When I was a little girl I kept my toys sorted in cardboard boxes that I found at the grocery store. One carton held board games, another had all of my dolls and their clothing and a third container was filled with items for playing school. I generally had a difficult time recruiting volunteers to pretend that they were in my classroom because nobody wanted to do extra work during time away from the real thing and I was notoriously strict as an erstwhile educator.
I used some of my father’s books for my lessons and meticulously created practice examples and comprehensive tests. I graded everything in red ink of course and gave each of my somewhat unwilling students report cards at the end of each session. Needless to say I always had to search for new victims each time that I decided to open my classroom but I had enough sway over my brothers that they grudgingly went along with my role playing. I suppose that it was almost a certainty that I would one day be a teacher, but in truth I fought against that idea until I was in my early thirties.
I am a woman from the pioneering era of equality for women. The trend for my peers was to eschew the customary female occupations for positions in traditionally male roles. I was encouraged to become a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, an accountant, anything but a teacher. The word on the street was that those who were unable to do anything else became teachers and I was a bit too proud to channel my intellect into a job that was rapidly losing its luster. I changed my major so many times that I finally took a sabbatical so that I might clear my head and contemplate what I really wanted to do with my life, not what everyone was telling me to do.
No matter how much I meditated on my ultimate role in society I kept circling back to the idea of teaching. Ultimately I became determined to follow my heart and I returned to college to finish my degree. The second time around I encountered the most incredible professors who encouraged me to use my talents in what they deemed to be one of the noblest of professions. I channeled all of my enthusiasm into learning about the science of teaching. I soon realized that there was way more to the profession than just bending students to my will. I became an eager advocate for the profession that would become an integral part of my life.
My first job was literally a Godsend. There happened to be a glut of teachers in the Houston area due to an economic downturn in the oil business and my fellow graduates and I were having a difficult time finding open positions anywhere. I submitted applications all over town and finally got a call from a private Catholic school only minutes away from my home. Surprisingly I landed a job teaching mathematics to sixth, seventh and eighth graders, something that I had never intended to do. I had to create lesson plans for six completely different classes as well as sponsor the school newspaper and head a committee taxed with purchasing computers for the campus.
I don’t think that I have ever worked as hard as I did during that first year but I enjoyed every minute of the experience. My students were delightful and I found out that I was fairly good at my chosen occupation. I was surrounded by other teachers from whom I learned how to improve my craft and the atmosphere at the school was one of kindness and optimism. I was certain after my maiden voyage as a teacher that I had found the perfect fit for my interests and my talents.
My determination to be an educator was solidified by that initial foray, but I wanted to have experiences in different settings so that I might define both my strengths and my weaknesses. Before long I set my eye on working with economically disadvantaged students in elementary school. There I had to plan for lessons in every single subject including art. It was an incredible challenge because my students were often riddled with home problems which often showed themselves in bad behaviors at school. It was time consuming to prepare for each day of school and I was challenged by both classroom management issues and methods for conveying knowledge of every conceivable kind. Each day I was responsible for twenty seven little souls who ranged from brilliant to learning disabled, well behaved to difficult. With the help of an amazing principal I learned much and became more confident than ever that I had made the right choice in deciding to be a teacher.
The rest is history as they say. I returned to an upscale private school for a time and then agreed to work in a public school filled with gang members. By then I understood that kids are kids and they all struggle to get past the angst of adolescence and teen years. My specialty became understanding where they were and starting from that reality to encourage them to move forward. I found myself loving every single one of my pupils and every challenge that I encountered with them.
I ended my career as a Dean of Faculty. By then I was working with the teachers, understanding the problems that they faced and doing my best to encourage and help them the way others had done for me. I never regretted a single day that I spent in the teaching profession. I felt that I had found my true purpose in life and I still get great joy from helping young people to learn. Our society may not have much regard for the teaching professions, which is unfortunate, but I learned that only those who can, teach. It takes dedication, long hours of hard work, physical and mental stamina, and a true heart. I’m glad I followed mine and found so much joy as a teacher.