I am applying to the Masters in Elementary Education program at The College of XXXXXXX and XXXX after years of careful deliberation, with a host of life-lessons under my belt and a determination to finally accomplish that which I have worked towards for so long: working with children, in a career in a field that I love and about which I am passionate and dedicated.
I am not new to teaching. I taught ballet for four years to elementary-aged children. For most of this time, I deeply loved my chosen profession. I had a knack, an instinct, for classroom management. As I came to know my students, I also discovered how to reach out to each of them and find that inner spark, however hidden, bring it to the fore. However, as the children in my classes grew towards puberty, I encountered situations for which I was utterly unprepared. My students began developing repetitive-stress injuries, the same that had ended my own career as a ballet dancer. Two of “my girls” began to exhibit signs of eating disorders, the same against which I had struggled as a young dancer.
I knew that there was something very wrong with this situation and was at a loss for methods with which to help my students. They were told by the program director that they must endure a certain amount of pain to survive in the ballet world. There was no counselor with whom I could talk or to whom I could send my students who suffered from disastrous self-image and self-worth issues. I was twenty-one, loved teaching, loved “my girls,” but knew that I could not continue on that path.
I subsequently began my undergraduate education at the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Community College with no clear career path. I knew that I loved four things: ballet, history, reading and children. However, still smarting from my inability to adequately help my ballet students, I was easily dissuaded from pursuing a degree in elementary education. I agreed with helpful family members who reminded me that teachers barely earn enough to make a living; I believed that teachers earn no respect and must fight a constant, uphill battle against absentee parents and unsupportive administrators. I was not sure what my career path might be, but agreed that it should not be in education.
I transferred to the College of XXXXXX and XXXX as a history major, hoping to gain a strong liberal arts base from which to draw in a wide range of professional opportunities, all the while reveling in the rigors of academia. Upon graduation, I accepted a position as a costumed interpreter for Colonial Williamsburg. I rediscovered my love of teaching as I led school groups through the Colonial Capitol, Governor’s Palace, Raleigh Tavern and Gaol. I found ways to make the political roots of the American Revolution relevant, personal and exciting for children who five minutes before had been over-tired, hot and bored. I had the wonderful opportunity to teach history as an ever unfolding, living, and evolving story. I saw the proverbial light-bulbs spark over children’s heads as they made one connection after another. I helped them to discover that history was not about old, dead, white men; history became a story on my tours in which children could actively participate, dive into, and emerge excited and invigorated. I found my direction; I knew I wanted to teach again.
However, as my husband and I began a family, it became necessary to find employment which would immediately provide more stable hours and income. I set aside my desire to teach for the need to provide for our family. I accepted a position in the administration of William and Mary’s MBA Program, but struggled daily with the conflict of performing a job that was at best unfulfilling and at worst in direct opposition to my personal values.
I began to investigate what might be required to become an elementary-school teacher, talking to friends and family members who had once taught, but left the profession, and those who loved their jobs and would never leave. I knew that I wanted to teach and realized that all the reasons others found to leave the profession, or never enter it, were not barriers to me.
Still, I did not begin the process to become a teacher. As I explored my options, two thoughts remained at the forefront of my mind: I would not enter the classroom unprepared again, and I might finally have to sit down and take the GRE, a prospect which held me in abject terror. As my husband and I discussed my career aspirations, I knew that I had his unfailing support, but that without my income our finances would crumble. In short, I allowed fear to hamper my resolve to achieve my dreams.
During this time, I spent hours talking with my sister-in-law, Nancy. She had been a first grade and kindergarten teacher before the birth of her sons. When we spoke about teaching, she pulled out piles of resources and materials she was hording for her eventual return to the classroom. We discovered that we shared a similar passion for teaching children, the same concerns, and the same belief in the need children have, and that the public school systems have, for not just capable but effective and passionate early education teachers.
Nancy was diagnosed with Leukemia in March of 2005. She died the day after Thanksgiving of that same year. The first time I ever saw her was in her wedding picture, in which she was surrounded by her entire kindergarten class, all of them smiling and so very proud to be a part of Miss XXXX’s wedding; each and every one of them was an indispensable part of her life. The last note that I read in the guestbook at her funeral was from one of her former first-grade students, from her first year of teaching, who had held Nancy’s memory close and been inspired become a teacher herself. All those years later, Nancy was still a part of her student’s life, a leader and an inspiration.
Since the summer of 2006, I have been taking three credits per semester in the School of Education in preparation for my application to the Master’s program. In every class in which I participate and in every course I complete, the knowledge that elementary education is my calling becomes clearer. As I work with my Cooperating Teacher at XXXXXX XXXXXX Elementary School, XXXXXX XXXXXX, I become more certain that I have finally found the right path. The highlights of my week are going to Wendy’s classroom at every opportunity during the day and coming home to my family at night. When I first returned to Ms. XXXXXX’s classroom after the winter break, I was enveloped by twenty-two children giving me hugs and calling out, “Mrs. XXXX! Hi! We missed you!” and I knew that I had returned to my other home.
This long narrative leads me to today, and this application. There will never be a better time to take this leap. It will never be easier; we will never have “enough” money. As with many of life’s momentous changes, if one waits for a better time, an easier time, a more lucrative time, none of our most rewarding experiences would be found. Finally, if Nancy could face the uncertainties and fear of Leukemia, then I can certainly face the GRE and one year’s financial uncertainty! Even after her death, Nancy is a leader and an inspiration to her students, be they children or adults.
I bring to teaching the wisdom earned over time and the understanding born of motherhood. I am a reflective practitioner in all that I do – mother, teacher, student, partner and team-member. As Nancy would say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” I have the “will,” and I know that the Master’s in Elementary Education program at The College of William and Mary is my “way,” offering me the greatest opportunity to meet my personal and professional goals while maintaining an acceptable level of disruption to the lives of my own children. This will not be easy, but it is my calling and it is time.