My First Seven Jobs

Suleika Jaouad‘s The Isolation Journals has been a lovely way to find writing inspiration this Covid-19 season. This week the prompt was inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s essay called “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon.”

Prompt 114:
“Excavate the long-buried lowlights of your résumé and jot down a list of your first seven jobs. Then pick the most surprising, disastrous, or absurd, and spin it into an epic tale.”

My First Seven Jobs

  • Babysitter
  • Thumbtack packer
  • Office worker in my high school office
  • Hallmark store retail clerk
  • P.E. aide in middle and high school
  • Geography research assistant
  • Staffing Clerk

So, lots of unique and unforgettable memories come up when I peruse the list of my first seven jobs, but one that stands out today is being a P.E. coach and assistant teacher in a small Christian school just starting out. My roommate was a teacher at the school, and I was recruited to help coach and assist in P.E. classes. Oh, my. To say there was a bit of a mismatch in my skills and the position would be an understatement.

First, a word about my long and winding road to a bachelor’s degree. I worked my way through college in a part-time job.  (Albeit it was a much easier job when California State Universities were tuition-free and unions were stronger.) I mostly took 12-15 units a semester while I also worked to pay my living expenses. I was a business administration major for a while, with plans to be a high school business teacher (inspired only by my infatuation with the young hunk of a business teacher I had fallen in love with in high school). But then the required-reading Wall Street Journal newspapers piled up on the dining room table during my first econ class. I had no intention of reading them, so I dropped that class and changed my major. The infatuation gone.

I was a Liberal Studies major for a while, which I loved. You get to dabble in everything. I had the idea of being an elementary teacher during those semesters. Gradually, I decided, though, to be an adapted physical education teacher. I had loved an internship I did at a state hospital in the P.E. department of their onsite school.

Therefore, I changed my major to P.E. and took all the science, kinesiology, exercise physiology, and other foundational and theoretical courses in the physical education program, along with some special education courses. However, at the end of that, I was finally left with most of the activity course requirements. That meant for each one-unit volleyball, swimming or basketball class, I would have to spend three hours a week in activity courses. My full-time job for a semester or two would have been playing sports. Now, that wouldn’t be all bad, but deep down, I was not a P.E. teacher. I was not a coach. I was not even an athlete, in the committed, all-out way, that had I been, I would have welcomed taking all those activity courses.

So, I changed my major yet again. I looked at the units that had been piling up in my transcript. Geography was the department in which I had accumulated the most units. I took those courses purely out of my love for geography. I have always loved it, since childhood. I looked at the program in that department, and planned my schedule. I took two more semesters taking solely advanced-level geography courses. It was the best year of my six-and-a-half year journey through college.

Which leads me to that job as P.E. coach and assistant teacher. Fortunately, I was surrounded with mentors in that job who were dedicated and committed “coaches.” They were good role models for me to see what I was not. I remember taking time to teach the girls about aerobic exercise, teaching them to take their pulse, helping them calculate their maximum heart rate and check to see if they were in the 80% range after their runs around the field. I loved that. I loved the math, the science, the teaching.

However, I was also a coach. Junior high softball and volleyball, and assistant coach for basketball. Oops, at that point in my life, my greatest knowledge of basketball was that in high school I could shoot really good layups, and I was a statistician for the boys’ basketball teams. The stats job was mostly so we could ride the bus with the team. I hardly knew the rules of basketball when I played myself. I was a poser as far as this team sport went.

In my first outing with the basketball team, I was assigned to be one of the officials. Each team had to provide one official, so our coach surely felt it safe to assign this job to her new “P.E. major” assistant coach. They gave me a whistle. I ran around the court trying to stay out of the way of the junior highers. I gave the ball to students to throw back in, feeling powerful. I followed the lead of the other official and began to feel like I could do this.

In one of my first solo whistling acts as a ref during that game, I blew my whistle nice and loud and called a three-second violation on my own team. When I did that, I immediately knew something was wrong. The wind collectively dropped out of the whole scene. Fans, players, parents, coaches stared, open-mouthed. Everything stopped. I felt like I was being pranked or pranking the stadium on Candid Camera. I really didn’t know what had happened. The coach came out and had a little conference with me, explaining my faux pas. Our player had been shooting and rebounding when I blew the whistle.

“OK, I learned something,” I thought to myself. I made it through the rest of the game, with a lot of grace extended to me.

I actually stayed in that position for two years during college. I appreciated all that I learned during those years, but I don’t regret not becoming a P.E. teacher. Since then, I’ve coached a lot of softball over the years, and love it, actually. Softball is my game. But believe it or not, the abundance of P.E. units on my transcript has always said, at least on paper, that I am certified to coach K-12 sports. Lol!

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