Back to School – Part 1

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I knew there was going to be a steep learning curve entering the world of education as a first-year teacher.

Half the people I told about my new job – rather than congratulating me – offered their condolences. That made me just all the more determined to love teaching and the world of education. But so far, I am staring to see their point (much as I am loathe to admit it).

I got hired back in April. Since then, I’ve been asking my principal, the HR department, my math specialist co-teacher and the IT department what I need to be doing to prepare for the school year. I’ve had three months to do professional development, lesson planning and all manner of things to get ready for my first year as a teacher. Here’s the feedback I’ve gotten.

From my principal: “You’re way ahead of the game. Just relax. We don’t do most of our hiring until July.”

From HR: “Ask your principal.”

From my co-teacher: “Here are a bunch of links. But you won’t be able to access any of them until you have a district email address.”

From IT: “Sorry, we don’t issue new teacher email addresses until the week before school starts.”

I feel like I’m back in the world of Corporate.

Authentically Aurora

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A Job from Jehovah-Jireh (Part 5)

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I woke up in the pitch black of early morning on the day of the Kl*** ISD career fair. I pulled on a blazer over my white blouse and applied mascara to my sleepy eyes. Why am I putting myself through this? I already have a job offer. But I climbed into my little blue Beemer and drove north toward my childhood home.

Having attended three teaching career fairs at that point, I felt like I knew what to expect, but I was surprised when I pulled into the high school parking lot and saw hundreds of people marching toward the entrance like little ants in business suits. There were definitely over a thousand people in attendance – my largest career fair yet.

I waited in line for 45 minutes just to get in the front door and check in at registration. Then I waited in line at each of five junior high booths just to hand in my resume and ask if they had open math positions (three did; two did not). Of the three with math openings, one was my alma mater. That interview went very well, with one of the assistant principals coming over to sit in on my interview with another staff member because it looked like we were having so much fun.

They loved that I’m a former Warrior and spent half of my interview recounting how many of their current staff are alums, asking me if I knew one teacher or another. It turned out that I knew the head of their math department – a male teacher whose first year of teaching was my 8th grade year. He helped out with the math club when I was a student, and – in the words of the assistant principal – “he’d be thrilled to have you on his team!”

My alma mater wasn’t conducting second round interviews until one week later, and when I explained the fact that I had to make a decision about my Land*** offer by Monday, they nodded in understanding. “Well, you’ll definitely be getting a call back, but we can’t push up the timeline, so it’s up to you if you want to take the offer in hand or hold off and come to our final round interview.”

I walked away feeling pretty confident in my decision. Although some people might like working in their former junior high school, to me it felt a bit odd, like I was moving backwards in life to a place where I spent my most awkward years. Still further, even if I went to final round interviews, there was no guarantee I’d get the job. I would take the offer from Land*** and forgo further interviews with my alma mater.

My second of three interviews with junior highs that morning went fine but not great. The interviewer was a young math teacher who was not warm and friendly but also not cold and distant; she was just going through the motions, and the interview felt somewhat rote. I wrote off the rote interview and moved on to my last interview of the day: an open math teacher position at Ul**** Intermediate.

Petite Firecracker.jpgI liked the principal from the moment I shook her hand. A petite blonde with a pixie cut and energetic personality, the principal herself was the one to interview me. Like me, she had entered the world of education after working in industry, and we hit it off immediately. She loved all of my responses to her interview questions, and before long, we were going off script. “You know,” she began, “with your engineering background and creative interests, I’m actually thinking you would be a great fit for our new robotics program. This will be our first year to implement robotics at Ul****, and it will just be one class period, but would you be interested in teaching one class of robotics as well as math?”

I was ecstatic. What a fun opportunity! To get to teach a brand new program and make it my own, combining my love of math with hands-on creativity? It sounded perfect, especially when I remembered that Seth had taken 2nd place at a national robotics competition in college. I knew he would love to be a guest speaker and come help the kids with their projects.

When our time was up, the principal told me that her one concern – my heart sank – was “that I’ll lose you to another school.”

Relieved, I smiled; then laughed and added, “Funny you should mention that…” I explained about the offer from Land*** and that I needed to give them an answer by Monday.

“I was afraid of that,” she said with what I’d come to learn was her usual intensity. She leaned forward, elbows on the desk. “You’re a catch, Aurora. And I think you know that. You’d be an asset to any school you choose – and you can have your pick of districts. What you need to decide is what you want. Do you want to be at – ” she named my alma mater “- where all the kids are upper middle class? Or do you want to be at Land*** and a Title I school?”

Leslie explained to me that Ul**** has a mix of students from all walks of life. Some students came from mansions, others live on farmland, and still others come to school from trailer parks across the tracks. “It’s a mix, and that’s part of what I love about this school.” She added that she wasn’t sure she could get me an offer by Monday, but she was going to try.

“There are hundreds of people here,” she told me, “And you’re the only one I’ve wanted to give an offer to on the spot. I want you, but I don’t have an official offer to give yet. But I can tell you that it is coming – if not by Monday, then definitely by Tuesday.”

I thanked Leslie for her candor and let her know the feeling was mutual. “I know having good administration is absolutely key, and I think I would really enjoy working for you.”

Leslie shook my hand, told me we’d be in touch, and then – on my way out to my car – my phone rang. It was Leslie, asking if I was still around to meet the district’s Head of HR. I turned back around and met up with Leslie and the Head of Human Resources who reassured me that working for Leslie would be a dream job and that he could personally back the fact that an offer would be in my hands by Tuesday if not Monday. “You must be quite a catch for Leslie to be so impressed by you and willing to give you an offer on the spot!”

True to their word, I had an offer on Monday afternoon. So that Monday – April 3, my last day of an eight-year career in oil & gas – I sat in a corporate conference room, called Land*** to turn down their offer, and called Leslie to accept her offer as a 7th grade Pre-AP Math teacher for the 2017-2018 school year.

Mere hours later, I walked out of that corporate skyscraper for the last time ever. I walked out into the sunlight, never unemployed for a single moment, and marveled at the perfection of God’s timing. Our omniscient, omnipotent God is so intimate and compassionate toward His creation. He truly is Jehovah-Jireh: God our Provider.

Authentically Aurora

A Trifecta of Job Fairs (Part 1)

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The past week month has been a whirlwind! Starting back in March when I gave my two weeks’ notice, I wanted to chronicle my search for a teaching job, but SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED that I’ve been drowning in an influx of stories I wanted to tell with no time to actually sit down and do my story telling!

Let’s start at the beginning. On March 5th, I went to my first teaching career fair ever. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Seth was rooting for it to go well. Of course he wanted all of my career fairs to go well, but he had particular interest in this one because W***er is a school district situated far out in the country away from town, and Seth can’t wait to get out of the city.

So I showed up in a black pant suit with a bright blue top and matching earrings, portfolio in hand and covered in prayer. When I walked in the door, I was greeted by school cheerleaders who directed me down the hallway to registration. The woman at registration welcomed me warmly and, when I admitted it was my first job fair, she cheerfully explained the layout of the cafeteria where I would see various booths, each representing a school where I could interview that day.

They’re interviewing today?! I hadn’t been mentally prepared for that, and Seth was really hoping for me to land a job out there in W***er. I walked down the hallway to the cafeteria, taking my time and collecting myself. Student artwork was posted along the walls of the corridor, so I took some time to look over them. I love art, and there were some really talented kids at this school.

“They’re talented, aren’t they?” I heard a friendly baritone voice behind me. I turned and found a tall man in his fifties, temples just starting to grey and a smile on his face.

“They certainly are. This one is my favorite.” I gestured to a portrait of a black horse with farmland in the background. The man beside me studied it a moment, agreed, and turned to shake my hand. He introduced himself; then added, “I’m the Director of HR here at W***er.”

“Oh! Nice to meet you.” He and I spoke at length about my background, why I want to teach, what I want to teach, and what I could expect at W***er ISD. At the end of our informal conversation, he shook my hand again and said simply, “I hope we get you. I know talent when I see it, and I know you would be a great asset to any school you choose. I hope it’s us.”

Stunned, I smiled and thanked him; then I floated through my interviews with the two junior high schools in W***er. Everyone was kind and friendly; warm and welcoming. I genuinely enjoyed my interviews, and I was surprised to find that I could honestly see myself working out there in W***er.

That Sunday after church, Seth was so excited about the possibility of my teaching out in W***er that he suggested we drive out “just to look around the area… you know, to get a feel for what could be.” He drove us around the school and stadium; then he surprised me by driving us through neighborhood after neighborhood, looking at houses and starting a discussion with me about what I liked and didn’t like about each style. We were both pleased with the big lots of land – an average of about 6 acres per house – as well as the affordability of being so far out in the country. Seth timed how long it would get him to get to work (35 minutes), and at the end of that afternoon together, we each agreed with beaming expressions that we could envision raising a family out there. “This could be a nice home for us.”

My second job fair wasn’t until nearly three weeks later on March 23rd. By that time, I’d already given my two weeks’ notice to the major oil & gas company where I’d worked the prior eight years. At the time I turned in my resignation, I didn’t have any job offers yet. I didn’t even have any interviews! And going into this second job fair, for the first time, I started to consider the possibility that I might not land a teaching job for August and the start of the school year.

I’d tried to leave that OG company countless times, but nothing ever seemed to work out. I was trying to be wise and prudent and not give my two weeks’ notice until I had another job offer in hand. Everyone told me it was foolish to quit a job until you had another job lined up. So I stayed. And stayed. For EIGHT YEARS. Last February, I even had an offer from a consulting firm and was getting ready to quit, but oil prices tanked, and the job offer got revoked just days before I gave my two weeks’ notice. It was exhausting and frustrating, and finally this year, I decided to forget trying to be “wise” and “prudent”. I decided to take a leap of faith instead, trusting that God would provide a job for me.

So on March 20th, I gave my two weeks’ notice with no job offers on the table and no interviews in sight. I was disappointed not to have heard back from W***er, and I was nervous about my upcoming career fair at S***** Branch. But I just kept praying for God to provide the right job at the right school with the right students and the right administration.

The S***** Branch career fair on March 23rd was completely different from W***er. Immediately upon entering the building, I sensed the corporate atmosphere. It was obvious I was back in the city. There were no peppy cheerleaders greeting me; instead I was faced with polished, professional adults in full suits handing out pamphlets with no smiles on their faces. The lines to speak to each school were longer, and most of the principals were ruthless. There were no private interviews like there had been at W***er. Principals talked to applicants right there in the gym in front of everyone else waiting in line, and one of the applicants in front of me was pummeled by an overly aggressive principal on a power trip.

“Why should I hire you? My math teacher who is retiring has had 95% pass rates for all his students on state exams for the last decade. And look at this stack of resumes – look at it! I have sixty other resumes right here – ” he patted the stack triumphantly ” – of other applicants who want this job. Why should I give it to you?!”

It was a fair question, but the arrogance and abrasiveness with which the question was asked made me certain I didn’t want to work under that principal. These interviews go both ways, buddy, and you just failed mine.

At another school’s booth, the principal started off her questioning by asking me, “What makes you want to teach at an IB school?”

At first I thought she said “Ivy school”, like an Ivy league school. Then my brain registered that she’d said “IB”, and I knew I’d heard that before, but – being new to the world of education and having gone to a normal public school myself – I wasn’t sure what that meant.

“Sorry, an ‘IB’ school?”

She rolled her eyes at me. “You really should do your homework, shouldn’t you?” Her scorn was evident on her face and was dripping from her tone. “You don’t know what an IB school is?!”

I calmly gathered myself and retorted, “The reason I’m here is to learn about your school. So why don’t you tell me about what makes an IB school unique.”

She huffed and answered my question, but neither of us could wait for the exchange to be over. Another principal who failed this two-way interview. 

Of the eight junior high schools in S***** Branch, there were only two I’d consider working at. And I wasn’t sure how well either of them liked me. Was the feeling mutual? Time would tell.

Two days later, on March 25th, I went to my third teaching career fair. It was for a public charter school system called H*****y, and (learning from my interaction with the scornful principal at S***** Branch) I decided to research H*****y beforehand. I just Googled the name of the public charter school system, and I was stunned and disappointed to read article after article about how, for the duration of 2016, this school system was under investigation for preferential treatment and discrimination. Apparently it was started by a group of Turkish PhD students, and there were repeated cases of preferential treatment shown particularly to Turkish teachers.

I decided to attend the career fair anyway, having still not heard back from any other schools and becoming more discouraged by the day. But I regretted the decision immediately upon entering the school cafeteria where the booths were set up. I was definitely in the ethnic minority, and every teacher and administrator I interviewed with was a Turkish male. Unlike W***er or even S***** Branch, none of these interviewers ever smiled, and their eyes were dull and dark, without any joy or sparkle. I felt honestly creeped out the entire time I was there. I’m not overly charismatic, but my spirit definitely felt oppressed there, like I was surrounded by spiritual darkness.

I went ahead and interviewed at all three junior highs; then got out of there – back into the sunlight and open sky. A mere three hours later, I got the first of what would be three phone calls: All three junior highs wanted me to come back for second-round interviews. And my spirit sank.

Authentically Aurora

In Favor of Teaching

those-who-can-do-supercommittee-quoteThe blogosphere tends to be a very supportive place, but in the real world, I get a lot of confused looks or straight-up negativity when people find out that I’m looking into becoming a teacher.

Since I have an engineering degree and successful career therein, people cannot understand why I would leave a cushy, corporate job for the world of education. They have preconceived expectations of my career path based on my background and cannot fathom why I would voluntarily leave a comfortable job in favor of teaching.

Many people subscribe to the old adage “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”, and teachers tend to be compensated accordingly. But not all compensation is financial. And after seven years in corporate America, I submit to you that a more accurate idiom is: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, form a supercommittee.”

I am still volunteering to teach Sunday school a few times a month at my church, and I was recently asked to become an elementary school Team Leader, meaning I will not only continue teaching but also take on more of an administrative, leadership role coordinating the other volunteers. Although it can be stressful at times, teaching these sweet kids at church remains one of my highlights each week.

Last Sunday, we talked about the Creation account – how God created not only the earth but also plants and animals; man and woman. When Mia, one of my 2nd grade girls, heard this story (for possibly the first time), she looked down at her arms and stroked her tanned forearm with a tentative finger, whispering out loud in wonderment, “I’m made from clay?”

We talked more about the creation of Adam and Eve; then Mia asked me privately, “Miss Aurora, is Jesus God?” After hearing about God the Father creating the universe and everything in it, she was confused about the role of Jesus in relation to the Father. The Trinity is a difficult concept even for mature Christians, so I pointed to Mia’s water bottle in an effort to give her a practical, visual explanation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

ozarka6ozMia and I removed the lid of her water bottle, exploring the three parts comprising the water bottle: the bottle itself, the cap and the water within the bottle. All three are separate, but they come together to create the water bottle, just as the Trinity is One God, Three Persons.

A few minutes after my explanation, the girls were working on a craft activity when another girl – Lillian – asked about Jesus. All on her own, Mia picked up her water bottle and explained the Trinity to Lillian just as I had explained it to her minutes earlier! My heart swelled within me to see little Mia teaching Lillian about God. I got to see the exponential effect of Matthew 28:19 lived out right in front of me over the course of mere minutes.

Near the end of our time together, Mia had another question for me. “Miss Aurora, is God invisible?”

I answered her, “Right now He is, but someday we’ll see Him.”

Mia pointed to the purple mat we were sitting on. “Is God sitting right here?” I explained Matthew 18:20 to her and suggested that we could pray and ask God to be with us.

I went on to share with Mia that sometimes – especially if I’m sad – I ask God to sit with me and hold my hand.

Mia’s big brown us looked up at me, and she blinked innocently. “Does He say yes?”

“Yes,” I told her with a hug and a smile. “He always says yes.”

Authentically Aurora

Redefining STEM

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I hear about STEM all the time: Science, Technology, Engineering & Math education. As someone who works for a major oil company and also volunteers in the local school system, I feel constantly bombarded by rhetoric about pushing STEM education, particularly for young girls (who society ignorantly thinks are focused entirely on frivolities).

Our elementary and junior high students are the makers of either our future economic prosperity or hardship, so I can understand why so many individuals in both government and industry want STEM education raised as a national priority. But I am a proponent of small government and, still further, I don’t think a laser focus on STEM education will result in the desired outcome. If the desired outcome is a thriving economy, I believe in providing a well-rounded education, allowing for a natural synthesis of science and liberal arts in young minds, and then equipping people to do what they are passionate about.

America was built on creativity, passion, ingenuity and independence. More than forcing children into STEM careers, we should equip them to do what they love. Pushing students into engineering, if that’s not what interests them, is not the secret to building a great economy. They will end up frustrated and burned out, leaving for a different career path or, worse still, staying for the money, becoming a liability to their employer because their driving force is not intrinsic but financial.

Although less than a fifth of high school students report as being interested in STEM careers, I believe the situation is not as dire as some imagine. I have an engineering degree, but I never use anything I learned in school. My day job does not require me to do differential equations or engineering physics calculations. Could I figure out how to solve these complex math problems? Yes. But would I enjoy it? Probably not. Am I still able to do a good job working for a major oil company? Yes.

The girls in my Sunday school class constantly amaze me. This week, we talked about the bible’s most famous set of best friends: David and Jonathan. During craft time, my 1st and 2nd graders decorated large gold stars cut out of construction paper, writing kind notes to their best friends on the stars.

Earlier in the morning, Abigail – a sweet, quiet bookworm in the group – had been telling me about a children’s book she’s writing and illustrating. It’s about a unicorn who was once a fairy. I asked Abigail about her favorite subject in school. I wasn’t surprised at her answer: English. She wrinkled her nose when I told her that I love math and am an engineer. But I’ve seen in Abigail the makings of a brilliant engineer, despite her dislike of math.

While all of the other girls dug through bins of markers and stickers to decorate their stars, Abigail folded in four arms of her star to the center, taping them in place. Then she folded the fifth arm of the star into the center, tucking it into the pocket created by the four other points of the star. On a separate piece of paper, she wrote a note to her friend, which she tucked into her “star pocket”.

When everyone was finished, we hung the golden stars on the blackboard. I smiled to myself, seeing Abigail’s imaginative little “star pocket” standing out among all of the other stars stretched out along the blackboard. I almost took a picture so that I could caption it, “Dare to be different.”

After the other girls saw Abigail’s “star pocket”, they all wanted her to teach them how to make one, too. So I watched petite little Abigail lead the other elementary school girls in making pockets, too. Abigail is a leader, but she’s not a showy leader. She marches to the beat of her own drum. She displays a quiet confidence that draws others to her. The makings of greatness are written into the core of her being, but it’s not the result of a great STEM education. The intangibles that will make Abigail great are the result of natural giftings and great parenting.

Abigail doesn’t like math. She likes English. But she is constantly shining with inventiveness and creativity. And that –more than excellent math skills – is what we need in our future scientists and engineers.

Authentically Aurora