Apr 7, 2009

Toastmaster Speech: What I want to be when I grow up

Two things you may or may not know about me:

  • I like to blog here about once every weekday as it keeps me actively writing and generally allows me to be a giant ass express myself creatively.
  • I am an active member of a few Toastmasters groups, where I write and deliver several speeches in an effort to improve my public speaking and leadership abilities.
Every so often, I get lazy and want to multitask. This is one of those times. After the break, you can find a speech I plan on delivering at tomorrow's Toastmaster's meeting "What I want to be when I grow up". It's meant to emphasize storytelling elements of a personal natures. In it, I retell a recent story on how it was confirmed to me that teaching is what I ultimately want to do.

It's posted, as always, after the break.

I never really understood the whole notion of "finding your calling". Certainly, people have natural predispositions and strengths that help dictate what someone may be good at. Someone with great interpersonal skills may excel and gravitate towards a career in coaching. Someone who has great analytical skills could wind up an actuary. But I'm under the impression that people more or less winded up doing what it was they were good at, not something that compelled and inspired their vocation.

Or rather, this was my way of thinking until about 2 weeks ago. That was when I realized I knew teaching was my calling.

The facts of the story were these: my girlfriend is a wonderful elementary teacher who is finding it, along with most of her fellow young teachers-to-be, difficult to secure a full time teaching position. This has more to do with the employment landscape and economy than anything else. Since she will need a master's degree at some point to get tenure, she decided to look into full-time masters programs about a month ago.

One such program, Boston College's Master's in Education, had really appealed to her. When she had contacted them, their deadline to apply had long since past. But with a little persistence, a lot of courage and an excellent personal background, she was able to convince BC to accept her into the program.

On one condition: she would need to take and report to them GRE scores. Their deadline: 3 week's time.

Now, my girlfriend is an amazingly smart and talented individual. She can write and manipulate language as easily as you or I could breathe air. And I have met very few people who have the ability to network and possess the interpersonal skills she does. But taking standardized tests and math in general (one major component to the GRE) are not among her strengths. Fortunately, they are among mine.

So we got Kaplan GRE preparation book, and made promises to one another. I promised to tutor and help her in any way that I could to prepare for this test, and she promised to give her very best effort.

Unfortunately, her schedule was complicated. She was teaching a classroom full time for a teacher on maternity leave. For those who don't know, teaching - at least at the elementary level - is a very taxing profession. I know first hand that a teacher's job is not done at the end of the school day. It requires lesson planning, preparation, grading, and dealing with children, parents and administration every day in ways that can border on chaos. So when she had some time to actually prepare for her GRE, oftentimes she was run down and wanted to sleep.

In preparing, for math, I helped re-teach her old concepts she'd long since forgotten, developing my own additional tests and practice exercises to further reinforce concepts. We took practice test after practice test to get her familiar with the format of the tests and the types of questions she'd be likely to face. We did this for as many hours as she was able, seven days a week, for three weeks.

This preparation was grueling - she was often exhausted when trying to learn materials. The practice test scores kept coming in much lower than we both had hope, which were particularly demoralizing for her. She would question why it is she's even bother taking a test she believed she wouldn't do well in. But I kept cheering her on and she persevered.

Test day came and it was the moment of truth. She went off to take her 4 hour test, and I was anxiously waiting for the result. When the phone rang, I heard a smile in her voice. Her scores were way higher than we had expected. In a test who's maximum point score in any given area is 800, similar to the SATs, she improved 80 points over her best verbal score, and 140 points over her best math score.

When she told me this, I was driving at the time, and had to pull over to the side of the road - the tears that were welling up in my eyes made it too difficult to see clearly. What came out of both our mouths for the next 5 minutes were a mixture of shouting, expletives and joy. I had never felt such pride for accomplishments that weren't my own.

I knew, then and there, that teaching was for me. It was then that I was confident that my decision to go back to school this fall to ultimately teach at the college level was the right one. I guess every now and then people really do find their calling.

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