Teaching

I have known I have wanted to teach for all of my life. I have always loved school, and as a kid when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I answered quickly and distinctly: “I want to teach.” I’ve felt a calling, a tug, and when I’ve worked other jobs and put college on hold, I knew I was making a mistake. I knew I was delaying my destiny. I kept feeling the tug. I’m going back to school now to finally pursue my dream, and for the first time in my adult life, I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be; I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

When I was young, I lived in a children’s home. I lived in a cottage with seven other boys and two cottage parents. As you can imagine, I didn’t get a lot of attention. I was in Band and Dance, and I had various recitals and performances where I would look out into the audience and see parents of my classmates cheering their kids on. I didn’t talk to anyone about it back then, but it was defeating. I wanted more than anything to have someone in the audience there for me. I vividly remember one Band performance where one of my sixth grade teachers, Mrs. Lewis, walked over to me from somewhere in the bleachers, and let me know that she was watching me, and that she was so proud of me.

In Elementary School, I would get bullied by the other boys in my cottage while waiting for the bus, and I would arrive to school dirty and beat up. Kids are cruel to each other sometimes. I remember sitting out in the hallway before class one morning, and I just broke down in tears. I was young, and I had a lot of difficult things going on in my life. It wasn’t just the bullying. It was the family issues, the lack of support, and the overall sadness I felt, even though I did a good job smiling and feigning happiness on the outside most of the time. A teacher I had for a tutoring class required for Connie Maxwell students (Connie Maxwell was the children’s home in which I grew up), Mr. Blackwell, walked over, took my hand, and led me to his classroom. He let me wash up and asked me what was going on. He listened, and I told him everything. He checked on me everyday after that.

My seventh, my eighth, and my ninth grade English teachers, Mrs. McMahan, Mrs. Septon, and Miss Moore all noticed my writing, and came up to me away from class to encourage me to pursue it. My ninth grade teacher sent me to writing workshops and recommended me for the Governor’s School for Arts (although I never went because it was too expensive).

My current Psychology Professor, Dr. Tam, asked us to write about ourselves the first day of her class, and I mentioned the children’s home because it’s largely responsible for who I am today. She ended up connecting me with a charity in town that allows me to support others who are growing up or have grown up in similar circumstances to my own while receiving support myself (moral, not financial). I haven’t been able to participate in that charity as much as I’d like, but already I’ve gotten to talk to other students and have begun to form connections. One of the employees from the charity randomly e-mails me to see how I’m doing. That alone is worth more than anyone could ever know.

Teachers are heroes to me. All of the ones I specifically mentioned and so many more. I have so many stories I can share about how my teachers have taken an interest in me and impacted my life in some way. They are the reason I want to teach. They make me want to be a hero for a kid like they have been to me. If I spend the rest of my working life teaching and can make a difference in just one kid’s life along the way, I will feel complete.

I decided to teach Middle School (6th-8th grade), because those were the ages I was most vulnerable and in most need of attention and guidance. I had great Middle School teachers. If I didn’t, I’m not sure I’d be the person I am today. I had a really rough childhood.

Deciding I want to teach and knowing the age group I want to teach were easy decisions. Choosing a subject is a little more difficult. My favorite subjects in school have always been English and Math. Luckily, the college I’m going to allows me to choose the two subjects I want to teach. Other colleges require you to choose a pairing of English and Social Studies or Science and Math for Middle Level Education. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I want to teach, and I keep coming back to English. I love to read and write, and I believe that English is a platform that can dive into deep issues via literature and writing and allow kids to express themselves. I’m picking up Math because I’m good at it and enjoy it, but also because it’s a critical needs area in my state. If I can’t find a job teaching English, I will be able to fall back on the Math and find a position quite easily.

What’s interesting about me, and I think this is true about some of my best teachers is that deciding to teach was a primary decision and deciding what to teach was secondary. There are teachers who have done the opposite: loved a subject, and looked for something they could do with their subject, settling on teaching. Coaches come to mind. I’ve had so many teachers (mainly Social Studies) who did not teach and gave us busy work, but held their position so they could coach Football or whatever. I wonder if my passion for English and Math comes from having really good English and Math teachers in the past. My best teachers taught those subjects. My Eighth grade Science teacher really wanted to teach Math, and let us know that, but ended up with Science that year. My Chemistry teacher in 10th grade didn’t teach at all. I wonder if I had more passionate teachers in those subjects, would I have more passion for those subjects? I think I would. That’s why I think picking the right subject to teach is so important.

I met with the Head of Middle Level Education at my college, and he presented an alternative route to me: he said I could major in Secondary Education (in English or Math — I’d choose English), and take one extra class and be certified to teach 6th-12th grade, or I could continue on the course I’m on now and be able to teach just 6th-8th grade, but be able to teach two subjects. I need to decide pretty quickly — do I want to go for the extra subject (Math), or the extra grades (9th-12th)?

6 Responses to Teaching

  • I would go for the extra subject, because there’s much better chances of finding something if you’ve got Math as your backup. And I say that as someone who taught French and English. English spots are one of the hardest to come by. In general, it’s easier to find spots at middle schools than it is to find English spots.

    Not to mention, 9th-12th is a whole other ball game from middle school. If your passion is really to teach middle school ages, you probably don’t want to end up with just high school seniors or juniors, which could easily be what happens.

  • I’m seconding Lori. The secondary subject will likely fit better with your overall plan. The grade levels can be dramatically different and that can be much tougher to sort through. If you’re sure that’ll middle school is where you want to be an extra subject would be better to make you more rounded.

  • Definitely do the math. If you don’t get an English job, you will probably get a math one because, like you said, they are more in demand now. Then when an English spot opens up, you’ll already be an employee and have a better chance of being able to just switch subjects within the same system. Teachers here do that. You could always add certifications for other grade levels later.

    And I was one of those people who knew I wanted to teach, but not the subject. Math to history to Spanish to visual arts, here!

    • Those are the best kinds of teachers, in my opinion, Margie! Yay us!

      That’s what I was thinking — I can always move a year or two later, and I’d be open to teaching a class or two of Math if there are extra Math classes they need covered. In a perfect world, I could teach both the same year.

      I thought about adding certifications for the other two subjects, later, actually, so I could teach whatever they need me to eventually. 🙂 Everyone’s told me once I get in a Math position, it’ll be harder to get into an English one because the principal will want to keep his Math teachers teaching Math.

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