Tammy, 34 at the time of this interview, studied for her GED at The Literacy Project in Ware in the late 1990s. Despite significant personal losses, she graduated with her GED and entered Greenfield Community College in 2002. Here, she reflects on returning to school as an adult, after caring for family members for many years, and the difficulty of re-entering the workforce.
I quit school at 16 because of medical reasons. At 17 I had my daughter. At 18 I was married.
I always wanted to complete my education and I did try. But I had a huge issue with being away from my daughter, at the time. She was only 6 months old. So I kind of put my education on hold. And did the mom thing and the wife thing and always wanted to complete my education.
You know, my husband always knew how important it was for me to finish my education. And I was going to start, 2 years prior to ‘97. But, for some reason in January I kept getting this feeling like I shouldn’t start. And there was a reason. And in February my husband was diagnosed with cancer. So I was glad that I didn’t start it, at the time. And after a year and a half of his battle with cancer, he did pass away.
And I decided that for my husband and for me I was gonna start working on finishing my education. And in September of ‘97 I started here [the Ware Adult Education Center].
And, basically, it’s been a struggle.
When I first came, I had Sharon Feeney [Site Director] and Sue Turner [Instructor] for teachers. And it wasn’t easy for me. I always put myself down. Didn’t have any confidence in being smart or anything like that. And Sharon and Sue constantly encouraged me. You know?
And I thought it was wonderful because I went from writing a paragraph—no punctuation, basically just a long, real long sentence – and I’m in college now and write eleven-page essays. And if it wasn’t for Sharon and Sue constantly encouraging the writing, and, “You can do it. You have to have confidence!” I don’t know…. Each one of them took hours and just sat there with me and helped me with the punctuation. ‘Cause to me, I could never figure out when it ended. I talk so much and I just go on and on and on. I just thought everything else should, too.
But now, like I said, things have totally changed. And if it wasn’t for Sharon and Sue, I don’t think I would have made it. Because, not only were they there for me, as a teacher, but they were also there for me when personal issues arose.
When I first stepped into here my first theory was, I wasn’t leaving. I didn’t care if I was here 6 or 8 years. I was not leaving until I had my GED. And it was that simple. I was not gonna quit again at my education.
And. Oh gosh. My Mom ended up becoming sick, with cancer as well. It was probably about a year, year and a half after I had started here. When my Mom first started her chemo treatments I was trying to come. But it got to a point where I was constantly worrying about my Mom while I was here. And I just couldn’t focus. And at that point I did end up taking time off. Which—it, really, really bothered my Mom. ‘Cause she didn’t want me stopping school—
And she also lost her battle with cancer in June of 2000.
When I quit I promised my Mom that I would eventually go back and continue on getting my GED. And I did that. When I came back, in January of 2001, I started taking the practice tests. And I actually scheduled my appointment to take my GED test. And I took it in May. And we found in June of 2001 that I did pass.
And I started [Greenfield Community College] in January of 2002. And I’ve been there since.
I started out as an accounting major, but I decided that I didn’t really care for it all that much. I could handle the math part of it. But the business part of it was really boring and hard to get through. So I switched my major into Early Childhood Education. And, I like it. Actually, I’ve made the Dean’s List with my courses in it.
In June of this year I will be graduating with my certificate degree. And I’m also in the process of working on another certificate degree for Microsoft applications. I’ll be graduating with that certificate in 2007. And in 2008 I’ll be graduating with my Associate’s Degree.
I’ve been looking for work for a year solid. And no one will touch me. Big Y and McDonald’s won’t touch me because those jobs mostly go to teenagers. And everyone else wants experience. I’m kind of on the double edged sword. When I was younger looking for a job, people were always, “Well why don’t you finish your education?” Well, now that I’m doing that I get, “Well how come you haven’t worked in 13 years?” Well I was raising a family, I was taking care of sick family members, and I was going to school! It’s not like everyone can do everything!
Other than that, it’s great. I never thought I’d be making the Dean’s List. I never thought I’d be graduating from college. When I started here it was such a distant dream. I still can’t believe I’m there. Half the time I can’t believe it.
As Sharon would say, I multi-task really well. I’ve learned to do that. My daughter’s in basketball. And she does softball. And she does dance. So I’ve learned to take homework to basketball games or where ever I need to be. I sit there doing my homework during her games. I tried to get my daughter to back off to 6 dances from 7. I got the answer the other day, “I’m not a quitter!” I can’t argue with it. I’ve been telling her not to be!
I’m always telling her, ‘You can’t quit school. It just is not something you can do in this future today. You have to have your education. It’s the most crucial thing in the world.’ I push education a lot with my daughter. I tell her, ‘If you have your education, no one can ever take that away from you.’ She will be graduating [from high school ] in 2007. She wants to go to GCC and do dance. Since 9th grade, she’s actually talked about college. It helps that she’s watching me do it, she’s seen the struggles I’ve worked through.
I think my hugest issue I needed to do for my education was, I needed to prove to myself that I was smart. I know that now. Making the Dean’s List. Not everyone makes the Dean’s List.
But, it’s hard for me, not having my husband and my Mom here, to enjoy it with me. So it’s kind of bittersweet, you know.