Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Year, New Career: I (Finally) Said YES to Becoming an English Teacher

My industry mentor and TV Writer Shero, Shonda Rhimes, wrote a book entitled Year of Yes (How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person). I received it last month as a birthday gift from my partner in grind. Every chapter struck internal chords that had yet to be touched as deeply this year. On one of the well-written witty pages she states: "Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral. Pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It's hard work that makes things happen. It's hard work that creates change."

The Past

Flash back to February 17, 2014...

After spending roughly three years confined to a cubicle, writing and editing customer-provided content as a Quality Control Editor and SEO Copywriter, I left corporate America to pursue my dream(s) full-time. For almost two years, I braved the trials without a steady paycheck, sustained mostly by God's covering. To say that I was not afraid of the risk would be a lie. However, I survived... ultimately gaining more knowledge, as well as the opportunity to benefit from a premature mistake.

The Present 

2015 was an interesting year for me. I resided outside of the U.S. during the first half (January to June). Then, on June 20th, I returned home to a tragedy that would cause me to appreciate non-material things even more. Devastation increased my frustration, yet I continued to persevere through weeks of uncertainty. I spent the past 6 months applying for writing and editing positions in areas including but not limited to: Atlanta, Orlando, Tampa, Chicago, Washington DC, New York City, etc., with major companies such as: Newell Rubbermaid, Google, Lockheed Martin, CNN, Sony and various others.

The total number of applications I submitted reached close to 120. I was only green-lighted to proceed with 6 interviews, which means I had about a 5% chance of getting hired. In September, eager to relocate to Atlanta, I prayed extremely hard for a Senior Editor position at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after being contacted by the HR representative and booking a next-day flight. I asked family members and close friends to pray for me also. A week prior, I was offered a temporary Publications Coordinator position for a major non-profit organization, but I knew that I could easily be replaced by a permanent candidate on short notice. I obviously wasn't selected for the Senior Editor position and I was dismissed from my temporary position four weeks after writing stories to be published in the company's upcoming quarterly magazine. I was disappointed, but still hopeful.

In October, I enrolled at Full Sail University to obtain a Master of Fine Arts degree in Entertainment/Creative Writing while awaiting my next "big break". Two months later, I was re-directed towards a previous interest that was interrupted by the job I was offered in 2011 and quit in 2014.

I started substitute teaching in 2010. It was a convenient on-and-off gig as I was striving to build my writing portfolio. While overseas, I spent six months working as a Learning Support Assistant at Kuwait English School. I've also delivered numerous motivational speeches and pep talks. Although I am a childless woman still contemplating the possibility of bearing an embryo, I enjoy nurturing young minds and inspiring underdeveloped leaders. Perhaps that's why, five years later, the opportunity to become a certified teacher presented itself again.

The Future

Earlier this month, while partaking in what had become a daily routine (job searching), I stumbled across a promotional ad for a Duval County Teacher Recruitment Fair. I decided to attend, with no expectations. I'd attended career fairs in the past, but none compared to this one. I was required to register beforehand and also submit my teaching credentials.

Before heading to the location, I phoned my aunt who's a retired high school English Teacher and Professor Emeritus for some last-minute advice. She told me, "It gets tougher when you're moving to a different level" and "Try not to be too concerned with what you are not doing too long." Then she said (paraphrased), "Whatever you decide to do next will be a new experience to learn from. Everything you're doing is just preparation for where you'll be years from now." I quickly jotted down her words and left with them in the back of my mind.

When I arrived to the recruitment fair, I checked in and was then told to select and sign up for a maximum of five schools. Interviews were conducted on the spot with principals and administrative staff. Fortunately or unfortunately, the first middle school that I selected did not have a representative present. It was soon time for my first high school choice. I approached the table and shook hands with the principal and two members of his staff. The questions quickly came at me. Questions like:

"Why do you want to teach in Duval County?"
"How was your educational experience overseas?"
"What's something unique that you can offer our students?"

I responded confidently throughout the brief interrogation and the principal concluded by asking me how soon I'd be able to start. 

I said, "Yesterday." 
He replied with, "Welcome to Lee!"

So, while still operating a business (iWrite4orU), actively pursuing my MFA degree and in the process of writing/publishing two more books, I am also now responsible for educating freshman and sophomore students of Robert E. Lee High School. After completing a five-hour new hire training session, I spent two days getting acquainted with students and my work space, and was then granted a two-week vacation due to winter break. I'm anxious to return.

There's a quote floating around in social media land that reads: "I can't cry about having a lot on my plate when my goal was to eat." Even though I could not understand why my writing endeavors had suddenly come to a halt, I was blessed for being still. Impatient, but obedient.

The Results

For a long time, I talked myself out of settling on a teaching career. The list of disadvantages was just too alarming. Reading Year of Yes not only forced me to stop creating issues where there should be none; it also helped me to turn negatives into positives.

Combatting my own excuses:

1. It's too stressful / time-consuming. 
(So was every other thing I've already accomplished in life).

2. I don't want / can't afford to pay for the professional certification exams.
(I'll gain more knowledge, be further qualified and eligible for greater benefits).

3. Kids today are out of hand and don't respect authority.
(I'll enjoy the satisfaction of making a difference and inspiring them to be better).

4. It doesn't pay enough. 
(My salary is $9000 more than my last stateside full-time position, I only have to work 196 days annually, which means ample vacation time for leisure writing/traveling, and I'm receiving practically-free medical/dental/vision coverage. I'll also be bumped to a higher salary bracket as soon as I obtain my MFA degree).

5. I don't want to deal with the drama of creating lesson plans and grading papers. 
(The same amount of extra effort is required for managing my business).

6. I was born to write, not teach. 
(God is in control and being able to teach students to write, technically and creatively five days a week, is the grandest way to utilize my gift).

I learned so much in this most recent 365-day life cycle, but the biggest lesson is that success is never guaranteed, no matter how talented or well-liked you may be. It's the combination of hard work and faith that will propel you to the next level and nourish you when the admiration fades. 

I'm grateful that God has positioned me to fulfill a role I was once afraid of accepting. Like Shonda Rhimes, saying YES to something that scared me is bound to change my life, as well as the lives of all students assigned to my A and B-day rosters the remainder of the 2015-2016 school year and beyond. 


Miss Williams, English Teacher


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Movie Review: Creed

In one word, Creed was phenomenal! I had the privilege of seeing it on Thanksgiving Eve, although everyone else was anticipating the official Thanksgiving Day release. One week later, this not-your-average-boxing movie has grossed close to $50 million dollars in box-office sales and is well on its way to receiving an Oscar nod.

The opening scene reveals young Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) in a juvenile detention center, being detained after a scuffle with another inmate. Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) appears and rescues Adonis by offering to take him 'home'. Years progress and Adonis is secretly fighting in a Mexico ring, but quickly makes his way back to a full-time, suit-and-tie stateside position that he clearly hates. 

When Mary Anne discovers his hidden operation, via a black eye he's attempting to conceal with a pair of shades, she delivers an emotional plea for him to avoid the same fate as his father and her husband (Apollo Creed), who died in the ring. Instead, Adonis relocates to Philadelphia, and despite such a heart-wrenching introduction, this is where the story truly materializes. 

While establishing relationships with his new neighbor, Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and his father's former nemesis turned best friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), 'Donny' undergoes multiple setbacks as a result of his undefined past. With no sense of belonging or connections to blood relatives, he's battling to safeguard things beyond his pride. Through Bianca, Donny finds motivation to work harder as a professional, refining his jabs, footwork, and other techniques in the process of being trained by Rocky.

The film climaxes when Rocky threatens to give up on Donny due to health issues, which ultimately affects Donny's bond with Bianca. "Please don't shut me out," he begs, after she removes a hearing aid to silence his apology for being unable to control his temper in public. Rarely does America get to witness how a black woman copes with a physical disability, which makes Bianca's role even more necessary. 

Under the moniker Donny Johnson, he's fighting from a place of anger, but over the course of the action, viewers learn that the main character is actually fighting to secure his identity as Adonis Creed: "To prove that I wasn't a mistake," he says during the last fight scene with a concerned Rocky in his bloody corner. From the advanced-looking cinematography to the perfectly-positioned camera angles, the clarity in these live moments exude excellence.

Actor Michael B. Jordan fully transformed to superbly play the leading part; operating as his own stuntman and sparring with real-life boxers for a full year. Director and Writer Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) deserves all the credit, as well, for developing a poignant and cohesive story line; one that is attached to a classic, famous franchise. Without tarnishing the legacy of the Rocky serials, Coogler invites a younger generation into the mix by fusing a popular sport with love-story feels and coming-of-age growth; the perfect way to showcase a clean knockout. 

Grade: A+ (worth paying to see twice)


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