The Things You CarryMay 8, 2017
Being a teacher has always been a part of my life. When I was in 5th grade, I made a classroom in a side closet and did lessons with my younger brother. I had posters, whiteboards, and attendance sheets. It was probably the nerdiest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Eventually I grew up but could never really shake the desire to teach. I did volunteer work in church ministry programs and led Sunday School classes for 4th and 5th grade when I was in high school. That all started 22 years ago in 1995. And I’ve never stopped teaching. In May of 2018, I will graduate and find a job as a middle school teacher. And I couldn’t be more excited. But getting here has been a topsy turvy lesson in realizing what I was meant to become.
I worked in call centers most of my life before I took a job in the Philippines in 2007 to 2008 as a Senior Trainer for Verizon Business. For a year and a half I taught trainees in our call center the ways and means of Telecommunications in the United States and beyond. I found unusual joy in it but never really admitted to myself that I should be a teacher. You could blame it on my stubbornness or my ignorance but the partial reality was that I didn’t believe teaching was a place for weird little me. I worried what others would think of me. I also had been working part time to full time since I was 16. I had gone to college for two semesters at two different colleges after I graduated in 2001. I took a year off. And then another year. You would have thought I’d have stopped to think about the great teachers I had experienced and realized that I had the capacity to grow into such a role myself. But I didn’t. I was too busy working without a degree and searching for the job that brought meaning to me.
I had some amazing teachers growing up. Mrs. Brown in 2rd grade who loved us despite our weirdness and my terrible handwriting. Mrs. Sutton in 3rd grade who I remember with smiles and love. Mrs. Maenpa in 4th grade who I remember saying, “Close but no cigar” when we’d almost get the answers right who always seemed to care about us. She had been a teacher for some time by the time we got to her, but I remember her fondly. Ms. Brown in 5th grade who was always kind to us and had a smile ready.
Middle school is a rough time for all. Your world is so small. There is so much going on. Emotions are high. You’re trying to sort out who you are, what you believe and who your true friends are – all while balancing school work, homework, and extracurriculars. There is so much happening in that time. In 7th grade, I had several teachers who changed my life. She desperately cared for each of us in our own way and I think about her influence in my life at least once a week. I remember her kindness. I remember her sarcasm. I remember her teaching. She was our science teacher. Across the hall was the other teacher who changed my life. He was our language arts teacher. I once wrote a story from the perspective of his chair and talked about how, as the chair, I had to deal with his farts. I was in 7th grade. I was a bit loony. But his presence was enough to ground me. Between these two teachers, I survived 7th grade. Without them and their kindness, their care, and their student centered focus – I don’t want to imagine what would have happened to me. I had an amazing technology teacher who fostered my love of creating websites and set afire my creative flame that has yet to be extinguished. He even allowed us to help in some of the computer classes, further giving us a sense of worth that we hadn’t experienced. To this day, I can still remember some HTML commands. I remember those first websites and remember it with great fondness.
8th grade I had more great teachers. Our language arts teacher was a skinny seven foot tall giant of a man. He was goofy, but I enjoyed his class. I had a band teacher who, for whatever reason, let me play the french horn for all three years despite how terrible I was. He was patient and he wanted us to be the best we could. He cared for our talent and for us to know that we could indeed create a great and mighty sound together from within each of us. His humor, his determination and his passion left an indelible mark on my heart.
I even remember our PE teacher. I remember him as an even keeled, patient and kind man. What is truly amazing is that I see him every so often when I’m working at a coffee shop just down the road from my old middle school. He’s still just as nice, just as kind, and just as awesome he was to weird middle school me.
I could tell you about my drama teacher and her influence on me. Without that spark, I would never have gone on to find my love and passion of working in on the tech crew in high school. I wouldn’t have found the friends I did, the teachers I adored, or had the experiences of performing onstage in small parts. I step back and I look at those three years of middle school. I have to wonder if I hadn’t had these men and women in my life as influencers, encouragers, and mentors – where would my energy have gone? I would not be the person I was, I am and will become had it not been for the teachers in my life. My path in high school would not have been what it was without the middle school teachers taking an interest in my passions and talents. I would not been in the classes of the inspiring high school teachers I got to meet.
I carry many things with me as I go through the process of being a preservice teacher. I carry the memories of the fun I had in middle school. I carry with me the bullying I experienced, the tears I cried, and the dark thoughts that little world I lived in seemed to be filled with. I also carry with me the light that those middle school teachers brought into my little world.
Teaching is very much about educating, teaching, mentoring, and testing. We don’t often remember the lessons they taught us because our memories record the things of consequence, of emotion, and of meaning. We remember when they smiled at us. We remember when they told us it was going to be ok, and that it was ok to cry. We remember that they valued us, that they cared about us, and that they wanted us to succeed in everything we did – not just in their class but beyond. That someday we’d look back at the things we’ve carried with us from that time and we’d put into action what they showed us. That every student has a value, and every student matters.
I carry with me the providence and prodigy of my previous teachers so that one day I will find a way to teach the lesson that needs taught but also be able to speak the words my students need to hear in the moments where it makes a difference – be it small, medium, or large. This is what I carry on my journey to become a teacher.
What do you carry?