Sorry this feature is late once again…. This time I was delayed because I spent several days doctoring the first couple of paragraphs to make ’em sound like they came from Kate!
Hello all! I first want to give a shout out to Mr. Metzler- what a truly amazing man! I had Metz as my 11th grade Theory of Knowledge teacher at Victor High School, and had the wonderful privilege of babysitting his two beautiful children on a few occasions. If you’re reading this I’m sure you’ve been touched in a similar way. And I must say upfront, I absolutely love this idea. I would have loved to read these stories as a high school student dreaming about the future. So thanks for all that you’ve done to encourage the young malleable minds of your past and future students, Mike!
A little bit about me – I took Theory of Knowledge as a requirement for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at Victor. My dad was the International Baccalaureate Coordinator at a nearby school, so I was somewhat cajoled into signing up to begin with. But it was through the IB program and having teachers like Metz that I fell in LOVE with learning and began to realize the power of knowledge. It was through this program and during my last two years of high school that I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life making sure others had the same opportunities I had.
My senior year of high school my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and it changed all of my plans. My junior year was spent beefing up my resume and planning my great escape- I spent countless hours researching schools that were as far away as possible and as different from Victor as I could find. The sky was the limit. All of that changed with my mom’s diagnosis. After that, being close to my mom was my priority. I ultimately decided on the University of Buffalo (UB), which was close enough that I could get home for the weekend, and big enough that it felt nothing like Victor.
Unfortunately, UB was not all that I had imagined it to be. I spent my first two years of college changing majors and trying to figure out what I wanted to “do” with my life. In Buffalo my life felt all over the place, and I knew it wasn’t right. I was lost in the 200 plus person lecture halls. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Victor wasn’t so bad, and I really flourished in a small class setting. I transferred to Geneseo University, which was similar in many ways to Victor, and through some serious soul searching, found myself in the social studies teaching program. Teachers like Mr. Metzler had such a profound impact on my life- I wanted to have that same impact on students in the future.
At Geneseo, I majored in political science, and received my Adolescent Social Studies certification. While I was working on my degree, I was also a special education tutor at a nearby high school, and coached lacrosse as a way to spend more time with kids. It took me five years in total to receive my undergraduate degree because I transferred schools and decided to get my teaching certification in addition to my political science major.
The fall semester of my senior year was spent student teaching. I spent eight weeks at a rural high school and eight weeks at a suburban middle school. The first eight weeks at the high school went really well. The teacher I was placed with set the tone of the classroom at the beginning of the school year, and I transitioned in and mirrored his pedagogy. I tried to add my own flavor, but really just followed his lead. I was teaching some really cool classes, AP Global History and Italian History & Culture, and I was loving it! My second placement I taught 8th grade US history and 12th grade IB World History. The IB World History was a dream come true; I LOVED the IB program and was so thrilled to be surrounded by students who loved to learn as much as I did. But the 8th grade class was a challenge. My classroom management was lacking to say the least. My first placement I felt so strong, but I left my second placement feeling like maybe I wasn’t ready to be in the classroom. I felt like there were others out there who were better suited to be a classroom teacher, and there was something else out there for me.
I spent my final semester of college feeling defeated and not sure what to do. I had an International Economics professor at Geneseo whom I admired and respected, and I went to him with these concerns. He suggested the AmeriCorps program – I think his exact words were, “You better sign up for that AmeriCorps program before those Republicans in Congress cut it”. Oh the freedom college professors have with language! But I valued his opinion and did some research about AmeriCorps when I went home that night. I had heard of the PeaceCorps, but not AmeriCorps, and needed to learn more before I really considered it as an option. Through some serious web searching, I decided it might be a really cool way to spend the next year of my life. I learned I was able to keep 10 applications open at a time, and the VISTA branch of AmeriCorps was specifically meant for individuals with a college degree like me. I applied to programs all around the country. That feeling I mentioned earlier that I had in high school…“the world is my oyster; let’s see how far away I can go” came back. I had my heart set on a position in California. It was a grant writing position, and I would be tasked with securing funding for mammograms for low income women. My mother beat cancer because of early detection- it was perfect for me! And in California!!
Unfortunately, I did not get that position- they wanted someone with a more personal connection (what?!?!?). But alas, I had 9 other applications open and was hopeful that I would get one of the other ones. I had one open in Maine, and after a short phone interview the AmeriCorps program offered me a position somewhere in the state if I committed to Maine. I decided “what the heck” and jumped on it. They explained this was only the first round of interviews- that I would have to interview with organizations and schools across the state who were involved in AmeriCorps for the next few months before I knew my exact placement, but I would have a spot in Maine if I wanted one. So I went through a few different interviews and ultimately ended up placed at the Mount Desert Island Regional School System as the Service Learning Coordinator. I knew nothing about service learning, had never been to Maine, and didn’t know a soul there- but I was ready to go! My bags were packed, and I was on my way in August.
I had a wonderful support system on the island I lived on – I had two amazing supervisors, one was the School Health Coordinator, and the other was the Assistant Superintendent. I lived with an amazing family with two young children and the most wonderful dog named Copper. These families were so kind and opened their homes to me, I’m not sure what I would have done without them! In terms of my job, I spent a year there working with teachers to improve the quality of their service learning projects. One component of service learning is to connect classrooms with community organizations. We had 80 organizations that had agreed to work with the schools- so I worked to link projects with organizations who had similar missions. Maine is a state full of wonderful, community oriented people, so this was a wonderful job. Because I had a background in education, I also worked with teachers on curriculum integration- making sure they were integrating the Common Core State Standards into their service learning projects. I helped ensure kids were learning what they were supposed to be learning in school, while doing a service activity. It was really fantastic, fulfilling work.
While I was living in Maine I was also studying for the GRE. To be a teacher in New York State you have to have a masters’ degree. I still wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted to do, but I was sure I would need some more schooling. So I reached out to a different professor at Geneseo and talked to him about my options. He recommended a Masters of Public Policy – it had a business component that would make me marketable in settings outside of Washington, DC, but was still based in political theory, which I loved. It seemed like the perfect fit.
I took the GRE in November, and applied to a few different schools that winter. Some in New York near home, one in Maine, and a few in Washington, DC (the hub of politics!) American University was my top choice, but I wanted to keep a few other options open to be safe. I remember the moment I found out I got into AU…I was sitting in a curriculum development meeting and I had to leave the room. My acceptance letter came to my email inbox. I was so excited I thought I might start screaming. I instantly knew I was going to leave Maine and head to DC that summer. It was really at that moment I began to make the most of my time in Maine, because I knew it was going to soon come to an end. I took sailing lessons, fell in love with running and hiking, and made some friends that will last me a life time.
While I was still in Maine my dad had a long conversation with me about financing my next few years of school. I believe the conversation went a little something like this, “Although I fully support you, you’re going to be 25 and you need to think long and hard about the debt that comes with a masters’ program. Being out of the work force for two more years while you’re working on your degree is a really serious decision, Kate.” He was always the rational one that brought me down from dream land. He suggested getting a full time job and going to school at night. I was a little apprehensive about that- I didn’t know what the demand of school would be like, and I didn’t want to make that commitment just yet.
I ended up applying to a few paid internships and landed one with the Girl Scouts of the USA in their public policy & advocacy office. The Girl Scouts lobby on Capitol Hill on issues impacting girls – financial literacy, STEM education (Science, Engineering, Technology & Math), bullying and relational aggression, and they were also working on Girl Scouts in military families while I was there. I absolutely LOVED the work. I couldn’t have asked for a better fit. I was doing research and writing on critical issues affecting girls, while going to school at night. For the first time I really felt like I was where I was supposed to be. I will say that a public policy degree certainly focuses on political theory, but it is much more economics and statistics based than I anticipated. Economics is not my strong suit, but I believe the degree will be extremely valuable, especially for jobs in DC. But back to Girl Scouts- I interned with them from August- December, and was offered an eight week position when the internship was over to plan an event on Capitol Hill January – March. The event was a leadership breakfast focused on connecting girls around the country with business and political leaders in DC, and more importantly, it was a celebration of women! It was one of the most fabulous projects I have ever been involved in and was such a great honor to be a part of it.
The Girl Scouts position was only temporary, and when it finished I was unemployed for two months during my first year spring semester. While I was unemployed I decided I could handle a full time job while going to grad school part time, and come out of school with a little bit less debt. So I began applying feverishly to any and all jobs that sounded remotely interesting in DC. I had heard the horror stories of the job market and was convinced I would never find anything that I was interested in.
I did find a job- and now work for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. I have been there for almost a year now, and I split my time between the school transformation team and the public policy & advocacy team. The school transformation team runs a website called RTI Action Network, and contracts with school districts and state departments across the country to improve outcomes for all students. The policy team works on the federal level advocating for policies that ensure all students have the same opportunities, regardless of their learning differences. This position really could not be a more perfect blend of my background and where I hope to go in the future.
Through all of that- I suppose my advice to those reading this blog is never settle. I’m 26 years old and have been bouncing around schools and positions since I was 18. From Buffalo to Geneseo to Maine to DC! But I wouldn’t change a single moment of it. It is has made me who I am. I might not end up ever using my teaching degree in a classroom, but what I learned at Geneseo informs the policy work I do for kids every day. I may never live in Maine again, but my experience at the school has provided me a foundational knowledge of curriculum that I apply to the work we do with states across the country. Additionally, the network of people that I’ve built through all of my experiences is so very important. Don’t ever lose touch with the people that you meet along the way. You never know when they’ll need you- and you never know when you’ll need them. And finally, enjoy every minute of your journey! I tend to get caught up with wanting to be perfect and wanting everything to go exactly as planned- but some of the greatest opportunities have resulted from my life not going according to plan. So live it up! I intend to! I graduate in July- who knows where the path will lead next?!