Rewind nineteen years and you’ll have a four-year-old little girl excited to start her first day of Kindergarten in Rhode Island. She walks through the door and is blown away at her amazing Kindergarten classroom and her caring, kind-hearted, loving Kindergarten teacher. That teacher taught that four-year-old girl how to read and write. From that moment, that four-year-old little girl knew she wanted to be a teacher just like her beloved Mrs. O’Neil.
Fast forward a few years and you have a seven-year-old little girl who comes home from school every day in Alaska only to lay out her stuffed animals around her bed to play school and pass out worksheets. And though that seven-year-old girl doesn’t live in Rhode Island anymore, her Kindergarten teacher still takes the time to send her a letter to inspire her to be whoever she wants to be—which, of course, was still a teacher.
All throughout her schooling, that little girl wanted to grow up and be like all the teachers she had grown to love over the years—the teachers who poured into her and made her believe in herself, regardless of if anyone else believed in her.
Now, fast forward to her senior year in high school. The pressures are high with everyone deciding where they’re going to college and what their major is going to be. There are those overachieving seniors that say they’re going to go become doctors and lawyers (more power to ya!). Then, you have your seniors who are undecided and are going to go into General Studies for starters (nothing wrong with that!). And then you had me.
That four-year-old, seven-year-old, teacher-loving student who knew EXACTLY what she wanted to do and I was determined that I would get there.
I had wanted this my entire life. Becoming a teacher was going to be the best thing ever! Then, I started to get questions and comments like: “Are you serious?” & “You could be doing so much more with your life.” & “You’re way too smart to be a teacher…” (???) and my personal favorite, “Those who can’t, teach.”
I tried to not let those comments bother me, and I started college at the best University ever (Go LA Tech!) and when asked what my major was I got the SAME responses, plus a few new ones. “You know teachers don’t get paid much…” and “Wow, that’s such an easy major! I bet you’ll do great!” I knew the comments weren’t true, but they still got to me. Was this how everyone thought of education and teachers and school? I began to feel discouraged and doubted my major multiple times. I even changed my major at one point to something else. (Don’t worry, I came to my senses and came back to the wonderful Elementary Education world.) But when I came back, I wasn’t as passionate. That excitement I had felt throughout my entire life was almost 100% depleted. I was nearing the end of college, so I kept going because I really just needed the degree.
Fast forward to two years ago today and you’ll have a scared, unsure, and overwhelmed college student about to begin her last step in her college career: student teaching.
Was this really something I wanted to do? Was it going to be worth the tireless hours, the behavior problems, the low pay, the lesson planning?
I had wanted to be a teacher my entire life, but that dream that I had held so dear for so long started to feel more like a nightmare.
By the grace of God, I was placed at an elementary school with an amazing second grade teacher who would become my mentor and teacher for the next few months. Seeing her teach and watching how the students loved her and cared for her and seeing their excited, ready-to-learn faces was so incredibly evident, even on my very first day. I got the opportunity to love on kids, hear their stories, and just plain TEACH. I remember the first day I got to teach a lesson to those students. I went home and cried my eyes out because everything about that day felt so right. My lesson wasn’t perfect and I knew there were things I could have done better, but it didn’t matter because I went home and knew that this was where I was supposed to be.
I finally understood. It’s not about how much money teachers make. It’s not about the lesson plans teachers have to write. It’s not about the behavior problems of a student.
Teaching is about the PASSION you have for KIDS.
I know as educators, we hear that a lot. But what does it truly mean? I don’t mean you’re passionate about making sure a student has good grades or is able to do well on the standardized tests at the end of the school year. I’m talking about are you PASSIONATE about what goes on in their home life, what they’re going to be when they grow up, watching them set goals and then CRUSHING those goals? Are you passionate about your students truly understanding the skill or are you just worried about whether or not you taught it? Are you passionate about finding JOY in your students, leaving everything else at the door when you walk in? Are you passionate about celebrating the small victories AND the big victories? Are you passionate about the fact that these students deserve the very best education that we can give them?
Those are questions I had to ask myself when deciding whether or not teaching was the career path I wanted to follow. This career was going to be miserable if I didn’t have that PASSION for KIDS.
I’m happy to say that I found that joy and that passion during my student teaching journey and went on to get hired at the amazing school that took a chance on me. My principal didn’t have to hire me, by far. I’m sure she had 92 other applicants she could’ve chosen over me. But instead, she took a chance and hired the inexperienced first-year teacher to teach a second grade class in the very classroom I completed my student teaching.
Now I live each day thinking about how to best help my second graders become successful students and outstanding people, worrying about whether or not one of my students had dinner that night, and constantly calling them MY KIDS—because that’s what they feel like. I leave every emotion at the door except for my passion and my joy—which all bloom from the passion and joy that my students bring me every single day and the encouragement and inspiration shown to me by those who invested in my life, both past and present.
I’m definitely not perfect, by any means, so I continue to attend professional development opportunities that blow my mind (aka Ron Clark Academy—WOW!) I will never stop learning to be the best teacher that I can be--because if I don’t love learning, how can I expect my kids to? I’ve learned that the beauty of being a teacher is...I don’t just have to be a teacher all of the time.
I can choose to be a singer, a dancer, a construction worker, a police officer, a referee, a pirate… whatever I want to be for a day!
Why do I do it? It’s not because that’s what I grew up wanting to do, or because I get summers off, and it’s definitely not because of the money. Instead, it’s because of my kids and what they mean to me. Every single one of them will hold a special place in my heart and their faces will be etched into my brain forever. I just hope I can mean as much to ONE of them as my dear Mrs. O’Neil means to me and many others. In the last letter she wrote to me about a year ago, she wrote, “Don’t ever give up on your dreams. Find your why, like you are mine.”
MY KIDS will forever be MY WHY.