Bratty Fourth Graders Changed My Career

I was fascinated with school during my childhood in the Chicago suburbs.  I idolized teachers, offered to grade tests for them, and played school with younger neighbors in our basement.

In September, 1970, I headed to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, to start my major in elementary education. I loved my classes until my view of teaching elementary school became more realistic during my second semester of sophomore year. I observed a fourth-grade class of misbehaving lower-income students in Urbana. During spring break, I observed my fourth-grade sister’s class in suburban Chicago, only to discover that my sister’s teacher faced the same behavior problems. I sadly decided that I did not want a career disciplining students who did not want to learn. My family had to pay back two years of the Illinois State Teacher’s Scholarship. After some agonizing months, I changed my major to Spanish so I could graduate on time in December 1973 in the top 3% of my class.

Little did I know that my first full-time job, as an employment counselor at a Chicago-area employment agency in 1974, would serve as the foundation of my future career plans.  I loved to encourage applicants to discuss and achieve their career goals. I decided that I would like to be a professional career counselor and learned that I would need to earn a master’s degree. After moving to New Haven in 1975, I applied to graduate school in counseling at Southern Connecticut State College. Since my spouse was a Yale graduate student for seven years, I was unable to follow through on my plan. It was necessary for me to work full-time to make ends meet.

After he received his Ph.D. in 1981, my spouse accepted a tenure-track position at the University of South Florida. I was a Benefits Specialist for two years while applying for multiple personnel positions at USF.  I had applied to the USF Counselor Education Program when I was offered a Personnel Department job as a Classification Analyst in December 1983.  My spouse wasn’t supportive, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to complete my degree, because he actively sought employment at other universities. I accepted the Personnel position. Ironically, my new office was down the hall from the Counselor Education faculty, and we became well-acquainted.

My spouse and I separated in August 1991, when I was 39, and we divorced a year later. I now could remain in Tampa, because I no longer was a trailing spouse. Could I afford to be a graduate student now that I was single?  Yes! Full-time USF employees could take up to six credit hours per semester free.  What a wonderful incentive!

I took the first course in the Counselor Education curriculum as a non-degree-seeking student in the spring of 1992. I passed the GRE and was thrilled when the now-familiar faculty in Counselor Education interviewed me. After acceptance into the Counselor Education Program, I took one class per term while working full-time in Human Resources for over four years. On class days, I ended my workday at 4:30 p.m., grabbed some peanut butter crackers for dinner, and walked across the parking lot to my 5 o’clock class.

I loved learning and role-playing counseling techniques. Following my example, two close colleagues were inspired to work on their master’s degrees part-time, so we had fun comparing notes on our classes. During my practicum at the Counseling Center, I counseled students in both personal and career counseling. On May 4, 1996, my boyfriend (now husband), family and friends cheered as I walked across the Sun Dome stage to pose with President Castor.

I was delighted when a Career Specialist position at the USF Career Center opened up two months later.  I had worked with and liked the supervisor and staff. In September 1996, I was hired.  My new job was right down the hall from Human Resources. Twenty-one years after I decided I wanted to be a career counselor, I finally achieved my career goal. My persistence paid off.

[Bratty child photo source:]

Diane RussellDiane Russell joined OLLI in 2014. She has taken over 70 OLLI courses on leadership, radio, life story writing, Tai Chi, healthy aging, literature, science, politics, sociology, and humanities. Diane volunteers as a proofreader for the OLLI catalog and for OLLI Connects.



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