How do you know what you’re going to be when you grow up? Children have so many dreams. I always tell my students to have plan B when they tell me they are going to be the next Michael Jordan. I hope I’m not squashing their dreams, but I like to pepper a little realism in with the lofty goals. I guess, for me, I had always known, but I fought it for a long time. Until…
I had always known I would go to college, just like I had always known I would have children. When I was younger, I thought I would become an English teacher since I loved literature and writing, but when I was in high school, I volunteered at a school for mentally and emotionally challenged students and thought I had found my calling. I worked with the autistic kids when not much was yet known about the condition. They were so interesting because many of them were very intelligent, but socially inept and physically withdrawn. One of the children would recite random facts that only someone with a photographic memory could retain (like Rain Man). The child was smitten with one of the girls and pursued her relentlessly.
They were all so unique. One girl had an odd condition known as echolalia and would repeat whatever she said numerous times. On one occasion, a co-worker and I picked up one of the kids from his house to take him on a field trip to the mall and before we left, his mom told him that his friends had to stay home for the outing; his friends were his fingers who he talked to regularly, so he told them all goodbye and put them in his pocket for the trip.
One day, during lunch in the cafeteria, the principal of the school came up to me and told me how amazing I was with these kids and that I should consider studying social work in college and making a career out of this. I took his advice and social work became my first major.
College was such an eye opener; there was nobody to hold your hand or reprimand you – you had to take responsibility for your own work, but that fact just made me feel more mature. I went to a junior state college in my town and the professor who taught the social work class was one of the most awful teachers I’ve ever encountered. Perhaps it was her teaching style of making everyone read aloud from the text, or perhaps it was the fact that there were students in my class who should have been in remedial reading instead of college and frankly, I felt this diminished the college experience. How had these people gotten out of high school? Whatever it was, I got completely turned off and decided to take liberal arts classes before making a decision about my entire life. After all, every bachelor’s degree required the same basic classes before a major was declared, so I decided to take my time. Fortunately, I loved the rest of my classes. Everything was so interesting; every time I took a new class I wanted to declare a new major. I loved anthropology, and psychology, and I even liked the history classes.
In particular, I liked my English Lit class because the professor was only about 6 years older than me, blonde, adorable, brilliant, and eccentric. I always seemed to have oddball friends, and my closest friend in his class was a girl with dwarfism who rolled down the hallways in a wheel chair. We were both smitten with the professor and would follow him from class, pretending we had not understood the information clearly. On occasion, he would jump up on a table and recite Shakespearean sonnets. Once, I found him sitting under an apple tree and sat down to have a real conversation with him. Gathering my confidence, I asked him if he would like to meet me in the city one evening at a café in the village (Greenwich Village in Manhattan). When he accepted, my heart swooned, until he said “Sure that would make a great field trip. Who else from the class would like to go?” That’s when I realized that professors probably didn’t want to fraternize with 18 year old students.
Over the years, I would change my major from Social Work, to Liberal Arts, to Environmental Science, to Biochemistry, to Accounting, to Education. However, I always knew I would be a teacher. When I was a young girl, alone in my bedroom, I would write on the green chalk board on my easel, teaching invisible students. But when I got older, after I dropped out of college, I decided that being a teacher for a woman was too cliché. I wanted to do something less traditional, so I got a technical degree in digital electronics (computer hardware) and worked in that field for 5 years. It would only take me 21 years to complete my bachelor’s degree, but then I went on to get 2 masters degrees.
I was quite domestic back then. I was a fairly content, at-home mom who made lots of my own food from scratch like pizza dough and bread. One night, everyone was gone. My daughter was asleep and I had the night to myself. I decided that I would have some fun. I got into my pajamas, indulged in a bit of inebriation recreation, got my notebook ready, my herbal tea, and sat on the couch. As I wrote, I started crying. I finally realized that, after all these years, what I had always wanted to do was to become a teacher. I’d known it all along, just like Dorothy had the power all along to get home if she’d only just clicked her heels. I decided right then that I would go to school for education, which is what I did.
Years later, in 2013, when I was in a personal development workshop called “Owning My Purpose”, I crafted a mission statement that said I wanted to “empower, engage, and inspire people around the world”. When I got home, I found out that the mission statement for my school district was “to connect, engage, and inspire.” I suppose I’ve always known that teaching would not just be my profession, but my life’s purpose. I’ve been lucky enough to find passion in my life. But I almost gave it all up… this story will be in a future installment.