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Educating Around the Edges

By Amy Nielsen

When I introduce myself these days, I still find myself stumbling on the wording of my title.

I don’t really have a short answer like accountant. I am a teacher, but I teach both adults and children. I teach subjects that are on the fringe of several different fields: art, movement, spirituality and nutrition, to name a few. I call myself a health and wellness mentor, but that takes quite a bit of explaining as well.

I am three quarters of the way through my year-long, intensive schooling that will solidify my new career and carry me through this next phase of my life. But, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I feel like I have so many options that choosing one means that I respect or love the others less. I know I can’t do it all, nor should I. I am truly a Jack of all trades and yes a master of none.

The question becomes, do allow myself the ability to teach many different yet loosely related classes, or do I become master in one of them and practice the others as a hobby of sorts. Or, can I fashion some sort of happy little space where I get to teach those classes I want and mother over a shared community hearth?

Because of the kinds of classes I teach, I can teach in lots of different locations. I have the option to be a master and Jack at once. If I open my own center and have my friends come teach in my space as well, then I become the queen of my space.

Now the dilemma is where to open business.

I have really two options on where locate a center. One is a smaller, lower income community at the county seat with a diverse but fractured population. The community has recently begun a hopeful economic turnaround fueled by the groundbreaking for a new casino.

There are grants to be had, buildings for sale and no other businesses like this in the area already. By offering a variety of price point options for classes, and a commitment to community wellness, I could be well positioned to be a leader as the community changes and grows. The downside: I would be working hard for alternative funding sources as the community is significantly more economically depressed.

The other location is in a more homogeneous population with a greater disposable income base and a decided bent towards the kinds of classes I offer, but there are already lots of other practitioners doing similar work. The pluses to being there are the ability to share space until I determine exactly which classes fly and the ability to charge a living wage for them. The down side is the added competition and the need to find a very specific niche to fill in a crowded pool.

Another option is not staying in one location at all and working as a traveling teacher instead. This gets tricky in our area which sees an influx of tourists. It means working really hard within the community to make sure I am plugged in to all off-season functions and activities. It requires a lot more networking and out of the box thinking. All that said, many of our neighbors live this sort of jack of all trades life here in the hills.

The last option I am working with is to be an association or events style leader. I already know lots of folks who teach similar enough classes that I could plan event days in which I coordinate bringing several practitioners to the same location. This option would require significant networking skills, something I like to do. It would possibly mean less of my own teaching and more administrative work.

In this day and age of growing community activism at a grass roots level, it behooves me to get in with the local communities to develop a space or series of classes that fills known needs. Networking is the only way that happens. We as a society have gotten out of the habit of proper formal introductions. The problem is that nothing gets done if you don’t know who to talk to.

When a friend tells me I should go talk to Mr. Joe Sneaker because he knows him well, I expect to be introduced, not told to simply look him up and cold call. I feel this means the friend either doesn’t know Mr. Sneaker as well as he said or that he doesn’t think my idea will fly with Mr. Sneaker.

If you believe in your friends, and you know someone who might have a mutual interest, it is your job to introduce them to each other, in person if possible.

Networking in the hills is a bit different than networking in the city and networking between the two is proving virtually impossible. That is the main reason that I am leaning away from basing my operations in the northern town. The dichotomy between the year round town folk and the weekend visiting city folk is sometimes astounding. The blinders both sides wear takes my breath away.

So, the search continues for exactly the right opportunity. I keep looking at buildings when I drive down the main street in our county seat and see all of the businesses sprucing up. I keep checking out the shared spaces and other community centers in the tourist town up north. I am exploring what each county has to offer already and who the community leaders are in those areas. As I reach out and keep talking about and around what I want to do, something will solidify. I just have to be ready to leap and fly.

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