There aren’t many lines of work where simply being you is an advantage to getting the job done. A vital aspect of Amber Gay’s skill set, though, is that she simply likes and cares about people. Her place of employment? AGAPE High School of Saint Paul Public Schools District 625 (Adolescent Girls and Parenting Program), where she is a toddler teacher.
“As a lead teacher, I assume primary responsibility for the kids in my room, identifying special needs, making observations regarding health and development, planning lessons, keeping parents and families informed of their children’s progress and development, testing, assessments, conducting conferences. I maintain our classroom files as well.
“In a broader sense, [I] introduce young minds to the world. Toddlers have a wealth of newfound abilities that need to be put in context for them. For example, I’m one and a half and I can kick my leg while standing. Instead of kicking walls and people, I should use my new skills to kick a ball.”
What makes her suitable? Gay is someone who, as report cards used to say, works and plays well with others. “I’m a people person. I like working closely with people, especially when I can use my problem-solving skills [to] help somebody.
“Like, I’m really good with kids. I always have been. Generally, just being interested in these little people and treating them with love, patience and respect is what I do.”
AGAPE, in existence since 1958, offers a secondary educational program to teens who are pregnant or parenting. In addition to the usual academics studies, the holistic program provides intervention to help students with social, emotional and physical health issues and counsels them in family and consumer sciences, career investigations and on-the-job training.
“I like the AGAPE, the things it does for the teens,” says Gay. “There are 395 pregnant or parenting girls in the St. Paul Public School System identified this year, ages ranging from nine to 18. It’s a really delicate job that we do.
“The graduation rate when they’re in the mainstream population is something around 50 percent. [At] AGAPE it’s been 90 percent. For years.”
She has been there since June after layoffs cost her a position of four years at Head Start instructing pre-schoolers, and she finds the work profoundly rewarding. However, it can also be a headache spending the whole day extending herself to others and needing, when she gets home, to simply sit down someplace quiet and leave the world behind.
“I need more time to myself than the average person. Just because I am in an emotionally trying position all the time professionally. I have to give of myself a lot at work. It weighs on me. I need time to sort things out, down time to just unplug. Rest.”
Gay lives with her man of two years, Carl Weyandt, a forklift driver. (Along with holding down day jobs, both are musicians — Gay sings part time with the band Inukshuk Pass and Weyandt is a drummer). The two-income household with no children has managed well coping with the prolonged recession.
It didn’t always. For give or take a year, they hit a rough patch. “We had our own personal recession [when] Carl was unemployed for a while. That was eye-opening.
“Instead of two who are pretty financially self-sufficient, we had to divvy up the funds and try to be fair. It ended up that neither of us got to have as many of the personal expenses that we were used to. Also, I was driving a lot less, because gas is expensive. Not eating less, but being a bit more frugal about what we [bought]. More necessity-focused than wants. Had to put a lot of those wants away.”
Which she found wasn’t necessarily a bad thing in some ways. Looking back on it, laughing, Gay reflects, “Carl has a huge sweet tooth. He likes to go down that chips, crackers, cookies aisle with all the bright colors and the junk food. I’ve never been a person to eat like that. So, I guess it gave me an excuse to have him eat healthier by saying we don’t really need at all [stuff] in our cupboard.”
Gay adds that some of it wasn’t so funny. “It’s stressful. You start wondering, ‘What are you doing all day that you can’t find a job?’ The truth of the matter, though, is that it was difficult [for him].” Jobs, after all, don’t grow on trees and have been scarce for quite some time now. “That’s true. I’m lucky.”
What kind of job does she think President Obama is doing with turning the economy around? Gay brightly answers with a shrug, “I don’t know. I have no idea. After voting for him, I don’t have television at my house. I’m not a person who buys the newspaper every day. So, I don’t really keep up with stuff like that.
“I know it affects me personally, the economy’s trickle-down effect. Or lack thereof. But, I guess I don’t really concern myself with the sum total of it, because it is what it is. Until [something changes], we have to live with it.”
Why did she vote for him? “I guess I sort of bought into the whole campaign slogan. I was ready for change. I was just ready for somebody different.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.