Thinking I'd found my last-job-until-retirement, I relaxed. Then came a surprise.
After our family followed my husband George* to England for his second stint at a Canadian bank, I managed to snag a part-time job at the American school my sons would attend there. Teaching a few classes of Physics and Algebra II was just enough to satisfy me in the short term.
Sooner than planned we were transferred back to Canada, so I began the process of re-entering Toronto’s network of independent schools. Being prior-the-Internet 1986, I used snail mail and telephone calls to reach out. Happily, a former Toronto colleague Joan*, put me in touch with Gwen, the Headmistress of Pinewood School for Girls*.
My January transatlantic phone interview went something like this:
“So Pat, thanks for mailing me your resumé. I see that you’ve taught Physics in two schools. We need someone to fill in for just one year, because Sylvia Johnson is feeling burned out and wants a leave of
“Yes, I have taught Physics, and could do so for a year. But I’d like you to know that my true goal is to use my Masters in Education in Counselling. Might there be an opportunity to move into the Guidance Department at some point?”
“Absolutely. In fact, Joan said you’d been doing Guidance part-time. Our current Head of Guidance, Teresa, plans to retire the year after next. Come and teach Physics for just one year. Then, if you like us and we like you, you can take over as Head of Guidance when Teresa retires.”
My heart was bursting with excitement, by this point. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Pinewood has a stellar reputation, and I am now 41. Maybe my job-hunting days are over, and I’ll just stay until I retire myself!
We hung up. A one-year contract arrived which I signed. After moving back to Toronto that summer, I joined the Pinewood staff in September.
As March 1987 arrived, staff members began meeting individually with the headmistress to discuss their responsibilities for the next academic year. I was summoned during a spare period right after lunch.
After the usual pleasantries, Gwen began, “Pat, I’m sorry to have to tell you that there has been a change of plan. Teresa has changed her mind and is not retiring this spring after all. As Sylvia is returning to teach Physics, we do not have a vacancy on staff that would suit you.”
Embarrassingly, huge tears began spilling down my cheeks. My state of shock rendered me incapable of comprehending any further comforting words Gwen might have delivered. I felt numb.
How on earth am I going to return to the classroom now? The girls will notice my tears right away. They’re 15, with highly tuned social antennae.
Gwen passed me a box of tissues and I was dismissed. Splashing cold water on my face helped, and I somehow managed to get through the lesson I’d planned. When teaching a concept in Physics, there’s little room left in your brain to ruminate on sudden disappointment.
That evening, I realized, This is the first time in my life I’ve been laid off, fired, or dismissed. A blow to my ego, but haven’t I been lucky until now!
Over the next weeks I fired off letters of application to several independent schools in Toronto, being sure to focus on Guidance. Having completed my qualification a long six years earlier, I was determined to work in that field.
A family friend was VP of Training at a bank. When he heard about my dilemma, he offered to put me in touch with a staff member to discuss opportunities in the world of training. Helene then invited me to a
meeting of the “National Society for Performance and Instruction (NSPI)” ** – a professional organization based in Washington, DC. There was an active Toronto chapter.
At that meeting on April 23, 1986, I met a training executive at Bell Canada. Within less than two months, I’d been offered a job in the Bell Institute of Professional Development, which began in August. The role of Staff Manager of Professional Development suited me perfectly.
In retrospect, I see that my days working in schools had run their course. Teaching teenagers takes masses of patience which negatively impacted my attitude when my own teens wanted academic help. After coaching all day, I’d sometimes short-change them by thinking, Why didn’t you pay closer attention in class?
And I found working with adults in the workplace most satisfying. They really wanted to be there - not always the case with teenagers. I had plenty of opportunities to apply psychological principles I’d studied. The saying, “When God closes a door, he opens a window,” applied to my career path. In the moment, I was too pig-headed to see it but I have come to treasure being laid off.
About four years after this career transition, I was elected president of the Toronto Chapter of NSPI. In 2003 I co-founded Luminance Inc., a performance improvement company that's still thriving in Canada and the US.
My unwanted dismissal definitely nudged me in the right direction to thrive.
* Names have been changed.
** Now the “International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI).”