It’s week two of the IndieInk Writing Challenge. In case you missed my week one post, here’s the scoop: editors and writers from II are randomly selected to challenge each other to write, based on a prompt given from challenger to challengee. This week the wonderful Wendryn supplied me with this gem:
I know how you got back into teaching, but how did you get started teaching in the first place? Why did you pick that age group? What is your favorite thing about teaching English? I don’t want one sentence answers; I want to know the journey you took to get to teaching.
I can see her now. Her small frame swallowed by Chadwicks-style cardigan sets. They did nothing for her figure. Her horn-rimmed glasses always dangled from a thin gold chain and, sitting in the 3rd seat of the last row of desks, I spent most of my time suffering from the restless musings of a thoughtful seventeen year old mind.
Those glasses were only placed on the tip of her nose when she needed to show severity and, in her fourth hour Advanced Composition course, her anger was always directed at me. I hated those fucking glasses. I hated her cardigans. I hated Carol Tipping.
Like most teenagers, I went into self-destruct mode when the time came to show her that nothing she said meant much to me. Rough drafts were turned in as finals. But the impostors were enough to earn a C for the semester, so in my mind I was winning. Average was fine with me. I was proving a point: just because you act like a raging bitch when I don’t do it your way, doesn’t mean I can’t get by with passing grades.
Infected with senioritis, I dreamed of my boyfriend and the way he kissed my forehead when he could tell I was having a bad day, instead of taking in the lessons and lectures. Sometimes, as I look back on my time as a high school student, I think about Mrs. Tipping and how much more I could have learned from her. The fact that I could now be using those same lessons in my classroom floods my brain daily. But the truth is, the women did more for me than provide free curriculum, and that’s all that matters now.
After spending two years as a business major, Bella, my sister, was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident and I received failing grades in every course. I missed week upon week of class. While I was home for the majority of the time, I spent several evenings in my dorm room, sleeping away a deep depression. To make matters worse, my professors claimed that in the ‘business world’ I would be fired for such a poor performance. So they failed me. Although it was a tough lesson to learn, they believed that it was necessary. But instead of allowing the frustration and humiliation of these events get to me, I thought about Carol Tipping and the last words that were spoken between us.
“You’re too talented to act like you don’t care, Fina. It is heartbreaking to watch a girl like you walk through these doors every day, knowing that you could choose to do anything in the world, yet choosing to be average. I hate to say it, but you’ve been the most disappointing student I have ever had. Good luck in college. I hope you grow up.”
Then, I thought about the words of one of my professors.
“Fina, you cannot survive college if you don’t apply yourself. Honestly, you’ve never proven to me that you can do much of anything. Maybe you should reconsider your life path. Maybe you’re not cut out for school.”
As I walked away from another failure, another moment in my life when I knew I could have done better, I wanted to call Carol Tipping and tell her that I found her soul-mate 300-miles south of St. Louis.
My dad pulled the plug on his funding for school. I would be paying for the rest of my classes, if I could convince the college to give me another shot.
I convinced them.
As a probationary student, I would be required to earn a 3.0 GPA the following semester in order to remain at the university. I was angry, I was hurt, and every single teacher who told me “I couldn’t do it” had a target on their back.
I signed up for English courses and Introduction to Education. It was my mission to prove that you didn’t have to be a jerk to get through to students. Every single day of that spring semester I thought about the judgments placed upon me. And I got a 4.0.
But somewhere through that journey teaching became my passion. It became everything to me. I had dreams about it, I had lunch dates with classmates to talk about it, and I poured every ounce of my heart into it.
What I learned, albeit unintentionally, was that teachers push students because they care. Carol Tipping didn’t hate me. She saw glimmers of talent inside of me that wouldn’t have surfaced if she never spoke those words to me.
Now, five years into my profession, I feel the same heartbreak that she did when she spoke to me. I stand in front of the stoners, the jocks, the brains, the criminals, the princesses, and the kooks, praying that somewhere down the road one of my kids will think about something I said to them and make their life everything they ever wanted it to be.
Some days are painful, some days I consider an early retirement, and other days I cry because my kids are suffering, but every day I think about the impact that I could have in their lives. It’s totally worth it. I remember what it’s like to think the world is out to get you. I remember how hard it can be to get out of bed because somebody is going to make your day total shit. I know what it’s like to sit in a classroom that feels like a prison cell. I remember. I empathize. I encourage. I dream.
And then I strive to make my room the most inviting, the most honest, and the most loving place they’ll be all day. It has been a beautiful journey. I owe it to every teacher who ever pushed me. I owe it to myself. I owe it to my kids.