March 30, 2012

Under Review

This post is number 4 in a series. The previous posts are below:
Part 1: Six Months Ago
Part 2: To Teach, or Not to Teach
Part 3: Memphis?

I submitted my application and didn't know what to expect. Well, I knew that I would be getting a phone interview because all applicants got one. I just didn't know if it would be more a token interview or if it would be legit. After reviewing the program, I felt that career changer types would be well embraced, as well as possibly family guys, but I just wasn't sure. This was a relatively new program so I didn't know if they'd prefer the normally less-bagged, fresh college graduate.

When I received my call at the appointed time, I was a little nervous. I was quickly put at ease a few minutes after talking to Remi, the Pre-Residency Director of the Memphis Teacher Residency program. She had some basic questions for me involving my background and my desire to be a part of the MTR. When it was my turn to ask questions, I aired all my "dirty laundry" - the fact I was married, had a two year old daughter, my slightly non-typical academic background. I just wanted to be sure that we were both on the same page moving forward, and that none of it would become ultimately limiting factors in the end.

As I waited to hear what she'd have to say, I was anxious. I was expecting to be told, "You're right. We typically don't go for people with that sort of background, but it's definitely not impossible." What actually happened was a onslaught of encouragement and examples of how people who were similar to me have been previously accepted into the program. I was so excited.

And then she told me that she thought I was a great candidate, and while others had to wait for the results of their phone interviews, I could go ahead and make plans to attend the second step of the process. This would involve going down to Memphis for their spring Selection Weekend. This was not at all how I had imagined it would go.

I prepared to go to Memphis, and one thing I had to have for the weekend was a 5-minute teaching sample that I would have to present to some of the other candidates for the Residency as well as a group of other observers. After a science project/lesson gone awry, I decided to teach my lesson on how to calculate elapsed time. I needed to print out a boarding pass for my flight down to Tennessee so I had that on my mind. I decided to use that concept as the activity for the students they'd have a real life example of how to use the lesson that I taught.

So early on March 22nd, my dad picked me up to take me to the airport. The fact it was exactly six months from the day that I left my old job that I was boarding a plane for what was possibly the new one was rather poetic. It was smooth sailing out there, and I got there a day in advance to allow an ease into the jam packed weekend. My boarding pass idea came to me on this travel day, and travelling sans computer, I came up with how I hoped things would appear, took a picture, emailed it to my wife, and she quickly turned it around.

Friday was the day I'd begin my in-person interactions with the MTR program, and after a quick stop over at FedEx Office to print out my lesson boarding passes, I met the masses of applicants, residents, graduates, and faculty. For the next two days, what I knew about the program was greatly illuminated. Actually seeing things in action truly was amazing.

I heard the heart and saw the vision that launched a bunch of ships all travelling together toward a big goal - to truly transform the city of Memphis. I felt that everything about my past and my life experience had set me up to be a part of this. There was just so many random things that I just I couldn't imagine how they might all ever fit together in anything I was going to do in my life. But suddenly they all clicked together.

I thought I did well when I actually had to teach my lesson. I mean, I didn't bungle anything and I finished what I had hope to cover within my strict time limit. I only had boarding pass activities for the students and not the observers, but shortly after everyone in our group had taught, one of my group leaders asked me if I had any extra copies for review, which I was able to provide.

I had two separate interviews, one with a staff member and one with a program graduate. I thought both went well. During my staff member interview with Lisa, the Post-Residency coach, I had a great conversation. It was unlike any other interview I had ever been on. There was something that was just so real about it. She was one of my observers during my teaching sample, and she indicated that she was so impressed with ease I had in teaching a difficult topic and my choice of a boarding pass to put the lesson into practice that she had wanted to make copies of it to share with teachers she knew who needed ideas on how to teach it.

This was truly amazing to me because it clearly was something that I believed God provided. It was a lesson that I had to come up with after what I had previously spent a full day preparing collapsed. Those who have witnessed children's stories I have done at church can testify how this sort of thing happens repeatedly in my life.

That evening, I went to an optional dinner for applicants, and I was joined at my table by David, the director of the program. We had a great conversation over our food. Over the course of the weekend, he had shared with the group so many cool things about the program and a larger, collectively shared mission for the city of Memphis that our dinner was the perfect exclamation mark that capped it all off for me.

As I drove away from the dinner, I left feeling that I had done all that I could do over the course of the weekend in all the various events to give them a sense of who I am. There was nothing I wish had gone any differently. They told us that we had to wait until Tuesday of that following week to find out if we had been selected to be a part of the program.

Up until then, I felt like I had to be picked. Not because I thought I thought I was superior to the other candidates. Rather, it was because it seemed my life had perfectly set me up for this. This was the next logical step in nearly every possible way. I had never experienced anything remotely as similar ever before. If this wasn't going to be it, then the next thing had to be so much more amazing. How that could even be, I had no idea.

All I could do was wait.

March 29, 2012


Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: Six Months Ago
Part 2: To Teach, or Not to Teach
Because I indicated I'd be willing to be contacted by other teaching organizations, I had signed myself up to an avalanche of spam. Well, good spam. Spam that I wanted, but couldn't really use.

Most of the emails invited students to spend their first summer after college doing something involving education. Some dealt with actual classroom instruction, others provided tools for schools to use. Opportunities were scattered in various cities across the country. The delete key became my best friend for the few weeks when I was getting a boatload of these messages. I'm not old, but I felt clearly that I was beyond that chapter of life, chronologically, emotionally, mentally, and physically that these organizations are geared towards.

I kept looking for different jobs since the teaching option was done. All that was required for me to jump into it wasn't something I felt I could do at this stage of my life. I needed a job, first of all. Adding another academic pursuit on the side seemed to be too much for my plate.

But then in the midst of the emails, I saw one that jumped out at me. It was a program called the Memphis Teaching Residency. Their description was like the many others I saw about teaching in a low-income, urban public school but this one was somehow done in a Christian context. I was confused and intrigued. I had to learn more. I felt that there had to be something else going on but I didn't know what.

I began doing some research into the program and came across this article in Christianity Today. I learned that it was a smaller part of a larger shared vision for Memphis. On multiple fronts, various organizations were seeking to improve the city in housing, healthcare, youth and education. The desire is for all residents of the city, regardless of who they are, to have their lives improved simply because a bunch of Christians live there.

In teaching, the goal is to simply be the greatest teacher a child living in poverty has ever had. There is no bringing of religion into the classroom. Just simply an individual who demonstrates strong character traits to shine a light into the lives of kids and helps turn them into people who go onto great things for the city of Memphis. This, in conjunction with all the other groups in the city, not simply working at the same time but actually working together, seeks to bring about a transformation to the city like it has never seen before in it's history.

Needless to say, I was excited. This was unlike anything I had ever heard of. And I could possibly be part of it. I decided it was worth the gamble. Tweaking resumes and writing cover letters were time consuming enough, and this was a bit more involved. I took the risk.

I went ahead and applied.

March 28, 2012

To Teach, or Not to Teach

(This is Part 2 in a series. If you haven't read the first blog post, click here.)

While searching for jobs, I began thinking about what I would like to be doing if there were no preconditions to me getting it. Becoming a high school history teacher has always been a thing for me. As I happily read through inches thick volumes (for fun) of true stories of people's lives, typically from the American Revolutionary period, I imagine to myself the excitement that most people miss because it is the ever boring subject of "history." I could be the person who changes their lives with what I have to offer.

I have absolutely zero formal training in the art of teaching. What I do have, however, is volunteer experience teaching high school and college students in a church context for more than ten years. I get teaching, I enjoy teaching. But how could I make the transition into a classroom?

I began looking for methods where one could move into a teaching job without having gone to school for it and stumbled upon an organization called, "Teach for America." Simply stated, their goal is to transform schools across the nation by training recent college graduates (from any background but demonstrate certain leadership traits) and placing them into underperforming schools.

I had found it. Leadership, non-traditional, and their big goal of combating poverty in the US. My heart for kids living in poverty suddenly became awakened in a new way with the realization of the need here in America. The significant need. It all seemed to make sense.

I decided to apply. I was already a bit older than their standard demographic. Additionally, being married and having a daughter really put me outside the norm. With their acceptance rate at below 15%, I knew it'd be an uphill battle, but this seemed to be my ticket to Colorado via a teaching job. I was confident this was it.

I had to tone down my teaching experience and my degree in religion since this was not an organization that might necessarily appreciate that sort of thing, but I balanced it quite well with my employment experience. I had to write a letter of intent which I spent several hours on and it turned out to be quite excellent. I submitted the application with great expectations.

A few weeks went by, and I received word. A typical "Thanks for your application, but...." email sat in my inbox and I was quite disappointed. I had thought this job was it. I was excited about it. But no, this was not to be. They had two checkbox opportunities for them to share my contact information with similar type organizations and faith-based ones so they could contact me with information about their opportunities. I figured I had nothing to lose at this point, but I just felt that this path wasn't the one for me. I was just enough outside the standard demographic of these types of programs, being eight years after college with a family, that I just wouldn't fit.

Back to square one. A dream job not to be.

So now what? I wondered.

March 27, 2012

Six Months Ago

Exactly six months to the day since I resigned from my job, I boarded an airplane. The road to the gate was a long one; winding through the valleys of the unknown, mountains of questions, and a seemingly never-ending plain of uncertainty.

Regret for leaving my old job was never a part of the equation because it truly was one of the best decisions of my life.

Confronted with a world that suddenly became my oyster, I had a rare opportunity to re-evaluate my life and truly consider what I wanted to be when I grew up. What did I want to spend the majority of my waking hours doing?

Initially I believed the next chapter of my life was already written and contained, among other things, a job working to improve the lives of children living in poverty around the world while living in Colorado Springs. A job in an office but now fueled by a passion to serve these kids. However, upon turning the page in the book, I did not find these words. Colorado would still be an eventual destination, but just not yet.

When discussing possible jobs with my parents, my mom reminded me of something about myself that I had long forgotten: I never wanted to work an office job. After graduating from college, it was sort of my only real option, and it's lifestyle that a significant portion of the workforce employs, so it just became a part of mine. So when looking for new jobs to apply for, I actively looked for positions that were not your standard 9 to 5.

Because of my work experience, however, working in an office environment seemed to be a necessary possibility so I applied for plenty of those as well. When all was said and done, I ended up applying for a bunch of jobs in a variety of places including an aquarium, an airline, a state park, a for-profit college, an association, and of course, the government. I even thought of becoming an exterminator. My purpose in getting any of these jobs was primarily for the money. I mean, why else do you get a job, right? And you can only survive so long while being jobless.

Like millions of others of unemployed Americans, none of these doors ended up opening all the way for me.

Part of the stress was that my employment experience, my ministry involvement, and my undergraduate and graduate degrees never together proved to be assets in any of the jobs I applied to. I try to lead a well-rounded life and it was disappointing that this didn't matter in the job-shopping department. Additionally, my heart, my mind, and my skills just never connected with any of the jobs I applied for, either. I am seemingly all over the place. That proverbial square peg living in a sea of circle holes.

Countless jobs applied to, but none being the right one. And boy is job searching grueling and draining.

What's a guy to do?

(Come back next time to hear where the story goes.)

March 15, 2012

Run, elephant, run

On Tuesday evening, I was sitting on the patio with my daughter and we were blowing bubbles. It has been unseasonably warm this week and since my wife was in class, it was up to me to come up with something exciting to do to keep her entertained. Daughters can be satisfied simply cuddling with their mothers, but their fathers have to do something to keep them engaged.

My mom happened to call and let me know later that day (at 8:00 p.m.), there would be an Elephant Walk though the streets of D.C. The circus had come to town, and as a preview, they do a traditional walk through the streets. Having lived in the area for all of my life, it was an event I had never before attended. It was about 6:45 p.m. when I received the call, so if I wanted to attend, I needed to leave immediately. Usually, it takes place during the daytime, but this year was special because it was being done under the lights of night.

I figured I had nothing more exciting in mind we could do for the day, so I hysterically gathered what we needed for the evening - a water bottle and her jeans with a sweater if it cooled down.

When I told Leilani that we were going to see some elephants, she was only semi-enthused. She was perfectly happy rifling through her random piles of toys that she had strewn about. Being the all-wise father that I am, I knew this level of happiness would only last for not very much longer. I told her that the elephants would be exciting, but she requested horses. I tried to share the superiority of the elephants but she didn't seem convinced. Regardless, she was eventually willing to get into the car.

After a quick (45 minute) drive into the city, we found our places along Pennsylvania Avenue right near the U.S. Capitol. For those of you who have never done it, you should check out major DC landmarks at night. It is absolutely the best way to see them. No matter how many times you see them, they never fail to take your breath away. Just like my wife, but I digress.

As we waited for the parade of elephants with an assortment of other locals, a gathering of Americans from various ethnic backgrounds and different ages, the glowing dome of the Capitol illuminated us all as we waited together for that one thing that had brought us there that day. ELEPHANTS!

People were following the progress of the parade on Twitter, shouting out updates for us letting us know about their eminent arrival. And then, they arrived. Please forgive my picture quality as all of these were taken on my cellphone.

There was a line of maybe 15 elephants who marched through the streets. Beside their line, on both sides, were a group of people carrying a rope to serve as a barrier between the public and the massive giants. After the elephants had gone by, I assumed the parade was over and got up to take Leilani down the street so we could follow them. However, to my surprise, the parade continued. There were HORSES!

Before, Leilani was excited with the elephants (as I suspected). However, as the much longer line of horses went by, she was over the moon. Then, there was a collection of clowns and acrobats who marched behind them.

As they went by, they threw out circus memorabilia to the crowd - glowing rings, clown noses, and an occasional t-shirt. The shirt fell right in front of us and Leilani was quick to grab it. We also got several clown noses, but I was excited that she had a circus t-shirt to commemorate our evening.

Leilani was thrilled with the entire evening. She couldn't stop talking about all the things that she was, asking me to make phone calls, both to Ruth and to my parents so that she could tell them about all the things that she did. She talked non-stop mainly about the horses, but also about the elephants, the clown noses, and her t-shirt.

When we got home, I was excited to see what was on the shirt because it was tied up. I was hoping it could be something that she could possibly wear over her bathing suit during the summer. I was imagining a circus tent, an elephant picture, or something along those lines. However, when I opened it, I saw this:

A promotional t-shirt for a music festival from last year. To the giveaway pile, you go!

Luckily for Leilani, she was excited she got a shirt but did not care what it was. Her mind was filled with images of the horses and elephants. When she went to bed that night, she cuddled with her toy plastic horse as she drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, she still couldn't stop talking about it.

Oh, the little things.