Now that I’m deep in the throes of a career transition, it is wildly appropriate that I am taking a course on how to become a guidance counsellor. This new plan dawned on me only because I want my own quiet office, but is starting to amount to much more. Had I always wanted to become a guidance counsellor, and followed a straight and narrow path to my goal without major obstacles, I think I would have been pretty limited in my professional scope. Now that I’ve had to re-think EVERYTHING and dig out all my little transferable skills and figure out ways they can make money and not pain, I feel like I actually have some wisdom to help youth embark on their wobbly futures.
So far, in a nutshell, my career counselling philosophy can be summarized as:
Nobody ever told me that my plans might be thwarted by chronic illness. I’m certain the only time it was brought up was when I first got hired as a teacher and got the spiel on our health and life insurance (and thank Jebus for that). Now that I’ve started to figure out in earnest what my career, take two, might look like, I feel like I’ve gained some skills in the realm of resiliency and flexibility that I might be able to pass on.
Is this scenario ideal? No. I’d rather still be a music teacher.
Is it okay? Yes. Most definitely. I will be okay. I now have a back-up plan. I have reinforced my supports. I have new ways of making money and keeping myself engaged with the world, plus a few more in my back pocket. I have turned adversity into opportunity.
Like all teaching jobs right now, guidance positions are hard to come by. In the meantime, I’ll cross my fingers, explore other options, and integrate career planning into my English classes.
Our first assignment in the course was a reflection on how an event or person has greatly influenced our lives and teaching. The topic was a bit too obvious for me. Here’s my reflection:
Approximately three years ago I made a brazen move on College Street that landed my bicycle tires in the grips of a streetcar track, and landed my face on the pavement. After a seemingly appropriate recovery from mild physical trauma, I unknowingly enjoyed the calm before the storm. What followed was the most difficult time of my life thus far.
Months after the accident I began to experience pain attacks that were so frequent and severe that I could barely manage to stay upright on the commute to work, let alone during an energetic 9a.m. warm up to lead 20 youth in song. After attempting to push through the pain for weeks on end, resulting only in more pain, I opted for an extended leave from my cherished work as a vocal music teacher.
The diagnosis was clear — chronic migraine — but other answers were slower to come. Pharmaceuticals offered by my caring family doctor only worsened the problem, and the wait to see a specialist would be a minimum of one year. It was a confusing, isolating, and lonely time. With no recovery in sight, and despite the loyal support of my family, friends, and partner, I entered a period of depression. Who am I without music? I asked myself. How can I be happy if I can’t dance and sing and maintain a busy social life? And most importantly how can I carry on through pain this bad? With determination, many tears, and the help of skilled “alternative” health practitioners, I began to slowly dig myself out of a hole deeper than I ever could have imagined being lost in.
While I would never wish such a dark period on myself or anyone else, like most challenges, there have been valuable lessons and silver linings along the way. If I hadn’t been forced to take a step back from music education, I might never have discovered my love of writing. In the hardest times, writing was my best therapy, and helped me to connect with others in similar circumstances. If I hadn’t been forced to tune into my body to help it heal, I might have never discovered the extensive benefits of a regular mindfulness practice. If I hadn’t been housebound, I might never have taught myself how to paint. As it happened, without music education and singing and dancing and a busy social life, I actually became a new, maybe even better version of myself with even more avenues for expression and connection than before. If I hadn’t unwillingly embarked on a journey with chronic pain, I might still define my identity largely by my physical abilities instead of my desires, intentions, beliefs, character traits, and many transferable skills.
This major transition time in my life has informed my teaching practice in many ways. For starters, I have become a passionate English teacher, eager to help students connect with themselves and the world through the power of narrative writing and creative fiction. Additionally, my capacity for empathy has deepened as I now understand on a very personal level that physical and mental illness can have devastating effects that are often far beyond the control of my students and their families. I am now less likely to shy away from pain, grief, and loss, and more likely to offer appropriate support to students as they navigate stressful times. And as my career path has taken an unexpected, but a now not entirely unwelcome turn, I hope to help students envision and prepare for their own futures as a flexible and dynamic kaleidoscope of opportunities, rather than a single track set in concrete (because clearly, those might just toss you on your face).
In a world that is changing at top speed, it is my hope that I can help students to navigate uncertain prospects. More than encouraging dreams of becoming a chef, nurse, biologist, welder, or musician, I hope to help students acknowledge and hone their many skills and talents so that they might be a bit more prepared for what comes their way, whether the circumstances be joyful, adverse, personal, or peripheral. By modeling emotional intelligence and lending an empathetic ear along the way, perhaps I can also pass on some of the gracious support and dependability that has buoyed me along during a time of need.
The appearance of perfection does not interest me. It is the illumination of near-disaster beside which we all teeter, at all times, that interests me. It is laughing in the face of what might have been, and what is not.” – Carrie Snyder, Girl Runner