Thursday, April 30, 2009


Yesterday in class I presented a speech explaining why I want to be a teacher:

"There once was a girl. In preschool she came home one day and said proudly, “I’ll never be a teacher.” Completing first grade, second grade, she still did not want to be a teacher. In third grade she wanted to be a lawyer, because she heard they were good at arguing and her Mom said that she was too. By fourth grade she wanted to be a fire woman and save people from burning buildings. By fifth grade she considered joining the WNBA and playing professional basketball, but that didn’t last long, because she found out quickly, she’d never be 6’3. Floating from passion to passion, she didn’t know what she wanted to be, but she definitely didn’t want to be a teacher.

She was spunky and alive, young and happy. She grew up in a loving family and went to good schools. By the time high school came around, the question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” seemed to be replaced with, “How cool are you?” So the profession discussion was stunted, slightly.

But even without the question looming overhead, the lessons kept coming.

Mr. Beans her high school volleyball coach, began to change her perspective on teachers. He was indeed the athletic director, but he also taught government, health, and life. She would sit in his office for hours, just to soak up a little more wisdom that seemed to pour from his mouth. He would ask things like, “What is your purpose in life?” or “Why do teenagers date?” He challenged her to think deeper and bigger. Mr. Beans taught her wisdom.

Her Bible teacher in high school turned out to be a young and truly relevant addition to the school. His name was Benjie Maxson. He illustrated a new way to look at God and spirituality, church and relationships, heaven and purpose. Maxson would talk openly about his marriage, drinking, sex, or mistakes he had made. It blew her mind that a teacher could be so interesting and brutally honest. Maxson taught her transparency.

As graduation approached, the question came back, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Anything but a teacher,” she’d say. She was already sick and tired of school.

Going on to college, she met another teacher, Mr. Blake. Now this guy really broke the mold. He was exciting, introspective, fun, interesting, and genuinely concerned with every single student. Between the insights he gave in class and his advice on rainy afternoons in his office, she gained a whole new perspective on God.

With all these lessons acquired like a life-time supply of food, she took a year off and traveled to Cambodia. Apparently, she would be teaching, but she figured she could endure anything for a year, even if she’d never do it again.

Cambodia taught her more than any teacher ever could. No class or textbook can drag a person through the heat and stench of an outdoor market or the frustration and exhaustion of a Cambodian classroom. During her time there people would ask, “What are you studying in school? Do you want to be a teacher?”

She would reply, “I’m studying Cambodia and no, teaching again is the last thing I’d ever do!”

So upon leaving the country, she came back knowing she was going back to college, but had no idea what for.

Mid-way through her first semester back in college, she was missing something. It wasn’t the humidity of the dusty Cambodian air, it wasn’t the dead animals hanging on hooks at the market, in all honesty, it wasn’t even completely, her students. With the struggles of adjusting to the United States, but realizing she didn’t want to be back in Cambodia, the reality hit her one day like a bucket of ice water: she missed feeling needed.

Americans have life figured out, supposedly. They don’t need people, they don’t need family, they are independent and self-sufficient to the core. Being another body in another desk in another school at another college in another country, just wasn’t fulfilling anymore.

So with the very vital question still haunting her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The answer wasn’t necessarily teaching, the answer was, “I want to be necessary to someone.”

So as she thought seriously about the last time she felt necessary and fulfilled, it was in the classroom, surrounded by 27 sweaty bodies and construction workers drilling next door. It was teaching English to students who needed her and needed their education to survive.

I realize that feeling necessary to the students we teach, might come about once a year. But when I thought back to the last time in my life when I felt like I was doing what I was meant to do, I was taken back to the connections I made with the students I taught last year.

Every day was not rewarding. In fact, I’d say 80% of the days were exhausting and tough. But if I can somehow capture Mr. Beans’ wisdom, Benjie Maxson’s honesty, Mr. Blake’s spirituality, and a large handful of other teacher’s who have completely changed my life, then it will all be worth it.

I want to be a teacher.

I want to be a teacher to change lives and make the world even a tiny bit better.

Through this class I’ve learned about the mechanics, the paperwork, and the potential politics and pitfalls of the classroom. I know the formula for a lesson plan and all the Bloom’s taxonomy I can handle.

Through observations I’ve learned about leading a balanced life as a teacher, bringing out the best in each student, and the trials that come with trying to make a difference when the students and administration might not share your views.

I anticipate challenges, mostly because every time I think I have life figured out, I fall on my butt and realize, I have so much left to learn. There will be struggles. I will yell. I will forget things. I will judge wrongly and have to apologize. I will be insufficient at times and inconsiderate in others. I will stub my toe, trip and fall, and probably teach entire lessons with poppy seeds stuck in my teeth. Either way, I’ll learn, that’s what school is for.

That preschooler had a lot left to learn and still does. And while she swore she’d never be a teacher, she might be right. The student in me still has much to learn, but I just might graduate in a few years, call it an education degree, then stand up in front of other students, and share what I’ve learned. If that’s teaching, then that’s what I want to be."


Carley Brown said...

I remember Mr. Beans from Campion Academy. I was friends with his daughter in gradeschool. I think its awesome you want to be a teacher. I can list every teacher I've had by name and all the different impacts they've had on my life. If you do want to change lives, be a teacher. Good teachers in this world are the only people people will never forget, because what they do has meaning to the rest of their lives.

Jim said...

If I wasn't a pastor, I'd be a teacher. In fact, I think teachers can have even a greater impact. It's the day to day that makes the difference!