Donna O'Donnell Figurski's Blog

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TidBits About Donna #48 Rumor Has It or Truth Be Told

Rumor has it … that I was possibly going back to teaching – this time as an Assistant Teacher.

Truth be told. That was a true rumor.

I wasn’t intentionally looking for a teaching position or, for that matter, any type of position. I was busy enough at home staying afloat, just trying to keep up with all of the things I needed to do while I was teaching but never got to (like everyone else). But, a teaching position possibility fell into my lap … or into my computer email box, to be exact. It was an opportunity that could not be ignored.

Very close friends of mine, who live in my neighborhood, sent me a request to apply for a position at their sons’ school in Montclair. It is a small private school, which I had visited on several occasions (Grandparent’s Day, School Street Fair). I love the school and what it stands for.  After each visit, I told my husband, David, that I would love to teach there. Of course, I never thought there was even the remotest of possibilities. I had no intention of retiring from Dumont (at least not until our infamous governor, name withheld for obvious reasons, inflicted himself on the teaching profession).

The teaching and learning style of this particular school in Montclair is very progressive. They promote independent thinking, and the children lead the way. Their philosophy of teaching and learning completely coincides with mine. My classroom was very similar to what I saw at the Montclair school, so I was excited when this opportunity presented itself to me.

It was a Tuesday in November right before Thanksgiving that I received an email from my friends strongly suggesting that I apply for one of the two positions available. After much discussion with David and some super serious, but quick, thinking, I began the process of dusting off my résumé and updating it to include my last thirty years of experience as a teacher and writer. Seeing it all on paper impressed even me. I have been a busy girl.

On Wednesday morning, after one final read-through, I pressed the send button on my computer; and off flew my résumé and cover letter to the headmistress.

At 7:42 p.m. on Thursday, Thanksgiving evening, I was excited to receive an invitation on my iPad from the headmistress to meet with her any day and time the following week. I decided on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m.

In the interim, I tore through my closets to find something appropriate to wear. I settled on a black pseudo-suit and dark floral print blouse. A new black bag big enough to hold a large folder containing a copy of my résumé and a few evaluations from my former principal and vice-principal and a new pair of black shoes completed my “interview” outfit.

Wednesday arrived. The day was sunny, which I took as a good omen. My hour-long interview went very well. The headmistress was warm and encouraging, and we had a lovely chat discussing education philosophies (one of my favorite topics). She invited me to visit two classrooms: 1st grade and PreK-Kindergarten.

I loved the 1st grade and began memorizing the kids’ names (all fourteen of them – a typical class size at the school). They had read Charlotte’s Web and studied the farm and spiders.  The children’s work decorated the room. I thought that was a good sign. I had written and directed the play Charlotte’s Web with one of my classes many years ago. The story is a favorite of mine.

Then I spent time in the PreK-Kindergarten. Now remember, I spent most of my teaching career in 1st grade. I am very comfortable there. I love first grade, but PreK-Kindergarten is a totally different animal! Now I understand what some of you upper-grade teachers felt when you had to stand in for us lower-grade teachers when we needed emergency coverage. It always amused me to see how pale you looked when I left the classroom and your pure smile of relief when I returned. Some of you couldn’t leave my classroom fast enough! But, you always made it out alive. It made me chuckle to know that my little six-year-olds could intimidate you so. Let me say now that after visiting PreK-Kindergarten, I understand your feelings better.

I left my interview feeling confident that I had presented myself well. I definitely left the interview making very clear that, although I was very interested in the first grade position, I would take either because I really wanted the experience of being a part of that school community, which I so admired.

Now it was time to wait. I tried to push the interview to the back of my mind, but for the next few days it was the primary topic of conversation between David and me. It just kept coming up. Talk about a one-track mind! I talked about it to anybody who would listen – my kids (Kiersten and Jared), my cousin Kathy, some teacher friends, my walking partner, my neighbor … anybody! I was excited.

Truthfully, I was so pleased and surprised that I even got the interview. After all, I am at the age where most people are ending their careers. I’m no Spring Chicken! (Maybe summer or early fall.) But, I have the drive, the intensity, the energy, and the pure desire to be in a classroom with young children; and this school in Montclair was beckoning to me.

The beauty of this job was that I would be the Assistant Teacher. I would have all the fun of being with the kids and teaching them, but I would not be responsible for report cards or parent conferences and all the paper work that goes along with that. I would not be responsible to write the lesson plans and coordinate them with the Core Curriculum Standards of New Jersey – an arduous and time-consuming task. (That’s another post.)

There were other perks, too. The school is only four and a half miles from my home, taking less than fifteen minutes to get there. Compare that to my each way fifty-minute-plus commute of twenty miles on three highways to my career school. The Montclair school opened later too, which allowed me much more sleep time – an extra hour each morning. WOW! I’ll take it!

I had reservations too, and I dissected each of them thoroughly. I was getting used to this thing called retirement and the fact that my time was my own – sort of. I felt like I was on an extended summer vacation. Sleeping late was the best. When seven- or eight-o’clock rolled around, I was ready to roll out of bed. Never would I have to slam the snooze button at 5:45 a.m. again. So even though I would get an extra hour of sleep with this later starting time, did I really want to have to tackle the snooze button at 6:45 a.m.? Hmm. It was something to think about.

I would have to give up my book club group and the breakfasts at Panera’s with my retired teacher friends. Going to the grocery store or clothes shopping is much less challenging during the hours before 3:00 p.m. – less traffic on the streets – less people in the stores. I could go to the library any time I wanted. I could take my walks in the afternoon, instead of under the stars. But I think the thing I would miss most, if I took a full-time position, was the ease of making the doctor appointments for David and me. Not having to juggle my schedule and beg the doctor’s receptionist for the last appointment of the day and then worry that I would not make it in time because of an unscheduled traffic jam was a definite plus to staying home. BUT, after weighing all the pros and cons, I was ready to give it all up. So I sat by my computer and checked my email every five minutes waiting to hear the results of my interview.

Finally I received the answer I wanted. The headmistress invited me to spend an afternoon in the school to meet with the teacher and observe her class. I still didn’t know yet if I was being considered for the first grade class or the PreK-Kindergarten class. I arrived at the school in pouring rain (Was that an omen? A bad omen?) and was introduced to the PreK-Kindergarten teacher. We talked and walked to her classroom. Then she spent the next twenty minutes interviewing me. The top question for both the headmistress and the teacher was WHY. Why would I want an Assistant Teacher job when I had been the head teacher for nearly thirty years? How could I work as second-in-command under a teacher with far less experience?

Easy! I’ve had a great and satisfying career. When I closed my classroom door in mid-June of 2011, I thought that would be it. But for all of the reasons I stated above – not having to be responsible for report cards, conferences, and lesson plans, but being able to teach and influence the lives of children was like having my cake and eating it too. (OH … watch those calories!) I felt the job was perfect for me. She ended the interview by saying that this job would be like a marriage. I said, “I do!” (I didn’t really, but I thought it.)

I spent the remainder of the afternoon becoming involved with the children. I oversaw the painting center and discussed the solar system with three girls as they adeptly blobbed the sun, moon, stars, and planets onto their black paper. We talked about Pluto being demoted from planethood. Two boys were seriously examining some decayed leaves in the science center, and several more children motored their way through space in an old, worn cardboard box, which they insisted was their spaceship.

There was so much energy in that classroom – almost too much. Four- and five-year-olds definitely lack the maturity of the six-year-olds I was used to. The teacher hugged me goodbye, told me I was amazing, and off I went into the rainstorm – to wait again. (I wish it hadn’t been raining that day.)

When I arrived home I was exhausted. The questions began to tumble through my head again. If the PreK-Kindergarten job was offered and I took it, would I be happy? Would I do the job justice? Was I making the right decision? Another weekend of hours and hours of contemplation! I finally did the only thing I could do. I emailed my mentor teacher, Nancy McDonough (Stillman School – Tenafly, NJ). Nancy is not only the teacher with whom I did my student teaching with so long ago, she is a great friend whose opinion I value.

Last year Nancy was in a similar situation – sort of. She spent her career as a second-grade teacher. A year after she closed her classroom door, she found a new position teaching three-year-olds in Moscow, Russia. She called me from Moscow, and we spoke for nearly an hour. I listened as she explained the minds of these tots. I heard her exuberance for her job, her respect for the four- and five-year-old mind. She encouraged me … and though I had really wanted the first grade, I was so pumped after our chat that I eagerly looked forward to the PreK-Kindergarten position. I knew I could do it. I knew I had a lot to offer these young children. I really wanted this job. And so the waiting began … again.

And while I waited, I shopped. The dress attire in this school is casual. Many teachers wear jeans and look very smart in them. Although I hadn’t been offered the job, and although I know they say,”It’s not over, until its over, I felt pretty good about it. So I bought several new pairs of jeans and cute tops to go with them. I bought comfortable shoes too in both black and brown. And then I waited some more. Many days passed and I had a hard time suppressing my anxiety. My email box was being worn out. Finally the email came. The email read, “It was a competitive pool of talented educators.” …

I was not selected for the position.

To say I was devastated would be too strong. To say that I was unaffected would be an untruth – a downright lie. To say I was greatly disappointed would be spot on. I really, really wanted to work in this school. Although it was not my first choice, I would have even taken the PreK-Kindergarten job (the teacher was really sweet) to have the opportunity to be a part of this very progressive school community; but I guess it was not to be. I hope that a younger teacher will cherish the position and give it her or his all – like I would have done.

So for more rumors …

Rumor has it that I am finishing up reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I will be ready for the next book club meeting.
Rumor has it that I will be at Carol F’s house next month.
Rumor has it that I will be attending all of the Panera breakfasts.
Rumor has it that I will be lunching with my fellow retired teachers – class of 2011.

And … if truth be told, those are true rumors.               And life is good!

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

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December 30, 2011 - Posted by | TidBits About Donna | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Comments »

  1. Sorry Donna. I know that it is really disappointing but at least you have other true rumors to bring a smile to your face. Too bad you don’t still live here…I’d meet you at Panera’s for lunch.

    Comment by Judy | December 31, 2011 | Reply

  2. Hey Jude,

    Yes, it would be fun to live closer so we could bop about. Thanks for your understanding. As in the song I just sang for our Nutley Little Theater’s Twisted Yuletide program – Hard Candy Christmas by Dolly Parton in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas … I’ll be fine and dandy … Maybe I’ll sleep real late … I won’t let sorrow bring me way down … Me, I will go on!

    Best,
    Donna

    Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | December 31, 2011 | Reply

  3. My sister-in-law (Kathy Bann Figurski) and very good friend wrote on Facebook.

    Bittersweet, I guess????? Its hard to imagine who would be better than YOU to fill that position. Now, get back to your busy retirement and enjoy all your new clothes
    ; ) Love you xoxox

    Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | December 31, 2011 | Reply

  4. Thanks Kath.

    You made me feel better. I’m not taking my jeans back! So there!

    Hugs, Donna

    Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | December 31, 2011 | Reply

  5. My sister-in-law (Carol Cross O’Donnell) and very good friend wrote on Facebook.

    If truth be told you would have been great but rumor has it you are enjoying your retirement. Rumor has it I am envious of your retirement; if truth be told, I am looking forward to my retirement so we can hang out together, go shopping and traveling! Sorry you didn’t get the opportunity, definitely their loss!

    Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | December 31, 2011 | Reply

  6. Hey Carol,

    Thanks for your huge vote of confidence. At least I can still plan a trip to Phoenix now. So there are some perks.

    Hugs, Donna

    Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | December 31, 2011 | Reply

  7. And here’s another comment from a friend (Patti Mclaughlin Juggenheimer) whose friendship has been recently reignited through FaceBook and last summer’s high school reunion. She says:

    I just finished reading your blog. Hold on to those new clothes because as soon as they have a full time teaching position they’re going to call you. I think it probably would be very intimidating to have a teacher with your credentials as an assisant. If you have an open heart to teach full time again a great position will come your way. Happy New Year:) Say hi to david for us.

    Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | December 31, 2011 | Reply

  8. Thanks, Patti. I think a lot of teachers are waiting in the wings for teaching positions at this school. The headmistress even alluded to that. I gave it my best shot. So I am not holding my breath. But … Me, I will go on!

    Hugs, Donna

    Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | December 31, 2011 | Reply

  9. I received this comment from fellow teacher and friend Carol F. in an email.

    On Jan 2, 2012, at 10:46 AM, Carol F. wrote:

    Although I’m sure that you’re disappointed that you didn’t get the teaching position, I, for one, am thrilled that you will continue to be a part of the REDS(Retired Educators of Dumont Schools). I enjoy your company and feel that we will have many hours of good conversation and enhanced friendship in the coming months.

    Happy 2012,
    Carol

    Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | January 2, 2012 | Reply

  10. On Mon, Jan 2, 2012 at 12:39 PM, Donna Figurski wrote:

    Aww, Carol, that was so sweet of you. Your words really made me smile.

    I look forward to coming to your house on the the 13th. I am really enjoying being a part of the REDS. That was one thing I knew I would miss a lot, if I got the position. No need to worry there anymore.

    Wishing you and your family a very Happy New Year.

    Can I bring a coffee cake?

    Donna

    Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | January 2, 2012 | Reply


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