From the Coffee Shop to the Classroom: A Longhorn's Journey

Jessi Worde is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at Van Buren Middle School in Albuquerque, NM. She is a UT Austin Alum, Class of '06.  Congratulations!  You’ve earned your undergraduate diploma from an excellent institution of higher learning in the forever-young city of ATX!  Now leave.

No, seriously.  Get out of there.  There are no jobs.  Especially if you’ve earned some sort of liberal-artsy major, which, be honest, you probably have.

Sound familiar?

I graduated from UT Austin in 2006 with 2 degrees, a minor, and 4.0. 

Then I worked as a barista for 4 years thereafter. 

I worked coffee with people who had Ph.D.s and Masters’ degrees.  Granted, I got to coordinate zany outfits with my coworkers and when a new owner told us we could drink wine with our lunch, “Wine Time” was born.  Yes, you can make good money and party endlessly in food service, but that soul-crushing feeling that you could do more?  That you want to do more?  Citizen Schools might be a good option…

I’m not going to lie.  I joined Citizen Schools because I was desperate.  At night I dreamt of forgetting to bring someone their soy sauce (the sushi job), giving a vegan whole milk (the barista job), rolling silverware (the hostess job).  I wanted out.  I decided to apply for any job not in food service.  Yet this act of desperation has turned into an act of salvation.  Working for Citizen Schools is far harder than food service in a lot of ways, but far more rewarding in even more ways.  I still get to wear colorful outfits and I still have fun every day.   For example, a couple of students have nicknamed me “Rio” after the colorful birds in the movie of the same name.  Our office motto is “Can’t Be Tamed!”  (Yes, a Miley Cyrus reference…).

I moved from Austin to Albuquerque on a whim, and found Citizen Schools somewhat randomly.  My recently Anthropology degree-ed roommate and I spent hours after running food and hostessing on our laptops looking for jobs.  When I saw Citizen Schools’ posting on Craigslist, I felt a glimmer of hope. When I was accepted, I was thrilled.

I spent my first year with Citizen Schools managing volunteers, leading a 7th grade team, teaching a college class to 6th graders, and teaching math to special needs students.  This year I’ve managed teacher communication, our math lessons, and 2 different apprenticeships each semester.  Each role (and indeed, each day), provides me with a variety of experience, challenges, and triumphs.

Last year, I would sometimes be making the trek from Albuquerque to Santa Fe for a training and find myself tearing up, thinking about how much I loved my students.  This year, I get excited every day around 2:30, when there’s only half an hour left before we go meet our students.  It’s difficult for me to imagine someone working with our students and not feeling deeply impacted by them.

Today when I ran to get coffee (oh how the tables have turned), I was chatting with the barista.  “Your job sounds awesome!” he exclaimed.  And I had to admit that it was.

It’s strange, at this point, to be applying for a variety of jobs (Investment firm?  Tech camp for teens?  In-take administrative assistant?  Why not?) and find that my experience with Citizen Schools truly has prepared me for a vast variety of jobs. 

Food service taught me everything I need to know about multi-tasking, respecting people, and dealing with emotionally unstable people and insane dietary demands.

Middle school education helped me develop as a professional, as a leader, as a team member, as an educator, and as a Jill of all trades.  At the beginning of my time with Citizen Schools, I would stand in front of my team, ready to give an instruction, and feel a wave of anxiety that no one would listen.  Now I stand before students and peers and knowing that I have the presence and the experience to make my voice heard.

Want an experience like Jessi's? Apply for the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship by May 18th