Written By Lauren Pasquini
Read Lauren's unique, inspirational, and impactful journey from public school into alternative education:
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a teacher. One day my dad asked me, “Lauren, what do you want to be when you grow up?” and I responded, “a teacher!” his response was, “Really Lauren? A teacher? I don’t think you’re going to end up liking it.” I then told him, “Dad, you always said whatever I decide to do for a career, I have to wake up and want to go to work every day. That it’s important to find something you love to do because you will be doing it the rest of your life.” For me it was teaching. Now there is a point to that part of the story, I promise it will come full circle.
I consider myself one of the “lucky ones” that knew what they wanted to do at an early age. I went through college pretty quickly. I attended my local junior college for two years, then transferred to CSU, Chico (go wildcats!) and obtained my Bachelor's degree in Child Development, finishing my Bachelor’s degree in a total of four years.
I then went straight into a fast track Master's program through CSU, Chico and obtained my MA in Education and my Multiple Subject California Teaching Credential in one year. I was 23 with my masters, and was thrown into the real world. Next thing I knew I was talking about retirement and insurance plans, everything was so overwhelming for me that I asked the woman in HR at my new district if I could bring my mom with me to go over my contract and help me pick out health insurance and figure out what to do about retirement! This is how little public school, and even college to be honest, prepared me for the real world.
I began my teaching career in San Jose, California. I absolutely loved everything about my school and district. I cried on my way to work on the first day of school because I had finally “made it”. I had accomplished my dream of becoming a teacher and having my own classroom. Those first couple of years, I did what every new teacher does, I basically lived in my classroom. I would get there early and stay late, often picking up fast food on the way home for dinner. I would joke with students that I had a pull out bed behind our whiteboard. In the beginning, the long hours don’t bother you because you have what they call “new teacher energy”.
Schools LOVE new teachers, because they quite simply haven’t been around long enough to see the faults of the public school system. Slowly that energy begins to fade, and you start to understand why some teachers only work contracted hours, don’t sign up for extra duties (that are often unpaid by the way), and become less of a team player so to say. That is what slowly started to happen to me each school year.
In total, I taught for eight school years. Year seven was stopped short because the world literally shut down March 17, 2020 (at least in my county). I left that day and hugged the eight students out of the 20 I had enrolled in my class, not realizing like so many other teachers, it would be my last hug from a student for over a year.
At first, I admit, March-May of 2020 was what I called my “early retirement”. My roommate and I were living the dream. Staying home, watching TV, laying out in the backyard on nice sunny days. As we all know, that two week curve turned into months, and sadly now we are going on two years. My eighth year of teaching was spent ¾’s on zoom. I did not return to school with children again until March 22, 2021. Everyone says they can’t imagine Zoom school let alone teaching it. Well let me be frank, it sucked. I now realized I was severely depressed. Every morning when my alarm would go off, I would lay in bed dreading getting up. I hated going to bed every night because it meant I had to do the same thing all over again the next day. I would spend my time in between zoom calls looking up how to go on stress leave, which unfortunately wasn’t an option to me because I had switched districts in the middle of a school year and when you do that your tenure status does not follow you. I would call my dad and cry and tell him how miserable I was.
I felt so much anger just boiling inside of me at how something I once loved so much, quickly became something I despised. The best part about teaching was the kids, and they were no longer there. Everything else literally was terrible about the profession, except the amazing health insurance you were lucky enough to have if you had a good union negotiating for you and the holidays of course. But a good teacher quite frankly doesn’t go into teaching for the insurance or the days off you get. Because of a global pandemic, the best part of my job was ripped away from me. And even when they did start allowing children to come back it wasn’t the same. Schools went from collaborating, sharing, and building skills within children that unified and made them work together, to isolating and creating independent self-centered children.
They weren’t allowed to share, they couldn’t sit next to each other, we had partitions and masks, no recess, walking in straight lines spaced apart, the list goes on and on. I literally felt like I was in prison. Even once students returned, I still wasn’t wanting to wake up and go to work anymore because now the fun of teaching was gone too.
Now, I am a HUGE advocate for mental health, and I was starting to become aware at how much my own mental health was suffering. I began talking with my dad about it. I would call him and tell him I don’t know how I could continue doing this, that I’m not going to make it one more school year, but I also felt stuck and like I didn’t know where to go or what to do instead.
I am single, I own my house, have a car payment, paying off credit card debt, have bills to pay etc. One day in February/March of 2021, my dad mentioned to me on one of our phone calls where I was telling him, “Dad I don’t think you realize just how miserable I am,” he presented me with an opportunity. He said, “Lauren, I know you aren’t happy. You have always wanted to own your own business. I am moving office spaces, and this new space has a big enough area for you to start your daycare/preschool that you’ve always wanted to do. I can’t be the one to do it for you. Owning your own business is hard, and you have to be the one to make that decision because you are the one who is going to make it be successful.” I immediately responded, NOPE! I’m not ready for that and not even interested in taking that on.
A couple weeks went by, and every morning when my alarm would go off I immediately felt dread. The idea of leaving and starting my own business was always in the back of my mind. I would come up with a million reasons why I couldn’t do it and why it wouldn’t work. As I said earlier I am a huge advocate for mental health and during this time I had reached back out to my therapist and my sessions would consist of me expressing this dread for a job I once loved and now how I had this new opportunity from my dad presented to me. Finally within one of my sessions my therapist asked, “But Lauren, what if it did all work? Let’s stop identifying all the ways it won’t work, and let’s just sit with the idea that you leaving your job and starting your own business does actually work?” That changed things for me. It brought me out of the spiral of fear and doubt and into this space that allowed me to have hope that I could in fact change my current situation and bring back joy into my life again.
Through the support of my parents, a lot of therapy, and spiritual work and prayer, in
May 2021, I walked into my administrator’s office and officially decided to take a complete blind leap of faith and dive into the unknown. I sat with both my Vice Principal and Principal and explained that COVID had me reflect on literally every aspect of my life, and that owning my own business was something I had always wanted to pursue, and now was the time. I was surprisingly shocked by their kindness and support. I didn’t think either of them would be negative or rude about my decision, however, because of COVID I didn’t feel as if I was able to make and build relationships with staff members due to social distancing guidelines in place and working from home for most of the year. My principal said something to me that I will never forget, “I hope I never see you again, because that means your dreams became a reality and that you obtained the success and happiness you are searching for”.
Now initially I thought I would be on the road to opening my own preschool. I began researching what was required to be licensed, what I would have to do to be qualified as a director, and filing for different licenses. I reached out to our local small business development center and was partnered with a mentor who helped me learn about LLCs, corporations, independent contracting, and sole-proprietorships. She conducted research on preschools within my area and pulled business plans on preschools so that I could have examples for my own. As I began going through this process I realized how difficult opening and owning a preschool right out the gate would be. I began praying for signs on how I can make all of this happen without having to go back to the classroom. I continued to push through the process of opening a preschool when people started mentioning homeschooling.
First it was one person, then another, and finally a third unrelated person said, “hey you should really look into homeschooling, there is a need for teachers like you and you can offer something great to that community”. Initially my response was, “Homeschooling? People who homeschool don’t want teachers, that is why they are homeschooling!” But once the third person mentioned homeschooling, I thought ok God/Universe, I hear you, and that is when I jumped into the world of alternative education.
Since then I have conducted countless hours of research, connected with many homeschooling families and other organizations that provide alternative education services, and can now say proudly and confidently that ElevateU is an alternative education program. ElevateU provides educational consulting and academic coaching for both parents and educators, as well as enrichment opportunities for children. ElevateU’s mission is to help elevate the lives of parents, educators, and children. We help parents and educators step away from the traditional education system in order to obtain educational freedom to be able to provide the learning experiences children deserve. This teacher is proud to say that she has found her spark again, that I look forward to getting up every day, and am excited to be doing what I feel is my purpose, advocating for children and the education they deserve to have because one size does not fit all.
Lauren Pasquini ~ ElevateU