I fell into teaching like a wooly mammoth stumbling into a tar pit, with lots of flailing around and the sinking suspicion that I couldn’t escape. My parents each spent over 30 years teaching, expanding the minds of the next generation. Two aunts and two grandparents were teachers too. All loved what they did, but growing up I could count 1000 reasons not to become a teacher.
I went to bed to the click-clacking of a typewriter, my mother at the kitchen table typing lesson plans. A family TV night was underscored by the swish of paper after paper falling into a checkered basket. It had ‘graded’ written across the side in big block letters. During snow days I sat in a too-big desk in an empty classroom, watching “West Side Story” or some other movie made from a literary classic. Where we lived teachers still had to work.
Starting in seventh grade my mom taught at my school. Scrounging lunch money was nice, but didn’t offset the unpopularity I gained by being a teacher’s kid. I even told my English teacher senior year that I’d be a garbage man before I’d become a teacher. That statement would come back to haunt me a few years later…
Looking for a future
I entered college studying science, hoping to travel into outer space someday. Like many college students, I worked to help pay for school. I spent summers as a lifeguard at the community pool. Lifeguarding led to swim lessons, and before I knew it I spent more time in the pool than guarding it. I loved it too, but easily explained it away. I was a competitive swimmer. After all, I still didn’t want to become a teacher.
After a few college classes and some flying experience in a single-engine Cessna, I realized two things about my chosen career path. First, I hated the math needed for engineering. Second, my stomach didn’t like zero gravity. Can they pull the Space Shuttle over so I can get out and throw up? I think not.
I floundered. I cut class. I earned poor grades one semester, dropped half my classes the next. I quit school altogether. I had no direction and was still living at home. My parents passed down an ultimatum'”find a full-time job, fast. It was the best thing they could have said to me. I was a burger flipper, a jewelry salesgirl, then a bank teller. I swore to myself I wouldn’t become a teacher.
A light goes on
Finally, I was hired by an outdoor education program in the local mountains. The work was a combination of camp counselor, scientist, and teacher. It was full-time and included on-site housing and meals. I was leery of the teaching, but with a car payment due, I couldn’t pass it up. My first week spanned a range of human emotions'”fear, loathing, denial, and surprisingly, joy and pride. The first time I helped a student reach that “A-ha” moment when they finally fit all the pieces together I was hooked.
I became a teacher 17 years ago. Since then I have earned a bachelor’s degree, a teaching credential, and a master’s degree. I have opened my classroom door to over 1800 students. I have laughed with them, and cried with them. I have coddled, cajoled, and threatened them. But most of all I have fed them, nourishing their minds and guiding their futures. Why do I do it, you ask? I do it because I am a teacher.