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Little By Little, Step By Step

A Story About How I Went from Loving My Career in Education to Realizing There is More Out There for Me

By Jennifer Vasallo Published 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 7 min read
Little By Little, Step By Step
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

It is without a doubt that teaching during the pandemic was one, if not the most, difficult parts of my career. Now, I am not a seasoned veteran who has 10 plus years of experience under her belt or anything, nor am I someone who has experienced some of the harshest challenges that other educators have, but here I am entering year five and going through a career crisis—one that I did not even intend to have because even though I am often burned out by my career, I thought teaching was my life’s passion.

Story Time … Buckle Up

When I was a high schooler in the mid 2000s, I had three language arts teachers (honorable mention to my band teacher) who really got me through the rollercoaster that was my life. While their time with me as a student may have been short, their impact was long lasting. Keep this in mind, because we will need this later.

Anyway, fast forward to 2011, I found myself at 22 years old, pregnant for a second time, and in the midst of breaking away from an abusive long-term relationship with the father of my kids. It was a moment in my life in which I try to bury in the past and not talk about, but it needs to be mentioned because it was one of the culminating factors that got me into education. So, there I was, a tired 22-year-old who had two daughters who needed to be taken care of, and this over looming existential guilt—I knew I was bright (I was an AP and Honors student), I knew I had a wide variety of passions, and I knew it was all going to the crapper because of the circumstances I found myself into, and the choices I made along the way.

Little by little, day by day, and LOADS of therapy later, I found myself working a full time job and going to college. When I got down to the nitty gritty of choosing a major, I vividly remember having a difficult time and switching my major three times. I had so many passions, but I also had kids, so I had to make sure that I would choose a profession that was not only fulfilling my passions, but was also economically viable because I was, and am, the sole provider for my girls. I started with psychology because I really wanted to help others, who like me, had gone through traumatic experiences. That, however, ended up being a bust because once I found out that you had to have at least a master’s degree in order to make a decent living, I realized I did not have that kind of time. I played around with the idea of going into law because I wanted to help other women who the justice system failed, but that too was a bust for a similar reason as psychology. Enter Education. Remember all of those passions I mentioned earlier? Well, reading and writing were among my top three. While contemplating the idea of changing majors yet again, I thought back to all of those times where my teachers challenged me to think outside of the societal boxes and pushed my creativity further. I remembered how much I always looked forward to these classes and how these periods were my escapism from the hot pile of flaming trash that was my high school experience as a band geek. I felt a sense of safety and freedom in their classrooms. I felt like I was allowed to be me, express my opinions openly, and I felt I wouldn’t be forced to fit into this neat little box. This was my a-ha moment! I realized that education would allow me to blend my love for reading, writing, making a difference, all while playing a role in breaking the proverbial glass ceiling. I graduated from college with a degree in English Literature, and soon thereafter found a career in the education field. The rest is as we say, “history”—so it goes.

This is Where it All Changed

Jumping forward in time again to the 2020-2021 school year. I knew from the beginning that this year was going to be a challenge. We were all incredibly underprepared, many of us were winging it, some of us were singing to a Doryesque style tune of “just keep surviving” as our mantra, others, like my co-worker Ricky, were thriving, and then there was me—at home throughout the whole pandemic school year, virtually isolated, flipping my very hands on curriculum to one that is fully digital whilst also meeting the needs of my Developmental Language Arts students, and circling in and out of joy and frustration. I was juggling way too many hats; I was constantly frustrated by the politiqueria (translation: political niceties) and the lapse, sometimes lack, of parental involvement; I was hanging on by the slightest of threads, moody as hell, gaining weight like the people depicted in renaissance era paintings, and diving further and further into writing as a coping mechanism—something I have always done to soothe myself.

Then, sometime around March, one of my Creative Writing students asked me if they could interview me for an episode of their podcast series for their Critical Thinking Skills class. I, of course, agreed to this because I am the first to encourage my students to push their creativity, much in the way that I was gently pushed towards mine. So, the kids interviewed me for their podcast, and to my surprise, the focus of their podcast was based around flipping the script and getting to know how their teachers not only got into teaching, but how they have been managing throughout the pandemic. I felt like this was a personal topic for me because up until that point I felt like teaching was it. I expressed to the kids that teaching was my calling; teaching was my purpose, and in the wise words of Ana María Polo, “caso cerrado” (translation: case closed). It was “the perfect blend of all of my passions”, but after a few reflective questions with the group, I had yet another epiphany. I pursued Education because that was “the safe plan”. It was the plan that provided me insurance, a guaranteed income (albeit lower rate than other comparable professions but income nonetheless) to provide for my daughters, and it allowed me to spend more time with my girls during school breaks. It was conventional. It was safe. It was a happy median, but here is the kicker, a happy median doesn’t always mean that you’ll be happier. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, I love my students, I love my work friends, I love my school, I love our English Department, I love having the flexibility to teach Creative Writing and Developmental Language Arts in a way that is authentic and true to me, but it doesn’t fulfill me in the same way that creating my own fictional worlds, and purging of my emotions via poetry does.

I was born to write. I have known this from the time I was a little girl making children’s books while at my father’s printshop at the age of seven. I was born to produce works of art and literary critique. I was born to create. I was born to break down barriers with my words, and while education is my right now, it won’t (can’t) be my forever. Education gets me by, it pays (barely) for my simple lifestyle, but it doesn’t fulfill me in the same way that writing does.

So Where Do I Go from Here? Is My Love for My Students and My Career Enough?

Well, the answer is not so simple. I still find myself in a predicament where I am the sole provider for my children; I have a mortgage to pay, a life to sustain, and moving on from the education field is not an option at the moment. Let's be realistic the bills need to get paid. Outside of paying the bills, I find myself skirting the tides of fear from time to time because opening up my doors to a very public writing career, that I aspire to attain, while also sustaining a teaching career, means I will have to edit out the “less tasteful”, yet most powerful, experiences I have written about —and who the heck wants to edit themselves to fit into this mold? Do you see my conundrum?

If anything, during a year that was defined by isolation, solitude, creativity, a whole lot of alone time with my thoughts, and constant adaption, I have learned that taking small steps outside of my comfort zone can eventually translate into giant leaps towards securing the self-sustaining writing career that I dream of. It started with reclaiming my voice post trauma, morphed into finding peace in spoken word poetry, glided into the publication of a poem in a collection, expanded into experimenting with and teaching different styles of writing, and eventually, it led to the publication of a dystopian short story on So as my motto goes, “little by little, step by step”, I will keep writing at my own pace until I have broken out of this 'happy-median' and have carved out a space for my dreams.


About the Creator

Jennifer Vasallo

Educator by day, writer by night. Millennial. Lover of literature, films, taking pictures, surrealist art, cafecito, cultura, travel, making memories, and my familia. Join me on this wild ride we call life from my perspective🖖🏼

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