Becoming a teacher was the furthest thing from my mind while growing up. During the popularity of “Little House on the Prairie,” my younger sister and her friends would play “school,” and I would run screaming for the hills. Coming from an extended family of teachers, I wanted a career that would be exciting and fulfilling, and teaching was NOT it. I did not want to babysit a group of kids during the day and grade papers at night. So I did everything in my power not to become a teacher.
Journalism was my first love, and I ended up on a college newspaper assignment at a summer camp for foster kids up in Yacolt, Washington. That was my first glimpse of the powerful impact of relationships have on children with nurturing, encouraging, stable adults in their lives. It was inspiring to see the uplifting interactions between the camp counselors and the children who have experienced extreme emotional, physical, and psychological trauma. I remember leaving that camp and driving home, reflecting on how much journalism would touch children’s lives. I couldn’t compare the two.
From there I enrolled in an early education class in my community college and was required to volunteer as an aide in a parenting class for the biological parents who have lost custody of their children. That was also quite a memorable experience as I helped chaperone sex offenders and their children as they played together during supervised visits. Once again, I experienced the impact of the educators as the cornerstone of these children’s upside-down lives. During that experience, I started to question my decision to become a journalist. I knew that it was a highly competitive field, and I wondered how much I could impact lives through writing.
Therefore I gained my degree in Elementary Education. That was before the days of online courses. During the process to gain my education degree, I spent several practicums at the Yakima Indian Reservation, teaching hands-on science experiments to the students. Through my own hands-on teaching experience of multicultural children, I learned how important it was respect the diversity of the classroom. This was definitely an eye-opening experience for a white girl from southwestern Washington!!
Fast forward to a few more years down the road, and I began my teaching career at a rural school in southwestern Washington. Although rural, the students’ parents were upper middle class, and the parent involvement was amazing! The school was practically run by the parents. You could sense a tremendous support system from the community behind the academic success of the students. I learned from those six wonderful years how powerful parents are as teachers at home! It propelled my commitment to teach parents how to support their children at home in future school assignments.
Before moving to Arizona, I concluded my teaching experience at a school with the majority of Russian- Ukrainian students. Once again, this white girl’s eyes were opened wide to the value of respecting diversity in the classroom- it might not be obvious in skin color but is hidden in the deep-rooted traditions, values, and beliefs of cultures. I learned how to respect the two different cultures in the same classroom and how valuable it was to overtly teach tolerance of different cultures to the children of the Cold War.
Throughout the decade and half of being a teacher, I have continually questioned my choice to remain in education. It hasn’t been an easy career……. need I embellish? At this point the success of American students and teachers is based on scores. The time needed for relationships and purposeful units of study is overtaken by testing, testing, testing. I see less parental involvement at school and home. So why do I stay? I stay to remain an advocate for the children, giving them a culture of achievement. I choose to provide the children with a supportive, stable environment that is not always supplied at home. I need to remain in the classroom to be the one who says, “I don’t care what score you earned on that assessment, you are a valuable human being. I believe in you. You need to believe in yourself.”
What have I learned? Teaching is definitely not babysitting. I imagine myself as a plate spinner at the circus at times, keeping all the plates perfectly balanced and moving. It takes talent, endurance, patience, and hope. A 21st century teacher needs to have the nerve to stare down the lion of standardized assessments, wisdom to build a respectful community of students from diverse backgrounds, and creativity to make something out of nothing. Teaching is exciting, challenging, and life-changing.
I hope that you will want to share why you are a teacher. What is your story? Check out the new website from the USDOE, “Teach.” It is an excellent resource for current and hopeful teachers to inspire, encourage, and teach each other. This great community of educators is found at www.teach.org. Hope to see you there!