I would like to be able to say that teaching is all I ever wanted to do; that when I could first choose a path for life, I thought of the joy in instructing others. That would be a lie. I wanted to be a writer, a journalist, a doctor, a corporate guru, and in my younger years, Princess Leia, but never a teacher. I work with amazing people who have been teaching for years, who knew that this was what they wanted to do. I, for lack of a better word, stumbled into it.
I did very well in school, but I was very shy, except around my friends. I always compared myself to the popular girls who were tall and blonde and beautiful. I was nerdy, short, had coke bottle glasses and I always ruined the ‘curve’. I didn’t like speaking in front of the class and I didn’t want to do anything that would draw attention to me in any way. I honestly didn’t think much of myself except that I could master any subject, pass any test, or do anything academic with ease. By the time I was 26, I had my Master’s degree and wanted to finish my Ph.D., joining the ranks of professors. Life is funny though: It had other plans for me. My Ph.D. program lost accreditation right before I was to move to attend and I was lost. Utterly, completely, totally, l-o-s-t! I laid on my couch for a week surrounded by boxes of my life and wondered what it was I was supposed to do with this messy moment. (You’re thinking perhaps that it was then I had a revelation, an epiphany, that I was meant to help others learn. Nice way to sum up the story, but wrong.)
I wandered from job to job to job. I always did them very well, but something was always missing. I didn’t feel as if I had purpose, that I helped anyone in particular, or that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. It wasn’t until I was 32 that I came across a local program where I could achieve my teaching certificate in a year since I already had a degree. I was working for my grandfather selling real estate (never work for family), had the time and realized I had nothing to lose. I gained my certificate by passing the certification tests the first time, and I was set.
Granted, like any new teacher, I had delusions, ( super big ones), about how my classroom would run. It would be like a combination of ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus’ and ‘Dead Poet’s Society’, where I inspired inquiring minds to ‘seize the day’! They would show up excited to be in my class, would eagerly complete all my assignments, and would leave at the end of the year, better people! I would single-handedly save the academic world! I quickly discovered that the only thing some wanted to ‘seize’ was a nap, some only wanted to complete a text on their ‘hidden’ phones in their laps, and the only thing some couldn‘t wait to do was leave my class. Although I won them over with my witty remarks and they all thought I was ‘so funny’, I couldn’t seem to get them to learn and love learning. I cried a few times in the bathroom stalls and I had to ask myself if I had yet again made a mistake.
One day near the end of the year, I found a note on my desk while grading papers. I still have it and it reads:
Dear Mrs. Lap, Thank you for this year. It has been so much fun. As I leave this school, my head will be full of memories from your class. It was a place where I could be myself. You helped me realize that it is better to be myself than to be something I’m not. With Love, your student.
I felt like a giant ass. I had been so focused on “the curriculum” that I forgot the most important part: the students. I told myself that I would never again make the worksheet more important than the kid. I would never make the test supersede a student’s bad home life. I would not forget what it was like to be unnoticed, overlooked, and to feel unimportant. Once I made this the cornerstone of my teaching, everything else fell into place. Now, granted, some days are better than others and some kids are still knot-heads. They are teenagers and they roll their eyes, but as long as they leave my classroom with whatever knowledge I can give them about science and life in general, I am fine with the mood swings and semi-drama. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve found it yourself, but amidst it all, I know that I’m finally where I need to be. I am a teacher.