The Other Side: How I Became a High School Teacher
I know I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about my spirituality and my faith practice, and I sometimes get into relationships, but I thought I would diverge just a little to talk about the other part of my life: my job.
I never actually wanted to be a teacher while I was growing up. It was what I told people I wanted to do when they asked me.
My mom is an engineer. My dad is a doctor. So having an art teacher in the family was not something they were extremely excited about. I loved art in high school, but I also loved science. When I started looking for colleges, I looked for schools with strong art programs. I was planning on majoring in art. I didn’t really know what kind of art, but it was art. I figured I could always teach it if nothing better came along.
I eventually made a deal with my mom that if I passed my AP biology exam so that I wouldn’t have to take Biology 101 and 102, then I would change majors. I made 4. And a 4 was good enough. So I changed to Biology and made plans to go to medical school, which also fascinated me. My dad, being the Presbyterian he is, said, “You have to make sure that this is what you were put on the planet to become. We all have a calling, and you have to make sure medicine is yours.”
Turns out, it wasn’t.
Science isn’t exactly something that people do well in if they aren’t fairly good at it. If you don’t have a desire, the success isn’t going to come. But just in case your desire is there and maybe you just need the extra help, a lot of colleges will put “Supplemental Instructors” into their classes. These are paid students who made an A or a B in the class. They go back to the lectures, take notes and work one on one with the professor to help students pass. Studies show that students who attend Supplemental Instruction classes get a letter grade or more higher in the class than those that don’t.
I attended my first Supplemental Instruction (SI) class in Anatomy my sophomore year. I never went back to it, and I ended up dropping the class, but it was then that I thought that being an SI leader would be a fairly cool job to have as a college student. I transferred home to South Carolina, and later the next year, I applied for an SI leader position. There weren’t any openings, but my application was on file. They suggested I picked up tutoring in the mean time. It was $9 bucks an hour, time and a half for group sessions and I got to set my own hours. I’m fairly sure that’s the best job you can pick up in college, or at least that’s what I thought at the time.
Suddenly, students were saying, “Have you ever thought about going into education? You’d be so good at it.” and “Why are you studying to become a teacher? You’re such a natural.” I laughed all of it off and told them I was going to medical school. I enjoyed teaching, but it wasn’t for me.
I finally got into Supplemental Instruction, which put me into a classroom setting. I had to create “lesson plans” with reviews and worksheets. I had “classes” of people (anywhere from three to 25, depending on how close we were to an exam). I liked it even more than tutoring. I’m pretty sure I should have seen the signs.
Then the biggest sign of all: I absolutely failed the MCAT (the test required for medical school). I mean, we’re talking a 19 out of 45… We’re talking a 2 on the inorganic/physics section… We’re talking couldn’t even dream about medical school with a score that low. (However, my writing score could have gotten me into Harvard Medical. Too bad that isn’t all that matters.) My dad said he’d pay whatever it took to get me into a class to help raise my scores, but I didn’t want it bad enough to try again. I didn’t have it in me. I wasn’t even disappointed in my scores.
Around that time, a group of 16-year-olds were coming through in a gifted-and-talented program. They were taking Biology 110, which is the non-science-major biology class. I begged to get them because I thought they could use my help, and somewhere in there all the “you should be a teacher”s started to get to me and affect my brain waves. I ended up getting the class and somewhere along the way, I absolutely just fell in love with that age and those kids. I worked my ass off trying to help them pass because the professor they had took no prisoners. Don’t get me wrong, she was passionate about educating and did everything she could to help them and help me help them, but you had to know. your. stuff.
It was at that point that I decided to go into education. I ended up getting my Masters of Education in Secondary Education with a concentration in Urban Education. Ever since then, I’ve worked with at-risk and high-needs teens. I love most every day of my job. There are times, like in any good career, where you contemplate just walking out. Not every day is going to be a good day, but I just think how the kids need me more, and that keeps me going.
Teaching wasn’t something that I wanted to do, like I said. I entertained thoughts of teaching, but never really thought I’d end up here, but I’m ever so glad that I did. I’m glad that when I got onto this path every door I needed to walk through simply opened. Teaching is definitely not something that everyone is capable of doing. It takes a lot of time, dedication and love. But I wouldn’t trade this life for any other in the world.