On Not Having the Degree

On NPR last November, they were interviewing a guy who made a documentary about what he called “the best high school in the world.”  As a math tutor who struggles to understand how it is that I have high school students who still don’t know their times tables, I was curious.

He said 85% of the teachers at this high school (a charter school in Tuscon) were not certified.  Most had a higher degree in their subject matter, though.  The chemistry teacher, for example, had a Masters or PhD in Chemistry.

When asked about their hiring practices the filmmaker explained that people that have that much education in a subject are usually enthusiastic about it.  He further went on that it was their enthusiasm for their subject matter that was contagious and made kids excited about learning the material.  The filmmaker said he himself got excited about Physics just during the filming of a physics class.

I would venture to say this is why the NPR show Car Talk is so popular.  Most of the people that listen to it have no interest in cars.  I sure don’t.  But these guys are so funny!  And they know their stuff!  They love doing what they do.  Their enthusiasm is infectious.  And their show isn’t just about cars.  They say, “if you have a question about cars, car repair, or anything else…”.  They settle disputes between spouses on if it’s better to warm up the engine before driving.  They responded to a college student who wondered if this was all there was to life.  My favorite was the girl whose car was stolen, returned, but infested now with black widow spiders.  They knew what to do.

Renaissance Souls have plenty of things we’re enthusiastic about – some for just a short period of time, some for much longer.  What we often don’t have are the degrees to “prove it” to some people.

But guess what?  A lot of times you don’t need the degree.  Or any background for that matter.  You just need some chutzpah, some networking skills and some infectious enthusiasm.  When I worked as a Park Ranger visitors on my tours would ask what my degree was in.  “Physical Therapy,” I’d say with a big smile on my face.  Oh how I loved that question.  Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a degree in outdoor resource management (I made that degree up….).  Or history.

I’ve worked for over 10 years as a math tutor without a degree in math or education.  Sometimes parents would ask if I had a teaching degree.  I said no.  But I said, “We’ll have one tutoring session, and then you talk to your child.  If they say I wasn’t helpful, you can leave – no hard feelings.”  Most parents were simply so thrilled to find someone to help their child when they couldn’t that they really didn’t care what my background was.  And the fact that I’m a young woman?  Well, that’s a great inspiration to high school girls.  I was golden.  Well, that and the fact that the students did improve:)

I work for a tutoring non-profit these days.  Prior to me, they only hired certified teachers.  I’m not.  But I got hired.  Why?  Because one of the main math tutors was moving away, and the owner prayed God would send her someone.  I called the next day.  She figured she’d take a chance.  This is my fourth year there. Right time, right place?  Destiny? Luck?  Personally, I believe what’s meant to be will happen.

I’ve done consulting for physician’s offices on their use of computer systems for billing, scheduling, and electronic medical records.  I have no degree in computers.  And prior to my first consulting job had no experience in the business end of healthcare.  Why did that first consulting company hire me?  They said it was because of a line I put in my cover letter.  I said how I couldn’t believe how cutting edge medicine was yet their computer systems were from the dark ages.  (Well, maybe I didn’t use those words exactly.)

I didn’t like the travel involved in consulting.  One of the practices I worked with said, “If you ever get sick of your job, you can come work for us.”  So, I resigned from consulting, drove cross-country, hiked the Grand Canyon, came back and called up the office manager.  I started as the receptionist so I could learn all there was about how this place ran.  When I got bored with that I convinced them they needed me as a billing manager, so I hired someone to replace me as receptionist.  All I knew about billing was that they had a lot of problems with it.  I didn’t know how to fix them.  So on every claim that wasn’t getting paid, I called the insurance company and asked why not.  Believe it or not, they told me why and what I needed to do to fix it.  Then, I called the computer system company we used for billing and said, “I need to resubmit this claim – how do I do it?”  I learned quite a bit about billing.

My father was not thrilled when his Masters-in-PT daughter was working as a receptionist at a doctor’s office.  But when I decided to move to Bethesda, MD and they offered to pay me to work from home, dad was blown away.  “So you sit at your computer in Bethesda, and work the insurance stuff for this doctor in Boston?”  “Yup.  In my pajamas if I want.  Anytime I want.”

If you’re saying that it’s just me, that I have some sort of luck, that you could never do this, then I give you this quote from Mary Kay Ash: “If you think you can, you can.  If you think you can’t, you’re right.”

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