I might be in the minority, but I wholeheartedly believe that teachers are born not made. Some of the best teachers I’ve ever had were likely career-teachers. They spent much of their adult life teaching. They became experts in their field. Grammar, math, history. Most don’t spend 35 years in one job anymore. Those who were born to teach do. Or at least have.
I spent 21 years in teaching. I would say I loved almost every day doing my job. I have no idea whether I experienced more gratification and pride and success than other people do in their jobs, but I can affirm that I have laughed, cried, applauded, apologized, learned, struggled and enjoyed many moments in those 21 years. There are days I can recall when I said that I can’t believe I get paid to do what I do, and many days when I said to myself that I could never be paid enough.
YouTube is full of videos of teachers complaining, angry parents, and unfulfilled dreams. I could complain, scream and whine too. And I have realized there is a lot to say about public education and the way that teachers and students are treated. But I also realize that I have control over my life’s decisions and can exert influence on others.
But, more importantly, I am proud to say that I have become an expert in my field. The old adage is that “those who can’t, teach.” But, I challenge those who can to try it. For three days. You’ll realize that you either really know how to do your job well, but you have no idea how to explain it clearly to others. Or, you thought you knew all of the intricacies of your job, but you really don’t. Or ultimately, you’ll realize how hard it is to teach someone else successfully what you already know. Remember, we’re building children here. And, just like many people, we might just be carpenters or plumbers or electricians, but we’re expected to build the whole house, and make it strong, formidable and able to withstand years of wear and tear.
More specifically, I’ve become an expert in writing, editing, grammar, reading strategies and, succinctly, Anne Frank, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a good bunch of short stories and authors whose works genuinely reflect classic use of suspense, irony and a memorable plot or protagonist. Does it matter that I can concisely define irony, tell you the difference between a phrase and clause, or answer the random questions of my colleagues throughout the workday when their own students question their knowledge of the English language? Perhaps not. But the fact that I can has made me more valuable outside of the traditional classroom than within.
Although it was difficult, and I still hold back tears when I realize that I’m not fulfilling my goal of 35 years in the secondary English classroom, I’ve realized that I’m living out one of my favorite poet’s quotes, that is still currently stapled to a bulletin board beside my teacher desk. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.” Whether Robert Frost’s words followed me or led me, they have reassured me.
One cannot know where his decisions will lead. One cannot foretell whether those decisions will be fruitful or failure. I know that I’ve met many professionals along the way who’ve mentored me, the same as I’m sure I’ve mentored many. So this is where I belong. I will teach many more far from where I started, and even if it doesn’t ever come back to me, I know I’ve touched students and teachers with my stories, my own life lessons, and the fact that I was taught by teachers who were born to teach.
To all the teachers out there who know they’re working as hard as they can, keep it up. You are rare and precious. I will continue our legacy on a path less traveled.