As my oldest grandchild, Ashlee, who will be a high school senior in the fall, begins to explore colleges, I began to think about how, back then, we decided ‘what we want to do when we grow up’! It’s a nebulous, difficult, but oh, so important life decision.
When I was still teaching Family & Consumer Sciences in middle school, it became apparent that this discipline was on the way out. I decided to focus my eighth grade classes on careers. First I would have them complete career interest assessments which I found online. They were required to complete at least three, then decide on a career suited to their interests and research this career field, writing a paper on it. We discussed stories of people who went into careers because the family expected it, or who chose a discipline because it was an easy route and hated it when it became a daily routine. In fact, I have a dear friend who is a pharmacist and she recently told me that her dad, who was also a pharmacist, told her he would only pay for her college degree if she studied pharmacy. She hated it then and even though she is fast approaching retirement, she confided that she hates it even more now. She is very creative and sews beautifully. She told me that when she was a little girl in a small town in Georgia, she would ride her bike to a department store and spend hours exploring and touching fabrics. She so wanted to go into some sort of fashion/interior design field.
I had more than one young lady in my class tell me it was a waste of her time to explore careers. One said, I will just work with my dad in his furniture store–I don’t need a college degree. The other one said she was going to marry a rich man and would never need to work ☺️. I’m happy to report that both of these young ladies got their college degrees and fortunately also fulfilled their dream. One is instrumental in her father’s furniture business and the other one married a Georgia Tech graduate who makes great money and her part time job is with the art council in her area and is loads of fun for her–it’s more of a hobby than a job.
You are probably wondering, what about you (and Doyle)? How did you determine your career? I recalled my early aspirations to be a social worker. It was the early 60’s and the Vietnam war was raging. I was so idealistic–Doyle says I still am 😊. But love got in the way and even though I went off to college in the fall of ’65, I only had eyes (and heart) for Doyle and at the end of that first quarter, I came home to announce we were getting married in the spring and I was quitting school and getting a job.
We were new Christians in our first year of marriage and were diligently seeking God’s guidance in our lives. Doyle had been working at Robins Air Force Base as an aircraft mechanic since graduation from high school. As God began to put on our hearts that Doyle should begin college to become a counselor of some sort to help young people, he quit his job and we moved to Tifton, GA for him to begin college at ABAC. Our little son was 9 months old. His guidance counselor at ABAC talked him into going into counseling in elementary schools. She assured him it was an up and coming field to guide young children, before they reached high school. Counseling requires a master’s degree so he got his undergrad in elementary education.
In the meantime, I was staying at home with Bart and Doyle was working any job he could get and going to school full time. We lived in an apartment building where there were four units, two up and two down. We lived in a downstairs apartment and there was an elderly lady living upstairs over us. One day she came down and said she had just heard on the radio that they were going to pay people to become nurses and she insisted I go to the labor department downtown and apply. Me, a nurse ??, I thought, but off I went. (She stayed with Bart.) It was a government program called MDTA–Manpower Development Training Act. Sure enough they paid me $45 a week to go to school to become a licensed practical nurse. Although it was usually a 12 month program, we were in a pilot program to finish in 9 months. I absolutely LOVED nursing. (Ironically, I grew up a Christian Scientist and we didn’t believe in doctors and medicine and I had only rarely even gone to a doctor’s office.) After getting my license, I worked at Tift General Hospital. I worked in labor and delivery, the newborn nursery, surgical floor and the emergency room. I decided I wanted to teach nursing, so began college at ABAC, too. I completed a year before becoming pregnant with our daughter, which ended any career but motherhood for many years.
Back to Doyle: he started teaching after completing his degree–cum laude, I might add!! He taught in an all black school in Tifton. It was 1970. It was the last school to be integrated since all of the 800+ students walked to school. He taught language arts to 6th graders. That experience is a musing of it’s own and one he’d need to tell. We quickly realized that we couldn’t make a decent living on a teacher’s salary ($323/month) and so we decided a master’s degree was in order.
By this time it was apparent that counselors were not going into elementary schools as had been promised. So, as crazy as it sounds, we made a trip to UGA one day and just walked from building to building talking to several different departments. We landed in Rehabilitation Counseling and after talking with them, we both felt this was the area of counseling God was leading him to pursue. The dean told Doyle that even though they offered stipends to some of their students, they had all been given out. He asked us how we planned to finance this degree. Doyle said, ‘We will come on faith’. God had never let us down before and we were confident that we were in His will and He would provide. A week or so later, the dean wrote him a letter welcoming him to the department and said, ‘We’ve never had anyone to come on faith, but we welcome you.’ (We kept the letter.) When we arrived in the fall, someone had dropped out of the program and he got the stipend. As, I said, we knew He would take care of us 🙏🏼.
Off we moved to Athens–actually, to Nicholson about 15 miles north of Athens. (A friend in Tifton sent us to a friend who had a house in the country, so that is where we lived.) I worked at St. Mary’s Hospital for a while on their medical floor on the 11-7 shift. Bart was in kindergarten and Merrigail was about 18 months old and in day care. I was so unhappy. It seemed that people were dying everyday at the hospital and I had to walk the halls at night to stay awake. So, my precious husband, in his unconditional love for me, secured a 47 mile paper route for the Atlanta Constitution. It was an afternoon route which he and Bart, who spent the morning in kindergarten class, would run after they both finished with school. On Sundays, the paper was so large that it would literally fill our car and Doyle had to pick up the papers at 2 am.
We lived in Nicholson for a year and after completing the course work required for Doyle’s degree, moved to Reidsville, Ga in the fall of 1973. An internship would be the final requirement. Two were offered: one at Warm Springs Rehabilitation Center for a 6 month paid internship with no guarantee of a job afterwards or either a 2 month UNPAID internship in Reidsville with a guarantee of a job. Obviously, with a wife and 2 kids, we needed the security of a job at the end, so off to Reidsville, GA we went. I honestly thought we were moving to the end of the world. The day we went to check out the town, it had rained and it seemed there were puddles everywhere–especially at the elementary school. The school was dilapidated and sad, the library was in a small house, and there were only two churches, a baptist and a methodist. After we moved in, no one had ever heard of Vocational Rehabilitation and because the claim to fame for Reidsville is it is the ‘Home of the Georgia State Prison’, everyone assumed he was working at the prison. Well, I have digressed, again!. Doyle’s responsibility was to open a Division of Rehabilitation Services office in Reidsville, which had been served by a ‘circuit rider’ so to speak, over the years. It would be a satellite office out of Savannah. I continued to be a stay at home mom during most of these years. (By then I had neglected to renew my nursing license.)
When we moved to Reidsville, Merrigail was not quite 3 and Bart was in first grade. I began to investigate to see if there were any resources for preschoolers. First I went to the library and asked if there was a children’s story hour. The librarian laughed heartily and told me no, but you can do it. So, I began to go every week to the library and hold story hour for young children. Next, I learned that there were no ‘mother’s day out’ programs or anything else to socialize preschoolers other than an hour in Sunday School each week. I went to the community government offices to see if and how I might begin a preschool for Reidsville. There didn’t seem to be any regulations at all, so I went to the two churches and secured the Sunday School rolls of children ages 3 and 4 and sent a letter to the parents. I limited myself to 10 children and did tons of reading and researching about educating preschoolers. Doyle got busy and built me a large child sized table, a wooden stove/sink cabinet for my ‘play centers’ and I began collecting educational toys. We already had tons of children’s books. I found books on teaching young children and the studied the methods that were being used. (We didn’t have Google then or it would have been so much easier!!). I operated ‘Miss Janet’s Play School’ for 5 years in our home (we had a room in the back of our house dedicated to play-school). I sold my equipment and my waiting list to a friend at church when Merrigail was about 8 and moving on up in elementary school.
When Bart was in seventh grade and a new high school student, (our schools were K-6 and 7-12), we received a letter from school requesting permission for him to participate in the new sex education program at the school. It was about 1980. Christian groups were in an uproar about this new curriculum and I had been to a meeting or two about it. We were encouraged to investigate the content before allowing our kids to participate. So, I went to the high school and asked to see the material they would be using. I was told they didn’t have it together but, if I would come back the next morning at 8, I could see it. So, I did. I was taken into the Home Economics Department and shown a film that they would be using. (I am convinced they had not previewed the film.) I found it not only offensive but inappropriate for any school aged child but especially 13 year olds. As I expressed my dismay over the film, the home economics teacher became very defensive and told me that I had no idea the number of teen pregnancies there were and she also told me she taught parenting, child development and other very important subjects. I took home economics in high school and we focused on cooking and sewing, so I had no idea this discipline involved such important and life altering subjects. This teacher was a young woman with a small child. I can’t tell you when it happened but during my time with God, He began to impress on me that I should get my teaching degree in–Home Economics! I needed to be in that classroom. So, in January of 1983, I enrolled in the college of Home Economics at Georgia Southern College in Statesboro. It was about 30 miles from home. I had a great advisor who made sure I would be able to finish this career prep in the shortest amount of time. The classes that I had completed 15 years prior transferred and I began as a second quarter sophomore. I was 36 and terrified. Until my senior year most of the classes were taken along side nursing students as well. Both disciplines require quite a lot of science.
Interestingly, just prior to my senior year, I made a visit to the school superintendent’s office to let him know that I would be available to teach home economics in our county beginning fall of 1985. He told me I was in the wrong field, if I had chosen elementary education, he could promise me a job. I assured him I was in the right field and thanked him. That same summer, I was at the postoffice and ran into the lady who had retired from teaching home economics at Reidsville High School years before. She said, ‘I will be teaching your kids this year!!’ I asked which one, Bart or Merrigail? She said, ‘No, the home economics classes at the high school!!–Mr Sikes (the superintendent) called and asked me to teach one year until you graduated’. This is just one of many experiences that Doyle and I have had in our marriage that proves God does guide those who ask for His help. I graduated in spring of 1985 just days prior to Bart’s high school graduation–as I’ve alluded to in earlier musings ☺️, and began my teaching career that fall.
So, choosing a career is not always so straight forward, especially those for whom choosing a career is not a priority!! My Ashlee wants to do something in the medical field. She has participated in Emory’s National Youth Leadership Forum, which introduces high school students to the medical field. She learned to draw blood, stitch up a cut, and give injections, among other things. She also has asked to shadow several doctors as she and her mom have suffered through some medical issues. I admire her proactive manner of ‘trying out’ different medical fields. I am confident that she will make a real difference in many lives in her chosen career.
Until next time………..