When I graduated college, bachelor of arts in foreign languages with a minor in art in hand, I was pretty proud of myself. Until I realized I had no idea what I was going to do next. As a first-generation college graduate, I was mostly just figuring it out for myself. My parents’ advice was pretty spot on, though: get your first real job.
But I was back home in rural upstate New York, where the degree I had didn’t get me a whole lot. The options included the summer jobs I’d done as a:
- night-shift drive-thru cashier at Dunkin Donuts, where I got flashed by the pantsless pervert of Pulaski, New York; or
- convenience store clerk selling lottery tickets and occasionally renting out porn from the box we stored at the back.
AmeriCorps: First Real Job?
So I applied to AmeriCorps for my first real job, sort of. I would maybe help fight forest fires in California or educate people on the environment in Colorado. And I didn’t get in.
Clearly, the search for my first real job was looking bleak. Furthermore, I was clueless about how to make this French degree work for me. I knew I didn’t want to live the rest of my adult life in upstate New York. However, I didn’t know how I was going to resolve that problem.
But then I found out about the local AmeriCorps chapters. And it turned out a nearby high school was looking for a paraprofessional to help out in the high school special education department.
Moreover, they needed someone to shadow a student who had just moved with her family from France. That circumstance was pretty bizarre considering how isolated that little school was.
So, in the middle of nowhere, I was competing against people who very likely had no knowledge of French beyond “bonn-jore.” It was a no-brainer to bring me on. My French degree was already paying off!
First Day on the First Real Job
I did get a stipend and I had to report to “work” during a particular set of hours every day. So the volunteer gig sure felt like my first real job. The day before the school year began, I attended a staff development day. That’s when I met the teachers I would be working with.
My supervisor, the senior special education teacher, needed assistance with his students who struggled with reading and writing. Understandably, my stint as an interpreter for my apparent first real job did not sit well with him. His concerns would not go unaddressed, as you’ll find out shortly.
The next day, I met the 15-year-old French student who did not speak a word of English. She was noticeably in full-on culture shock but seemed to be handling the situation as well as can be expected.
However, my supervisor soon managed to get me transferred back to the special education department. The French student, consequently, was assigned a peer to work with her, which was probably much more appropriate anyway.
Finally Getting Started as a Volunteer Paraprofessional
He introduced me to the students as they arrived and explained what I would be doing in my first real job. My main responsibility was to support juniors and seniors (ages 16–18) by going to their classes, taking notes, and keeping track of assignments and exams.
When there was an exam, I made sure students were provided their appropriate and specific accommodations. Those accommodations or modifications included extra time, dictation, transcription, breaks, or an alternative testing environment.
Sometimes I felt like I was back in high school and not at my first real job. That wasn’t hard to imagine considering I was 22, going on 15 in the looks department. The custodians all thought I was a student anyway.
No Easy First Real Job
You might have guessed this was no easy first real job. For sure, the senior teacher had far more responsibilities, but ensuring high school students, some of whom towered over me, stayed on track with their studies was a huge challenge for meek little Amy straight out of college.
Add to that the fact that these students had particular struggles that included not only dyslexia but also behavioral and emotional issues. Some of them came from low-income families, neglectful households, and a history of abuse.
These kids had not been handed an easy start in life. And this rural high school heavily depended on the AmeriCorps program’s annual litter of fresh new volunteers, some embarking on their first real job.
I spent 10 months with the students and learning about their struggles. Although I determined that working with high school students would not be my ultimate path, I gained an appreciation for the good work these teachers were doing to ensure all students had the opportunity to be included.
In fact, inclusion was the key word in this program. The goal was to provide access to the same information that all kids had access to. And that’s the hallmark of modern accessibility guidelines, which I talk about in my post about editing and writing with accessibility in mind.
20 Years Later
Indeed, my first real job opened up a passionate interest of mine that has only blossomed over the past two decades. Over the years, I have somehow always gravitated toward work that promotes equal opportunity to quality education.
In fact, most of my clients come from education. I regularly get to work on training materials for new teachers and coaches that address early childhood education in low-income communities, trauma-informed care, and children at risk for or with developmental delays.
Although that first real job happened more than 20 years ago now, I have always held a soft spot in my heart whenever I work on materials related to the special education field.
My Work These Days
As a copy editor and publication designer, I work with subject matter experts and project managers who are developing research studies, training manuals, online courses, web content, and books for publication that aim to improve the lives of all children.
You can see, in fact, samples of my relevant work in the field in my online portfolio. Check out especially:
- the series of briefs on the California Early Math Initiative;
- the coaching guide for the Dual Language Learner Supports Project; and
- the series of video training guides for home visitors.
And my latest gig is editing online courses in French. So, you could say that, in a way, I have come full circle. I’m using my French degree to support an inclusive environment for all learners in the K–12 system, a system I first started in as my first real job.