My husband and I had a long serious conversation yesterday morning. It was a good conversation, one in which he really listened to me through my choked up sobs and crocodile sized tears. I have learned that having someone to really hear you, listen intently, and give well-considered feedback is so important. The upshot of our conversation was that he thinks I need to get a job! You know, he’s probably right.
But, here’s the thing. I have been a stay at home mom for the last 20 years. In that time, I moved my family half way cross the country, settled in a new community where we knew no one, but built friendships with other families one by one, contributed well to that community by volunteering at the children’s museum, our local schools, and as a master gardener volunteer. I’ve kept busy by running our house, being a good friend, doing good deeds, and going back to school. I am almost done with my second, yes second, Master’s degree. It cannot be said that I let grass grow under my feet during these twenty years. I have always needed a lot on my plate and was good at finding things to sustain me.
Now, our lives are different. Our boys are almost grown. Yes, they still need me, but in a different way. I was used to being master of our domain, making most of the parenting decisions, helping my oldest through virtual high school, and confident that the decisions I made were good ones. Now, I am questioning it all. I don’t seem to be an authority on anything, anymore. Just kooky mom, who likes plants, teaching kids about butterflies, and making jewelry.
You know, I could have been great at a lot of things! I could have been a great nurse, a great teacher, a great administrator, and a great author, among other things. I do have a lot of interests. I chose to be a great mother and I am proud of that choice. My family always came first for me. And, while never, in the last twenty years, have I had any regrets over that decision, I am beginning to now. Maybe they aren’t truly regrets but I am starting to see the ramifications of my decision. My husband said all the right things, that I did a good job with our boys (they are all great people), and our home, and with basically everything I’ve tackled over the last two decades. That says a lot because I know some of the things I got myself involved in, he questioned – like forming a TAG parent group in our district, wanting to run for school board, and even being a substitute teacher. I am an intense person and those activities just made me more agitated because I could see what needed to be done, but had no avenue to do it. I can see that we still need a well-formed strategic plan in our school district to guide our future. I can see that TAG students still need special attention and services. I see that we are not paying our substitute teachers enough. I see that we need term limits on our school board members. But, few see the same things or dare to change them – with the exception of one brave mother-substitute who brought the pay issue to the attention of the board of education. So, I backed off on issues that mattered to me. They still matter, but I never made any progress; so I needed to leave the issues alone. Instead, I chose to go back to school. If I couldn’t make a difference for others, I could make one for myself.
I love learning and I am a great student! I do not think I have missed a point in any of the last five classes I’ve taken. I am not telling you that to brag, just let you see the way it is. I also know that I’ve had more time than most to really focus on learning the material. Perhaps, it’s been too much time.
But, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I will not be able to get a job with this new degree – it’s an applied Master’s degree in Environmental Education and Interpretation. I pursued the degree to give my teaching as a non-formal educator some legitimacy. So, if I wanted to publish the curriculum I’ve written (yes, something else that has kept me busy), people might buy it due to recognizing that I had specific training in the content area on which I was attempting to publish material. But, it seems that I am over-educated at the wrong time in my life. And, while I possess the experience many of the jobs in EE/EI need, it has all been volunteer experience. Essentially, I gave my time and talents away for free – for years – for the last twenty years. FREE.
I know that there are activities in our community that I could be more involved in, that would get me out of some of the social isolation that comes with online or distance learning. But, I don’t want to do it for FREE anymore. I guess I thought (erroneously) that if I did a good enough job with my volunteer activities someone would come along and offer me a job. Surely, they’d have a position for me, validating my years of work and talents. I don’t know when I realized it, but I finally woke up and realized that was delusional thinking! After all, when you give something away for free, no one turns around and offers to pay you for your time.
I tried to rectify this. I have applied for a couple of local jobs in EE/EI. One was a federal job at our local USFWS location as a Visitor Center employee. I do not think they hired a person from our area for that position. All I know is that my application never even made it to the facility itself, where it could have been noted that a local person was interested. It got stuck in the regional office a couple hundred miles away! More recently I applied for a state consulting job, teaching other schools around Wisconsin how to use and create outdoor learning spaces and curriculum. After three weeks, I had not heard from them and had to send a follow-up email. It seems places of prospective employment do not even bother to let people know that their application was received. This is frustrating, and, as I understand it, not uncommon. Still waiting. Maybe forever.
With all these factors combined, I seem to be experiencing an identity crisis. Yes, I think I do need to get out of the house. Yes, there will still be time to finish my degree. Do I want to be employed in a job I have an invested interest in? Absolutely! Is that going to happen? I do not really know. But, I can tell you this. I am starting to look more seriously for some employment that will take me out of the house for a few hours every week. Would I like to teach? Absolutely. But, alas, I still have no license. And, I am so used to teaching informally, I honestly don’t know if I could deal with the restraints put on teachers by all the new effectiveness and testing standards. I am a passionate teacher and kids do learn from me – that I know. But, I also am nearing the end of my tolerance for another “system”. I need to just get my degree and get on with life, which might just mean getting a job.
And now, it is somewhat ironic that I need to focus on writing a paper that is due later this week that will explore the use of Place-Identity Theory in Place Based Education. Finding my identity in this place – that’s what I’ve been working on for a very long time. The paper should be easy. The determination of identity? Not that much.