I was an art teacher for 9 years before I actually got my teaching license. I remember telling my professors in college that I thought I wanted to be an art teacher. I was 20 years old when I said that. They encouraged me to stay the course and finish my undergrad with a BFA. "You can go back to graduate school later if you really want to teach," they said. "You can wait. You have time to figure it out." I trusted them as my knowledgeable mentors.
I feel like I am now in the phase of my life where I am becoming a mentor. Just a few days ago I was talking to a recent college graduate about her plans and goals for the next step in her life. She mentioned traveling and working and maybe going back to graduate school. I gave her some advice that I remember hearing myself when I was fresh out of school, "Graduate school is all about the connections you make. Don't pay the money to go to graduate school unless you are sure you know what you want to study and you are living in a place where you know where you want to live."
So I began the search for what I really wanted to do and where I really wanted to live. I immersed myself in life and traveled to various countries to participate in volunteer work. I painted a mural with kids in New Zealand. I taught at a private school and ceramics studio in Sun Valley, Idaho. I lived with a family and taught at an open air studio in Samoa. I worked for a portrait photographer, a furniture maker, and on a guest ranch. When I was a yoga retreat in Australia celebrating the New Year of 2005, I met Leonie. She was bubbly and positive and the only other American at the retreat. She was from Portland, Oregon and I remember her saying "I LOVE Portland!" She was not the first person I met in my travels that told me how much they loved this city that I now call home.
The week after I met Leonie, I spent a couple of weeks in Sydney updating my resume, getting my haircut, buying clothes and prepping myself for interviews. In that private school in Idaho I had worked recess duty with a teacher who had previously lived in Thailand, Russia, and Spain. "What? You can live in a foreign country and make money teaching," I thought. "I want to do THAT!" So, from there I set a goal for myself. And now I was at an job fair where principals come from their international schools all over the world to recruit teachers. I remember calling one of my best friends from a pay phone looking over Sydney Harbour and explaining to her about the job fair in Sydney. "I have this feeling that this is going to change my life. I feel like I am exactly where I should be. I think I am going to find the dream job and be on my way!"
It was when I was interviewing with a school from Germany that dream got temporarily crushed. They could not legally hire me until I had my teaching license. "It's January now," they said. "Is there any way you can get certified by September?" I knew the answer was no. I was heartbroken. I had been teaching for seven years at that point and felt I was just as good as the candidate before me who had her certificate in her hand. I was frustrated knowing that I had to wait to reach my dream.
Remembering the Portland that people I respected had spoken so highly of, I set out to see what it was all about. I feel in love with the city and two years later I produced one Master's degree and one Oregon teaching license. But I kept after my dream, so when I got offered the job to work in Quito, Ecuador I was ecstatic. I had been waiting for for that moment and I knew everything was in place the way it was supposed to be.
I am so glad I was given the advice to wait. I waited until I found the amazing city of Portland, Oregon (where I bought my first home from Leonie's husband). I waited until I had several years of teaching under my belt. I waited until I had many life experiences that opened up my eyes, heart, and mind so that I would be a better teacher. My graduate program at Portland State University provided me with three things that I would have not gotten from my small college in Alabama; an open-minded education in a liberal city, a teaching license in a state that I actually wanted to live in, and connections with people that have become some of the most important connections of my career.
I am action taker and when I see something I want, I go for it. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it is okay to just wait.