“Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
This series highlights young professionals and their stories, because no matter our path we all have a little to share and a lot to learn. Read and learn from past feature posts HERE.
This week I would like to introduce you to Kylie, one of my new friends here in D.C. I’m laughing as I write this because just this past weekend at a holiday party one of her friends asked me, “how did you meet Kylie?” My response? “Online.” I never would have thought that the writing I do to scrapbook my life over here in my little corner of the internet would ever lead me to making a friend in real life. But early this past summer we both linked our blogs to a bigger blogger that we both follow, which led her to find mine and leave a comment. We started reading each others posts and soon learned that she had recently moved to an apartment just about a mile away from mine. The first time we hung out we kept joking that it was equivalent to the awkwardness of a blind first date. As you will read below, life here in the DC area is typically pretty busy, so we are still “becoming friends,” but I am already so thankful to have met Kylie. She is passionate about her job as a rookie 2nd grade teacher, and is humble and honest about the ups and downs of balancing it all. She has a great sense of humor and adventure, and is so easy to relate to (except for her obsession with candy corn…)
Name: Kylie McGraw
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
College: Duquesne University & University of Maryland, College Park
Degree(s): B.S. Early Level Education (Duquesne), Master’s of Education in Reading (UMD)
Current Location: Arlington, VA
Current Job: 2nd Grade Teacher
Background Story: I’m the oldest of three and I love my brothers to pieces. My mom’s family all lives really close together, so I grew up knowing the family is really important. I went to school where my mom was a teacher, so I spent a lot of time in her classroom. I don’t remember deciding that I was going to be a teacher, but I told everyone who asked that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up. Hailing from The Steel City, I do in fact bleed black and gold. I like french fries on my salads, ketchup with most everything I eat, and a cookie table at every major event I attend. Pittsburgh has really grown and changed since it gained its name as The Steel City, and I really got to know it better when I went to college! I’m a self-proclaimed candy corn addict and crazy dog lady…even though Colby and Amigo live with my family in Pittsburgh. I love coffee, the dessert menu, running long distances, and laying on the beach.
How did you choose your college and your major?
I never really chose my major. As I mentioned, I decided at a young age that I was going to be a teacher and that is the dream I chased for my whole life. My mom has been teaching kindergarten for 27 years so I had a great role model!
What were you involved with outside of class? Organizations? Internships?
I had two jobs that I loved! I taught Spinning classes at the gym and worked as a tutor in The Writing Center. Last year when I was a full-time grad student, I continued both of those jobs at my new university, but I was also a research assistant. I like to keep busy!
What were your biggest challenges or obstacles in college? Anything you would change?
Every so often, there would be some roommate drama. Living with good friends can be harder than you think! I am the kind of person who doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so instead of addressing issues that would come up, I would just ignore them. Senior year, I ended up not talking to one of my roommates (the one I actually shared a room with) for almost four months. We said “hello”, “how was your day”, and “bye”, but that was about it. I wish I hadn’t worried so much about hurting her feelings and just said, “Hey! How can we fix this?” Eventually I addressed all the problems that arose, but not without a long awkward period in between the incident and the talk.
I also struggled with my health and body image. College is the first time when you are really in control of what you eat and how much you work out, and I was a statistic. I went to college and gained weight. I only gained about 9 pounds, but I felt puffy and bloated and I wasn’t happy with how I looked at all. I started to change my eating and exercise habits healthfully, but then I got really extreme and struggled with a little bit of orthorexia, which is an obsession with eating foods that you consider healthy. I only ate certain foods, I counted every calorie that went inside my body, and I worked out more than once a day. Most people were telling me that I looked great, but it wasn’t until a few friends said something not so nice about me behind my back that I realized I was doing something wrong. I never sought professional help for these issues because since I recognized them in myself, I felt that I could fix them, with the support of my family and friends. My mom and my best friend at the time were my go-to people if I ever needed someone to remind me that I did NOT in fact need to work out again or I was actually “allowed” to eat the piece of bread on the table.
I wouldn’t change either of these experiences because they made me more confident and healthy post grad.
What one piece of advice would you give a student during their senior year?
I would tell a senior in college to take advantage of all the events that their campus has to offer. You and your friends DO need to go to a football game, eat the special Thanksgiving dinner in the dining hall, and go to the Christmas Ball. All of the things that you may have skipped in previous years — get your friends and go do them. On the other hand, it’s just as acceptable to stay in and watch movies because your stress levels will probably rise as you finish up your final classes and start thinking about the real world. Remember that there is a whole summer after graduation, so if you get your diploma and you still feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, it’s okay. Make decisions about grad school or your first job, but take a breath. I realized that in the real world, no one really knows what they’re doing…but as long as you put your best foot forward, you’ll go places. 🙂
Tell us about your career so far?
My plan for grad school was to go to UMD for 2 years to get my Master’s in Reading and then move back home to Pittsburgh. Once I moved to this area, I loved it and couldn’t imagine leaving so soon. I was a person who said they would never do their first year of teaching while they were still in grad school because both are such huge time commitments and I wanted to make sure they were both getting my “all”. Since I took most of the classes for my Master’s last year, by the end of the spring semester, I felt like I would be able to manage my first year of teaching and taking one night class. I interviewed at a few different elementary schools in Virginia in June and finally found the right school for me. I was offered a second grade teaching position at the end of my interview! My coworkers are so supportive as I figure out what it means to finally be in charge of my own class. I expected some of the challenges I have faced so far, but sometimes I really have to go back and kind of reteach something, especially when it comes to classroom routines. This is not something that I anticipated and I feel really guilty when I have to make time to do something like that. But, my coworkers always remind me that it is vital and that they still have to do that sometimes too. My students are only 7 years old so behavior is a learning experience each and every day! I really do have a great class so I feel very lucky in my first year of teaching. 🙂
How have your experiences and involvement in college set you up for success in your career and life post grad?
When I was choosing colleges, I didn’t look very far away from home. However, it was really important to me to go to a school that would let me be in elementary classrooms all throughout my program. Years ago, education students would take college classes for 3.5 years and then step into a classroom for the first time during student teaching. That was a shock for some who ended up realizing they weren’t where they wanted to be. At Duquesne, I was in a variety of different kinds of schools every semester of college leading up to student teaching. Some of my friends even switched majors (think elementary to middle school) after our first field experience! I think going to all of the different schools let me figure out what kind of school and what age I wanted to work with. Since my mom teaches kindergarten, I always thought I wanted to do that, but I had a lot of experience with second graders during undergrad and now that I am actually teaching second grade, I can’t imagine being in a younger grade (at least right now)! I was also involved in an several organizations in the School of Education that worked to support families in the community. Volunteering with families at places like the Ronald McDonald House opened my eyes to what a student’s life could be like outside of school.
On the flip side, what are the biggest challenges or differences you’ve experienced post grad that you didn’t expect or didn’t feel prepared for?
I didn’t expect to still feel so stressed about money. In college, you know your funds are going to be a little limited. Apparently, I had this great vision that once I finally had a “real job”, I would exhale and feel totally calm about money and buy whatever I wanted without feeling guilty. Ha! Not so. Currently, I am living within my means, but I always wonder if I can be saving more, donating more, and so on.
As far as my job goes, I didn’t expect to second guess myself so much. In each of my field experiences and in student teaching, I always felt confident in the choices I was making, but that’s probably because I had a lot of guidance. My coworkers and I plan as a team, but I still have a lot of my own choices to make in my classroom. It’s hard for me to understand that I can plan the world’s best lesson and it’s possible that it might not reach all of my students for one reason or another. I can ask thoughtful questions, assign engaging projects, and still reach the end of the lesson and see that some of my students don’t “get it”. Even though there are many reasons why a student might not get it (academic, social, emotional, etc.), I take it personally and wonder what I did wrong. I try to channel those negative thoughts into positive ones, as I am always asking myself what I can do better tomorrow, but it’s still a tough pill to swallow!
What apps, technology and resources do you use regularly to stay organized and do your job?
I don’t know that these resources will be of any interest to the regular person, but they make sense for teachers! My teammates and I use an online planbook to write and share resources for lesson plans. I like being able to have everything in one place because if I wrote my lesson plans with pen on paper, I would probably have half my resources printed out and another half in an electronic format on my laptop! With our online planbook, I can log right in, see what I have written for that day or week, and print everything I need from one place. We also use Microsoft OneNote to plan future units and share student data. My students use TumbleBooks and PebbleGo to listen and read stories electronically. They also use Dreambox to practice their math skills in an electronic format. Dreambox is awesome because it teaches them in a game-like format and they are taught based on their current level of learning. So, for example, if they advance to the next math concept and they get a certain number of questions or problems wrong, the game automatically bumps them back a lesson to reteach the concept they are struggling with.
At this stage, what are a few of your strengths and weaknesses?
I am a team player but I also appreciate a little bit of independence. Being a teacher gives me a lot of independence in deciding how I want to teach a certain lesson, but I definitely don’t isolate myself from my coworkers. The other second grade teachers and the reading specialist have been such a huge support system for me as I get all of my ideas in order during this first year. Because of that, I try to share my ideas with them when I can! I want them to see me as a team player, too. On the other hand, I’m a worrier and I want to do everything right. I ask a lot of questions (which is a good thing), but sometimes my questions are more along the lines of, “Is it okay that I did/said ________?” I want to work on having more confidence in my decisions!
How do you stay motivated when work gets really busy or difficult?
I try to have conversations with my students that aren’t about school. They bring so many random trinkets to school and they always have a story to tell, so if I make sure to find an extra few minutes for them to share something either with me or with the class so that we can all relax. And because I am still taking a night class this year, sometimes a motivating thought is, “Life won’t be like this forever.” Regardless of what your life is like, you don’t want to wish time away, but sometimes the thought that things WILL change is a positive one.
Work-life balance? How do you stay afloat and refreshed?
I love to work out. I love to Spin, I love to attempt to lift weights in the fitness studio in my apartment, I love to try new classes at the gym, and I especially love to run. There are plenty of people that I know who ask me how I have time to work out while working full time, being in grad school, and trying to maintain a social life, but the saying is true: I don’t have time, I make time. I don’t get home from work and immediately feel like changing into my gym clothes, but I do. Deciding to do your workout is the hardest part. While you are running or biking or lifting, your mind is cleared of all the stress from the day. Then when you have completed the workout, you feel accomplished and oh so proud. It also helps that my principal supports a work-life balance. She encourages us to have other hobbies and interests outside of our classrooms, which is wonderful!
What in your #PostGradLife are you most proud of so far?
I’m most proud of the fact that I moved away from home and created a life for myself that I love. I never thought I would be a person who moved away from her family, for whatever amount of time it may be, but here I am. And no one tells you the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with moving away from everyone and everything you know. All you hear about is the excitement of that new place! At first, you won’t have friends. You will have to go places by yourself. You will feel like everyone at home is having so much fun and you’re “stuck” in this new place alone. And then pretty soon, you learn how to put yourself out there and make some friends and life starts to feel pretty great.
What does life look like right now? Hobbies and interests? What outside of work are you passionate about?.
I am passionate about Jesus, my family, fitness, healthy eating, reading, and writing. Monday through Friday, I am very focused on my job and my workouts, but I try to work out with friends to make it even more fun. 🙂 Come the weekend, I am oh so tired, but I try to get out at least once a weekend to do something new and/or fun! I still consider myself new to the area and there is so much to see and do. I’ve made new friends at running groups that I attend and I’ve made new friends at church, so it’s important to me to make time to see those people!
Just for Fun
What is essential to your morning routine to start the day off right?
I intentionally set my alarm a bit early so I don’t have to pop out of bed when it rings in the morning. I like to lay around for a few minutes and read one of my devotionals. I have my Bible, Jesus Calling, my journal, and whichever faith-based book I am reading at the time on my nightstand, so I pick one of those and read for a few minutes before I get up. Right now, I am reading my pastor’s (Mark Batterson) new book called “If”. Once I am up and moving, I turn the TV on in the family room so I can listen to Good Morning America while I get ready! And typically, I am at work about an hour early. I eat breakfast at my desk and just get my mind right for the day (and usually get 107 things together before the students show up).
Do you have a must-have vice like caffeine or item you can’t live without in your workspace?
I just have to have some kind of beverage! I drink water on the way to work, I sip on my coffee all morning, and then I keep refilling my water bottle all day. Sometimes a little Peach Tea Crystal Light in my water or an extra cup of coffee in the afternoon happens, but I like to think I am pretty low-maintenance (and not caffeine dependent!) when it comes to beverages. 🙂
If you were to have another career, all limitations aside, what would it be?
I would want to be a magazine or newspaper editor in New York City. In this life, I will write in some capacity for my career one day. I’m working on that now. 🙂 In college, I started writing my blog so that I could share my new adventures in running and healthy eating. The perfectionist in me wants to have a great post every day, so my blog has ebbed and flowed since it began in 2013. 2015 is actually the first year I have blogged consistently, and I am so happy to be writing more and connecting with the blogging community. You can find keep up with all of my adventures here HERE.
Moment of truth, what do you really miss about college?
I am pretty introverted and I love hanging out by myself, but honestly how nice was it to have all of your friends either in your room or right next door?! There was always something to do!
Kylie, thank you so much for being a guest on this series and being so genuine. I am so glad that these little blogs of ours brought us together!
As always, thanks for reading friends!
Linking up this Monday with these bloggers: