We all make lists. To do lists. To buy lists. Pro and con lists. Many of us spend our lives making and rewriting lists– planning, plotting to make life that much easier and less uncertain.
I guess my story starts with a list- What to do after college.
The possibilities were somewhat limited with a degree in Latin American Caribbean studies and a minor in Art History from the University of Michigan. While my friends applied for law school, public health school, business school and Teach for America, I was far from applying anywhere. Instead, I was mostly dreaming about how to extend my semester abroad in Argentina- working, traveling, and eating one delicious asado after another.
As March approached I realized dreaming had to become applying- finding a job that allowed me to travel, eat and make a few dollars doing both wasn’t easy. I found a job teaching kindergarten in Barranquia, Colombia, on the beach far away from the freezing temperatures of Michigan. I was twenty years old, excited to leave college, excited to continue exploring and living a life of adventure; it was a job I couldn’t resist, I couldn’t sign my contract soon enough.
This is when I made my second and perhaps most important list: What to do when your dream job falls through.
The Colombian government was funding my dream job and, when the money fell through, I was left without a job- two weeks before graduation. It was a time of uncertainty. At times the fear was overwhelming, but it was also a time of great celebration- for me, my friends, what we had all been through, what we had all accomplished. It was strange feeling, celebrating one ending while also celebrating an uncertain new beginning. After that my lists became more frequent, my applications become more purposeful, and my dream of exploration and freedom was put, for the most part, on the back burner- when you have a “real job” you don’t get a “spring break.” It was a hard reality to confront at the time- luckily for me it turned out my dream job did in fact come with a “spring break.”
My third list came in the form of: Which graduate school to attend.
In a somewhat random meeting with a friend of a friend shortly after graduation, I poured my soul out about losing my job, living at home, needing to find a “new direction.” My friend of a friend asked me, “what do you like to do?”- I thought about it. Travel seemed out for now, and eating was not a job possibility, so I said, completely honestly- “I like working with kids.” I always loved children, but never once had it occurred to me to be a career. When I planned to teach kindergarten abroad, the beach, the food, the language lured me. The teaching was, well, to be honest, secondary. When she asked if I would be interested in taking a job at a preschool she was working at I said sure. I went with my gut. The job was as an assistant teacher in an integrated special education/general education nursery school classroom- it turned out to be the beginning of a career I could never have planned.
When I got the job the director said I should take a class in early childhood education, even if I was only staying for a few weeks. So I planned my list- Columbia, Hunter College, and Bank Street College of Education. Although I began my studies at Columbia, I ironically atte
List four came when I finished my degree. Where to take a job.
This list was easy- with the help of my good friend Google. Fortunately, I got a job working with two agencies that allowed me to become a full-time SEIT. But something surprising happened; working as a freelancer had many perks- flexibility, freedom, and the ability to manage your own time over the course of the week- but I discovered I also wanted to be part of a community again. After all the time I spent working toward becoming a special education teacher that was able to have flexibility, I ended up wanting to be back in one place, all day, every day. It was a hard thing to reconcile in myself- loving the independence but missing being an integral part of a community. Luckily, I found myself back in the same school for four years, helping support classrooms next-door to each other. It was a wonderful balance of freedom/community- and for those years I felt like I had the best of both worlds.
I made my final list early last month. What to do when you decide to leave your job?
Teaching has given me so many truly wonderful experiences- special education has been one of the most unexpected joys of my life so far. It has definitely been an adventure full of many ups, many downs, and many sleepless nights filled with worry, doubt, and uncertainty. Over the years, I have had the incredible opportunity to work with amazing children and their families, work with amazing teachers and therapists, and to build lifelong relationships and friendships. More recently having the opportunity to teach in graduate school and share my experiences with soon to be teachers about the adventures of SEIT life and supervising SEITS at what I imagine will be my last agency. It has been an incredible ride- it has given me a true sense of who I am and my purpose in life. But the funny thing about purpose is that it can take multiple forms and change without warning. Helping and teaching people both big and small is my life work, but so is learning, exploring and growing.
What’s next? I guess I can’t say for sure- I know I will keep teaching, learning and growing. But it’s time to let the life I have outside of teaching others to be put back on the front burner- a life of exploration, traveling and eating delicious food. Time will tell what’s next- but for now, it’s time to make a new list. Or not. Maybe it’s finally time to embrace the adventure, explore the unknown, and sit down and enjoy an asado.
Gabrielle Strasfogel-Ryklin,MSEd is a special education teacher, writer and wife. She is currently running social skills groups in NYC, writing a children’s cookbook and is starting an Early Childhood Educational Consulting group. She currently resides in the Catskills, New York, with her husband and chef Misha Ryklin and their dog Milton, who both fortunately love asado.