This is the second installment of a series sharing the story of a talented, passionate teacher with a young family who left the classroom to further her schooling only to find that the bureaucracy of education is preventing her from returning to teaching our children. Her story, unfortunately, is not unique. For those of you who have searched to find where you belong, what you are called to, this is a story for you.
One week prior to the start of the school year, one of the largest school districts in the state had close nearly 300 teacher vacancies. Two weeks into the school year, I came across the position opening. I still hadn’t received word back from the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) about my license, but it might not hurt to apply while I wait.
As I drive through the school’s surrounding neighborhoods, I find myself reminiscing about my own high school experience. When I think back on my childhood, I see my sister. Her presence, her well-being, was a constant with me. It was a different state in a different decade, but my sister and I could easily have lived here. On one of these streets, in one of these houses.
Finally, after a 35-minute drive, the parking lot comes into view, and with it, the butterflies. The high school is located in an area of Albuquerque known as the South Valley. The most recent demographical statistics has it sitting at 82% of the student population qualifying for free or reduced lunch with 96% of the population belonging to an underrepresented group.
I meet the principal and wait. The call will not come from her, though. It will come from District HR. And it does—I receive the call. As luck would have it, I also receive an email that same day from NMPED saying they’ve approved me for a 6-12 Secondary First Year Internship License with an Endorsement in Language Arts. This is really happening. I’m really doing this. It’s a little disheartening to have to accept a “first year” license after close to twenty years of teaching at both the secondary and post-secondary levels, but I knew going in that obtaining a license in a new state without an active license to qualify for reciprocity would include hurdles. NMPED needs more verification from me.
* * *
In high school, my family and I lived in a one-bedroom rental. My parents took the bedroom, and my sister and I shared a bed tucked up against a far wall in the living room. We positioned our dresser as a makeshift room divider. Most days we’d come home to an empty house. Our parents would be working or out. There’d be a note on the counter – a list of chores, a good night, love you—and a packet of food stamps. I hated having to use them. My hands would shake as I tried to slowly rip along the perforation. They weren’t very discreet in those days—no debit cards, and heaven forbid you try and remove them ahead of time. To prevent people trading them with neighbors for a six pack or a handful of cigarettes, I suppose. No, you had to stand there, holding up the line, face burning, and carefully rip.
I met my husband at the age of seventeen. In school, I was good at the subjects I liked. I wasn’t on any foreseeable path, though. High school was just something you did. My parents never asked me about my homework, never attended parent-teacher conferences, never helped me figure out my next year’s schedule. I took the courses I knew I had to take to graduate, but I wasn’t building a resume for college entrance. I took electives I thought would be interesting (i.e., no calculus). It was easy to start ditching.
Senior year, we were caught. Neither of us had been in trouble before. The assistant principal at the time charged me with “bringing down one of their top students.” Apparently, the high school equivalent of a capital offence. My husband got a week’s worth of in-school suspension. I was expelled. My senior year. Expelled.
* * *
The first step to finalizing my hire is an appointment with an Employee Data Center (EDC) Specialist. I bring my little folder filled with years’ worth of validation. The climb I’ve achieved. Transcripts – bachelors, masters--Ph.D. in Education. Letters from former supervisors stating my years of teaching experience. My expired license from Colorado.
She sifts through the pile—nope, can’t accept. Don’t need. This one is fine. My official undergrad transcript is a printed electronic copy. It has to come directly from the university to them.
Level of education=bachelors.
The letters from supervisors, “Dr. Gutierrez taught here from this academic year to this academic year fulltime” they can’t accept. They need them to be in table format listing number of days worked/hours per day.
Years of experience=zero.
I tell the super friendly specialist that I will obtain the transcript and go back to my former employers and have them fill out the tables. How long do I have? I’m given a start date of one week from now, and she’ll update the file as she gets the new documentation. I’ll start without an official contract. I can hear my husband in my head, “Never quit a job before you have the new contract in hand.” But the kids—they’ve been without a teacher for three weeks already. It’ll be four by the time I start.
* * *
“My AutoCAD teacher’s a doctor too.” Phabian is a senior. He’s in my seventh hour freshman class, repeating it because he failed it the first time but needs the credits to graduate. He passed sophomore and junior year. He’s taking this class in place of one of his electives alongside senior English.
“Really? That’s great.”
“I want you to be there when I graduate.”
“I’d like that.” I smile. Two weeks. I’ve been with these guys for almost two weeks now. It is far from easy. Some classes have already come around—some have decidedly not. It will take me some time, but it’s moments like this. What else have I learned about Phabian? He wants to go into the military, but his father works construction, as did his grandfather. His dad wants him to start fulltime after he graduates. Right now, he helps in the evenings and on the weekends.
“Do you know, if you enlist after college, you could be an officer?”
“Yeah, that’s what I want to do.”
The rest of the class files in. We save the rest of the conversation for another time.
* * *
I just spoke with the Compensation Manager Ms._____, she reviewed your job descriptions from UNM: Instructional Media specialist and the Lecturer III/Coordinator and she did not give you credit for those, because it is not direct, related experience as a teacher. Feel free to give her a call at 88-.