Growing up, I never put too much thought into living long enough to become an adult. The future was too nebulous for me to even consider as a possible reality. Perhaps another factor was the lack of guidance. Neither one of my parents pointed me toward a career, helped me set personal goals or fanned the flame of possibilities. They were just too busy surviving. Thankfully, I had a few good teachers who sowed seeds that eventually took root and motivated me to consider my future.
Why I Am a Teacher
Remembering these teachers, even after years gone by, I can still recall the words they spoke that caused me to strive toward becoming someone better. First, there was Sister George.
By the late 1960s, when I was in the fifth grade, nuns no longer wore the long black robes that brushed the dusty wooden floors of our elementary school. Instead, their garb was mid-shin length. They wore nylons, black utility, shoes and habits that sat like crowns on their heads. A short veil trailed down the back of their necks. Sister George’s hair was cropped close to her head, curly and gray. She wore wire rimmed glasses, and spoke in a voice almost as deep as a man’s. I remember her as a no nonsense nun who rarely smiled and kept her thirty or more restless students in quiet order. We never talked out of turn, kept our noses in our work and obeyed her out of fear.
My desk sat at the back of the classroom with a view of one of the bulletin boards. On occasion, my eyes were known to drift from my science book and gaze at the yellow stenciled letters that read, “Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well.” Only the “perfect” papers hung on that bulletin board. None of mine were among them.
But, day after day those words began to mean something to me. If I tried just a little harder, I imagined one of my papers being good enough to make it onto that bulletin board. And then one day it happened. I saw one of my spelling papers on that bulletin board. It had an A+ written at the top with a red pencil. Those words from Sister George’s bulletin board left an imprint on my brain, one that still remains today.
In sixth grade, I took an environmental living class. The instructor taught us how to survive in the wild. The school was located at the edge of town with a sage brush hillside that worked perfectly for building brush shelters, creating snares for rabbits and even gathering fuel for our campfires. The teacher assigned us each an area where we built our survival shelter and then he’d inspect. I remember his words to me when he assessed my little sanctuary I’d constructed. “You will be able to adapt to any environment you find yourself in.” I took his words as a compliment and though I’ve never had to survive in the wilds, I have learned to adapt to my surroundings no matter where I happen to be.
Finally, high school was the worst of my educational experiences. I skipped many of my classes, and thought more about dropping out than finishing the four required of me. But my botany teacher gave me a reason to stay in school, at least for the year I had him as a teacher. He was passionate about botany and could talk about plants for the whole hour I sat in his class. I, on the other hand, was less than enthusiastic about any plant until he asked me if I wanted to take care of the greenhouse. I took on the job he gave me and the responsibility gave me a reason to stay in school for at least another year.
I have to say that these teachers cared just enough about me to give me that little bit of personal attention and a few words of inspiration. It was all I needed to keep moving forward, continue to learn and preserve through the tough years as a kid in public school.
Now, as a public school teacher, I get to give personal attention and inspiring words that will hopefully see at least a few kids through their tough times.
Why bother considering what we do? We are never sure how our actions impact another. Yet, I remember those who impacted me and my hope is that those I impact, will remember me.