I don’t know why I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Maybe on the success of the triathlon I have been evaluating other situations in my life that have gone a different way.
I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a sister. I am a daughter. I am a friend.
I am a teacher.
I always have been a teacher. I denied it for a while, but eventually my DNA righted itself. It was a little late for me to go about the process of becoming a teacher the regular way. My idealism didn’t reassert itself until I was twenty-four working at a small magazine as a writer and editor. My eventual goal was book editing, but I was not a fan of journalism. And I had an itch to make a difference. Again, I think it was the DNA talking. But I couldn’t afford to go back to school. I was living outside of DC at the time in Maryland. A google search found a program in the county where I lived that allowed you to get certified while teaching. I know what you are thinking. If a district is that desperate for teachers there has got to be a problem. And there so was. But remember that idealism thing? It asserted itself as a pretty powerful pair of rose-colored glasses. That and I had seen Lean on Me one too many times. So I became a seventh grade English teacher with no experience and high expectations.
It was awful.
I knew there would be tough kids. I did not expect to stand in front of a class in which all but five or six kids ignored my presence. I did not expect to have an administration who allowed this to happen. I did not expect to become so apathetic that I didn’t care either way.
I did not expect to fail.
By April, I quit.
I had no idea what to do. John and I were already planning on moving back to Pennsylvania that summer, but now, I had a couple of months of nothing but failure dwelling. (I know he doesn’t believe it, but thank god for John. If I hadn’t had him and the shining light of our relationship during this fiasco, I don’t know what I would have become.) Pennsylvania job hunting did not help. At all.
So when we moved (now with a spectacularly sparkly perfect engagement ring (See what I mean about him?)), I was doing double shifts waiting tables for my uncle and having almost nightly dreams about all the ways I could have made that classroom mine and blaming myself for over a hundred children’s lack of a seventh grade education.
I had made a colossal mistake. One of those mistakes that throw your life askew. (See above: waiting tables.)
Here’s the thing though. The DNA didn’t shut up. It still had a pull. I still wanted to teach. Maybe it was to prove that I could get back on the metaphoric horse. Maybe it is because we so desperately need anyone who can teach to do it. But through the generosity of my ever giving mother-in-law and the patience of my ever-giving husband, I started classes in 2005 to get my PA certification. I still spent a lot of time scared of what I was doing. What if it was just me and not the environment in Maryland? What if my genetic calling had the wrong number? When were these dreams going to stop?
Then I had a class with a really fantastic educator. During the semester, I ended up bring up a lot of the issues I had during my Year of the Failure. I don’t remember what we were discussing the night he changed my attitude, but I remember whatever was being said caused my instructor to plant a chair backwards in front of me and sit to look me in the eye. He said, “None of that was your fault.” I almost cried. It’s not like others hadn’t said it, but I hadn’t believed it. I gave up. The circumstances weren’t my fault, but I was hard on myself for the way I reacted. The dreams kept happening because I always felt there was something more I could have done which was true. Others in the school succeeded in teaching those same students. When my instructor said it wasn’t my fault, it also made me feel that I could forgive myself the apathetic shell I created to cope. I could understand that I wasn’t that person anymore. It had been a temporary survival state.
Still, I think I almost passed out walking into student teaching for the first day. Then my cooperating teacher let me take the reigns for the last lesson of the day. In an environment that was acceptable and manageable, I nailed that lesson, I have to say. I also nailed the rest of my student teaching, then substituting and finally three years as an eighth grade English teacher. Now I am the teacher of two little toddler sponges as I complete my Masters in Library Science. When they start school, so do I.
I am glad I didn’t let my failure have the last word. The DNA was right afterall.