17 years ago, I was an instructor at the local Community College. It was a contract position, which in some ways forced me to take on subjects I would never have considered teaching. When I was asked if I was willing to take on another course, I bravely accepted the challenge (and went home freaking while I figured it out.) When you're flying by the seat of your pants, trying to develop a portfolio of marketability, when you're the one paying the bills putting your spouse through university while establishing yourself in a new city with a minimal career network, when you are the lowest on the totem pole, you dig deep into your own reservoir of skills and open yourself up to learning as you go. That's how I saw it. That's how I approached it.
For four years, I worked from contract to contract without a break between them. Because one can't turn down an opportunity when you're a casual/contract staff person I worked my ass off, sometimes teaching by day and night!! However, teaching and facilitating was not how I had envisioned my career. I had never taken a teaching course ever!!!
I had always thought I'd be working with children, and had studied in the field of counselling and assessment of children. I even focused primarily on pre-schoolers and had a few years while living in Toronto at a rehabiliation centre establishing a sensory stimulation program for children with multiple disabilities. The program I created continues today. Needless to say, I was determined at this point in my career to find this stream....to work with children with special needs in the school system or in a hospital setting. I struggled seeing myself as a teacher of adults. In many ways it was so far removed from my perceived career goal. But, I loved it. I loved it.
I remember the first subject I was hired to teach.....Developmental Psychology. It was a night course for childcare workers who were taking courses towards their diploma in their field. I had been given a text book and a syllabus with a bunch of objectives and learning outcomes listed. That was it. It was up to me to lay out the 2 nights a week for 10 weeks.....all of it! Daunting? You bet!! No internet....no computers. I had reference books and a typewriter. I had my knowledge of the subject matter and the field of childcare/preschool. I started by thinking about the teachers I had learned the most from and why.....and went from there. It was an instinctual jumping into the wild. That's how it felt. I was determined to get the class to talk....to share and to learn from one another. It would not be a passive classroom. They were sitting there as experts working in the field. They had the answers. And they did......and i learned. And it worked. Trial by immersion!!!!!
Human Relations, Effective Writing Skills, Family Dynamics, Introduction to Psychology, Early Childhood theory, Working with Exceptional Children, Goal Setting for Employment, Life Skills, Preparation for Employment, Career Orientation, Stress Management, Counselling, Human Services...... I taught them all and repeated a few of them. The Life Skills program, a 4 week interactive group counselling program for people on Income Assistance.....the first step to moving into the world of work.....?? I ran 24 of them back to back. The skills I developed and honed have been invaluable. And somewhere along the line, I accepted the fact that I really enjoyed the field of Adult Education....even took a couple of courses in it after the fact. It was a good fit for me.
One of the activities I did on the side was individual counselling. It just sort of evolved. Students sought me out, and I was more than willing to lend and ear. At the time the College didn't have guidance counseling services on site despite the evidence of how much it was needed. I tried to lobby for it, thinking that perhaps this could be a niche that may lead to full time permanent employment. But, the political will wasn't there. I continued counselling the students, lending a listening ear, encouraging them, motivating them,.....helping them process their own stuff, helping them make some decisions. I kept tabs on the numbers of students I helped in this way in order to prove to the powers that be there was a need. No such luck.
Eventually, I was hired away from the College....there was no job security there.....to work as the counseling specialist in the frontlines of the welfare office. The skills I had acquired and the love and interest I had to working with people who were living on income assistance trying to find a way out of the margins and into the heart of the work world made this job a good fit. And over the ensuing years, I jumped at any chance to develop training, consult, coach, facilitate, counsel, deliver workshops. I worked on special projects, trained staff around the province...... I had my wings....a lot of creative freedom and a respect from the powers that be that I had gifts which they recognized and wanted me to utilize.
For much of the time, I still had a vision that I would eventually make it into the field I had such a passion for ..... Early Intervention..... working with little ones. Somewhere along the line, I was given this opportunity but quickly realized that what I wanted to do in this field and what the bureaucratic jungle wanted me to do was very different, so I dropped that and moved back into the frontlines working with adults. I'd come and go.....working on different programs and projects, being pulled to deliver workshops to staff in other cities, designing and developing, but I always returned to the counselling.
After 10 years of accumulative learning and honing my skills and seeing how comfortably and easily I connected with the individuals I met and walked a mile or two with, a light bulb went on (I remember the moment it happen.....!) and I realized I was living and working in my calling. It hadn't occured to me that I was where I was supposed to be. As much as I loved working with children..... once I acknowledged that my ability to connect with adults, many of whom were in crisis, I felt a sense of calm inside me which I had never felt before. This "calling realization" happened around the same time that my writing returned with a vengeance along with my interest in my faith. I began to see my work in the marginalized trenches of the world of poverty as where I was supposed to be.
Fast track over the last couple of years, which I've written about ad nauseaum on this blog. It has been an unrelenting struggle, working in a place that had changed some dramatically. Fear enveloped leadership, communication consisted of veiled and direct threats. My wings were clipped. I went from being a part of a team who felt like family to being ripped away from them and thrown into another division with a group of people unfamiliar with what I could offer under the so called guidance of a person who obviously felt threatened by my energy and presence.
For two years, I languished in a setting without a gameplan, a workplan, without much acknowledgement of how i could help out. I was told I was a misfit....that I was difficult to work with.....that they didn't know what to do with me. When I complained, I was told to recognize how lucky I was to have a job and to try working under the radar. It numbed me, challenged me, wounded me....but it taught me (and most definately fed my writing!!) I tried to get out of there. I applied for different jobs, was shortlisted and interviewed for a few of them. Even this process ended up being tremendously painful emotionally as I somehow in the long run losing 2 close friends over it all. This part of the story is still hurtful.
Thank God there were friends and family who were there to support me through this emotional minefield....who knew what I was capable of....who knew how it was impacting me.... who literally saw me at my worst. .... who continued to encourage me to keep putting my neck out, to apply for different jobs, to continue with my writing, to keep paddling my canoe. Thank God they knew I could push through the mess, because when my job was cut I was alright. It didn't hurt as deeply emotionally as it did for others. I had been through too much prior to that.... the job cut seemed like a surface scratch in comparison. Knowing I was moving into another position, albeit temporarily, I was hopeful and glad to get out of the toxic work environment.
A month ago, the first day of my new gig, I received an email from a person I had been in touch with on and off for a year. She and I had met and worked together years ago at the College.... and now she's the Principal. I had held hopes that a teaching position would surface for me.... So, when her email popped up on my screen, I thought it was about this possibility. It wasn't. Instead..... she was getting in touch to inform me that a full time permanent counselling position had been approved and was I interested? WAS I INTERESTED????
Yesterday, I was formally offered the position and I enthusiastically accepted. Starting in July, I will be moving back to the College to set up counselling services.....from birth. It's mine to create.... from 20 years of hands on personal learning, with a city wide/provnice wide network, with counseling and facilitating skills, with my whole heart.
When I phoned home yesterday to touch base with my son after his school day, I told him the news.....
"Are you happy?" he asked
"Yes I am!" I replied.
"Good....I want you to be happy, Mom...."
It's been a rough ride for my whole family. My son's reaction and response spoke volumes.........my misery is theirs too. My happiness is felt by them as well.
Last evening, I headed down to the river to capture the evening light reflections as the sun went down. I watched two women dock their little boat after an evening fishing. I watched two men paddle upstream in their kayak right to the river's edge. And I took in the evening routine of a momma duck and her little ones head to the tall grass for the night after a day of learning ducklife skills. Their collective activities....calm and satisfying mirrored my own feelings and my own desire to grab a paddle and stern my canoe again into a cove I was destined to return to.
Life is good. And this turn of events....this little/big twist in my convoluted career path is bathed in the light of a blessing.