Monday, September 29, 2014

One Writer's Legacy Part 5

Moment 4: A Choice for the Future

Another influence in my life, one that significantly affected my career choices, even before I began the path to becoming a writer, was my love of education. A career in the field just seemed natural, although I must admit it took me a while to come to that conclusion. Now, thanks to the better understanding I have of the politics that are a part of the field, education has become a major theme in my writing.
I finished college in June of 2003, earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English. Unsure of exactly what I wanted to do, I moved temporarily to Poulsbo, Washington to visit my Aunt Lucy over the summer. She was very pregnant and needed some extra help because she had three other children to take care of and a belly the size of several large watermelons.
During my time at UCI, I had slipped into activities and classes connected with education. To make some spending money, I even worked part-time as a AVID tutor in the Newport Mesa Unified School District. I also volunteered for a community outreach program called Humanities Out There (HOT for short) that included visits to high school and elementary school classrooms with literature and creative writing activities. By the time I received my degree, I knew that education was a field I was seriously interested in.
After my visit to Washington in the summer, and a return trip for what would have been the fall quarter to help out some more after my aunt’s twins were born, I decided that I needed to look into becoming a preschool teacher. So, when I returned to Riverside, I started taking Early Childhood Education classes at the local community college. I also got another job as an AVID tutor to make money. Looking back now, I realize that I have always been conflicted, maybe confused is a better word, about the age of the students I want to work with. At this point in my career, I have worked with every age from infants to high school seniors. And now, thanks to my MFA degree, I am considering a future in postsecondary education.
In truth, the conflict is not about the age of my students, but more about the community goals of the class. Education is so much a part of who I am that I proudly describe myself as a life long learner. As I said before, an important part of life is that we continue to progress; education, both the formal and the informal kind, push me to keep progressing. However, teaching and taking arbitrary classes for arbitrary reasons does not appeal to me. It requires both the teacher and the students to force themselves into places they are not interested in exploring. I can recognize the fact that many valuable educational experiences will require serious self-discipline because the education we need is not always as fun or exciting as we would like it to be. But I believe that the true value in education is the self-reflection and personal growth that happens. Public education hopes to provide students with the critical and creative thinking experiences that will help them grow and reflect, but it is so regulated that statistical testing results and academic proficiency have become the only measuring posts. Creativity and critical thinking are only acknowledged at the highest levels and only if they match the expectations set forth by the government and test creators. The personal growth that is so valuable to the individual student, and that motivates them, can be lost in the drive to meet governmental expectations. This is true for almost every level of education and has pushed me to the point that I feel compelled to write about the flaws in a well intentioned, but somewhat broken system.
Still, I knew that education was where I belonged. It spoke to a part of my soul that wouldn’t and shouldn’t be ignored. Revelations tend to come to me slowly. Probably because of my stubbornness and tendency to be contrary. Many of my characters have a similar flaw, and it gets them into trouble quite regularly. Thankfully, Heavenly Father was patient with me. He knocked at my awareness for a while before I realized I needed to look into getting a teaching credential. I can still remember sitting on a bus in Poulsbo talking to a Professor who taught literature at the local community college. I was working at a Montessori Toddler Center at the time, and actually really enjoying myself. But my conversation with that professor helped me realize just how much I had missed talking about literature with grown ups. I love children, deeply, but a toddler just can’t tell you much about the theme of a book even if it is The Hungry Caterpillar. 
I stayed in Washington for a few more months before returning to California, but I didn’t start looking into a credential for a while. Instead I got another job as a preschool teacher. It was my stubbornness expressing itself.
My friends and family will laugh when they read this, but part of the reason I thought more seriously about getting a teaching credential was my desire for the freedom to run my own classroom. My best friend says I am a bit of a control freak, and I have to admit she is probably right. (That is another characteristic that I like to work into my characters.) I worked at that final preschool for only a few months before I began to feel trapped and a little bored. I didn’t like being an associate teacher, and even once I got the next position to be a lead teacher in my own classroom, I was annoyed with how many rules and guidelines they forced on me as I was planning my curriculum. I wanted to be left alone to make my own decisions, and I thought that completing a Multiple or Single Subject Credential would give me not only that freedom, but also more financial independence.
When I finally did make that final push, to get an English Credential, it was because I knew that Heavenly Father approved of my decision. I was sitting in the waiting room of the Redlands, CA Temple, reading my scriptures and looking at a large picture of the Savior when I suddenly just knew that it was the right decision. It is another one of those experiences that is hard to explain. It was like one moment I was holding my breath, stuck on a precipice or dangling in mid-air above all the options that were available for me. And the next moment I released the breath and all of the worries and concerns just fell away. I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew that it was the right thing for me to do.
I left the temple that night knowing that personal revelation is real and that I had received one. Just a few months later, in March of 2006, I began my first class in the credential program at the University of Redlands. I would be working toward a Single Subject Credential in English. A few months after that, in early August, I was working in my own classroom.
I am now in my seventh year with the Moreno Valley Unified School District. Not only has this profession helped me grow as an individual, but it has also inspired my writing, the focus of which is young adult literature. My thesis project is a novel set on a world where students have to survive and grow in an imperfect educational system.
Stay tuned for Part 6 of "One Writer's Legacy."

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