My life as an English teacher- how I got here

Today, as my sophomore students were busy in the classroom, cutting out flashcards for their new vocabulary words, I took a step back. I stopped and I listened. I heard happy voices talking about all sorts of things, the cut cut cut of the cardstock, the scissors moving up and down, kids moving about the room. I took a moment and just looked around, took it all in. For some reason this moment in my class was perfection to me. As the kids worked, I thought about my profession. I thought about being in high school myself, and I thought about how interesting it was that I became a teacher.

from my desk

Growing up, I was constantly in and out of my mother's classroom. She taught at a small school in the incredibly tight-knit artist community of Roosevelt, NJ. The school had one class per grade- K-8. There were probably 10-15 children per class, and some of my happiest memories are spending time in that school. Even though I enjoyed my time there so much, I never thought to myself that I would one day be a teacher myself. My Mom would repeatedly talk about how much she enjoyed her work, but would often tell my sister and I never to become teachers ourselves, as the pay was too low for the job at hand.

I made it through my junior high and high schools day successfully. I was the kind of person who really enjoyed my high school years- I was very social and had a great time. I didn't enjoy class though, and it was often a struggle for my parents to get me to do work- I was incredibly bored! If someone would have told me that I would be a teacher one day, I would have laughed. Even in college I didn't consider this idea. My freshman year at NAU I decided I wanted to be a number of things, and my major switched a couple of times. I started with Hotel and Restaurant Management. I thought this idea was fabulous, because what could be better than working at a tropical resort? That major and idea quickly failed when I had to take a course in hotel management, and was forced to clean the rooms and bathrooms of the campus's resident hotel. I walked out that day, disgusted. Because I've always had a love for computers and technology, the next logical major was computer programming. I took a few classes, predominately full of nerdy boys, and decided I was too personable for that profession. Looking back, I think I would have definitely been happy had I stuck to that. But alas, it wasn't for me. Next I dabbled in both psychology and economics before I finally went back to my true love, English. In high school, English was the only core subject I truly enjoyed and I'd always been a complete bookworm. Although English was my first choice of majors, I had originally shied away from choosing this path due to both my adviser and peers telling me this pick was a quick road to unemployment following graduation. I decided to give it a go anyway, and one semester in I couldn't get enough. I reveled in my surroundings- other literary nerds who found great pleasure in writing poetry, reading old books, and sitting around discussing contemporary fiction. It was a welcome break from the everyday life of a sorority girl, as cliche and silly as that may sound. I was hooked.

As the next three years went by, I fell deeper and deeper in love with all things English Literature. I took classes in everything from Rhetoric in Media to African American Literature. I learned so much. As my May 2004 graduation date loomed nearer, I began to weigh my options. I had decided my junior year that I wanted to become a lawyer, so my emphasis was in pre-law, and the LSATs were coming up. I had already decided though, that law wasn't a path I was ready to go down, so I was at a dead end of sorts. I knew that I loved writing, but I wasn't sure where exactly to get started in that field. I loved communication, but again, I wasn't sure what I could do with my Bachelor's of Arts in English.

It turned out that I decided to take some time and continue working for the company I had worked for for so long, and interviewed for a management position at the Aveda store in Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall. I got the job, and two weeks after graduation my best friends Autumn and Shirley moved down with me to Old Town Scottsdale, I began working. I liked my job. I had worked for Aveda for years and years prior to this, and I enjoyed the atmosphere and working in the field of beauty. I even toyed with the idea of making this my career. But no matter how much I enjoyed it, it just wasn't fulfilling a part of me, an intellectual part that felt silenced while working in the mall.

Around October I started to feel like maybe I wanted to become a high school teacher. I wasn't exactly sure where this thought came from- I didn't know any high school teachers my age, and I wasn't exactly sure what the road to becoming a teacher even entailed. Would I have to repeat another four years of undergraduate work to obtain an additional four year degree? While all this was going on, my feeling of idleness and my unhappiness with the retail world continued to grow. I applied for a large "grown-up" position at a large financial firm in Scottsdale to do website editing, and got the job.

Even though I was set to begin working in three weeks, I started looking into teaching and noticed that my alma mater, NAU, offered an accelerated graduate program in Phoenix where I could receive my Master's in Education while at the same time obtaining my teaching certification. Amazing. Unfortunately the next round of classes began shortly, so even though I sent in my application, I gave up hope I could begin in January. Surprisingly, a little less than three weeks later I received a call from graduate admissions informing me that I had, indeed, been accepted into the program, and my start date was the following Monday...the same day I was set to begin at the financial company. I immediately called them and informed them that I wasn't able to come into work on Monday, and set my heart on achieving this suddenly all-important goal. At the same time, I was so scared. I had just turned down an incredibly well-paying job to make a career out of something my mom had warned me about. Was I making a mistake?

Fear aside, I'll never forget when I walked into my very first graduate course. There was a woman up front- totally hip with her adorable haircut and fun outfit...and she was so positive and inspiring. From day one, this professor was a huge part of the reason I stuck with the program, and she really helped to mold me into the teacher I am now. With her help, graduate school flew by- it was an intense program, with classes lasting multiple hours many times per week. I even had to move back to Flagstaff for the summer to take a few courses. But surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I liked the idea that I would one day soon be up in front of my own class, sharing my thoughts about my favorite subject. I enjoyed having a light at the end of the tunnel- a tangible goal that got closer each day. I loved all of the classes we took on young adult fiction, lesson planning, technology in the classroom, you name it. The year continued on and before I knew it, it was time to student teach. By this point I had completed all of my graduate courses, besides my student teaching semester. Assuming that I made it through the next 16 weeks successfully, I would officially have a M.Ed. and a teaching certificate for the state of Arizona.

I had moved to Prescott from Scottsdale in the fall, during my previous semester. I had done my practicum (observation) unit at Prescott High, and decided to do my student teaching there as well. I was placed in the department head's classroom, and although I had met her before, I was still nervous about the entire thing. I had gone out on a limb moving up north during this time. There was only one high school in Prescott, and typically the school you student teach at is most apt to offer you a position following this time period. It was a gamble to be in a town with one possible job choice. What if I didn't like it? And more importantly, what if they didn't like me?

The first day of school I arrived in my mentor teacher's room. I was visibly shaking. Her first hour was seniors, and I was only 22- just four years older than them. I was petrified. All those eyes, staring at me. I was beet red from the moment I walked in the door- how on earth was I going to make these students, these people who felt like my peers, listen and respect me? What had I gotten myself into? In the confines of my graduate school courses, teaching didn't seem so scary. You present a lesson, you explain it, you answer questions. Done. No one ever mentioned the girl in the front of the room looking you up and down, or the boy in the back glaring at you, as if he was thinking, "who is this stranger?" I didn't have much time to ponder that though, because she put a vocabulary book in a my hand and said "they're all yours." I went blank for a minute, and I remember looking up and out at those 35 faces, panicked. Then my auto-pilot set in and I was somewhat okay. Now if you know anything about student teaching, you know that it's a process. You're supposed to observe for the first few weeks, ease into teaching maybe one class a day, and slowly add more. Not my experience. I was literally thrown into teaching on day one, and looking back, I am so thankful for this. Because it was so shocking, I had to immediately get over any and all fear I had. And trust me, I did. I was pushed head first intothe deep the high dive. But by the end of the first week, I was feeling completely comfortable with the kids and loving it.

The semester went by quickly, and by the end of the 16 weeks I was actually sad to go. On my last day, the principal called me into her office. She told me that she was impressed with my progress, and offered me a teaching position for the next year. It's safe to say I was ecstatic. I had fallen in love with the school, and I couldn't imagine working anywhere else. I also enjoyed the idea that Hank had gone there years before, and his parents too. I had found my place.

I was on cloud nine. I had never liked to work but I had actually found a job that I didn't dread going to each day. Aveda was fun, but it was retail, and the negatives far outweighed the positives for me. Towards the end of May, it was my time to graduate. I had surprised myself- I was 22 and graduating with my Master's degree. How did that happen? Being someone who, at the time, would often start projects and leave them unfinished, I felt so accomplished and grown up. It was a beautiful thing to feel so proud of something I had achieved. And it was even sweeter knowing that I had a job waiting for me.

Looking back on the road that brought me to my current place in life- more than a few years of teaching under my belt, happy in my job and school- I never would have guessed this for myself. I wake up most mornings excited to get there, happy to see the kids, looking forward to sharing something with them. Some days are harder than others, but like I said, most days are great. I never would have guessed that my procrastinating high school self would ever end up on the other side of the podium. But here I am. In my opinion, teaching is the most important job in the world. Every year, I get over 150 new students. When you think about the simple magnitude of the possibilities involved in that, it's dizzying. I have the opportunity to shape these little minds into something more than they walked in with. I am able to share stories and poetry, music and novels, anything and everything full of art and language and knowledge. I get to make non-readers into book lovers. I am an advice-giver, role model, and a smile. My mood directly affects my classroom, and in turn affects my students. Each day I get up in front of my kids I have a chance to positively impact each and every one of those children.

At times teaching can be difficult. I find most "out of class" tasks to be the most tedious and stressful. The paperwork, the meetings, the goals, the mandatory lesson plans...all of these things are my least favorite. My most favorite are the kids. I can't go an entire hour without laughing, and to be able to describe my day in such a way is awesome.

If you've ever thought about being a teacher, let me tell you- it's amazing. Not only do you get to enjoy a wonderful schedule, you also get to enjoy a career that is different each and every day. You get to choose an area that you love- for me, English- and share every little last bit of that with young people. What could be better?

I wrote this so I could always remember how I got to where I am today- and I thought I would share this post in case any of you were interested in the path I took to get here! I think it also serves as a reminder that if you want something, go get it! I look back at this time and I remember feeling so scared. What if I was making the wrong career choice? What if I hated it? I took the plunge though, and I can't tell you how right this all feels. I hope that if you're on the fence about something in your life, you find the strength to just go for it. Whether it be a career, a move, a choice, anything...summon up that strong part of you that is always there waiting, and allow yourself to take a chance. Although teaching isn't a dangerous profession, I was incredibly scared about taking those first steps. But I did, and I couldn't be happier. It's also interesting to note that my younger sister became a teacher as well, so we both get to share in the awesome-ness that is teaching. I love that we are able to have this experience together- and it's neat that teaching has become a bit of a family affair for us!

Someday soon I will talk more about my experiences in the classroom and what an average day is like, and some of the daily trials and triumphs I go through, as they are definitely noteworthy. So stayed tuned for that.

And now I'm curious- are any of you teachers or aspiring teachers? Did you always know you wanted to be one? I'd love to hear about your experience, so please feel free to share in the comments!

And as always, thank you so much for reading! I love you guys. :)