What Working Three Jobs Taught Me About College

Around this time last year, I realized I didn’t have enough money to pay for college or even take the train to get to campus. I was left with two options: begin the journey of crippling loans or pick up another job. From there I added one more job and became a cashier, a tutor at Kumon Academy, and a private tutor. I didn’t have time to have the “typical college experience,” so instead I spent most of my time wondering why I was putting in so much work for a degree that could potentially land me nowhere. It made me realize how I want my work to be valued, and why that’s important. 

From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and working at a tutoring center seemed to make sense. It wasn’t until I started working at a bakery that I understood why tutoring “made sense.” At the tutoring center, I knew I had done well with a kid when they were able to complete a worksheet. I earned my check by sitting with one to two kids, teaching them how to read or do simple math, and correcting their mistakes. When that was my only job, I didn’t think much about picking up extra shifts for the sake of my college tuition. When it came to a second and third job, however, that mentality changed. 

Working as a cashier, “doing well” at my job took on a different meaning. I’m sure you can guess how fun it is to deal with customers, especially in food service. I had to make sure their pastries were pretty, organized in the box well, treat the customers well (and entertain their flirting), as well as make sure the bakery itself was kept clean and neat, restock boxes and bags, restock pastries, and deal with the lectures from my coworker. Our bakery also included a deli, so I was also judged by how well I sliced cold cuts, how well I made a sandwich, and how well I cleaned the machine afterward. The value of my work was weighed differently, as now it depended on not how much someone learned, but rather how well I served them, and picking up extra shifts wasn’t as enticing. I found myself frustrated at how nitpicky the customers and my coworkers could be with my work, and as a perfectionist it felt I could never do anything right. 

It wasn’t until my third job, as a private tutor, that I realized how I want my work to be valued. Once a week I would sit with one kid for an hour and a half, and help him with the curriculum his mom set before him. I was able to watch his mind soak up everything I told him, and his eyes light up when he was able to make a connection to the lesson. His mom was excited to see his improvement, and I was excited to show her. Unlike working as a cashier, where I was simply hoping customers wouldn’t yell at me, I was being valued by how much I could help this child learn and grow. 

I entered college to become a teacher, but it wasn’t until I experienced these jobs that I realized teaching was how I wanted my work to be valued. Not only will parents value my work based on how much their kids learn, but I also value my work based on how much a student’s eyes light up when they figure out a problem or make a connection to the lesson. Some may find fulfillment in serving, but I found my fulfillment in helping students learn and grow. Working as a cashier meant nothing to me, rather it was frustrating to work hard at something I didn’t care about. Working three jobs was tough to juggle, but now I feel confident in my path of becoming a teacher.