Monday, December 9, 2013

Why I became a teacher

Back in April I attended a Pro-D event hosted by Jordan Tinney (@jordantinney) with guest speaker George Couros (@gcouros) designed for current and future bloggers in the #sd36learn family.  One of the questions that George put out there for us to blog about was the age old question, "Why did you become a teacher?"  This is not a new question.  And though my "how I became a teacher" story is fixed, my "why I am a teacher" story is constantly evolving.  I was excited to write my story, because, like all stories, it's unique.  Of course it's taken me a while to finish writing it (as with many stories worth telling, they take time).  I tell my students this (long) story every year at some point, when they come to me struggling/confused/frustrated with the pressing question of what they should "be" when they grow up.  And I tell them the truth.  That once upon a time, I had no idea either.

When I was in high school I wanted to be an astronaut.  I fell in love with space when I was 14 years old and watched Tom Hanks pilot the Apollo 13 mission on the big screen.  After that I would lie in bed at night and stare at the moon and dream of walking on the surface.  I researched every major university that would help me prepare for my future working for NASA.  And as I got closer and closer to graduation, I began to realize that my dream may not be as attainable as I originally thought (partially because I wasn't planning to join the air force, and partially because I had PE teachers that counted how many consecutive free-throws I could make, embarrassed me through PE, and made me realize that I would never be able to run the marathon distances required of an "in-shape" astronaut....don't discount the power of a teacher to shame a student away from their dreams).  But in turn I had an amazing Physics and Biology teacher that continued to infuse my love of science, as well as my love for leadership and caring for those in need.  I spent my grade 12 year running the school 30 hour famine, helping raise $54,000 - the most any school in Canada had ever raised.  Because of this I earned a free trip to Toronto to work behind the scenes for World Vision - the week of provincial exams.  My first choice University - Dalhousie - wouldn't admit me until the exams were written in August, but a call from my Biology teacher to my back up University (at the time - best thing that ever happened to me, in retrospect), Trinity Western, made it possible for me to enrol and attend there, as they understood and supported the work I wanted to do with World Vision.  I thought I'd go for just a year, and then transfer, except the school changed my life.

TWU didn't have a Physics major, so I had to settle for a minor while majoring in Biology.  I considered changing to Chem for a moment, until I realized I hated organic chemistry.  Then I considered changing to Comm so I could do an internship in LA - until I decided to get married instead (and realized I hated Comm).  I ended up moving from a Bio major to concentration to avoid Biochem (again - hated organic chemistry), and ended up with a blended natural science degree.  Along the way, I elected to do an undergraduate thesis after a semester with a self-directed Ecology course that made me excited to be mentored by my professor - Dr. David Clements (don't underestimate the power of an amazing teacher to change your life also - and I've been lucky to have many).  Working under him throughout my thesis, and in the summer after graduation made me more passionate about ecosystems and the environment.  I spent my senior year mentoring a group of freshman Bio majors.  They were such an outstanding group, and I have been so proud to watch them take on their various roles in the world, as Doctors, nurses, parents, researchers and more.  I didn't think anything of the teaching experience then though.  I finished up my degree and spent the summer working for Dr. Clements until I was no longer considered a student, and forced to move on from the University I loved.  I thought I would find a job working in a lab somewhere, and make the "big" bucks.

Except then there wasn't any lab jobs.  Or any money.  The few jobs out there washing glasswear were reserved for grad students, and paid $12 an hour with little job security.  I got a job working at Long & McQuade doing bookwork 20 hours a week, until they decided that I was overqualified and needed to train someone who would stay long term.  I went back to working at the video store part time, and eventually got a job working at a doctors office.  I was also interested in Biology, and had excellent organizational skills, so running the office seemed like a good fit.  Except it wasn't.  It was really stressful.

Of course by now, I started to realize that having a degree didn't mean much more than the fact I was capable of learning anything, but not necessarily qualified to do anything.  I was 22 and frustrated, and poor and married, and the one thing I did know is that eventually I wanted children.  So I decided the best plan of action was just to have kids.  To be a mom.  I'd figure the rest out later.  (Yes - this is the wisdom of a 22 year old....)

But months ticked on, and as is often in life, things didn't go as planned.  I hated my job, wasn't on the mom track in any tangible way, and I realized that maybe, just maybe, I needed a back up plan.

At the time, having kids was the only real plan on my list.  I tried to come up with a list of jobs that would allow me to be the best parent I could.  And of course something that would make use of my science degree (I mean, I did spent 4 years in University learning something).  So why not just become a teacher.  That way I could be home with my kids in the evening and morning and weekends and summer and would have tons and tons of time to be a parent and relax and enjoy life.  Because you know those teachers, they have the best hours.  Ever.  They barely work.  Easiest job out there.  Right?

So I went back to school to pick up some courses.  Educational Psych.  Biochem and Genetics and Evolution and courses I didn't need because of my earlier choice to go from Bio major to concentration (which I was now reversing).  I volunteered a bit at a middle school in Chilliwack and worked part time running an office for a kids camp.

And while some people were dying to get in to PDP, I was rather indifferent.  I just wanted a job.  I wanted to stop being poor.  I just wanted some security.

And I got in.

And while many who worked much harder for it, who were passionate about it, and who desperately wanted nothing more than to teach, were wait listed, I was school bound again.

And so I showed up to SFU Surrey in the Fall of 2007 ready to get this last year of my education under way.  I was nervous about the social setting.  I was scared to stand in front of class and teach kids.  But I loved science, and liked the idea of having a say in what my day could look like (yes - the type A personality wanted a job with some "control"....).  And after 6 weeks of never-ending ice breakers, and outings, and articles on professionalism, and debates about homework, and lectures in "Assessment for Learning," they sent me off to Princess Margaret to work with the amazing Michelle Larsen.  For the first week I watched, scared out of my mind.  And then my turn came to stand up in front of the class and teach.  I created a short unit on Ecology and the Environment - and my first lesson talked about the effects of line fishing vs. trolling.  I had a model set up front with a little ecosystem I'd built, and as I dragged my fishing net along the bottom and destroyed my model to demonstrate the effect of trolling I heard students gasp.  A few even stood up out of their seat.  Hands were in the air, conversation began and students were engaged.

The lunch bell rang, and the room emptied.  And then, a minute later, students came back in.  With their friends.  "Can we show them what you showed us?" they asked me.  So they set up the model, and started teaching their friends.

And that was it.  My entire world changed right then in there.  I was filled with a passion unlike anything I could possibly describe in words.  The world was brighter, I could breathe easy and see clearly, and was ready for anything.  I wanted to sob right then and there because something was revealed to me in this moment that I never could have expected or anticipated.  I was born to TEACH.  And my life has never been the same.

I don't know if most teachers have a moment like that.  I moment where their calling to this profession came to them in total and utter clarity.  But I do.  I remember everything about that moment.  It was in this moment where my life suddenly had purpose.  And it was beautiful.

You see, I never went into teaching for any of the "right" reasons.  I didn't know I was meant for this. I ended up here because of a series of forks and road blocks and split second decisions made in moments of desperation.  And yet, I ended up here.  Exactly where I belong.

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