creative needs, and I turned them down (gracefully – slam no door is my motto), as I was to pursue a Bachelor of Education degree. In the Ontario world of education in 1996, this was idealistic and foolhardy – there were no teaching jobs for years with miles of qualified teachers awaiting any job that would come available – most flew off to Asia, England or the remote northern climes of Canada.
With bleak prospects for a future in teaching and wide eyes, I turned down the practical offer and pursued the idealistic path – one that brought recognition and reward of a job offer – one that I had to turn down. On my last practicum of student teaching in April of 1998, I was offered a job for the fall teaching drama and English – the dream was realized, but my foolish heart had married the year before I entered Education and it was his turn to now pursue his educational dream in southwestern Ontario, at the Stratford Chef School. I was faced with the dilemma to stay in Ottawa away from my (ex)husband or to sacrifice a rare opportunity in a dream school to support his turn, and I turned the offer down – as much as it broke my heart to do so.
We packed up our life and moved to the beautiful town of Stratford – an amazing town for my creative heart to soar with theatre and literature opportunities abounding – but little in line for teaching. Humbled, I tucked in and secured myself with three jobs to help our ends meet – work is a-plenty in the theatre season, but dries up in the winter – so like a good squirrel I worked 7 days a week to store away money for the desperate winter season. Mornings, five days a week I would waitress the breakfast shift at a local diner, to work in a dress shop for 40 hours a week, to wait tables at an upscale restaurant for a few nights a week until after midnight. My resume was in every school board within an hour long drive, but not a single call was received until the Friday before school started in September. At home, while I was working, my (ex)husband received a call asking me for an interview at 1pm that afternoon – in the middle of my shift. With blessings and cheers from my boss – I rushed up the highway to Kitchener in order to do an unprepared, impromptu interview. I was hired on the spot – they were desperate to fill a drama/English position and not many were qualified for both subjects.
Teaching in Kitchener:
Armed with little material about the course syllabuses, I stepped in front of turbulent teens in an inner city–gang renowned school and never looked back. The school was poorer, rougher and tougher than I ever expected, but I fell in love. The teachers were disheartened and destroyed by provincial politics that saw walkouts, work-to-rule, and strikes the year before – leading to teacher breakdowns and retirements (which opened the spot for me). And here I was, idealistic and eager, but aware enough of the disgruntled staff room to know that my enthusiasm could only come alive within the walls of my classroom, with my students. I needed to balance respect for colleagues and the needs of my students. I thrived – finding love with both colleagues and students.
Those were good days of opportunity – I led a theatre program – winning showcases and competitions our first year and every year for the next six years. I joined committees helping redesign our image from the gang school to a school of International Studies, to developing a “gifted” English program, to being the lead for English in acquiring International Baccalaureate status. Within six short years my resume was stacked with credentials, kudos, and experiences. Yet, after those first two years, my marriage fell apart. So, even though I experienced great personal loss – professionally, my work world was ideal – if working 70+ hour weeks on average is ideal. But I loved it. I was happy, successful as a beloved teacher, found family in my colleagues-friends, and I had earned many “stripes” of recognition and validation. Then, with all stars aligning, my personal life met this amazing math professor (online no less) who worked an hour away at McMaster, and the trajectory shifted again. Our whirlwind romance resulted in marriage and a baby within a year, while I taught the inaugural IB class and led our theatre troupe to another win. All was well – excellent, in fact. Ideal. Until.
To the U.S.of A:
Until my husband’s post-doc of three years came to an end and his job hunt began – I knew this when I met him, I knew this as I fell in love, I knew this as I married him – but now reality was here, and my beloved job – my second family – I had to leave. His pursuits led us to the heart of New England in Hartford, Connecticut – a lovely place to go, idyllic – really – as our simple life was surrounded with Gatsby-like riches and Stepford blonde-dyed Pleasantvillers. With a toddler in tow and another in womb, we set about our new life with our new identity surrounded by quaintness and academia – with library times and mother groups at the community centre. And soon with a pink wrapped baby in arms, and toddler boy in hand, I set about mommy-dom in America – post 9/11. I found friends. I swapped free lunches and yoga for homeschool teaching of English and Drama. I took classes for free at my husband’s east coast Liberal Arts College of Trinity. My life expanded in interesting directions as did my mind and my experiences. I found another life, ideal. Until.
Back to Canada – to the New-Old West:
Until my husband’s second post-doc of two years came to an end, and the search began anew, and we set our sights back towards Canada or to my husband’s homeland of Argentina, as raising kids in a Bush era of war was unsettling – even if our little world was lovely. This brought us to the University of Calgary in 2006 with soaring home prices in a boom phase – Calgary was hot, and we were poor as church mice. But with the gamble of the boom and our professional credentials – home ownership was possible, but it required my return to work after two years as a mom, a student, and a granola-crunching homeschooling consultant-teacher. Grief set in as I secured a teaching position thanks to one of my besties from teacher’s education who worked for this “charter” in Calgary – this charter is a leader in public education now ranking statistically as the #1 public school in Calgary – back then, I was hired to teach Grade 8, having to leave my babies in daycare. I was sad.
These were the hard years. First, I longed for being at home with the kids – shockingly. I was a feminist. I loved teaching. But I missed those days of being just a mom. Doing both this time didn’t seem reasonable or possible – I felt guilty and mediocre. This world of teaching was not the one I had left in Kitchener. We were alone in this world of work, commutes, daycares, and no family and really no friends. We survived. Critical to the discontent was that I was teaching middle-school – not my love or expertise. Of course, my work ethic superseded my whining and I worked extremely hard to honour and respect my work and my students. And I succeeded. I led teams for building Critical and Creative teaching frameworks, I built theatre programs, and began learning and leading computer technologies into classroom learning. All was good – but tough – and not ideal.
Within two years I managed to work my way into teaching at the high school for our charter – but as an English teacher, not a drama teacher. Losing drama was like losing a child – I love both subjects equally, so I lost a bit of myself – but found it a bit in supporting our drama at the high school and finding my best friend who was the teacher. Our collaboration – and my eventual opportunity to teach it too for the Grade 11 level – has led us to be one of the most successful programs in the province – winning competitions for 10 years now, consecutively – with students successfully pursuing theatre arts professionally. In English, I have been coordinator for our team, and now helm our AP English and Creative Writing programs. I’ve carved out great programs and guided them to great success. I’ve pioneered blogging and been a speaker at local and international conferences in Boston and Costa Rica – with a following and mentorship across the world for other educators going down the blogging trail. In so many ways, I have found new ideals – new prospects – new horizons. But I have also felt stifled and the marking piles after twenty-two years continue to grow and the weariness of teaching for over two decades offers two dichotomies – mastery as a teacher and longing for a new quest, a new learning, and new challenge. And I feel this longing for something different. Something else.
Pursuits, Rejections, and Future Hopes:
In midlife – the crisis is a professional one. Did I pursue the right path? Do I have regrets for unrealized possibilities? Of course I do. Reading Katy Morton’s memoir I thought – why did I not pursue journalism and international travel writing? Reading Mankell – I think of those lost opportunities to become a police officer into a detective – I fancy that I’d rival both Nancy Drew and Olivia Benson’s SVU character – all five feet of me. Lost pursuits of International communications with politics to help a diplomatic embassy in Paris – well, yes, a regret! Pursing the nomadic life in the theatre – nah – I’d rather teach the craft to students – but perhaps I better prefer teaching it at the uni level. Running a grocery store? – nah!
I pursued learning about the new concept of a learning commons – with the ambition that I’d love to be an educational leader in a learning commons space – a learning leader for both students and teachers. A job that does not exist in our system. To leave my school for it was not something I wanted, so I tucked in, and stayed teaching.
About six years ago, I tried my hat at the “administration pool” – and although I did well in interviews, with great letters of regard and support – I, for the first time in my career, felt the sting of humiliation in not being chosen – ouch! I was not only rejected once, but three times. Clearly, the powers that be did not accept me into their inner sanctum. I received little feedback the first time other than “you do not have your Master’s in Education” – the same degree that the awarded teacher was permitted to pursue after his ascension. Then later feedback appeased that losing me in the classroom would be too great. Then the feedback that I’m a leader already, that I’m a champion for students, that I am more valuable in that role than as a disciplinarian or dealing with the teachers. So I have continued my path of teaching with all my heart and passion – working to hone my craft and to learn, constantly. I love learning and do so alongside of my students every day. My days are filled with my mantra to LOVE, LAUGH, and LEARN every day – and that I do with my students! And the divided roles of mother/teacher have found rest with my teenage babies coming to school with me every day. And there are so many ideals in my days. But my nights filled with marking continue to plague. And I still have felt this longing for something different. Something else.
Which brings our journey to the fall of 2018 when our beloved counsellor – the “moulder of dreams” – declared that the golf courses were beckoning her more than the school bells and that retirement is likely on her future horizons. Alas, the light beamed on me – that I could wax and wane into the twilight of my career moulding dreams as a career and academic advisor – helping and supporting kids with all the passion and gusto I bring to my classes – while ushering in new technologies and supports along the way. Leading to my exuberant pursuit of this certificate to support my calling and with our “moulder of dreams” supporting and cheerleading me the whole way. I pray that either full-time or part-time this role as an advisor might be my next journey, with our kids, at this school. But perhaps, if rejected, I’ll offer my skills and passion to another high school, or maybe a university – we’ll see.
Looking at this journey, with my passion, my empathy, my experience, my wisdom, my constant yearning for learning and growth, my love of teens, my dedication, my work ethic – I know I can do this new work, and do it splendidly. The moulder’s shoes are tough to fill, but so are mine. And I’d like to take my shoes and walk this new path of learning, to master the skill of counsel to honourably support the stakes of students’ futures, rather than their success in a course – a course where the best work I do is helping them to find themselves in the light of the learning, not just disseminating a curriculum.
This Personal Career Journey has me realize so much about myself, reinforcing these goals and desires. However, metacognitively I’ve learned the importance of listening to the narrative of the client because in the narrative exists the strengths and the weaknesses and helps to make meaning and sense of the assessments and inventories. Listening is key to advising. And I am ready to listen.