Friday, June 15, 2012

The Very First One

In Brazil, where I grew up, children of middle-class families generally don't start working until after they graduate from college, sometimes during college.

My very first source of income started when I was 19 and in college -- I tutored two very rich middle schoolers in English. They went to one of the most prestigious private schools in the city of São Paulo and were struggling with their English classes. A family friend who happened to know their family and me made the contact and the family hired me as a tutor (I was majoring in English at the University of São Paulo -- which is probably the largest university in Latin America and the most prestigious in Brazil). I took a bus for about an hour, then walked for 10 minutes to their house. A mansion in a sprawling property adjacent to this large man-made lake in the outskirts of São Paulo. I did that for about a semester and the pay was pretty good.

The following year, the elementary school I had atttended hired me to teach a few English classes for 2nd-4th graders, then, the institution's "Language Center" allowed me to take over their English for children's classes. I worked there, teaching a few more classes in my senior year and after I graduated until 1996 when we moved to the U.S. It was always a part-time, hourly wage gig (with retirement/unemployment contributions, though)-- as opposed to my husband's salaried job at the high school (after we got married). We left Brazil and were able to rescind our contracts in a way that allowed us to collected all our unemployment contributions.

When we came to the U.S. I had an F2 visa (dependent on a student on F1) for 2 years, so I couldn't officially work. Klebert worked a few hours as a tutor at the community college where he studied ESL for a year and I cleaned houses to help out with expenses. All our savings of six long years (16K) were wiped out in one year. That was hard. The institution we worked for in Brazil decided to sponsor our graduate studies (MA), so they re-hired my husband and started paying for our studies and giving us a small stipend. K was able to enter his graduate program, but I was a non-degree student for one year. I still cleaned some houses to help some with our family's finances (but thankfully we were out of the woods from our depressing money-draining year of 1994-5).

In 1998 I was accepted as an MA student at K's graduate institution, but... I was not offered a teaching assistanship, because, after all, I had a private sponsorship from Brazil to fund my studies, like K, who also started working as an R.A. his second year.  However, a few weeks before the semester started, the department found itself short on TAs and they hired me to be a TA!! That was my job from September 1998 to May 2004. In some semesters I "double taught" a continuing education class and I taught summers and winter sessions. I felt rich, really, making 18K a year once.

We still had a stipend from Brazil -- my husband remained a full-fledged employee at the college there -- not me, though. Even after we switched to PhD programs (with full-tuition waiver the whole time) and argued with the Brazilian employees that they should officially hire me too, because when we went back to Brazil I was going to be more needed by them than K because they had (have) a language and translation program in English and Portuguese. This religious institution is very "male-oriented" though, to say the least, and they didn't hire me, just kept giving us (K!) the stipend -- until in 2003 they decided to release us from the obligation to go back because thy no longer would have a job for K (their engineering major was flailing -- ironically today it's back up again and running). It was great for us that they "released" us because by this time, K already wanted to go on for a post-doc and we were thinking of perhaps staying in the U.S. (we consider ourselves "accidental immigrants," BTW).

We left Massachusetts for Pennsylvania in 2004 and by this time we had two sons, one was a newborn. I was still on an F1 visa (I was on F2 and then F1 that for TWELVE YEARS), which allows the student to work only at the graduate institution, so... I couldn't work anymore. As longtime readers know, my dissertation defense and being granted the PhD in 2008 coincided with our residency and a newly acquired ability to work. Which work, though? Greater Philly area had many schools, but I couldn't just "beg" to work somewhere! My neighbor taught at night at the local community college (he was an ABD in English who ended up in the county's school board system, from which he'd just retired, but he enjoyed adjuncting on the side), and he offered to help me, but I would have to say a white lie about having experience teaching composition and rethoric classes and "hide" my experience mostly in world lit classes. I didn't like that very much and I decided not to pursue it. Beside, I'd have to teach at night and be away from the boys.

That's why in 2008-2009 when we were just starting the most difficult year of our lives financially and emotionally, I offered to "help out" at my son's tiny church school and ended up working there, 12 dollars an hour, a few days a week. But in practice I stayed each day I went until 5 pm, preparing (I didn't get paid after 3 pm, obviously). I was close to my boys and that was important for me, and I "helped" the school too. 2009-2010 saw the end of that and was full year of cyber-schooling the boys (it was so intense on all levels that I couldn't bring myself to blog about it even though I started a blog specifically to do so). Oh, and I also cleaned our whole church each week (6-8 hour job) for 100+ dollars because our financial situation was just dire. (oh, and I almost forgot to mention about the miserable U of Phoenix/Axia College almost job that I tried that year and that was the worst thing I've ever experienced regarding teaching).

In 2010 K finally got his tenure track job and... coincidentally, they had an opening for one language class which... a few weeks before the semester started, turned into two language classes (there's a pattern here, I suppose -- this last minute hiring!). This year, after I started to teach 40 students to double my income in my culture and literature class, I was going to have the most income I've ever had in my entire life, 23K. I was happy and proud, even knowing I was being exploited.

I had an interview at the MLA back in 2006 that was, until last month, my only job interview ever. All other previous hirings had been informal, part-time ones. I know that the "last minute" element is still there (they opened this position extremely late and that's the main reason why I got it to begin with) -- definitely a pattern in my life, but I'm OK with it.

Guys, this whole long-winded story is to let you know that the job that I just accepted will be my very first relatively adequately* compensated full time job with full benefits, including retirement** that I will have in my entire near 41 years of life.

How could I have refused myself the dignity of such a thing? I'm just soooo happy to have made a decision that I'm fully satisfied with -- yesterday I was positively blissful! Of course today I've already been playing many scenarios in my head. Thankfully, I'm still not freaking out about the commute -- I want to cross that bridge when I get to it. I know it will be hard, and costly (we estimate 1.8-2K a year, less if I sleep there a day or two), but I think this job will be a very good thing for me. I need to value myself. I deserve to be wanted, valued, pursued, offered a pretty decent job. For the very first time in my life.

* That's "adverb girl" (me!!!) for you. sorry about that... it's ridiculous, I know, but I just can't resist it.

** I had that in Brazil, but I was part time and on a student visa I could waive saving for retirement -- since if I left the country I would never see that money anyway. K and I still contribute for retirement in Brazil and we'll be eligible for a small pension if we keep paying until we're 65. We may decide to stop at some point.


jo(e) said...

I'm glad you're feeling peaceful about the decision. And yes, you deserve to be valued.

Sarah Sometimes said...

Congratulations on having made a decision. And it sounds like a good one.