Earlier this school year, I was humbled and gratified to be nominated for a WEM Foundation teaching achievement award. The best part of the nomination was that it came from some of my students. Being recognized by students is the best honor there is as a teacher; they are with you every day and see you at your best and your worst.
The process I got to undertake after my nomination was fairly arduous. I had to get letters of recommendation and put together my resume.
The last thing I had to do was answer a series of essay questions about my motivations, my style, and my goals. Even for a guy who really enjoys writing, I had to work hard to craft my words and get my meaning across in a clear manner.
As I was contemplating some of these questions, I thought back across my career and even to what motivated me to teach in the first place. Here we go: my secret origin as a teacher!
I distinctly remember sitting in social studies class as a freshman in high school. I had always been a good student, sometimes because of understanding the material and other times because of understanding the system in place and using it to achieve a high grade. That class was an example of the latter. I’m sure I don’t remember much of the material I learned, but I got an A or A- every quarter. The teacher lectured, we took notes, read a section, and answered questions. The tests were pretty straightforward, with an essay question that the teacher always thought would trick us, but never did.
I sat there one day, in somewhat of a stupor, thinking about what an easy job this teacher had. How much effort was it to sit up there and do the same thing every day, except days when we’d watch a filmstrip? Right there, I decided that I would become a teacher.
Not the most auspicious way to decide on a career, I grant you, but it worked. The next thought was what would I teach? I didn’t want to teach social studies or be anywhere near something that teacher was a part of. I rather enjoyed band, despite the teacher there. I had gotten the opportunity to be “Teacher for a Day” in band and had a lot of fun.
Still, it was English that stood out. I loved to read and write, so what better field? My loyal readers will remember my column where I mentioned Mr. Larry Tise as a profound influence on me. He was my English teacher in 10th and 12th grade, and I know that I chose English because of him. He didn’t just stand up there and lecture. Our tests were more creative than formulaic. We didn’t always sit in straight rows. I loved it.
His inspiration carried me to college, and it was a real benefit to know what I was going to major in from the start. I was able to mix my gen eds and my major studies from the start. Trust me, as an English major, you don’t want too many English classes at a time – that’s a lot of writing!
My professors in college pushed me, but once again I found myself influenced by a not-so-great instructor. My prof for classroom management told us how not to teach, but she did all those same things herself. A group of us called her out on it, perhaps startling her out of the routine she’d been in for ages.
Between her and the high school teacher I did not admire, the negative influences have helped me as much as anything. Over the years, I’ve vowed not to be an influence in that manner. I’ve taken the framework of Mr. Tise’s class, along with some great professors and my student teaching supervisor, Mrs. Judy Schmidt from Houston, Minnesota, and crafted my own identity.
I hope others follow that type of path in finding a career. As the seniors begin looking ahead to life after high school, I’m sure many of them are besieged with questions about future plans. Some know what they want to do already and others will take some time. Take the good and the bad and use them to shape your future too.
I haven’t heard back from the WEM Foundation since I sent in my materials in January. That most likely means I didn’t win, but as the cliché goes, the journey is often more important than the destination. My journey of reflections has reinvigorated me for the stretch run of this school year and many years to come.
Word of the Week: This week’s word is absquatulating, a word my wife ran across in a book, which means running away, as in, “The teacher thought of absquatulating after a particularly difficult week, but vowed to get through the tough time.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!