I started college without a clue of what I wanted to do. Within the first year, I discovered a newfound interest in child development. I was fascinated with Erik Erikson’s and Lev Vygotsky’s theories of development and learning. As I learned, I felt better able to understand my own child and teen years, which was comforting. I also started to nanny for a family with an eight-month-old. Caring for this beautiful baby was eye-opening and heartwarming. I felt like I was watching the text theories unfold in real-time. I loved nannying and stayed with this family for two years, but I knew I couldn’t be a nanny forever. As my interest in child development and education grew, teaching felt like a natural next step.
Before I graduated college, I began teaching at a local nursery school, and again, my interest in child development flourished. I loved creating environments where these little people could explore and make meaningful discoveries. I worked there through college and into the first year of my credential program. I met wonderful teachers and was fully inspired to pursue a teaching career.
I received my teaching credential in December, a strange time of year to get hired. Adding to that, it was a year of budget cuts and teachers were getting pink slips left and right so I started to consider a Plan-B.
Connecting with my British roots
Since my first year in college, a desire to connect with my British roots (my mom is British) started to bud. Because it didn’t look like I would get a teaching job in San Diego, I began to explore work permit options in London. I shared my idea with my British family and they were 100% supportive. My cousin even needed a temporary flatmate. The timing seemed perfect! I learned about an organization that provides six-month work visas to recent graduates, so I applied, and got it. All arrows were pointing me to London.
I found a job at a Catholic school in the East End. It was rough, to say the least. Most of the children came from devastating family situations. I wanted so much to help, and in some cases, to rescue them from their dire realities but I was limited by time and academic demands. This was when I first noticed the gap in education- so much time and energy went into teaching academics – math, science, and English — and very little went toward social-emotional development. I found this unsettling.
I ended up staying in London for two years and when I came back to California, I was fortunate to get a teaching contract in Del Mar. I was thrilled and relieved that the district embraced a character education program. I came most alive when teaching my students about empathy, conflict resolution, and helping others.
Coming back to California
During my second year teaching in Del Mar, I decided to get my Master’s in Education and when it came time to write my thesis, my topic was staring me in the face. That school year, the girls in my class were stressed!! Many would come to me before and after school to share struggles at home — parents fighting or dealing with divorce. At lunch, they would stop by after a riff with a friend, needing to vent and seeking advice. These personal struggles took a toll on their academics. In class, they were unable to focus. Again, I found myself in a position of wanting to help and doing all that I could but feeling limited. I wanted to learn more about preteens and teens. I wanted to understand these troublesome girl dynamics and how I could best help.
For my thesis, I studied relational aggression (also known as girl bullying) and wrote a curriculum designed to teach girls about empathy, understanding and accepting differences, and meeting conflict with compassion. I was able to implement my lessons with my own class and pilot the entire program, called GirlFriends, at a school in Rancho Santa Fe. Unfortunately, as time passed, academic expectations and high-stakes tests overshadowed character education to the point where it ceased. This, combined with knowing that I would not retire as a classroom teacher, made me wonder, what would be next?
At that time, I could never have envisioned a career as a teen life coach, because I had no idea such a profession existed. What I did know was that I came alive when teaching social-emotional skills, I was deeply interested in empowering young people to handle challenges with thoughtfulness and compassion, and I saw a desperate need for this type of support in my students.
Similar to how I coach my teen clients, my career exploration started with clarifying my passions and interests, then aligning them with my values and allowing them to guide me. At first, they took me into a teaching career, and now they have led me to coaching. But the journey to where I am today was not without challenge, heartbreak, or fear, all of which I describe in next week’s blog.