This is a question asked in almost every teaching interview and by a lot of curious people as well. So what’s my answer? Well it’s not a short one that’s for sure. I think it started when I was just a kid. I remember being nine years old and trying to help my sister learn to read, playing school, teaching her the letters and their sounds, then at eleven doing the same with my brother who didn’t take to it quite as well. 🙂 Yet even with that I didn’t even consider teaching when I first started thinking about my future career in eighth grade, yes I’m an overachiever.
In eighth and ninth grades I was sure I wanted to be a journalist, specifically a broadcast journalist. Yep, someday I was going to an anchor on the local news. To that end I took Beginning Journalism my freshman year then I joined the newspaper staff the following two years. I discovered that while I enjoyed writing editorials, hmm yeah that’s really no surprise to anyone who knows me I’m sure, and I loved seeing my name in the byline I was just not comfortable doing interviews for any other type of article. I got incredibly nervous and for no real reason. That wasn’t the only reason I dropped the idea of becoming a journalist however. One evening I was watching the news, to this day I can’t remember the topic of the story but I remember that the person being interviewed had a dramatically different opinion than mine and that they were very smug about it. I was amazed that the reported who did seem a bit uncomfortable was able to maintain objectivity, which I had been taught was key to be a quality journalist. Ok I realize that seems to have gone by the wayside for many journalists, newspapers, news channels, or news programs but at the time it seemed to still be a goal of most journalists. I was just unsure that I would be able to maintain that same level of objectivity. So with those things in mind I began to think about what else I might do with my life.
Babysitting was my first job, I watched all of the kids in the neighborhood at one point or another. So naturally I began thinking that teaching could be the career for me. At that time my mother was a school nurse, she arranged for me to come spend the day in her building for a special disabilities awareness day they were having. I then assisted her school’s team when my high school hosted the local Special Olympics. For a while I thought I might be a special education teacher, ultimately I decided I simply didn’t have the strength for that. Having worked with some wonderful SpEd teachers I can safely say I made the right call. I am in awe of teachers that work with students with so many disabilities. They are amazing!
Still thinking about teaching but trying to decide at what level I went to see my counselor while enrolling in classes senior year. I was trying to decide between teaching high school English, my favorite subject, or elementary school specifically the younger grades. At that time I wanted nothing to do with middle school, wow looking back that just makes me laugh. To try to make that decision I signed up to cadet teach Honors English II with Mr. Hopkins, one of my favorite teachers. Actually if I list my favorite teachers many of them were my English teachers, it really should have been no surprise I ended up teaching Communication Arts. I also took but Child Development and Advanced Child Development that year, meaning I spent a few days a week in the pre-school in our building. My counselor added me to the tutoring list as well. I enjoyed both cadet teaching and working in the preschool but it was the tutoring that sealed the deal for me.
I began tutoring a third grader in late October, early November. We worked on his language arts and math work. One evening he had an assignment on pronouns and simply did not understand how or why to use them. I decided to tell him a story to try to demonstrate why pronouns are needed. He had previously told me a bit about his Aunt Sunny so I asked him to pretend he had told me a story about his aunt and this was the story:
Aunt Sunny went to the grocery store. Aunt Sunny got a cart. Aunt Sunny put groceries in the cart. Aunt Sunny went to the checkout stand. Aunt Sunny put the groceries in bags. Aunt Sunny took the bags outside. Aunt Sunny put the bags in the car.
At this point I asked him if he would tell me the story that way or would he tell me some other way. Obviously I was trying to get him to tell me that he would say “she” instead of Aunt Sunny; instead I got a blank look. Ok time to try something new. This time I said “What if I said the sea is green?” I have no idea what I was going to say next because he immediately replied, “No it’s not it’s blue!” Ah ha! “What did you say?” I prompted, he started “No it’s not it’s…” that was it, that was when the light bulb go on. He was thrilled and I knew I wanted to spend my life helping kids get those light bulb moments.
Light bulb moments don’t come every day, sometimes not even every week but they are so exciting when they do hit. Sometimes it takes even the student a while to realize they’ve learned something new or changed their attitude about a subject they previously “hated”. I absolutely love hearing my former students say to me “You know I hated reading until you made me read ____________” makes me grin every time. There is another moment that gets me every time, haven’t come up with a name for it yet so if you have a suggestion let me know, when you explain something to a student, help them through a struggle and then they turn around and help another student with the same problem. Hmm, pay-it-forward moment maybe? I like that. This happen frequently in one of my kindergarten tech classes. One of the little girls will raise her hand with a question I’ll go help her then move on to the next student. Without anyone asking or any prompting I’ll see her slip quietly across the room to help someone else. I have kiddos who will yell out “I can help, I can do it for you, I can show you” not this little one, she simply helps quietly then goes back to her own computer. It’s just so sweet. Moments like those are the others that make my day.
I honestly can’t imagine myself doing anything else. As I continue searching for a classroom position, this being my fourth year, there have been people who ask me why don’t I switch careers, find something else to do. The simple answer is there is nothing else I want to do. Teaching is it for me. Yes, there are times that are incredibly stressful, not long ago I was having the same issues over and over with the internet and technology in my room and had been unable to find a reason for them problems, calling tech help hadn’t helped either. I got so frustrated I literally stomped my feet, the kids looked at me kind of funny. I apologized and told them I was really frustrated because I wanted this work for them and I hadn’t found the answer yet. They laughed. There are times when children push my every button and I have to stop and take deep breaths for a while because I know the majority of the time they’re not doing it on purpose, well not my kiddos now anyway some of my former middle school students on the other hand LOL. Still l wouldn’t trade this career for the world.
So fellow teachers, what was your moment of realization? Why did you become a teacher? Everyone else why do you do what you do?
Editing to add this video of a poem by Taylor Mali (‘ll be posting my other favorite of his at a later date but I came across this one and it summarizes my post to so well) I Teach for the Fire