1. What made you decide to become a teacher?
2. What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?
3. If you were not a teacher, what would you be?
1.) This first one is something I don't always share with my colleagues, though some have heard about it. I had a very different upbringing than your average American white guy. I grew up in a neighborhood and went to an elementary, middle, and high school where I was the minority in the school. My schools were not the best funded, my teachers weren't that great, the area the schools were in weren't great, etc. I experienced a LOT of "reverse discrimination" growing up. I had teachers that insisted on calling me "Mr. So-and-so" while they called everyone else by their first names. If I achieved in elementary school I was accused of "showing off." My parents were once called in for a parent-teacher conference because I was reading too much. I was resented for being in the gifted program. I think it's safe to say that I never had a teacher that was truly inspiring. There is no teacher from my schooling that I can look back on and use as a role model. I had plenty of the opposite though...
I once had a high school teacher who awarded me eight zeros in her grade book in one day of school. 1 for reading ahead in the book, 1 for asking a neighbor for a pencil, 1 for not coming to class prepared (no pencil), 1 for failing the pop quiz (because I couldn't take it without a pencil of course), 1 for talking back when I tried to explain about the pencil, etc. Of course the real reason was that I was white. I transferred out of her class that day thank goodness.
Daily life in high school was only made tolerable by my two best friends. I got into fights regularly, not because I wanted to...because I was defending myself. My sophomore year some other students locked one of the only decent teachers in the school in her portable classroom and set it on fire. She was pregnant. She got out, but she quit that day. Later that year when the police and firemen were called to help calm a riot that had broken out, several policemen were put in the hospital and all the windows of the firetruck were busted out. I locked myself in the armory of my school's ROTC building with the rifles we used for marksmanship practice.
5 minutes after arriving to my Senior prom I was in a surprise fist fight because my date wasn't white. The teachers came over and kicked me out (but not the students who assaulted me). I'll never forget my English teacher looking me in the eye and telling me that I didn't belong there. The same students tried to fight with me at my graduation. The police had to be called. I was my school's STAR student (highest SAT score) and was supposed to give a speech at the ceremony but that same English teacher skipped right over me that day.
I managed to graduate high school with higher than a 4.0 (thanks to straight A's and the bonuses from the 8 AP classes on my record), the highest SAT score in the school, and several full ride scholarships. I can honestly, and unfortunately, say that none of that had anything to do with my teachers. I consider having accomplished those things despite my teachers. And THAT is why I became one despite many people in my family begging me not to. I wanted to be a good teacher. I wanted the kids in my future classrooms to never feel the way I had to feel. I wanted school to be a place of safety and tolerance.
2.) That brings me to the second question. My greatest achievement has to be that every year I strive to make my classroom be exactly what I wanted when I was a kid. A place where you can be appreciated for your gifts, no matter what they are and no matter what package they come in. A place where kids are valued and respected regardless of their differences. A place where kids take all that for granted.
3.) I know this is cliched. But I honestly don't know what I would WANT to do if I weren't teaching. Like I mentioned, I was in ROTC in school and had the opportunity to pursue marksmanship as a career. One of the scholarships I mentioned would have required me to go into the Army as a second luitenant upon graduation with my B.S. I would then have likely shot for the Army's marksmanship team as my job. I was good at shooting, but it isn't a passion of mine. Still, I considered it for a brief moment back in high school. I suppose if I weren't teaching I'd be doing that.
Choosing teaching was one of the best decisions I've ever made!
Anyway, if you stuck around this long...thanks! Sorry to get heavy there for a while. Reading back through this it kind of comes off as a sob story. But those were the facts of my life!
The good news is that once I had decided on teaching and made my way to college I had a much more normal life! Well, as normal a life as a man who regularly gets accidentally called "Mom" can have at least! ;)