It is the time of year when Level III students in the Coast of Bays will soon focus on graduation, final exams, and a career after high school, the latter seldom being an easy choice. On Easter Monday, Laurie King, who graduated with honors from John Watkins Academy in 2007, was home to visit her parents, and she sat down in her home with Coaster Correspondent Wesley Harris to talk about the decision she made to become a teacher.
Coaster: When did you decide to become a teacher?
Laurie: A long time ago; actually when I was a little girl. I always said I wanted to be a teacher. In the levels (high school) I really made up my mind; I had a good relationship with my teachers and I admired the work they did. Then when the recruiters from Memorial University (MUN) came to our school and spoke about the process of being a teacher, that’s when I was sure.
Coaster: Any second thoughts once you began your studies at MUN?
Laurie: Well, at first you have to complete two years of general studies before you can apply to the Education faculty, so I selected some business and economics electives in case I didn’t get accepted in education. I knew then I had better have a backup plan. I also knew that I needed a 65 average in each course to apply to education, and with a 68-plus average I didn’t get accepted the first time. Upon reassessment, however, I was accepted in June 2009.
Coaster: How long after your first two years did it take to get certified as a teacher?
Laurie: It took three years (two semesters each year). The very last semester that I did was in September 2011, when I did my internship – three and a half months with a grade five class. Before that in my professional year, I had done ten observation days – I observed a teacher in action. In my internship I did the teaching and my co-operating teacher observed and evaluated me. Also I had to pay the full $1500.00 tuition for my internship, and an intern of course receives no pay. I finished my internship, got an excellent evaluation from my teacher, and was ready to be a teacher in January 2012.
Coaster: Let’s talk about the cost – the emotional, social, and financial costs- of getting degree these days.
Laurie: There were many stressful times (she looks at her mother Paula who was sitting in the kitchen with us). Mom knows all about the times I had to lean on her shoulder. You know, in high school I was used to marks in the 80s and 90s, and I had a good rapport with my teachers. At MUN, especially in the first two years, I was in a class of 200 sometimes, your professor didn’t know you, and marks – well, let’s just say there’s a big adjustment between high school and university. I needed a lot of encouragement from mom in those days. Getting into the faculty was stressful as I said earlier, but once there, the classes were smaller and the professor had more of a personal relationship with you. I could talk to my professors now about how I could bring my grades up; you were more than a number now – they cared about whether you came to class and that you got your assignments in on time.
And I had a social life. Mom always told me that I needed to take a break, to get away from the studies for a while. I also worked after school and on weekends each semester I was at MUN, sometimes holding down two part-time jobs which allowed me a few dollars to buy things we needed for our apartment and to have a social life. The only semester I didn’t work was when I did my internship.
My student loan (about $5000.00 per semester) paid for my tuition, books, rent, food, bus passes, and things like that, but I had to work to have some extra spending money. Not including all the money from mom and dad, all the parcels and groceries they gave me, my teaching degree has cost me about $50,000.00. And Stephen (her boyfriend) started work in 2008 so he was helping out with costs as well.
Coaster: Now you’re ready to teach? You’re in St. John’s! What were the job prospects?
Laurie: First, I had to get on the substitute list, and that process (application, code of conduct) took until the end of January. Between that time and the middle of March when Stephen got transferred to Glovertown, I got a day and a half teaching, and that was in the school where I did my internship. There are about 2000 teachers on the substitute list in St. John’s so I knew I wouldn’t be called many times. Some of my friends advised me to go into the schools and volunteer so the teachers would get to know me, but I needed to make some money now. To help out I began doing daycare courses and working in a daycare for $11.00 an hour; some of my classmates, now with teaching degrees, were working daycare also.
Stephen and I moved to Glovertown in March, and after I had applied to and been accepted by the Nova Central School District, I was called to substitute for two days just before schools closed for Easter. I’m told I will do much better in this school district; there is more need for regular substitute teachers.
Coaster: It’s been a long road for you since you graduated high school. Do you have any regrets about your career decision?
Laurie: I admit there were times when I thought I should have been a nurse maybe – I would have found work right away – but I still wanted to be a teacher. So no, I have no regrets even though it may take me five to seven years to find fulltime employment (laughs). Sometimes I get a little upset when I think that Stephen trained for nine months and he would make more money annually that I would if I had a fulltime position.
Coaster: Would you and your teacher friends be willing to work in rural Newfoundland or does everyone want to work in St. John’s?
Laurie: Yes, they would be willing to come to the smaller places and teach, even as a substitute if they can get more than one or two days a week. Like me they all have loans to repay so they’re anxious to get started, but some have boyfriends who work in St. John’s so they have to stay there for now. Everyone has different circumstances: if Stephen gets transferred next year, I’ll be moving again. Who knows?
Coaster: What advice would you leave for the high school graduates of 2012?
Laurie: Circumstances will be different for everyone of course. Maybe they should research where the jobs are going to be in five years time and train for them. Or they can be more like me: set their heart on what they want to do and go for it, realizing that the road ahead could be long. And like me, have a partner who is understanding.