A Woman’s Work: Alexis

Alexis and I were roommates in college.  She is one of those women who always seems to know what she’s doing and is confident and calm in all her decisions.  Since we graduated, she’s done some pretty amazing stuff — she’s lived in Japan, Manhattan, and Istanbul and traveled all over the place.  She spent a summer traveling alone in Turkey, where she met the man who was to become her husband, then had one of the coolest weddings on earth that Matt and I were so lucky to be able to attend (which included my favorite wedding story ever).

Alexis is smart, chic, and strong and she uses her talents and her grace to create a new generation of thinkers, readers, and writers.  Read on… 

1) What is your job?

I am a teacher.   Currently, I teach high school English in a private school in Istanbul, Turkey, but I started my teaching career in the New York City public schools.

2) How did you wind up in that job — was it something you always wanted to do, a career change, etc?

When I was very young, I used to “play teacher”: I would line up all my dolls, get out my own small chalkboard, put on my pink plastic glasses (because that gave me more authority, of course) and teach my class.   A few of my elementary school teachers even gave me the teachers’ edition of textbooks at the end of a school year when they were changing books for the following year, and those spiral-bound pages with all the answers inside became some of my prized possessions.

As I entered university, though, I really was not sure what I wanted to do as a career.  But I knew I loved reading and writing, so deciding to major in English was an easy decision.   For a period, I entertained the idea of going to law school after college, but I soon realized that my heart just was not in law.   This did leave me wondering what to do when I graduated (even once graduation was upon me)!

3) What other jobs have you done in the past?  What was the path that brought you where you are now?

My mom jokes that I have been working since I was 10 years old, but that’s not too much of an exaggeration really.   Over the years, I have been a candy store clerk, gardener, dog sitter (which really amounted to watching “The Price is Right” with the dog during the day while his owners were at work), nanny, catering sales assistant, and a waitress.

After I graduated from university, I needed to earn money and, still doubting what profession I wanted to devote myself to, I took a job as a waitress (at Boston’s famous Cheers).   It was good fun, low stress and the hours were flexible, but I wanted to do something more.   I applied to work in a language school in Japan and was offered the position, so for one year, I taught English to children and adults with varying degrees of English proficiency.   It was a great adventure that introduced me to life as an expat, with all its thrills and frustrations.  

It was during that year in Japan that I decided that teaching was, in fact, what I wanted to do professionally and so, upon my return to the States, I immediately started pursuing that goal.   I applied for the New York City Teaching Fellows program and was accepted; soon, I was immersed in intensive training, teaching 8th grade and studying for my Master’s degree at the same time.   In those first six years, I taught at two different middle schools in New York City.

Then I took a solo trip for most of the following summer break.  On that trip I met and fell in love with my now-husband.  Soon after my return to New York, I applied for a job near him, then packed up and moved again, this time to teach in his native Turkey.  I am currently in my sixth year of teaching here in Istanbul.   

4) What do you love about your job?

There are many things I love about my job, but the biggest one is the connections that I make with students.   I enjoy so much when students stay after class to chat about the lesson, or about something else going on in their lives.  When I was teaching in New York, I regularly had students who stayed with me in my classroom for lunch rather than going to the cafeteria, and even though I sometimes wished I could take a break, I appreciated that they wanted to be there and I enjoyed getting to know them outside of class.

I also absolutely love those moments when students are engaged and getting it and taking the lesson even further than I had intended.   Yesterday, for example, a few students in my 10th grade English class got into an unprompted, lively debate about Prospero’s motivations in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  While other students were telling them, “Okay, that’s enough,” I let it go on because that is exactly what we are hoping for as teachers: that we can lay the groundwork for students to access and engage with a text or topic, but that they will then develop their own ideas about it.   Here are kids who groaned about reading Shakespeare, who are reading it in a foreign language, and they were now having a thoughtful debate about some of its central themes.  Those are the moments when I love my job most.

5) Have you faced any challenges/struggles to get where you are today?

When I first started out as a teacher, I was also taking classes in the evening for my Master’s degree.   It was a two-year program and those being my first two years of teaching, it was exhausting and stressful.   I was also teaching in a school that had only recently opened and I was not only the lone 8th grade English teacher there, I was also the first 8th grade English teacher the school had ever had.   That meant I had to design the curriculum from scratch, so I spent endless hours outside of school planning lessons and gathering resources.   Since my school did not have a library and much of my curriculum depended on students having access to a wide variety of books on their independent reading levels, I also spent time going to secondhand book shops and book fairs to buy books for my students.   On top of those challenges, the school also had no deans, no established discipline procedures and lots of discipline problems.   It was a real baptism by fire for me, but I think it helped shape me as a teacher.

I was also living in Manhattan, which is notoriously expensive, and trying to survive – and have fun – on a teacher’s salary was no easy task in the Big Apple.    

6) Has having children changed your perspective on work?

Before I had a baby, I never thought I would want to be a stay-at-home mom.   Fast forward to 16 weeks after my little girl was born and I had to go back to work full-time and I was longing to just stay home with her.   Nothing other than our little family felt like it mattered at that moment and I just wanted to be there to teach her everything and witness her every milestone.  I felt so sad to leave her because I knew I would miss her so much during the day, but I was also sad because I felt like those 4 months when I was on maternity leave would be the last time – perhaps ever – that we would be able to spend every day together, just the two of us.   That was a very depressing thought.   I can now fully appreciate all the Superwomen I know, who juggle so many things personally and professionally.   And all the stay-at-home moms.   I have been back at work for 4 months now and I have adjusted to the situation a bit more, but I still run home at the end of the day, scoop my baby up, and plaster her with kisses.   

7) What advice or inspiration can you give to other women — about anything — jobs, work, family, parenting, life in general — what do you want other women to know?

I am a new mom, so the advice that is on my mind right now about parenting is this: read, listen to friends and family’s advice, but then really listen to your own instincts and to your child.   I have already found myself getting caught up in the differing approaches to everything parenting — from breastfeeding to sleep training to introducing solids — but when I come back to listening to my own instincts, it seems to make so much more sense.

And forge strong female friendships because those will get you through the tough times. 

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Basically, Alexis is brave and independent — she took a solo trip to Turkey, met and fell in love with her husband, and transplanted herself across the world to make that work.  Istanbul is an amazing city, different from anywhere else I’ve ever been, so living there must be an incredibly unique experience for an expat.

Alexis also truly loves her job and I cannot think of many careers more influential on the future than that of a teacher.  She is literally shaping the minds of the future, teaching kids to think and comprehend and apply what they’ve learned to their own lives.  And I can also tell you that Alexis does all that with a calmness that is truly impressive.

Out of the whole amazing interview, though, the last line struck me hard: “And forge strong female friendships because those will get you through the tough times”.  I’m so lucky to have Alexis as a strong female friend that I can rely on!  If nothing else, as a mother and a woman, you need those friends that you can turn to when you have questions or complaints or worries or, even better, fantastic news to celebrate.

Thank you Alexis!

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Do you know someone I should interview for “A Woman’s Work”?  Shoot me an email at jessica@littlenestingdoll.com and let me know.

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