It's funny how that came about. Growing up, I respected all of my teachers. Maybe it's because my mother (also a teacher) instilled that virtue into each of us repeatedly. Maybe it's because we saw the abuse teachers dealt with first hand and pitied them immensely. I don't know. It was probably a combination. Anyway, all I know is that growing up, I NEVER wanted to be a teacher. Never. I would laugh when people would say to me, "Gina, you're a really good teacher" or "One day, you'll be in front of the classroom, too." I'd scoff at the idea, never imagining myself 'un-important' enough to organize an army of brats on a daily basis. The truth was, though, that I was terrified of the idea. My mom was a teacher (still is)... and an amazing one at that. I didn't think I was capable of wrangling students and being entrusted with inspiring (successfully) a life-time zest for learning, and then be compared to her effortless ability to do so. Eeps, even the thought now makes me skittish.
I have always enjoyed explaining things... figuring out crafty solutions to embed information so deeply into someone's mind that they can't help but remember it with a smile. For class presentations, I'd be elected the main speaker, I'd be the one with a full-on lesson plan for my 5 minute discourse on the planet Mars, and I'd be the kid playing "school" in the summers (vainly trying to get my younger sisters to stop chatting and learn their ABCs).
Yup... I had all the makings of "teacher" but never wanted to admit it to myself or anyone else. Like I said, the thought terrified me.
Anyway, my first job out of college proved God had other ideas. It was, of course, a teaching one. My job was to tutor children Pre-K through 12the grade and help run the business aspects of a respected learning center. I quickly rose through the ranks and found myself the "principal" of one of these centers. I was honored with a distinguished "Educator" award among peers in my region, and I was constantly being invited to PTA meetings to provide workshops for both parents and teachers.
Within 3 short years, however, my employer and I parted ways. They were closing down many centers in our region and I didn't agree with their business model anymore (money-focused, not kid-focused). So I moved on. My services were requested at my old elementary school. A 7th grade teacher was out for the month, so I happily filled in, a little nervous about trying on the uniform of "teacher."
W.O.W. Since I was a substitute... not a "real" teacher in their minds, I was like fresh meat thrown into a tank of piranhas. However, they learned pretty fast that I wasn't to be trifled with. I have no fear of calling parents, assigning ridiculous amounts of homework, or turning free-gym into an hour-long session of learning how to walk in a straight line (with school bags full of text books). Within a week, they were acting like a decent, organized, and somewhat respectful classroom (though I could still hear "bitch" every now and again... little did they know I wore it as a badge of pride).
Even before the end of my month (and after two surprise visits by the principal and vice principal), they sat me down and asked that I stay on as a full-time teacher. Again, at this point, I still didn't "get" that I was really a teacher. I felt that PART of me was a teacher, but the other part was a savvy business woman who had run several educational centers successfully for clients who simply happened to be students she cared very much about.
Boy aren't I stupid?
I respectfully declined. In fact, I had already been offered another position that would allow me to spend my weeks working from home. Not surprisingly, it was from another business promoting academic excellence. I was convinced they wanted me for my business sense (considering the work I had done turning around several of my original centers). Within a few months, that job turned into a nightmare, and my husband was asking me to begin working with him and his family. For years I had turned down his requests for this. I just couldn't see working with family EVER being a good idea. I happen to love my husband's family, and I was scared to death of that dynamic somehow being messed up by our daily interactions. But I finally gave in, seeing that I was unhappy where I was. At least with John I'd be able to stretch my business legs again.
Again, I realize I'm about as stupid as they come. But don't worry... I've got a trifecta on that a little later.
I began working with John's family. I absolutely SUCKED. I mean, I've gained more appreciation for the most unassuming material in the world (let's call it Product X) in one week than I have in my entire existence using it (and I've used Product X, in many forms, my entire life). I mean, if Product X were a food, it'd be corn. I'm not kidding. Check the link.
So anyway, I'm not a dumb person. I've never had to study, and I've never really had trouble grasping even the most difficult theoretical concepts. But this? This most basic and taken-for-granted-commodity? You'd think someone was trying to teach me quantum physics, in Greek, using two cans and a string from Mars while I sat at my desk here in the USA.
No matter how hard I try, no matter how many times I read something, have it explained to me, walk through it, take tutorials, etc... none of it makes sense. I felt (eh, and still do feel) like a total failure who disappointed not just my husband, but his whole family. Stellar, right?
After I delivered my son, Vince, I spent a year away from work. I focused solely on survival (ha!). Seriously, though, it was tough work, and I thanked God every day for the blessing of being able to stay home with him. However, when the 12 months came to an end, I knew I should attempt getting back into work. I wanted Vince to enter daycare for socialization, and I didn't want to be sitting at home twiddling my thumbs all day, so I picked back up with my husband's family.
This time, I told myself, I was gonna throw myself into it a million times harder. I was gonna create a manual, I was gonna ask everyone even MORE questions, and damnit... I was gonna figure this OUT.
See? Trifecta of Stupid. Someone, somewhere, probably could've made a whole lotta money off my lack of faith and intelligence.
Within a few months, I realized I was stuck in the same baffling place. NOTHING made sense, and even when I suddenly thought I understood something, a rug was pulled out from under me, proving that I didn't know the first thing about what I thought I did. It was no one's fault but my own. I became super discouraged and felt horrible that I was pretty much making others' jobs more difficult since they had to pick up the slack for my ignorance. Finally, I begged my superior to give me a different task... ANYTHING that wasn't Product X. So he did, and I've been much happier. Sure, I still screw things up when it comes to Product X, but at least I'm not involved with it on a regular basis, which frees up others from having to fix my repeated errors. In my current capacity, I'm able to help my direct superior with his job, and that makes me feel better. If I could, I'd do everything for that guy... he's such a sweetheart. :)
But I digress...
It took this almost 3 year tug-of-war to finally appreciate the fact that I am, in fact, meant to teach. No matter how much I run from it, no matter how much I deny it, the truth remains evident. I'm a teacher. My heart and soul belong in teaching. I mean, I feel like God just turned off a switch in my mind and said, "No... you're not gonna learn Product X, 'cause if you do, you're gonna stay there forever and that's NOT what I want you to be doing. Now listen to Me!" And as if to seal my suspicion with a uppercut to the face, God sent Sr. Jean (the Religious Education coordinator from my parish) to me with a very straightforward request after I had spoken at a conference. The conference, mind you, had NOTHING to do with education. She had just assumed I was a teacher by the way I spoke and 'worked the room.'
She asked if I'd be willing to teach 6th grade CCD.
Shoot, really, God? HECK YES! I almost backflipped at the opportunity after tending to my nervous anxiety that I would fail horribly and send the kids on a path to Hell.
So anyway, with this life-line in place, I'm reclaiming the lost part of who I am... the part I've denied for my whole life, but the part that I am now most proud of.
At our meeting last night, one of the other teachers asked me, "So, when did you decide you were gonna be a teacher?" I have no idea why, but it was like time stopped and my mind flashed back to my 1st year of college. I was working at Circuit City in the camcorder department. One of my managers saw me "up-selling" a camcorder to a customer, making sure he had not only the camera, but the warranty, cassettes, tripod and case. I also explained why he'd want the DV model vs. the VHS / Hi-8 models that'd pretty much be out-dated within the year (boy does that age me, or what?).
After I completed the sale, my manager looked at me and said, "You're gonna be a teacher someday."
As usual, I laughed and said, "Not in a million years."
She replied, "You watch. You can explain stuff that wouldn't make sense any other way. You know what they need better than they do and explain it to them. You teach them."
I just shook my head and walked away, making some stupid comment about trying to hit a quota.
But what she said struck a chord and it has stayed with me all these years. A seed was planted and when my new teacher-friend asked me that question, I saw the flower of that seed, triumphant, saying (in Peggy's voice) "I told you so."
So yes... dang it. I'm a teacher, even despite myself. :)