In 2003, I graduated a semester early from college. I packed up my car and headed home where a job waited for me at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Finally! I was on my way to establishing a life long career as a scientist. I would cure cancer! I had the whole world in my grasp and my future loomed in front of me like an open road. By August of 2004, I was off to graduate school and in 2009, I returned to NIH with the ink on my new doctorate barely dry. I was doing what I had been trained to do – completing my postdoctoral fellowship so I could run my own lab.
While the idea of running a lab never appealed to me and I knew other careers existed, I found myself in the pattern that many new Ph.D.s do. I was bred a scientist and a scientist I would remain. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I realized maybe I could find a new passion and start a new career.
One day in the fall of 2011, my boss pulled me into her office and suggested I start looking into other career paths. By this point two of my major projects had failed and I had become so discouraged that I couldn’t see straight. My fellowship was wasting away in front of my eyes and I knew I did not have enough time to start a new project and follow it through to completion. I applied with no luck to every job I could find. Growing increasingly bitter and frustrated, I talked to my mentor who suggested I look into teaching. Everyone was convinced that I had the gift of teaching.
I was angry and scared. I needed my job. As a newlywed looking to buy a house, we barely had enough money to get by. Vacations were nearly impossible unless it was a day trip to Gettysburg or Solomons. This was of course given we had time for a day trip as I was running to the lab nearly every day. I had spent my entire life preparing for a career I didn’t like and now I was being told to look elsewhere. I had published 6 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals. I had written and received my own grant funding. Sure, I was completely miserable and every project I touched turned to dust. But why me?!
Once the smoke cleared and I started to think straight, I realized that perhaps everyone was seeing something I couldn’t. I love science and I love explaining science to people who don’t get it. My training did not make me talk above my family and friends when I talked about what I do – it taught me how to explain it in simplistic terms. My poor mother had sat at my thesis defense completely lost until I broke it down for her afterwards. I knew I could do this but how?
I applied to local community colleges and private schools with no luck. I became an independent tutor and started applying my educational abilities hoping to gain experience and insight and continued applying. I had heard of Teach for America but I didn’t really know anything about it. It wasn’t until I started to look into certification that I realized it might be a great option.
I suddenly realized I had a unique opportunity in front of me. I had grown up in an area that is serviced by Teach for America. My parents had stressed the importance of education and had made huge sacrifices to ensure I received the best education they could give me. Could I do the same for other students? Could I show them that science is fun and cool and yeah, it’s hard, but they can get it? So I applied. And then four days ago, much to my surprise, I was accepted.
Today, I accepted their offer.
The reaction of my friends and family to my acceptance has been shocking. From worried to elated to confused, everyone seems to have their opinions. I feel like I am a broken record. Yes, I want to teach. Yes, I realize you are confused why I am no longer looking for a laboratory job. Yes, I am positive. Yes, I am nervous. Yes, I have my concerns. Yes, this is a great experience. Yes, I will miss going into work at 9 or 10 everyday.
Through it all, my husband and besties have been the most supportive. Well, more than likely they are happy I’m not crying about how we’re going to survive but that’s ok. Instead of worrying about finding a job, I’m worried about how I am going to control a classroom. I am concerned about successfully integrating into a school faculty. I am concerned about teaching methodologies and leaving my husband for 6 weeks. And for the next week and a half, I’m worried about passing the Praxis Biology.
I have read the blogs on here for months trying to gain insight to what makes a successful educator under the guidance of Teach For America. I have enjoyed every one of your stories and lessons. Now I know it is time for me to create my own lessons.
I know it is going to be tiring and frustrating. But I have survived under the pressures of a postdoc and graduate school so I know I can do this. I know the first year will be the most difficult and that I will make my mistakes. I don’t expect to walk into the school and fix every problem I encounter. I get this is real life and I know that I will experience things in the next few years that I could not have imagined. Yes, I am excited. Yes, I am overwhelmed. Yes, I am going to be a teacher.