A friend of mine asked this question of me today, and I thought about it long and hard. It would be easy to pull out all the clichés and talk about how I wanted to make a difference, how I always wanted to be a teacher, or how a teacher inspired me to pick up the mantle and do the same, but that wouldn’t be the truth. In fact, all I really thought about twelve years ago when I made one of the biggest decisions of my life was how horrible my own teachers were. That’s why I became a teacher.
To be painfully honest, I had some pretty burned out teachers during my final two years of high school. It was like the perfect storm of teachers, and each day was an adventure in trying to amuse myself and learn at the same time. For example, during English class my junior year we were supposed to be reading “The Wasteland,” by T.S. Eliot, but instead of us reading aloud, my teacher had us read silently. Now, if you’ve ever tried reading Eliot’s masterpiece, you’ll know as well I do that a high school junior with no guidance whatsoever can hardly be expected to comprehend what he’s saying. Yet, when one of us would raise a hand to ask our esteemed teacher a question, she would always say, “Read the footnotes,” and go back to reading her paper. You heard me. She was always reading the newspaper during our class period. It was incredibly frustrating, to say the least. I honestly had no idea why she still had a job. And then I found out. She had tenure, and the school wasn’t going to try and challenge that. So she stayed there, and our class learned nothing that year.
Even better, my gym teacher fancied himself a health teacher more than a gym teacher, so most times during gym we would be learning about female and male genitalia, instead of playing volleyball or writing essays on badminton positions and moves. He constantly extolled the virtues of condoms and kept soliciting questions from us when we sat around in a circle. Several students thought it would be funny to make up questions to ask him that got increasingly worse and disgusting as time went on, but he was completely oblivious to their intent, answering as honestly as he could. That, of course, made them think it was even funnier, and they would keep it up. It went on for the whole half year we had gym class, and it was right after English, so you can imagine how my hour and a half went on those days.
Last, but certainly not least, I had a sexist chemistry teacher. He thought that anything the girls did was amazing, but the boys in his class could do no right. I even tried out that theory, copying a lab report word for word from my female partner. She got a B on it, and I got a C. It was pretty obvious to everyone, too, even the girls, but he had tenure so there was nothing to be done. It didn’t help that I failed that class too (read about it here). Regardless, that series of teachers were honestly a waste of space. They either did nothing, or they didn’t teach what they were supposed to teach, so that got me to thinking about the next crew of students coming up. Would they have those same teachers who would also teach them nothing? It was unthinkable, so then I thought, why not me? I always had an aptitude for English, I liked telling people things I thought they should know. And a future teacher was born from the ashes of those who weren’t worthy of the title.
Now, I’m not saying I have done everything right in my classrooms. There are learning curves, and I think I used every single one of them in my first few years of teaching, but then I got into a rhythm. I began to be able to feel the atmosphere of a classroom within a few days of the start of school, and adjust to fit their needs. It’s an amazing occupation that doesn’t get the due respect it deserves, but I’m not just saying that because I’m a teacher. I’m saying that because I have many friends who are teachers, who spend day in and day out doing everything for those students, being there for them. It’s amazing to see. And I’m glad the profession isn’t full of those burnouts who “taught” me back in the early ’90s.
That’s why I became a teacher, and I’m so very glad I did.