Why I teach…

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I have, in my biased opinion, the most important job in the world. I teach. I’m not saying that I do it well, or that I am important personally; just that my chosen profession shapes the future path of our nation and the world.

Now, I know that some people wouldn’t agree with me on that. For some reason, teachers are much maligned in this day and age. Some would argue it’s because there are bad teachers that somehow escape the system and keep their jobs for years longer than they should (as if this doesn’t happen in every single profession in the world). I’m sure that some people don’t like teachers simply because they are a part of a union, and I can acknowledge their argument, though a union doesn’t mean a teacher is a bad person OR a bad instructor of children. Of course, there is also the movement that education should be privatized like any other industry. Apparently, we want all of our kids wearing NASCAR style adertisements as they move through life, as we continue to let the greed for profits drip into every last area of our existence.

Though those arguments aren’t directed at me personally (well, sometimes they are – in FB comments), they are painful. Why? You know why! If someone insulted the very profession you had dedicated your life to being a part of, you would be hurt and insulted too. No matter if someone added the disclaimer “I’m not talking about you in particular” or “I know it’s not all teachers” – it still hurts deeply. Oh well – such are the times we live in. Sorry for chasing a tangent – this was not how I intended the blog to begin (though I suppose it fits, as story telling is conversational and prone to meandering).

The point I am trying to make is that, despite the negativity towards the profession, I would choose to be a teacher no matter what.  Not a day goes by when I don’t consider how fortunate I am to have changed my career path at the age of thirty.  The road was the hardest I’ve ever traversed, but the reward has been rich beyond measure.  I TEACH!

Understand that I knew I wanted to be a teacher while I was in high school.  I sat in class every day and thought about the day I would be up front, helping kids like me to succeed in life.  Every fiber of my being knew that I should take that direction in life.

Of course, I didn’t.  I fell prey to the allure of money.  I pursued a career in finance and marketing, hoping to carve out my own personal empire.  It turns out empire building is not what it’s cracked up to be.  Even if you make all the right decisions, some of them turn out to be wrong in the end.  I won’t steal thunder from a future blog, but I knew early on that I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do – but I tried to make it work nonetheless.

How well I remember in high school watching Dead Poet’s Society in Mrs. Rohde’s American Literature class, and the discussion about “Carpe Diem” – seize the day!  Who knew it would play such an important role in my life?  In 2009, just as my old life was imploding, I was given the opportunity to teach at the private school my daughters attended.  A door opened just as I was desperately seeking for answers.  I had never taught a day in my life, and I was afforded a chance to do the one thing I had always wanted to do.  I seized the opportunity.  My first day in class, I knew.  I knew that I had missed my calling.  I knew that I had taken the wrong path in life.  And I saw the fork in the road, and I knew what it meant.  Time to follow a new path in life.  Time to become who I was meant to be.

It was not an easy road.  I worked three jobs and was a full-time student, along with having a family that was sorely neglected.  I stayed up until 1-2 a.m. working on papers, and then left to go unload trucks at 5:00 in the morning, followed by school at 10:00 and teaching at 1:00.  I took 14 credits of summer classes at Eastern Michigan (in other words, a near suicidal load).  I fueled myself with Mt. Dew and Red Bull.  Our family went through some extremely traumatic times because of the one institution that is supposed to provide stability in life.  I tore my ACL and couldn’t afford to get it fixed.  I kept unloading trucks with a torn ACL, leading to my nickname of “the gimp”.  I ended up in the hospital with chest pains (nothing like the receptionist saying, “Sir, you are HAVING A HEART ATTACK.  TRY TO REMAIN CALM”).  I was attacked with a garbage can.  I fell in love with teaching in a classroom I knew I would have to leave.

You’re probably wondering why I said the right door opened at the right time.  Well, it just so happens that when I finally got to the student teaching portion of my education, another door opened.  I had tried desperately to get into the high school that is literally right across the street from my house.  I was invited to do an interview with a sponsoring teacher.  She happened to be pregnant, and she needed a student teacher who could take over as her substitute when the baby arrived.  She was interviewing several candidates, and I left thrilled at the possibility and terrified that it wouldn’t be me.  I’m admittedly not the most religious of people, but I spent much time on my knees, begging God for it to be me.  The door swung open.  Had I not busted my butt for a year and a half to get 3 years worth of studies done, I would not have been in position to go through the door.  The opportunity would have gone elsewhere.  Instead, I was a hair’s breadth from my dream.

Behind door number two were more challenges.  I had an infamous university supervisor for student teaching.  Bloody Mary was her name, and she loved two things – sea green sweatpants and yelling about things she could not control (What do you mean they cancelled classes because of ICE!!!!!).  The end of schooling brought the weariness I had held at bay over 2 years of sleeping 3 hours a night.  Teaching Civics was not an adventure I had been prepared for.  I found myself cleaning up someone else’s classroom in June and wondering if I would ever be so fortunate to have another.  Summer brought a hopeless job hunt where not a single call was returned, and not a single application led to an interview.  I began wondering if I had short changed my family for two years only to be a colossal failure at the end.  Had the doors opened only to slam in my face?

Then…

A random summer day.  A phone call.  A long term sub job… at the school across the street!  A job interview.  A letdown.  A visit from the assistant principal.  Another door opens.

A Teacher, at last!

So, we’ve mostly been talking about how I came to be a teacher.  You’re probably still wondering why I care about this job so much.  Here’s why:

  • It’s when a 14 year-old kid comes up to me and says, “I get it now.  I never did before, but you helped me.”
  • It’s when I get a note from a student that says, “You’ve made a difference in my life because you are the only teacher that ever cared about me as a person, and that is exactly why I learn so much better in your class.”
  • It’s when I tell a story, and I see eyes around the room open a little wider as the connection clicks into place.
  • It’s those days that are slog for both me and the kids, but we slog through them together.
  • It’s realizing that I am still new and unskilled, and stepping up and telling the kids that this one is “on me” – and having them respond with extra determination on their end (AP ECON multiple times this year).
  • It’s looking at the clock and realizing its 9 pm, and I’ve been there for 16 hours, and I still can’t leave because I WANT those kids to “get it” tomorrow.
  • It’s because of Mrs. Moccasin(k) and Mrs. Sonnenberg (1) and Miss Wilson (2) and Miss Nelson (3) and Miss Wilson again (4) and Mrs. Hiner (5 – best school year ever) and Mr. Kavalunus (6… well, not so much him) and the 7th grade teacher crew of Mrs. Baird and Mrs. Gibbs and Mr. Gandolfi and Mr. Hayes and the 8th grade crew of Mr. Janigian and Mr. “green pit stains” Nichols and Mr. Lutes and Mrs. Freydl; and through high school, there was Mr. Kinde and Mr. Ford and Ms. Rohde and Mrs. Sovereen and Mr. Urban and Mr. Slattery and Mr. Gabrys (and the amazing sunrises you could see from his room at the top of NHS hill), and never because of Mr. Dicks, and most of all because of Mrs. Seiler.
  • It’s because sometimes, all a teenager needs is someone to listen to him/her.
  • It’s because I don’t want kids to make the same mistakes I did (though I know they will anyway).
  • It’s because I love a captive audience for my storytelling 🙂
  • It’s because kids love me so much, they make Mt. Dew cakes for me

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  • It’s because the kids are forced to be there, but the magic occurs when they WANT to be there.
  • It’s because I’m a big kid myself.
  • It’s because someone is rudderless and needs direction.
  • It’s because someone doesn’t see the bridge is out ahead.
  • It’s because even though most will forget me in a few short years, while they were with me they felt safe and able to take chances and become more than who they were.
  • It’s because they won’t have a chance in life if they don’t learn what they need.
  • It’s because every day is so very different and full of ups and downs.
  • It’s because it’s what I was meant to do.
  • It’s because when you are finally doing what you were meant to do, you embrace it with your whole heart and let it change your way of being.
  •  It’s because there is no way you can let yourself stop growing if you want to be the best you can be.

It’s because for five one-hour periods each day, I spend time with the future of this country and the world.  Some of the 158 students that I see on Monday will accomplish great things.  Some of those students will have a life that most will consider a failure.  It doesn’t matter to me.  What matters to me is that while they were in my care, they learned and grew and felt valued as a human being.

That is why I teach.

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5 Responses to Why I teach…

  1. Sandy says:

    Darlene, what a beautiful story. I haven’t seen you since high school, however knowing you from back then I know that you are a blessing to your students and everyone else who may cross your path in life. Thank you for taking such good care of the children!

    • dtswampa says:

      Hi Sandy. This isn’t Darlene, but her son Derek. While she isn’t a teacher, I can assure you that my mom has indeed been a blessing to all those she has met in life. Thank you so much for commenting on the blog.

  2. J. Larson says:

    Very proud of you Derek..for having the guts to change direction, and the perseverance to hang in there, after you worked so hard..You have an exciting career ahead of you, deservedly so!

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