Denise Foster’s Pivotal Moment

Life is Too Long to do Something You Don’t Love” - Denise Foster's Pivotal Moment

“You know when you travel somewhere and you arrive there for the first time? I don’t know maybe this is just me, but when I first go somewhere I get a feeling. It’s either a feeling of ‘woosh, I’m supposed to be here’ or ‘this is going to be terrible.’  It was that ‘woosh’ I got after the first month [of teaching]. It was like, ‘oh okay this is really where I’m supposed to be.’”

After 22 years in the financial industry, Denise decided to switch careers. 

“I found myself having daily thoughts of "what did I do today that mattered?" During that time I was having conversations with a friend, Adina, who taught at a low-performing, urban school. I loved hearing her stories about her students and helping her plan lessons. I found that her students' successes, and her joys as a teacher, were much more significant than my experiences making wealthy individuals wealthier. So, I decided to get my soul back. Leaving the financial stability and "known" of the corporate world was terrifying. But I knew from the first, oh-so-intimidating day of teaching that I had made the right decision. I sang all the way to work and sang all the way home. The students welcomed me, trusted in me, and showed incredible patience with their old, rookie teacher. They let me into their world and shared how important it was for them to be the first in their families to not only go to college but, in many cases, to be the first to graduate from high school.”

After reading Denise’s story from last summer, we sat down to talk some more about how switching careers had an impact on her. When I asked her if her understanding of equity changed, she shared:

“It’s been a reality check... for the one thing I was naive. I really thought everyone got the same education regardless of what public school they attended. Also, just by hearing my kids’ stories, and helping them through their situations, I’ve realized how very privileged I was growing up and how very bad-ass my kids are.”

Denise then shared a story about one of her first students, Reuben, whom she is still in touch with today.  In middle school, Reuben was a part of the big brother program. His mentor recommended that he apply to attend magnet school since it could open up more doors in the future.

“Little 8th grade Reuben got on a city bus and didn’t tell anybody in his family. He gathered all the paperwork he needed, he didn’t tell his mom what she was signing, just said she needed to sign it for school. He came up here for the interviews and killed it.”

Even though Reuben was accepted his mother said he couldn’t go. The bus stop was too far away. However, since the principal was so enamored with him after his interview, he decided to pick Reuben up every day for the first semester.

Reuben is one of the many students that show me what a huge difference it makes to have a few teachers, a good school, and a little bit of knowledge about, ‘You know what? You are capable of this.' He got a full ride to Harvard and is now a teacher in Boston, and he majored in literature... I love him so much, and we still talk all the time.”

Reuben received his Master’s in education and he received the 2019 Early Career Educators of Color Honor from the National Council of Teachers of English.

“He’s just that kind of guy… he’s golden… he’s just a good human.”

Rather than focusing on one specific event, this Pivotal Moment is a story about transformation. In redefining her career, her outlook on life, and her purpose, Denise’s moment of realization resembles the true power of education.

“I started the financial industry thinking, ‘well, I’ll just do this for a few years and then I’ll go into teaching… 22 years later. You end up kinda getting sucked into it. It’s never too late to change careers; I was 45. At some point, you may have to make the decision that happiness and contributing to the world are more important than money. I hate to sound like a cliche but life is too long to do something you don’t love. So you have a bunch of money, who cares? What have you done?”

Denise Foster has been a part of our network as a Pivotal Educator since 2020. Denise is a English teacher from Dallas, Texas. Learn more about Denise by checking out her profile here.

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