“Post-College” is a series of blog posts featuring everyday young people as their work to achieve the life and career that they dreamed of. Few of them find themselves in places that they mapped out and most of them are okay with that.
Andrea Acosta is a 23 year old English Teaching Fellow at Phillips Academy Andover.
What did your life after school look like?
After six months in the office job at the non-profit (a job I started a week after graduation), there was actually a long stretch of time (6 months) where I was just living at home. At the time, it was frustrating and boring, but in retrospect that time was invaluable. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on people, especially just out of college, to move fast into your next job, next city, next career step. But honestly, I took those six months to sit down and do my applications slowly (not rushed), take my graduate school exams (without the stress of a job and with all the time in the world to study), and to read a lot on my own for fun (which ended up helping me with my position as an English teacher later on). After all that down time, I was genuinely excited to start my position as a teacher in the Fall. So I would say that time off, even if its involuntary, can be more than positive – it can actually be pretty necessary.
What are the past positions you’ve held that you are most proud of and why?
The one past position that really stands out to me the most is my position as a SLE Resident Tutor at Stanford. Stanford runs a liberal arts program called SLE, or Structured Liberal Education, that involves 90 freshmen reading a year-long course of great works in literature and philosophy. As a senior at Stanford, I was lucky enough to become one of three staff tutors who lived and worked with the SLE freshmen. The job was challenging, in all the ways being on staff in a college freshman dorm can be challenging, but it was so intellectually fulfilling. The best part (and the part I’m most proud of) was building the community that came with it. Living and working with these students every day for a year really created this vibrant community of people who I really respected and loved to spend time with.
What were some of the most disappointing positions you’ve held or work that you’ve done?
I would say my position at a political research, non-profit organization was the most disappointing. I discovered that I don’t respond very well to an office environment and desk-oriented job. It lacked the motivation and spirit that working with students in the past had given me, and I knew after a few months at the non-profit that it wouldn’t be a long-term investment.
What positions or past work have you held/done that you feel got you to the point you’re at today and explain the connection:
My position as a SLE Resident Tutor definitely both inspired and aided me in getting the position I hold today. As a SLE Resident Tutor, I discovered that really living and working with students in different contexts – not just in the classroom or in the context of teaching – was what I really loved about my job. I valued the presence of community and connection with other people – especially an intellectual community where I could discuss ideas with everybody in a very nerdy way. It became clear to me after my experience in the SLE dorm that the best place for me to apply would be to a boarding school. Boarding schools really encourage teacher-student connections beyond the classroom, and I knew that it would be a good fit for me.
What would you say is the most invaluable information or advice you could pass on to those who are looking to get into your field?
To get into teaching at a boarding school (or teaching at all), the easiest and best place to start out is tutoring. In college, there are so many opportunities to tutor your peers. It might be in a volunteer context or, if you can manage to, a paid position, but all tutoring experience is good experience. Try to work with different kinds of students as well – younger, older, international, ESL, etc. – to discover different techniques, as well as to discover what kind of teaching you enjoy most. If you do this kind of work consistently, over a long period of time, that really demonstrates a commitment to the spirit of teaching that schools will respond to.
What have you learned from staying in a position that you didn’t like?
I stayed in my position at the non-profit for far longer than I liked, but this gave me the opportunity to really slow down and think about what I really wanted (and research a lot about what that could look like). It also gave me a kind of confidence: I could adapt to less-than-ideal positions if I ever really needed to.
How do you think college prepared you for what you’re experiencing today?
The opportunity I had to study the field I loved (literature and philosophy) definitely laid the foundation for my passion for English and teaching English. I would say that the tutoring I did in college was extremely important to, a) discover tutoring and teaching was something I found fulfilling, and b) gain experience that would qualify me for my job later on.
How much of what you’re doing today did you learn in other ways besides formal education?
As a house counselor and teacher at a boarding school, I deal with the non-academic side of student’s lives every day. Living in a dorm with the students draws on my experience living in the dorms at college and being a staff member there as well. Keeping track of residents, encouraging healthy behaviors and helping them stay sane were all skills I learned outside of the classroom, whether through my own struggles or through helping freshmen as a staff member senior year. I would also say that reading for fun is a huge part of my enthusiasm for my subject and my knowledge base in the classroom. Whether it’s knowing certain vocabulary words, bringing up a related book or author in a discussion, or just being excited about literature, I feel like this hobby serves me well as a teacher.
What are other resources that you ended up relying on heavily to fill in the gaps of what you didn’t learn in school?
My mentors and fellow teachers! The people around me in the department are invaluable for suggesting different poets or authors that would be good to teach my students. It’s a very collaborative environment, and I think by sharing ideas we all become better teachers.
What would you do differently if you could and why?
The only thing I might have done differently is shorten my time at my non-profit position and take that much more time off. After four months or so, I had learned everything I needed or wanted to learn in that position. I could have been focusing on reading, rest, and preparation that much more at home.
What has been the most impactful experience you’ve had to date & why? How does it relate to what you’re doing now?
My first few weeks as a teacher in my own classroom was the most impactful. It was actually nerve-wracking and strange to have a group of students looking to you for authority and lessons, but I quickly learned that self-confidence was key. I also remind myself to have fun with it – and that’s helped a lot with my attitude and approach to the classroom.
What are your goals and name some ways you plan on achieving them (long-term, short-term, pet projects, self-development, ect.):
My long-term goal is to work toward a PhD in English and become a professor at a small liberal arts college (or even a boarding school!). In my heart of hearts, I still love being a student, and I want to get back to being one. Right now, being on the other side of the desk as a teacher is a new and enlightening experience, but I know my love for academia and learning will pull me back to grad school. After that, I plan to always seek out intellectual communities and learning environments, so I plan to stay in the education field for the rest of my life, ideally.
What are some of the ways that you keep yourself motivated to stay on track and stick to your goals?
Reading reminds me of ideas and problems that people only really have the space to discuss in higher level academic classrooms. Whenever I think about that, and how interested I am in that, it makes me continue to want to earn my PhD. I also feel like more schooling will just make me a better, more informed teacher, so that degree isn’t just for my own benefit – it’s for my future students as well.
In what ways do you see yourself investing in your career over your lifetime?
Time will be my biggest investment. It takes 6-7 years to complete a PhD in English, and then an additional year or two (or three) in the academic job market. Honestly, the time period is a positive for me – I actively enjoy being a student, even when I’m stressed, so I don’t consider the time a “loss” or a means to an end. I think of the PhD as an end in itself.
That wraps up Andrea’s interview.
Check back in every Thursday for a new post in the series.
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