ABOUT CARA RUSSELL
My Career Journey
As a child, my mom often referred to me as well rounded. I didn’t quite understand what it meant at the time but as I grew older it became a self fulfilling prophecy: guiding me to experience and learn about anything I could.
Personally, this led to many hobbies and a lot of travel. Professionally it is evidenced in my diverse work history in what I like to call seasons. In my early career, season one, I found myself in a string of customer service and sales positions for years. During this time I earned a bachelor degree in interior design with hopes to create inspiring spaces that promoted well-being and productivity. After my degree and working as a furniture sales consultant I started to feel called towards more. This first professional season was valuable experience but I felt ready for the next chapter.
Enter season two: I took the plunge on a childhood dream of becoming a teacher and pursued my second bachelor’s degree. While in the teacher education program I applied for a grant to become TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certified. The grant was offered through the Quality Teachers for English Learners (QTEL) program; participants were selected through a written and in-person interview process as well as a minimum GPA requirement to demonstrate drive and commitment to the program. Upon graduation I was offered a position as an English Learner Specialist Teacher at an elementary school. This was due cause for celebration; obtaining this role was part of my five year plan and I was understandably thrilled to land it as my first position. The district where I worked was the most diverse per capita in the state of Missouri, representing over 50 languages. Working with students and families from so many cultures was a major highlight of this role.
Another success of season two was the professional development I actively sought outside of the classroom. Because of my participation in the QTEL program I was invited to share my experience at the international TESOL conference in Toronto. It was during this first TESOL presentation that I started to identify myself as having a professional career. I was energized by the collective voice and sharing of best practices. Others needed to experience this feeling, so upon my return to work I encouraged my team to submit a proposal for the next conference in Baltimore. We toiled away to develop our pitch and were accepted to present a workshop on efficient curriculum development for English learners.
At the conference, my ambition in leading my team to present was recognized by an instructional leader from the state of Missouri, where I was employed at the time. A partnership blossomed and led to my participation in a new pilot program, dubbed the St. Louis CoTeach for ELs Regional Initiative, which explored the effectiveness of collaborative teaching models to improve academic achievement in English learners. As a team of six instructional specialists, I helped to plan and deliver training and coaching to 60 coteaching teams across seven local school districts. The project was demanding yet rewarding, and the data proved our efforts to be successful. My participation in the coteaching initiative offered me the chance to present once more at the TESOL conference - this time in Seattle - and share the rewarding benefits of collaboration for both students and teachers.
My career was growing fast. In just three years I had already accomplished what some near-retired teachers only dreamed about. I thrived in an environment fueled by challenge and started to rethink my goals. I knew I was motivated by the opportunity for constant learning. I knew I someday wanted to support myself and a future family. I knew I loved that feeling of having a career.
In May of 2017 I walked away from teaching. I had saved enough money to finish out the year and buy myself time to think. As I learned more about the tech industry I felt the fire of passion start to burn again.
I saw rapid growth as the norm.
I saw grit and tenacity.
I saw drive and deep critical thinking.
I saw my next career.
The next few years were spent learning anything I could about business and major career shifts. I proverbially knocked on many doors, and just as the seeds of hope were starting to shrivel up I discovered Climb Hire. Immediately, I felt seen; I related to their mission and started my application - from my car, which was my temporary home at the time while I sought answers. After a rigourous, multi-level selection process and a lot of borrowed wi-fi, I was elated to be selected! I started the cohort in September of 2020 and spent six months learning technical skills for Salesforce Administration and developing soft skills to prepare for the corporate world. The combination of new knowledge and connections within the Climb Hire network has birthed a renewed hope and laid a solid foundation to continue building my tech career dream.
My story is only still beginning... 😉