Earlier in the week, I asked my First Year Experience students, “When did you first want to become a _________ (their career choice)?” The responses proved wonderfully diverse. One student said “since I was like two or four,” and another called out an answer akin to “since last week.” The other answers fell somewhere in between.
When did you first want to become a teacher? The answer to this question matters. I’m not sure that someone who has possessed this dream since childhood is necessarily a better teacher than someone who didn’t decide until, say, graduate school. But the depth of the roots of self-identification do seem do appear to be significant. Deep roots uphold tall trees.
Some of you may have come to education later in your life, and that, of course, is perfectly acceptable. It just may have taken you a while to realize where you wanted to be in the world. It really is more a matter of intensity than time.
I’ve wanted to be a teacher since 4th grade, so that would have been about age nine. I didn’t share this dream with any of my peers at the time. Oh, no. Teachers were the enemy. It was way too uncool to want to be a teacher to tell anybody about it. I kept quiet, until, at least, high school.
4th grade really did change my life and set me on the path on which I still walk. And Mrs. Lynda Juencke (pronounced Yankee) was my first guide. She made learning fun. She made learning important. She made learning a source of personal pride. She taught me my multiplication tables, the wonders of geography (including how to memorize the capital of Iceland), and all of the presidents in order (up through Jimmy Carter, the prez at the time). This love of learning has never left me, and today, my successful days as an instructor are counted by those in which I manage to pass on this love to my students.
My personal (and, by extension, professional) Pedagogical Hall of Fame has many entries. Three more are worth mentioning here. Professor Alan Bernstein taught me how to think like a scholar, and, even more importantly, he was the one who finally convinced me that I was smart. This was no small undertaking, and I now strive to do the same with my students, for a strong sense of intelligence leads to a powerful self-efficacy.
Professor Donald Worster showed me that one can be a teacher and still change the world. Education is a powerful weapon in the fight against the many injustices of this world.
And, lastly, the character Robin Williams plays in Dead Poet’s Society inspired me to inspire others. Every once in a while, a teacher can brighten our souls. And every time I see this movie, or even a clip from it, I remember why I do what I do.
When did you first want to become a teacher? How deep are your roots? I know some of you are mighty oaks in the forest of education. Who planted your acorn, and who nourished your growth?