Teaching found me. I didn’t plan to be a teacher.

Did you become the superhero, doctor, or fireman, that you imagined as a child? My son wanted to drive the big garbage truck and smash trash. While you may have taken a straight line to your imagined future, few of us travel such a linear path.

I imagined myself in front of an orchestra — the first female Leonard Bernstein. Liberace inspired me to play the piano at Carnegie Hall. Until I saw real blood, I considered pediatric medicine.

Teaching found me, and I don’t regret the journey.

The Backstory

When I look back on my childhood and growing up, I should have recognized the truth. I am a teacher. I began teaching when I turned five.

My first teaching position? I stood before a child’s blackboard in an imaginary classroom. Dusty chalk can leave a mess, so school convened on the front porch.

Several dolls made up the class roster. Each student waited, eager to learn. I scribbled pretend words across the blackboard. The students loved me, and I loved them.

In high school, I taught Sunday school. Four younger siblings depended on me to help with homework. Finally, as I floundered through college, I settled on a major in English and a minor in History.

The moment of reckoning came. Degree in hand, I needed a job. We lived in a small town. My mother knew someone, who knew the principal, who grew up with the school superintendent.

The superintendent’s daughter had taken a leave of absence to have her first child. Wouldn’t you know — she taught eighth grade English. And I had a degree in — English.

Bingo! I had my first real job.

Teaching: First Year

I entered that job without any formal teacher training. My department chair handed me a set of books and wished me luck. I can only imagine the shocked look of horror on my face.

“What do I teach? What order do I teach this material? Do you have a curriculum for me to follow?”

And the response I received?

“Oh, you’ll figure it out. Look at the chapter headings. Teach the grammar and whatever literature you like that’s in that book.”

I learned to write a curriculum that first year. I vowed to never throw another new teacher into that mayhem.

The “Aha” Moment

I wish I could tell you a success story of that first year. Some students made it through the year despite my subpar teaching ability. My brother was one of them. We laughed about that for years. Others students saw a newbie and went for the jugular.

I cried every day for 180 days straight.

I ended the year with my confidence and ego shattered. I plunged into the summer taking courses to get a teaching certificate. I searched for any book to help me figure out how this teaching thing worked.

What did I learn? I liked young people, well, most of them. I still had many growth opportunities.

Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner; put yourself in his place so that you may understand what he learns and the way he understands it.
Søren Kierkegaard

The Purpose

After three years, my husband and I prepared for the birth of our first child. I left the classroom. I never planned to return. My focus centered on this baby and the ones I hoped for in the future.

That lasted two years. I returned to teaching. Then a high-risk pregnancy sent me back home.

By the time I returned, again, I knew that teaching young children, not a subject, had found me for good. I matured. I gained a broader perspective through substitute teaching across many grade levels.

Did it get easier? Yes and no. You can ask any teacher. This profession requires fortitude and patience. We need school cultures that value respect and personal growth — for children and adults.

I taught children in elementary, middle, and high school. My favorite? Eighth grade. When I went to parties or family gatherings people would ask what I did. When I told them I taught junior high students, they would pause. You could almost see what they were thinking. “Bless her heart, I guess she can’t find another job.”

Oh, I could have left, but not this time.

Teaching no longer served as a job. I had found my purpose.

Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.

Rita Pierson

The Journey

The trajectory of my career took an unexpected turn when I began teaching my fellow teachers. Through a cadre program in our district, I learned about adult learning theory. Our team received professional development from the best.

I learned the value of peer coaching. Sitting side-by-side learning together how to give the best to our children. The lonely days of that first year reminded me that this work thrives on collaboration. I absorbed new information. I shared and supported new teachers.

Then, I received an offer from one of the state’s education service centers. Leave the classroom again? Then I had a realization. By teaching and coaching other teachers, my mission as a teacher could enlarge.

My students changed but I was still a teacher. I taught teachers how to write curriculum. We explored methodologies for engaging children in learning. We experimented. We created new tools. But I felt something was missing.

The Missing Link

This missing link came in another offer. I became an Elementary and Secondary Language Arts Coordinator. I needed to know if you could apply everything I had taught and developed.

My meandering through the different doorways of education continued. I worked with district-level leadership — principals, directors, superintendents.

I served in two large districts as the Chief Quality Officer. My educational focus expanded to improving operational and educational processes. I led the planning and oversaw district data and testing.

In the past thirty years, I acquired a bird’s eye view of every facet of classrooms, schools, and districts.

The Present

Now, I work as a champion for children, their teachers, and the future of public education. What I know, without any hesitation or doubt, teaching is hard work. But it is the most important work.

We have so much yet to do. We can no longer depend on an antiquated model of education. Our children need innovative pathways for learning and exploring the world. We need thinkers and doers. The old ways no longer serve us well.

The old systems of education were not designed with this world in mind. Improving them by raising conventional standards will not meet the challenges we now face.
Sir Ken Robinson

I see a new breed of teachers. Young people who enter the classroom commited to children. They have the strength to challenge and embrace the most inquisitive child. Teachers of all ages show up every day with passion and resilience.

We must keep pressing forward and never give up. I will not give up.

My students and the classrooms have changed over the years, but I will always be a teacher.

“I am a teacher.”

And always—

Be kind. Be brave. Be you.

Originally published in Age of Awareness on Medium, March 4, 2020