I ran across this little essay recently that I wrote for one of my introductory education classes. It seemed to resonate with me as I’m currently trying to get back to teaching full time. I revised it a bit and decided to post. Enjoy.
Why I Became a Teacher
I have no cohesive memories before eighth grade—only bits and pieces of memory.
They come as fragments—fragments of fights, fragments of school lunch, and fragments of classroom horse-play. During eighth grade and high school, I remember much, but just not about the classroom. I enjoyed math and did well. During my high school career, I had only two math teachers and one of them for only one year. I learned from him and never had trouble understanding. It puzzled me when my classmates did not understand derivatives and integrals. I always thought that if they had so much trouble with calculus, then why take the class—by that time it was not required for graduation. I did okay in science, but did not like it. My teachers were stuffy and bored, nearing retirement or bitter or a bit crazed. Chemistry was fun, but only because it came easily to me. History interested me, but not the way my history teachers taught it. Government was a joke with a teacher there only to keep us busy and collect his paycheck as he lorded his power over the seniors as since the only teacher who taught a class required for graduation. Okay, maybe I exaggerate, a little, but that realization comes from years of hindsight. At the time, I felt that way and resented him for it. I still don’t remember much from Government other than boredom and how angry he could get. Boredom seems to be the theme—that and dread.
The dread was not from hazing or not fitting in. My high school graduating class only had eighty-three people in it. We all knew each other and there were cliques, but there was a great deal of overlap so, generally all of the groups were friends and got along well. The dread came from English and speech class. I hated English. I struggled with it. I read a story or play and understood on a plot level, but the teacher always wanted to dig deeper. At the time, I felt that digging deeper was a waste of time. I took what I wanted to from the text and what the author intended made no difference because that is not how I took it. What was the point in digging deeper? What was the point of analyzing the text? I certainly saw none and not one of my teachers could or were willing to enlighten me. It didn’t help that my freshmen and senior English teacher was another one that was only there for the paycheck. He didn’t care. “Do your vocab words and read the book. Book report on Monday and vocab test on Friday,” he’d say often. He even had it written on a banner above his blackboard. My junior teacher was fired mid-year for some sort of scandal involving the current female foreign exchange student. It’s too bad, he was a decent teacher. I don’t remember sophomore English other than reading some Shakespeare. It wasn’t until nearly ten years after high school graduation that I discovered my love for language, literature, and English.
After a nine-year hiatus from college, I came back and decided to take a creative writing class. I’d always wanted to write and even attempted it a couple of times, but never had the confidence to follow through. That all changed. Something awakened in me, something that I love and would never give up. I discovered that I could write and to my surprise my fiction was well accepted by my peers and my instructor. She opened my eyes not only to my potential as a writer, but to that of literature as well. She taught me to appreciate literature not only for its plot, but for its craft as well. She showed me how to analyze it in a way that revealed the writers fingerprints and to see why it was a good piece as well as how to incorporate these tools into my own writing. I could see the layers and intent, the blood and sweat, the love and hate that each writer put into their stories, essays, and poems. I’d always been an avid reader, but reading changed for me after that class. I read everything for enjoyment and for study. I wanted to develop my skill as a writer. I wanted to study literature and more than that, I wanted teach others to see language as I now did. I don’t mean to say that I’d never considered teaching before. In fact, I had always thought about it. Most little boys want to be fire-fighters, police officers, and football players, but I never wanted any of that (well okay, I did want to be a football player,) but I never did know what I wanted to be. I did want to teach, but I didn’t feel that I could. I was too timid. High school speech class was nearly my undoing. I would go to class and dread it knowing that today could be the day that I would have to give my speech. All week would be spent like this until Friday when the teacher would pick me since the volunteers had run dry. Afterward, I would relax, but then have to start the whole grueling process over again the next week. If I couldn’t talk to my peers, how could I stand in front of a classroom every day and teach? I didn’t think that I could do it. After nine years of working in customer service and management positions in food service and my newfound love of writing and literature, I knew that I could teach. I just knew it.
I wanted to be the exact opposite of just about every teacher I had had in high school. Sure I wanted the paycheck. A man’s got to live after all and I had plans for a wife and family, but I wanted to inspire young people to love writing and literature even if they never used in their professional lives. An interesting point was brought to my attention recently—when we were young and just learning to read almost all of us loved language. We made rhymes just to hear them flow out of our mouths. We read every sign, billboard, and advertisement we could see. We loved it. I want to bring that back to my students. I want them to read just for the love of a good story. I want them to see writing as a means of therapy and introspection as well as a lens to focus and study the outside world and their fellow human neighbors. Basically I want to teach to show students who may have never had the joys and wonders of literature and writing opened up to them those joys and wonders. I want to teach, also, to give students a break from the boredom and dread that they may feel in school. I want to make school—at least one small part of it—fun again and something to look forward to. That’s why I became a teacher.