Wednesday, February 20, 2013


     Reinvention is a cruel mistress. I used "cruel mistress" just this morning to describe season three of Downton Abbey while updating my status on Facebook. I like the term "cruel mistress." It's useful.

     So reinvention. I always thought there was something romantic about the idea of reinvention. Go someplace new! Be whoever you want to be! Start fresh! Now we are in Orange County, California, of all places. No one knows me. It's absolutely a fresh start. And it kinda sucks. That's not entirely true, but the reinvention career-wise absolutely sucks. It's all well and good to want a fresh start, but a fresh start has to want you.

     I knew giving up a tenured teaching position in Chicago was going to be tough. It wasn't so much that I loved my job. I didn't. But I do love working with kids, even the kids from Dunbar. Although I didn't like many of my students last year. Last year was a really tough year -- if you forget why, you can look back at my post about nearly dying. Teaching has never been the career I expected it to be.

     When Todd got his new job in Yorba Linda (home of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library) and we decided to live in Irvine, I knew it would be hard to find a teaching job out here. I was prepared for that. Plus the state of California has yet to issue my teaching credential, and there are so many teachers looking for jobs that schools won't even look at your application without an attached California credential. That's fine. I just thought I would find some different job, and maybe I'd discover a new gig that would be amazing. Wow sometimes I'm naive, even as a 40 year old.

     I have applied for many, many jobs. I am seemingly not qualified for many, many jobs. I've been rejected from copy room and file clerk jobs. I've been rejected by the Gallup Company. I thought being a researcher for them would be cool and interesting. They did not agree.

     I had no idea how little money jobs would pay. I made a nice, solid salary as a teacher in Chicago with nine years experience and a masters degree. Todd always made more than me (thank god!), but I always felt like I contributed a decent amount to our coffers. I never felt like I couldn't buy myself something pretty if I felt like it. Nowadays, not so much.

     I have had three jobs since moving out here. I taught after school science classes for Mad Science. It was just part time, and it was ok. But it's not the kind of teaching I want to do. I think if I had been teaching after school English classes or writing classes, that would have been fun. The science was not hard to learn, but I never felt really comfortable teaching science to groups of children. So I quit that job after my fall classes ended.

     After being rejected from a handful of jobs that paid a tiny amount, I decided I should try to get a job within a school system in some capacity. I thought if I worked in a support role for a school, at least it would be a foot in the door. So I applied to be an instructional assistant for Irvine Unified. And instructional assistant is a teacher's aide. I got an interview for an aide position for an Irvine elementary school. After an interview that lasted exactly nine minutes, I was offered the job. Apparently five hundred people applied for this position. I think I got the job because my last name is Fujimoto, and the principal thought I was Japanese. He mentioned my non-Japanese-ness as he was walking me out of the building. He told me that he as married to a Japanese woman and had Amerasian children, just as I did. (I never use the term Amerasian, by the way.)

     I took the aide position, even though the little voice in my head said it was a bad idea. First of all, it was only for 19 hours a week. And the pay was only $14.16 per hour. But I felt like I had to take it -- it was better than nothing, right? I thought maybe I'd get to sub part of the time. I didn't. I did have time to teach the after school science classes. I imagined I could kind of piece together a career.

     But I hated it. There is nothing wrong with being a teacher's aide. However, going from being a high school teacher to an elementary school teacher's aide feels like a punishment. The biggest problem, though, was the teacher I had to assist. She was awful. Truly awful. She was bitchy and insecure and would freak out if you did not do things exactly as she dictated. This was her first real teaching assignment, and she did not like having people around her who were experienced teachers. I think she felt threatened by me. Which was crazy, as I didn't want her job. Nor could I have had it. I'm only certified to teach junior high or high school. I can't teach elementary school. And I gave her know reason to be threatened by me. I did what she told me to, and I didn't ask any questions.

     She was one of those people who thinks that being mean to children shows how tough you are, and what great classroom management you have. That drives me crazy. I don't think there is ever a good reason to be mean to children. So she was always on me to be tougher on the kids. She taught the RTI program, which is for students who are below grade level and need extra help. So the RTI kids came to our classroom for an hour each day for more intensive literacy help. I worked with kids on fluency, she worked with them on comprehension, and the other aide (who was super sweet) worked with them on vocabulary. We had kids from first grade through sixth grade.

     I often call children "children." Because they are children. So if the kids weren't settled down right away (which was a huge deal for this teacher), I might say, "Settle down, children. Let's get started." One day during recess, which was a break for us, she told me that my calling children "children" was belittling them, and I would probably have fewer discipline issues if I had more respect for the students. She was telling me this. Me! I had no discipline issues, first of all. And I have never been accused of belittling students in my life. I would never do that. I was so offended I couldn't believe it.

     I had to have my two month review the day before Christmas vacation. I have had positive reviews every year I've been a teacher, except my first year. That one wasn't bad, but it was the least positive one. Until this one. Apparently I was a not very good instructional assistant. The principal told me that I needed to work on my behavior management. He suggested perhaps they could send me to some workshops. He said that things were different on the elementary level, and I needed to work to learn how to manage these students. Then he told me I needed to work on using my planning time more effectively. I assume the teacher I worked for told him that I let the students at my table run wild and that I did not do anything during planning time. As I was just an aide who didn't get to plan any lessons, I'm not sure what I was expected to do. What I did was file papers, make copies, and sharpen pencils. The principal concluded by telling me that I should the winter break learning all the standards for English/Language Arts for grades one through six.

     It was awful. I begged my husband to let me quit that job. I explained to him that we were spending more money on preschool for Hideo and before and after school care for Emiko than I was actually earning. That it would be cheaper for me to just stay home with Hideo. For those of you who know my husband, you can imagine how that conversation went!

     The other problem with that job was that it was not a foot in the door. There were at least six or seven other instructional assistants, and 90% of them were certified teachers. Most had been there for at least three years, hoping at some point they would get noticed by either this principal (who I was hating more by the minute) or some other principal who would give them a real teaching job. Wasn't happening.

     I had a job interview for a court reporting agency over Thanksgiving break. That job paid $12 an hour, but it was 40 hours a week, at least. The interview went well, but the agency owners were very concerned that I would not be there long enough to make it worth their while. I think they were afraid I would immediately get a teaching job and quit. I told them that was highly unlikely. But they didn't give me the job.

     During my last Mad Science after school class I got a voicemail from a temp agency about a proofreading position. I called back as soon as class ended. I left a message, and then I left two more messages. I wasn't going to take any chances!  I got a call back the week of Christmas and had the screening interview.  I was so hoping to get this job and not have to go back to my elementary school job.

     Alas, winter break ended and I hadn't heard anything more from the temp agency. With a heavy heart I went back to Northwood Elementary School. The next week I got a call from the agency to schedule a real interview with the company looking for proofreaders. So I interviewed with Edwards Lifesciences the next afternoon.

     The interview went well, and I was offered the position the next day. Which made me gloriously happy. I told the principal the next day that I was resigning, but could give him one week's notice. The temp agency had an extensive background check they had to conduct on me, and they said it would take about a week. I was so excited. It turned out my background check took less time than was expected, and they needed me to start immediately. I worked my last day at Northwood without telling anyone goodbye, other than the other aide who was so sweet and nice (and who also was miserable and hated that teacher. I felt bad leaving her!). I went home and called the principal and left a voicemail that I would not be returning.

     Now I'm a professional proofreader, and I do enjoy it. Edwards Lifesciences is a medical device manufacturer. They make artificial heart valves and catheters. I work in the Global Labels department, so I proofread labels and instructions for use documents. It's not riveting, but I don't mind it. They aren't really focused on grammar or usage. It's most important that the doses and measurements and other numbers be correct, since it's all regulated by either the FDA or the European Union.

     I am making $13 an hour. Which is terrible. But it's 40 hours a week, so my paychecks are much bigger than before. I hope to be able to use this experience to get a better job in the (not too distant) future. I'm just a temp, which means no one talks to me other than the other temps. There are a lot of temps in this office. One woman I work with has been a temp proofreader for four years! She must be in her fifties. Another temp proofreader has been there more than two years. He's 44 and was laid off from his last job. It took him more than a year to find this one. The company has offered real positions to some of the temps. I can't tell what quality they are looking for, but it seems to be the younger temps are much more likely to get permanent positions over the older temps. I'm pretty sure I'm in the older demographic these days.

     I know I sound like a spoiled brat, complaining about making so little, when it could be so much worse. I did manage to find a job (three jobs, in fact). I wasn't out of work for long. You hear these stories and it's just crazy. At least we don't have to rely on my salary to pay our bills. Although I am now making enough to pay for Hideo's preschool and Emiko's before and after school program. Woo hoo! I have just never been in a position, or at least not since I've been teaching, when I didn't feel like I couldn't support myself if I had to. I told Todd that if he decided to leave me, I would not be able to support myself or our children. I don't like that feeling. He told me I better be nice to him.

     So maybe I'll manage to reinvent myself as a professional proofreader. I still look to see if there are any teaching positions, but I don't know if I even want to be a teacher anymore. Even if there were a position. It's a moot point so far. I would like to find a permanent position, with paid time off. Emiko got sick Saturday night and is still sick, so I haven't been to work this week. Which means my paycheck for this pay period is going to be tiny. And they might fire me, as I'm only a temp.

     But at least I have something. I was feeling a bit depressed the first couple of months that we were here. I didn't realize how much being a teacher was part of the identity I made for myself. Now when I meet people and they ask what I do, I'm never quite sure what to say. I keep applying for jobs, and I keep believing that at some point someone will see my cover letter and resume and will think, "Now there is the candidate we've been dreaming of! Call her in!" I'll be thrilled when that happens. I'm ready for a career -- not just a temp job. I'm open to suggestions!

     Maybe my next post won't just me bitching and bitching about stuff. It is beautiful here, and we are ten minutes away from the beach. I'll try to be more optimistic. Emiko's sixth birthday is tomorrow. I cannot believe my dear, sweet, beautiful little girl is going to be six years old. I don't know how that is possible. Where does the time go? Her reinvention as a California girl is going well. Hideo's reinvention has been rockier. He keeps asking when daddy will lose his job, so we can move back to our home in Chicago. He and I will get through it together.


Alannah said...

First of all - the 3rd season of Downton Abbey IS ONE CRUEL F'ing MISTRISS! I was so pissed at the finale that you would've thought Downton Abbey had abused my cats or something. Don't get me started. Except you already did. Look what you did.

See...FIRST of all we had to deal with Sybil. That was heartbreaking and horrible but we stayed with it because we knew that no show could possibly torture its viewers more than that. OH BUT HOW WRONG WE WERE. then there was the temporary elation of M & M's baby. Would everything be alright? Would Lady Mary have complications? Already in DA we've lost a baby (miscarriage..bath..soap...awful) and a mother so they wouldn't POSSIBLY involve a horrific storyline having to do with this birth...would they??? Come ON...why did they have to end it that way....WHY?

Okay, now that you've opened that can of worms, Amy I can get to the meat of your post. Jesus H. Christ I knew CA job market was bad but didn't know it was THAT bad. FWIW I have a friend in NYC who's had a temp proofreading job for Standard & Poor for nearly 12 yrs. She loves it.

That teacher sounded like a real piece of work and it's good you could get out of there. The right thing WILL come along for you. My boss was the director of the UC Irvine Intensive English Program for many years...want me to ask her if she has any contacts there and would you possibly be interested in working at UC Irvine?

And lastly...I love & miss you. So...there's that. xoxoxo

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