Growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher. I was the little girl who would set up her stuffed animals — or any neighborhood kids who would play along — and teach them in my pretend classroom. Of course, I was a little like Barbie and also had my interests in marine biology and flying, and even wanted to be a scientist like on CSI. But my heart was always set on working with kids, and I wanted to share my love of learning with as many people as I could.
Upon graduating high school, I went to college, set on being a teacher. I had a few bumps along the way, quite literally, one of them is now 13 going on 18, and made the decision to take a break from college. While I did finish my Associate degree mere weeks after giving birth to my third child, I no longer felt like teaching was in my future. I settled into my role as a stay-at-home mom, and as many of us do, I lost myself in that. I battled with anxiety and depression, both loving being a mom but also feeling like something was missing.
When my fourth child was 4, I was spending so much time volunteering at my children’s school, that I was offered a position. Suddenly, I felt alive again! I began tutoring small groups and was reminded why I wanted to be a teacher so badly growing up. There was nothing better than helping a struggling student have that ah-ha! moment, and you see the gears clicking, and their eyes light up when they realize they understand it now. I was loving my job and the renewed sense of purpose it gave me. Several people suggested I finish my teaching degree, but I had seen the burnout and the stress, I knew how underpaid and underappreciated teachers were. I also wasn’t sure if I was going to be good at it, that eternal self-doubt, am I right? Add in this was the year that COVID stopped everything, and suddenly this thing that I loved but wasn’t sure if I should do, was taken from me. I was heartbroken. The final sign for me was the 5th-grade graduation, on Zoom naturally, where students were able to say something to a teacher if they wanted. One student who was particularly challenging, we will say, and was a big reason I doubted if I had what it takes, raised his hand to speak and said he wanted to thank me. ME! He told me that he appreciated that I never gave up on him, that I pushed him to be better, and that he would miss me. I cried, a lot. I applied for a program that DCPS offers to its employees who are wishing to become a teacher and was accepted. I nervously began taking college classes again, after family chats about how hard it might be with Mommy working full time and taking a full course load, and taking care of four kids, but everyone was on board!
I spent my days working at the school, doing all sorts of jobs and building relationships with students. Even on my worst days, having my name yelled out excitedly and being bear-hugged by a mass of children somehow made everything disappear. I felt like all I talked about was my job, but it felt like so much more than that. This was my passion, what made me feel whole. It was exhausting, stressful, emotional, and amazing. I just last week finished my classes, FINALLY! I completed my student teaching internship where I fell absolutely in love with 27 1st graders. There were days I felt like quitting, days I felt like I couldn’t do anything right, and days where I left defeated. But each new day I’d walk back in and be absolutely refueled and reminded why I teach. I comforted crying children, sick children, hungry children, hurt and really angry children. I cheered for their successes and guided them through their struggles. We made inside jokes, said our morning affirmations, meditated after lunchtime chaos, worked on number lines and text features, and changed my life.
Now I sit and think about my classroom next year, my very first one! I consider how I want it to feel… like a safe place for students, a home. I consider what my rules and procedures will be, how I will encourage students to make the best choices, and how I will make each lesson exciting and meaningful so each student grows academically and individually. I also think about how challenging it will be. How will I handle difficult students and parents? How will I fight the teacher burnout when so many teachers are leaving the field each year? How will I handle being blamed for everything a child does or doesn’t do? I have listened as parents berate teachers, called them names, and threatened to sue or worse. I am entering the education field filled with so much excitement but also nervousness.
As we enter Teacher Appreciation Week, I am reminded that this typically looks like empty gestures, government oversight, mean words, accusations, disrespect, and more. I am choosing to enter a field where people will constantly undervalue my work and my knowledge. I am choosing to enter a field where people will say I am lying, disregard all my advice, and minimize my attempts. But I am also choosing to enter a field where I can help students to love learning, to understand math, to be empathetic and understanding tiny humans. I am not entering it for the appreciation of adults, but for the children. Teaching is what sets my soul on fire, and I feel so appreciative that I get to be a teacher.