My sister hated it; from the time she was an infant she was my student. I loved school and being 6 years older, I felt compelled to prepare her for her upcoming journey. She progressed from being in a booster seat reciting the alphabet and counting to 10 to eventually being able to sit and write sight words at her tiny wooden desk in my bedroom in front of my worn out chalkboard. I was in my glory. Among her classmates Winnie The Pooh, Barbie, and Tiffany the dog she was the star pupil. I remember explaining the importance of what I was teaching her as she tried to leave to go play with her Strawberry Shortcake dolls. Eventually, Strawberry and her friends were enrolled in my class as well.
Although it seems that my path was set out before me, my road to becoming a teacher was anything but straight and narrow. The first curve was in junior high where it seemed most of my teachers did not value curiosity as much as compliance. My grades plummeted as I became disinterested and disengaged. I was ultimately labeled a trouble-student. Eyes rolled when I was introduced to my teachers in freshman year. The D’s and F’s on my academic record are the landmarks along the path that tells the story of the importance of connecting with a teacher or not. Eventually, there were more diversions than times I stayed the course and my dream of being a teacher diminished along with my GPA.
While working on my BS in Biology, I worked in a variety of jobs from medical assisting to insurance case management; I was always assigned the preceptor for new employees. People often asked me why I wasn’t taking education classes.
“You’re a natural”
“This is your calling”
were things I heard regularly. My response was always the same
“I can’t be a teacher because
I love learning too much”.
My career in education started as a result of months of prodding by my college career counselor. She convinced me that my fresh perspective and curiosity are needed in education. I had the honor of being the instructional assistant to several veteran teachers over the course of five years. The lessons learned from this experience have helped build the foundation of my career. I saw teachers’ various styles and observed their short and long-term patterns. A persistent and comfortable cycle seemed to remain consistent and hadn’t changed much since my disappointing experience in junior high:
- Teacher schedules test according to report card date
- Teacher gives notes, student take notes
- Students take quiz
- Teacher gives lectures, students take notes
- Students take quiz
- Students take test
- Grades go on report cards.
Notice the ownership here; teachers give and students take. There was a theme of students being passive recipients while teachers were in control of the tempo and content. There was a lot of teaching but not so much learning.
This experience provided the push that I needed to pursue my teaching credentials. Perhaps all of those people along my journey have been right. What if my calling is not simply to be a teacher but to help transform teaching AND learning?
Since the day I decided to become a teacher, I have focused on creating engaging and relevant student learning experiences for every student. I promised to support students like 12 year old me who need more – even when they can’t articulate it or behave in ways that cause us to think differently.
I remind myself of this as I begin planning for my 8th year teaching high school science and renew my commitment to help transform learning experiences for students.