“Even the Worst Experience is Worth It”: An Interview with Lisa Romanski

“I graduated college as an enthusiastic and optimistic young educator, ready to make an impact on kids’ lives,” recalls 25-year old Art Teacher, Lisa Romanski. “That entire summer I applied to job after job and went on a few interviews, which lead to nowhere.”

With the guidance of a friend, Lisa had previously enrolled at Montclair State University to obtain her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Education with Teacher Certification. She remembers early career dreams that led her to the field.

“[As a child]I wanted to help people, make them better,” she says. “…though when I played doctor as a kid, I imagined all the hands on stuff—wrapping bandages, making casts, and stitching people up. That was the artist in me coming through.”

But, when high school hit, Lisa found herself in need of someone who could help her through the transitional phase most teenagers remember as rocky. With three older brothers, two of whom were in the military, Lisa felt that her parents’ attention was focused on more prominent issues.

“I think they assumed I was responsible enough to make decisions for myself,” she says, “but I definitely needed direction.”

In true mentor fashion, one of Lisa’s high school art teachers stepped in and offered a safe place inside the classroom where the young student could uncover her passion for art and teaching.

“My years in her classroom were my escape from everything else…” she remembers. “She was the only person telling me I was good at anything that I should pursue a career in the arts.”

With support from someone in school, Lisa realized that one person could be influential and make a difference for someone else.

She says, “My decision to become an Art Teacher was based on the fact that I knew in my heart I would be successful if I could be the one positive influence in a student’s life, the way she was in mine.”

However, after four years of preparation, reality of the job market hit the new college graduate hard, and the feeling wasn’t good. Lisa struggled to find work, applied to countless teaching jobs, and still wound up without a permanent position that would pay.

She says, “After being so  thrilled and ready to start teaching straight out of college, it felt like my dreams were not only put on hold, but almost like they were being erased.”

Finally, the future teacher’s hard work paid off. She received a call about one of the maternity leave positions she’d applied for at a special needs school for children grades 3-12. The news was bittersweet. Lisa was informed that due to budget cuts, she could only be hired as a Teacher’s assistant—a step down from what she was academically qualified to do. Though grateful to have a job, she felt the effects of less pay and new responsibility.

“Teaching is a mentally, emotionally and physically demanding job,” she says. “I knew it was what I chose to do, but I also felt like I was underappreciated and underpaid to deal with the stress I had as a certified teacher working as an assistant in the art room.”

Despite this, Lisa fulfilled her duties as assistant until the previous employee returned to work. Much like the summer prior, Lisa spent lots of time searching for another job, yet due to statewide budget cuts, it seemed there were even less opportunities to choose from.

“It became very disheartening,” she admits. “I went from a bright, passionate young teacher to thinking ‘maybe I should do something else, I’ll never have a job.’”

Lisa decided her best alternative was to substitute teach, an option that left the hopeful college graduate still without a classroom of her own. Shortly after, her luck seemed to swing in a better direction. Only two days after subbing, Lisa received an interview and a follow-up phone call to demonstrate a lesson for another maternity leave art teacher position at a high school. Grateful for the opportunity, but still a bit jaded by her other experiences, interviews, and demonstration lessons, she prepared.

“The hardest part of finding a teaching job is actually getting the opportunity to prove that you are the best person for the position,” she says. “This, you can never do in an online application or resume… There is a lot of competition out there and gaining an interview should be considered an achievement since it seems like even that’s hard these days.”

With the importance of this opportunity weighing on her, Lisa let her confidence lead her. But, it wasn’t an easy feat. She had to engage and impress 25 adult strangers and students, two administrators, and the teacher of the class. Despite her nerves, Lisa landed the job.

“I walked out of the building, into the pouring rain, and all I wanted to do was scream with excitement…” she recalls. “I wanted to run around and show the world how much I loved my life.”

Though her second replacement job wasn’t her perfect idea of work, Lisa was grateful for the insight it provided. While she prepares now for her dream job as a full-time art teacher with her own students, Lisa can use what she learned from her previous work history to help herself continue to gain momentum.

“…it gave me experience and it brought back the passion,” she says of her second maternity replacement job. “Without it, I probably wouldn’t have landed my new job for the upcoming school year.”

As Lisa hopes to help her students learn more about themselves, she is taking her life lessons as a way to help others, one of her earliest dreams. Should she need to dole out career advice, the new teacher is ready.

“When you are truly passionate about something, I don’t think it ever goes away,” she says. “There might be times that seem like you aren’t getting anywhere, or the fire isn’t there anymore but that’s when you just have to push harder to get to where you need to be.”

While Lisa prepares for the next phase of her journey, she looks forward to bringing all that she can to her new role as art teacher and student ally.

“…the responsibility of assisting in the learning and growth of 100+ individual teenagers everyday, dealing with 100+ different personalities and needs daily is quite stressful,” she admits. “On the other hand, it’s rewarding when you can take a step back and look at a quiet room where every student is engaged in their work, or after class when you reflect on the discussion you lead where students were thinking, questioning, sharing and were genuinely interested in being there for that time.

Not every aspect of teaching is serious, and Lisa admits that sometimes the best medicine for teachers and students is to have a sense of humor.

“[Kids] really do the funniest things,” she says, “and sometimes it’s extremely difficult to keep a straight face when telling someone to cut it out, when really, you’re dying inside… Every day I find myself laughing in the classroom, even if it’s secretly by myself. It lightens the mood and sometimes it’s good to laugh with the kids. It’s a great feeling.”

Aside from fun and entertainment, the new teacher understands the importance of a job well done, and she hopes to use it to benefit young adults in the same way her high school art teacher benefitted her.

“It’s very true, not everyone is cut out to be a teacher,” she says. “let alone, a good one… I feel happy knowing that I’ve already touched lives in the short time I’ve been teaching. I feel successful when I overcome real, everyday challenges, like getting the more difficult kids involved and focused. I also feel successful at the end of the day just knowing that I’ve done all I could to be a good, positive role model. Cliché, but everything really does happen for a reason… Even the worst experience is worth it.”

For more posts and related articles by Sara Kosmyna.

What was your experience as a student or teacher? Are you a recent graduate who is looking for teaching work? Share your stories here.

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