Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Changing Horses Midstream

Yesterday I had a new kind of New York adventure. I walked over to the West 4th Street subway station, took the F train up and over to 63rd and Lexington, walked north five blocks to 68th Street, hung a left into the building, and got this:

Yes, I am a student again. After 30 years as a reporter, editor, and freelance writer, I am entering a masters program in special education, to teach kids who are deaf or hard of hearing. Classes start tomorrow.

I know—I'm a little surprised myself!

Not that this hasn't been a long time coming. Two years ago, in the midst of career disillusion, I wrote a post saying, "Shouldn’t I be doing something that matters? Shouldn’t I, like a backpacker in Yosemite, leave the campground a little cleaner than I found it?"

At the time, I thought that might mean using my writing skills on behalf of a nonprofit whose cause I believed in. I've toyed with other possibilities over the years, including law school, an Etsy shop for my Instagram photos, and my escapist go-to: the used bookstore on the coast of Maine.

The funny thing is, I didn't go looking for this particular path. I didn't have a vision or wake up from a dream. My Beloved went for a walk with his cousin, who is herself profoundly hard of hearing and has a Ph.D. in deaf education, and who runs this program at Hunter College. He came home and said, "I think you should look into this." I did. And the more I researched outward and the more I looked inward, the better it fit.

It fit my history as someone who helps others communicate. It fit my love of kids (besides The Child I have 13 nieces and nephews, seven great-nieces and -nephews, and three and 8/9ths grandchildren I was lucky enough to marry into). It fit the interest in deafness I've had since playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker in high school, when I first realized that there were people experiencing the world in a completely different way than I was.

Most of all, it would tap into the part of me that I had only put into play in my personal life, never in my professional life; the part that I described as "the person who believes that the human connection can change everything." The pieces all snapped into place with a satisfying click.

So, classes start tomorrow. As a "career changer" (agh, I'm an AARP spokesmodel), I'm taking the long program—two years, fulltime—which earns me a teaching credential as well as the special ed training. In a burst of wild optimism, I've registered for four courses, each of which meets one day a week for two and a half hours.

I'm a little nervous, less than I would have thought or than I probably should be. I'll likely be 30 years older than everyone in my "cohort" (do you think it's a requirement that I start speaking in academic jargon?). But I know that every time I've gotten off the subway and walked up the four sets of escalators to Lexington Avenue, I've felt a skipping beat of the heart—not just from the exertion.

I've been told I'm brave. I don't feel that way. Making this decision felt like lifting an anvil off my chest. So I bought my color-coded spiral-bound notebooks...

... and my two-pocket folders...

[Okay, not really these, but I wish.]

...and I'm well-supplied with Bic pens.

I also signed up for my new Hunter e-mail address, registered for an online Blackboard account, and downloaded the app onto my iPhone (hello, progress). As Monty Python would say, I'm not dead yet.

The adventure begins. Wish me luck.