Remembering my first “real” job

Remembering my first “real” job

As I have referenced in earlier posts, we are moving at the end of the summer. This means I have been in full on “get the house ready to sell” mode. As a super independent, I can do it all female, I have not had a lot of help from family members, and more than once they have called me grumpy/always in a bad mood. I realized part of the reason for that earlier this week. I have been trying to get the word out about my parent consultation services, and it has been slow going, probably because of where we are in the school year, and also because networking takes time. I got my first referral from a local mom’s Facebook group this week, and I could feel my mood improving as I listened to the mom’s concerns and offered suggestions to help the household run more smoothly. I said her son seemed what I call a “back door kid,” someone who doesn’t do things just because you say so and on your timeline. He needs some ownership in the decision making process and feel like he has some control of the outcome. After offering some pretty simple strategies, she said it seemed like I really understood her kiddo, and she felt a lot better after our chat. Damn, my brain needed that! All that I have done for the past month or so is clean, paint, de-hoard spaces occupied by teenagers, etc in preparation for our house going on the market. And shockingly, my brain obviously needed more.

In the few moments I have had to focus on my new professional growth, I upgraded my CHADD membership so that I had a professional profile. As I was writing the profile, I started thinking about my first job that landed me in the world of ADHD and learning differences. So many memories and so many friendships (and a husband) came from that first “real” job.

I was a senior in college in the spring semester of 1995 and taking an elective course “Understanding Exceptional Learners.” In that class I was handed a flyer about a job as a paraprofessional counselor for the first longitudinal study of children with ADHD at Duke Medical Center. I was intrigued, interviewed for the job and was offered a position. The pre-job training was pretty rigorous, with alternate counselors completing the training along side of us in case one of us did not maintain expected test scores. There was also a clinical experience at a local elementary school. I loved everything about this training and made it to the final training module at Carnegie Mellon University. I remember being in Pittsburgh as a small town girl from NC and getting lost on an evening run. I kept looking for the university tower to get me back to the dorm I lived in that week of training.

The work hours were intense during the summer treatment program (where most study data collection occurred). 7am to 7pm with most of the time being outside doing summer camp activities with children with ADHD in different levels of treatment. We were not only collecting data, but also learning how to use fancy things like MS Word to create Daily Report Cards. I was not tech savvy then (or now,) so I wrote most of mine on triplicate forms. At the end of the summer program, we were assigned two students in the study to follow into their home schools to help the teachers learn the strategies taught in the summer treatment program. My afternoon student was super oppositional and was in the principal’s office by the time I got to his school on most days. One day, however, he was not at school when I arrived. He had been physically aggressive towards the principal and expelled. Keep in mind, this was pre-reauthorization of IDEA in 1997 by one year. I often wonder what would have happened to this student if it had been one year later. But, I was grant funded for 6 months, so the ADHD program folks had to find something for me to do. I was charged with editing reports, doing data entry, conducting research visits with families in the study. And guess, what? I was good at these clinical tasks. So when my 6 months of grant funding ended, I was offered a full time position as a research assistant. I stayed on as an educational coordinator for many years doing study data collection, running child coping skills groups, and I eventually co-developed an academic support skills curriculum for my dissertation.

During those early years of my first “real” job, I had to supplement my income with two additional jobs. That “real” job only paid $6.92/hr. So in order to pay my rent, and eventually also pay for graduate school, I had two other jobs, one at an alternative preschool for children with behavioral difficulties, and another selling gym memberships at an all women’s gym. Back then you did not graduate from college and move back home with your parents, at least not at my house. I was super motivated to figure out the world and life on my own.

In addition to getting some pretty amazing training which led me to graduate school at NC State, I also made some pretty wonderful friends. And these are friends that I am still friends with over 25 years later. How many other people can say their first “real” job resulted in these types of benefits? And the best friendship of all? Meeting my husband the second year of that research study. I can still remember when he came into to interview for the second summer of data collection.

Who would have known back in 1995 that my first “real” job would still be having an impact on me today? I am grateful for the experience and the friendships. The universe was sending me a message for sure. Now to get this house sold, so I can spend more time focusing on my new professional goals. My brain needs it, as does my family!

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