Public school teachers started in mid-august, which meant the time was really ticking on my job hunt. I had begun the process of an alternative certification program to gain my credentials to teach. Which was all well and good, but the process was contingent upon my passing a content test. Once I passed the test, I would receive a probationary teaching certificate enabling me to teach in a public school. Without this certificate, no schools would even give my application a glance. So it felt pointless to apply for a job knowing that I didn’t stand a chance of getting it.
When I wasn’t working, sneaking off to the bathroom to send virtual love notes to my beloved, or contemplating an escape plan, I was studying. In my eyes, passing that Special Education content test was my golden ticket to get out of here! Ordinarily I was a natural test taker. I loved school, so I absorbed the classroom knowledge like a sponge and had no difficulty transferring it to a test. But this test, was different. It had been at least a year since I had taken my prepatory classes and I was under extreme stress from all angles. Not an ideal testing environment. I found it hard to concentrate. I was not retaining the information and the test questions did not center around common sense.
These tests are crafted with a perfect society in mind – unlimited resources, involved and supportive parents, students with an innate desire to learn and succeed, and formulated to be answered with the opposite nature of your initial response. So all my innate testing strategies went out the window. Answering with your gut – not effective. The pressure was on, and I felt one push away from cracking.
I was late in the game. The soonest I was able to sign up for my test was August 7th. The results of your test usually took about five days to receive. Teacher in-service training started mid-August. So I basically had no time. By the time I would get my test results back, schools would already be staffed for the year. If I waited until after passing my test to apply, it would be too late. But by applying early, and saying that I wasn’t certified, I was guaranteeing myself out of a job. I made a choice to bet on myself. I believed that if I willed myself to pass that content test, I would pass it. So I applied for Special Education teaching positions like a madwoman. I filled out the applications as if I had a certification under my belt. This way, by the time I hopefully got an interview, I would have already passed my test.
Now, my madwoman application spree was placed under some restrictions. Teaching in the Dallas area was my first choice, but in huge districts with no connections, this had proven to be extremely unsuccessful. I actually would have preferred to get rejection emails as opposed to no response at all. At least I would know my application was going somewhere. So I had to widen my scope of applications. If connections were the key to getting an interview, then applying at school districts near LeTourneau would be my best bet. LeTourneau holds a certain level of clout in East Texas, and would hopefully catapult my resume to the top of the deck.
But, this came with its own problem: I was forbidden to apply to any schools within an hour radius of the Longview area. My parents were firm on this stipulation. There was no discussing it, no loopholes around it – it was out of the question. I wasn’t dying to go back to Longview, but at this stage in the game, I couldn’t afford to limit myself to one geographic location. I applied to Big Sandy Elementary School, about 30 minutes outside of Longview.
To my utter surprise, I got called in for an interview! Finally, I was starting to see the light at the end of my tunnel of darkness. As excited as I was to have earned an interview, I was equally as nervous to break the news of where to my parents. Fearful that they would forbid me from even going. I mulled all day over the best way to tell them, and felt that my father would be the most likely to agree that I should go to the interview. After all, he was a business man and had made it exceptionally apparent that he was ready for me to get off his “payroll” and be out on my own. My gut instinct was right. My father expressed genuine excitement that I had gotten an interview, and understood that maybe being at a school near LeTourneau University would be in my best interest in securing a job. So it was settled, I had my first big girl job interview.
I woke up the next morning with a sense of purpose and a newfound determination. This was it – my chance to break free. Except, I wouldn’t even have to escape. I would have a legitimate reason to walk right out of the front door, no questions asked. Hopefully, with me out of the house and with three hours driving distance between us, the dust would settle between me and my parents. Time and distance would eventually reveal that this had all been blown way out of proportion. They would realize the error of their thinking and everything would work out in the end.
Flash forward to one week after my interview. I felt that it had gone well, but I really didn’t have much else to compare it to. The principal had been polite and informative of the position, but I had to tell her that I wasn’t certified yet. I assumed that she wouldn’t ask someone to drive three hours to an interview if they didn’t stand a chance of getting the job. After a full week had gone by and I hadn’t heard a response to my follow up email, I decided to give the principal a call.
I was beyond nervous. I practiced my phone script at least a dozen times in my bedroom. Focusing on breathing evenly so I would sound professional and calm. It wasn’t working so well. With each repetition my nerves only increased. My face was flush. My palms were sticky, even with my window AC unit set on 70 degrees at full blast. My breath was short and rapid. This was my only chance at leaving. We were in the last week of July, and if I didn’t get this job, I had no other options.
I walked over to the full-length mirror secured on my closet door. Placing both hands on the edges of the door, I leaned in and looked at myself. “You can do this, Sarah,” I reassured my reflection. “You can do this,” I repeated four more times. Each time with more vigor and belief in my message. I breathed out deeply before turning away from the mirror and sitting on the edge of my bed. I dialed the principal’s phone number and forced myself to breath out as it rang.
“Hello,” I was met with a professional greeting.
My heart started racing, this had to be a good sign that I reached her rather than her voicemail.
“Hello, Principal Varnado; this is Sarah. I was just giving you a follow up call to see if you had made any progress on selecting a candidate for the 3rd grade position?” I said all the words correctly, but I was speaking much quicker than I practiced. I couldn’t help it. This was a pivotal moment and my emotions were anything but calm.
“Hello Sarah. I’m glad you called. We have selected another candidate for the position; someone with more experience teaching 3rd grade,” she said so smoothly. Almost as if she had been the one rehearsing her line for the past half hour. “I appreciate your willingness to interview and wish you all the best. Buh-bye.”
And just like that my resolve was shattered. I couldn’t even bring myself to respond. I just sat there on the edge of my bed, phone still pressed against my ear in shock. And just like a well-rehearsed performance, the tears took their cue. An instant gush of heartbreak streamed down my face. I had received an extended sentence: one more year in captivity.
All summer, my thoughts were consumed with getting out of my parents’ house. I had played out a thousand different scenarios and explored many different options. But never once did the thought occur to me that I wouldn’t find a job. I believed that if I applied myself and sent out my resume to enough school districts, one would hire me.
Not in my worst nightmares did I ever consider having to stay for another year. My mind went wild with new scenarios. None of which ended well. The walls of my bedroom were closing in on me and I was swirling down into a pit of darkness. All my thoughts halted at the newest question in my head. What about Kendrae? How could we make this long-distance thing last under these conditions for an entire year? My mind reeled, searching for a glimmer of hope. Anywhere. Anything that would ease this fall. But I couldn’t concoct a happy ending. And then an even more concerning thought chilled me to my core.
What if…I never get out?