Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Why Teach?

I'd love to hear how others came to choose this life-path too. Please, share your stories!

I first came to teaching through my martial arts background. Fairly early on in life (my early teens), I was chosen to help teach beginners. My teacher always had more advanced students show the basics (stances, punches, kicks, etc.) to new students on a 1-to-1 basis. He would tell us that "You never really know anything, until you've taught it to someone else." Our teaching became part of our training. And he was right.

I quickly found that I genuinely enjoyed this, while some of my fellow student-instructors just hated this assignment. And of course, none of them told our teacher that...

Over time, I began to consider the possibility that one day I might open my own Martial Arts school.

Eventually, I went to college and pursued a degree in something that I enjoyed (a BA in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing). Once I graduated, I found that there were no decent prospects for me in my home town. I had friends at Penn State who'd gone on to decent-paying technical writing jobs, PR positions, or as content managers/creators for websites (this was in '96, and the first Internet Boom was just revving up). But those friends were from, or had relocated to, other cities. I didn't have that luxury at the time.

After a year or so of back- and soul-crushing labor in a factory (which is the ONLY opportunity for young people where I grew up--college educated and high school dropout alike), I decided to head back to school and finish the additional coursework for a second undergraduate degree in Secondary Education, English. I already knew that teaching was something that I enjoyed doing, and it would give me an opportunity to move pretty much anywhere in the country.

I attended a job fair on campus near the end of my Senior year, and I was hired for a position in Texas (a town just outside of Houston).

During that first year, I quickly decided that teaching 8th-Graders was very much not for me. God bless the people who do it, it's one of the toughest jobs you can imagine. It's even more difficult than my year on 3rd shift factory work!

Of course, there were other dimensions to my move. I was living in Houston the year they beat Los Angeles as "American with the worst air quality." The place was quite literally making me sick.

When I look back, teaching 8th Grade was definitely a valuable and formative experience. The good days showed me that teaching really was something I loved to do--and that I cared quite deeply about the profession, my students, and my pedagogy. On the bad days, I felt more like a babysitter, than a teacher.

I came to realize that my teaching style, and personality, were best suited to a university setting.

I set plans for grad school in motion, as my contract year in TX came to a close.

As a grad student, I found that I positively flourished as a college instructor. I could really make a difference, and connect on a deeper level with my students. There was no longer this teacher/student divide that was always there with the 8th-Graders, where I sensed that I was often a surrogate parent.

In my college classrooms, we were ALL learners participating in the educational project together. My favorite classes were--and are to this day--the ones where I am taught by my students.

When I read their work, they're always venturing into new territory--and that's inspiring!

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