Kathy Coley '86 was a teacher and is now a stay-at-home mom.
What has been your vocational path since graduation? How did you end up where you are and what was the process of getting there? Is this what you expected to be doing?
My vocational path has been varied since I graduated from Wheaton. I wanted to be an education major, but transferring my junior year to Wheaton from another school created a credit crunch if I wanted to graduate in four years. This other college required that you minor in a field and then major in education, taking all your minor credits before entering into education classes your final two years of college. Consequently, this program left me being closer to a history major than an education major.
Upon graduating from Wheaton, I sought out a masters program and found a MAT program through which I could obtain a masters degree and an Illinois teaching license in one year. This was not something that they recommended for the average student, but being used to the rigor of Wheaton, I found it doable. Upon completion of my masters degree, teaching jobs were tough to come by but I was blessed with a job as an assistant librarian in an elementary school. It came with the promise of a regular classroom job as soon as one opened in a desirable North shore school district. This assistant librarian's job was my favorite teaching job out of all the teaching positions that I have had. It dovetailed with my history major beautifully and I loved the variety of working with different aged kids throughout the day. No two days were ever alike and I was able to open kids’ minds to history and cultures beyond what they were being exposed to in the classroom.
I married the next year and moved across the country, which meant that I needed to obtain a new teaching license. Obtaining a California teaching license was a major hurdle because the colleges reviewing the transcripts were also looking for people to fill their classrooms. Titles and syllabi from my college and grad school credits didn't match up to those of the CA institutions. I ended up spending a year taking various tests, but I was able to avoid the additional education classes.
The following year I went with my husband and sat in a waiting room while he was interviewed for a summer high school teaching job. The administrator came out and saw me sitting there and asked if I was a teacher. I said that I was not certified to teach high school, but he explained that because I had a history major in college, he could request that the state of CA give me a temporary license to teach US history in high school. The teaching assignment was a real stand-and-deliver situation because the neighborhood was rough and some kids had already flunked the class three times. I was just thrilled to be back in the classroom and amazed at how the political wheels of education could turn based on the perceived needs of a district. This teaching experience turned out to be wonderful as I worked with kids from the barrios. We learned a lot about each other and our different cultures. The kids learned about our nation and its history and were instilled with a newfound joy in being US citizens. With the exception of one student who had been expelled, everyone that completed the full summer session passed the class. That fall, I was blessed with a sudden opening for teaching "fourth graders" in a private Montessori school. This was also a new experience in education for me. All of the students were the same age, but each was at a different learning level and moved along at their own pace. It was a sort of modern extension of the old red school house.
After this teaching assignment, my last teaching job was a part-time social studies class on world history at the junior high level in a public school. Again, it was not my certification level but the wheels of necessity that opened up the position for me. As that school year came to an end, I had the first of my five children. My husband and I decided that I would be a stay-at-home mom so that we could manage a big family. Since then, I have used my educational background to raise our kids and supplement their public school education.
This is not at all the pathway that I envisioned my education would take when I entered college. Looking back I would say that God has led and provided for me every step of the way. It was often a frustrating process as I kept running into what seemed like "road blocks" compared to what I thought should be the “normal” course of my life. I would encourage any who are seeking God's plan to persevere by asking for His guidance and to not become inflexible when you hit a seemingly sudden change in your plans. As you look back on your life, you will see that those sudden changes were always a part of the plan and that they fit into a beautiful picture of God's intended pathway for your life. No, I never expected to be where I am living and I didn't expect to have five kids and I didn't expect not to have an actively employed teaching career, but I am very happy because I know that I am exactly where God wants me to be at this point in my life.
Can you share some ways that your history major has enriched your life?
I think you might agree that my history degree has been a benefit to me in surprising ways. I think the most valuable thing that I have taken away from being a history major is the research skills that I obtained through it. In today's world, you really have to know how to hunt down and locate not only information, but also reliable sources for that information. My history degree has made this a pretty easy thing for me to do. I often track down and locate information much faster and more thoroughly than other people I know. My family at large generally calls upon me to be the research specialist.
In light of your own experiences, what advice would you give to undergraduates? Do you have any advice specifically on making the most of a degree in history?
One thing I would add is to look at your history major as a key to opening many doors, ones you can't even see or comprehend yet. I would say that history is not a major for a specific job title, but one that will equip you to do well in many areas in life. As far as applying your major to a vocation in life, my advice is to seek what God is calling you to do. One way of knowing what this may be is to assess where God has gifted you as a person in the area of talents. Those talents coupled with cultural knowledge and research skills will define where you should look for a vocation. God will open the right doors as you seek out the opportunities.
If you have gone on to graduate work, can you suggest some tangible connections between your history major and your graduate studies?
Graduate studies require a lot of independent learning and research, which are natural connections for history majors. :)