In December, Lynne Ruvalcaba graduated with her Master of Arts in Teaching from USC Rossier through our online program. After joining the September 2010 cohort, Lynne decided to pursue her MAT with a science concentration. Read on to find out more about why Lynne decided to become a teacher and leave corporate America behind.
When I graduated high school, my blue-collar parents emphasized the following: Go to college, earn a degree and find a job where you will make enough money to never worry about financial struggles. Job satisfaction was hardly a consideration; it was always assumed that I’d find a solid career where, even if I wasn’t passionate about my work, I’d at least earn a solid living.
They meant well, really they did. My father was a truck driver, and my mother was an aide in a special education classroom. We’d survived on the fringes of middle-class America most of my life, and I was to be the one to go to college and make a radically different life for myself than the paycheck-to-paycheck existence my parents had settled into. So go to college I did. I pursued a career path that was clear, well planned and (for me) easily attainable. I earned my bachelor’s degree in business administration and entered corporate America as an auditor with what was known then as one of the “Big Six” public accounting firms. True to my nature, I did nothing in a small way. I graduated with honors, found a position with a global company, rose through the ranks quickly and left after a few years with my CPA in hand and a position in private industry that paid extremely well. In the eyes of my parents, I’d made it.
What they didn’t know was how dreadfully unhappy I was. I worked endless hours to produce financial statements speaking to the historical performance of the companies I worked for and never once felt as if I were contributing to the greater good of society. I knew my responsibilities and expertise in my field were making our owners wealthy, but what corner of the world was I actually improving? Would the legacy I left behind for myself and my children be one of earnings, not impact? I struggled with these questions on a daily basis, until fate intervened and I was put in a position to make a choice and change my life for the better. I had a stroke.
Yes, in my mid-30s, having run my professional life like a sprint to the upper management levels of a successful company, I found myself incapable of handling my own health. I was completely incapacitated for months, and when I regained mobility and consciousness, I knew I would never, ever let it happen again. The doctors blamed stress for my health condition and advised against putting myself in such a situation again, so I was faced with a choice: return to corporate America and risk my health or find something I enjoyed doing and, while probably making a fraction of what I’d earned before, gain the chance to live a full, healthy life with my friends and family.
I chose to live, and with that, I examined what it was I’d really like to do. I’d always been involved in professional education — heck, I’d always enjoyed helping out my mom and her “teacher friends” in their classrooms. I wanted to make a positive difference in the world, to impact people in a sustainable way that would lead to at least one person feeling I’d improved his or her life in some small way. What better way to do that than to teach?
And so I set about earning my teaching credential and, eventually, my MAT. I chose to work in an urban school district with high-needs students and have spent the entirety of my career at Title I schools. Every day, I go to work early, leave late and take home things that must be done before I see my students again the next day. I serve students who have no homes, no families and no idea where their next meals are coming from. I help kids whose parents speak no English and who have no support for finishing homework, as well as those kids who have two jobs because neither parent is employed. I’ve dealt with pregnant teens, gang violence and all manner of unpleasantness imaginable. But through it all, I’ve seen the looks of kids who have no one else to turn to as they realize that, indeed, they are worth something to someone. They matter.
I’ve always been a teacher, even back in the days of corporate ladder climbing — only now, I do it for students who really need me. Do they thank me? Not always, and not usually with words. More often, it’s the way they look at me as they leave my classroom for the day, lingering in the doorway because there really is nothing to go home to. They are learning to love school and, hopefully, to love themselves. They have developed a thirst for knowledge and a need for a better life. Truth be told, I probably need them as much as they need me. I guess that means not only have I made a difference in their worlds, but they’ve done the same in mine.