It has been a long, hard school year.
Since August 2017, I have had four posts sitting in my drafts. Truth be told, I’ve been living almost a double life and telling truths only to a select few, and it hasn’t been without its challenges.
I knew I would be leaving the classroom at the close of this year. Sure, my Teach for America contract is only for two years, but the decision wasn’t made as easily or as quickly as you’d think. At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, I felt that I had thrived in the classroom. I found joy–I had students that were as invested in my class as I am in them and in the work; I had administrators, coaches, and colleagues who supported me and lifted me up throughout my first year. I contemplated staying for a third year because I wanted to see how far I could go. An additional year to study for the LSAT would be nice, too. At the time, I was set on law school as my next step, even considering educational policy. I was that deep in and that committed to the work.
Then I went home to Indonesia for the summer. I realized how much I had forgotten, and admittedly missed, the “international” part of me–a part that is so essential to my identity. I’m not just an Asian-American, I am an Indonesian-American. That I am a first-generation immigrant also means that I am always and already dipping my feet in two different spheres. And if I so choose, with my international background, my spheres of influence could extend as far as I desire.
You know when you were little, you were always asked what you want to be when you grow up? I want to be a world citizen. I want to be a diplomat. I want to be Secretary of State. I knew that with my newfound joy in the classroom I could make teaching my career. But I wasn’t ready to give up on my little girl dreams just yet. I wanted to explore further what I am capable of, and tap into the skills I have that I don’t get to use in education.
Upon coming back to Jacksonville, I wasn’t expecting the number of transitions that came my way. Some things changed for the better: I moved closer to work and live in beautiful, historic house in a vibrant area with a roommate–last year, I lived alone in an apartment with a 30-minute commute, without traffic. A few things were completely unexpected. My school had a new principal, my district an interim superintendent. Both the former superintendent and my former principal moved to Detroit. I was teaching a new course: Physical Science, a high school course. In the middle of the year, our school underwent major schedule changes due to a district school budget fiasco. I had brand new students. My advanced classes were consolidated from 4 to 3, increasing class sizes as high as 34. I had to teach an elective science “research” class with some of the most challenging students for a couple of weeks. We were told that schedules would be changed back as soon as the school is cleared to hire more teachers, but besides my elective class being replaced back to a regular science class, the schedules never changed. I lost some of my favorite students and gained a few who never really got a hold of my classroom rituals & routines. Labs continued to be a challenge throughout the year with high class sizes. On top of that, many of our teacher vacancies never got filled… in fact, they increased as the year went on. Some days, I feel like my job has been reduced to babysitter extraordinaire. And the worst part is, it’s no one’s fault, but everyone bears the burden.
On top of teaching full-time, I enrolled in a TestMasters LSAT course. Every Saturdays, Sundays, and Tuesdays, I’d attend a four-hour class for five weeks. On Tuesdays, I’d arrive to class late because I leave school at 4:30, catch rush-hour traffic to the other side of town, and pick up my dinner on the way if I had time. After work, I’d do the TestMasters homework (which culminates to 100 hours), lesson plan, and then apply to law schools, graduate schools, and fellowships.
In November, I was selected as a finalist for the Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship Program. The program prepares graduating seniors or recent graduates for careers in the Foreign Service–to become a U.S. diplomat. The Rangel Program also supports them with finances for graduate school (tuition and stipend) as well as two summer internships, one abroad and one in Capitol Hill. I went to Washington, D.C., for a full-day interview. In total, there were 60 finalists and only 30 were selected for the fellowship. While I was selected as an alternate and ultimately not chosen as a fellow, I spoke out to the Universe that fateful November day on my flight back to Jacksonville: I’ll be back.
I submitted the last of my school applications the first week of February, and the waiting game began. Timing worked out because as I had finished the difficult phase of applying for schools, it was remediation time for my students–time for them to review essential materials from 6th, 7th, and 8th grade science to prepare for the state test in May. In the beginning of the year, the goal for proficiency was set to 50%. In the December midyear test, my students scored an average of 52%, so the bar was set to 65% proficiency by May. I was stressing myself out, feeling pressured to succeed and deliver results. I spent countless hours creating lesson plans that I had to completely redo from last year. I assigned projects that were never done. My students lost investment because I was so hard on them. I was hard on myself! I was miserable, without much guidance or support. I was supposed to be the lead science teacher, everyone else was depending on me and the school grade is riding on me and my students’ performance.
But the Universe finally answered my call. I received my first acceptance letter from The Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, in Washington, D.C. They offered me a spot for the M.A. in International Affairs program, with a generous fellowship to boot.
After a few months of consideration, I decided to answer the Universe’s call. I’ve been back to D.C. twice since November, and every time I feel the same rush of energy that attracted me to it. This is where I need to be. This is where I belong.
And so with great excitement, I announce that I have accepted The Elliott School’s offer. While I will miss Jacksonville immensely, especially my students and the people whom I’ve gotten to know so closely, I cannot wait to see what this next chapter of life has in store for me.