Recently, I’ve been answering specific reader questions on the blog. If you have questions or topics you need help with, please email me or leave a comment at the bottom of this post. I don’t know if I can respond to all of your questions, but I’ll do my best.
Hi there, Tammy! My name is Priti. I recently found your blog and took your summer photography course, which I really enjoyed. I hope you don't mind, but I wanted to write you a letter and see if we could chat about your transition from the business world to teaching as part of your work life. I've been drawn to the idea of teaching for some time, and I'm looking into ways to explore that interest. I'm contemplating tutoring or volunteering at a local non-profit. I'm not really sure about a conventional teaching job as I prefer adults and not having to discipline kids. I'm curious about how you got interested in teaching, the process you took to make the transition, and any experiences you would be willing to share about your teaching escapades.
It was great to receive your letter via snail mail! Thank you for the note. I also loved your questions because they brought up old memories and stories I haven't shared online.
Before I start, I want to emphasize a couple of points. First, most of my career changes have evolved organically, and I've also experienced many failures. On this continuous journey, I've made appropriate changes in my personal and professional life to pursue new job opportunities. Living small and prioritizing my relationships were a big part of this process. Second, I'd encourage you to read my first book, You Can Buy Happiness (and it's Cheap). I wrote a chapter about reclaiming my work life.
To answer your questions ...
During my undergraduate education, my interest in teaching started to grow because of my experiences with the faculty at CSU, Chico. The majority of my professors were inspiring teachers. Seeing them work and engage with students made me want to teach at the college level.
I began exploring this interest by applying for teaching assistantships. To my surprise, I was awarded one and had the opportunity to facilitate discussion sections for undergraduate American Government classes. I continued working as a teaching assistant during both of my graduate programs. (I have a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and a Master of Arts in Education, Gender Equity Studies.)
During my undergraduate years (1997–2001), I was obsessed with research and writing. I was finishing up my undergraduate courses, working, and doing internships. I knew it was time to start thinking about the future and what kind of job I wanted. I wanted to teach, write, research, or work for a non-profit doing policy or advocacy work, so I decided to pursue graduate school.
However, when I graduated with my MPA in 2003, those types of jobs weren't readily available. I panicked at the thought of not having a job, so when my friend suggested that I apply for a position at an investment firm, I sent in my resume and was shocked when I got an interview, then another interview, and then a job offer.
During my time in the investment management industry, I didn't teach often, and I discovered the industry wasn't a good fit. (This is another story, and I wrote about it in my book). I quit and went back to school for a second master’s degree with the intent of obtaining my Ph.D. I had been dreaming of doing qualitative research, writing, and teaching at the college level for years, and I figured now was the time to go for it.
I was hopeful that I'd be accepted into a Ph.D. program because my grades were great, I was working on my second master’s degree, and I had reached out to faculty members at a variety of schools. Also, I was doing research on the gender gap in standardized tests and exploring how gender shapes career choices. The research was fascinating, and I wanted to explore these topics in my Ph.D. coursework.
Sadly, I was rejected from all of the universities that I applied to, and when I followed up about why I was rejected, faculty members said it was due to my low GRE scores. I had fantastic marks in the written and verbal segments of the exam, but the math segment was my downfall. The irony of my research topic and my empirical experience was further motivation for me to persevere.
I didn't give up on the Ph.D. dream easily. I took the GRE multiple times, and I bombed the math portion multiple times. I submitted applications for Ph.D. programs for second and third rounds. However, after the third round of rejections came in, I decided to put my dream of obtaining a Ph.D. on hold. The application process takes time, it's expensive, and I was tired. I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something. I had to find other ways to write, to teach, and to help others.
So, I shifted my energy toward advocacy and social work. I began working at a local non-profit that helped victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Part of my job included planning, facilitating, and teaching portions of the agency's peer counselor training program. This was a fantastic opportunity because I realized teaching didn't have to happen in a university setting.
In your letter, you mentioned your interest in volunteering. I'd encourage you to purse that option. After I left the investment management industry, I started volunteering at a few non-profits that helped victims of crime. Those volunteer gigs opened up career options. I made connections with like-minded people and learned a lot in the process.
I also went back to school to expand my knowledge base, I read books about education, and I journaled frequently. Writing about my dreams and why I wanted to purse teaching as well as advocacy work helped me stay focused and on track.
Years later, when I worked at a larger non-profit, I was introduced to the idea of blogging, social networking, and online education. By using the power of the Internet, we were able to offer training and technical assistance to our members, who were spread across California. I learned that technology can expand educational opportunities for busy professionals.
More importantly, I talked with Logan, my parents, and mentors about my dreams. They encouraged me to keep moving forward and not to give up. Those words were invaluable; especially when I received rejection letters from Ph.D. programs.
I'd encourage you to explore your interest in teaching and also to have patience because career transitions take time. Be patient with yourself as you move forward, enjoy the journey, and embrace rejection. My story is filled with rejections, but those rejections led to new career opportunities. Keeping my mind and heart open helped me learn valuable lessons, and it's shaped my teaching adventures, too.