Growing up I loved school. I was a grade A nerd and teacher’s pet. I wasn’t very popular among my peers, but when it came time to help with their school work I became their best friend. And back then I didn’t mind the blatant attempt to take advantage of me. In fact, I loved it. It made me feel helpful and inspired to join the FEA (Future Educators of America).
The FEA was a great club to be a part of. Twice a week I’d get to leave class for thirty minutes or so and be a teacher assistant for a younger grade level. I helped younger kids with reading, writing, and arithmetic. It served as both motivation and fulfillment for my fifth grade spirit. I was motivated to be the best student I could be so I could in turn be a great teacher and I was filled with pride and joy knowing I was making a difference in other kids’ lives.
Because of the FEA I finished elementary school certain that I was going to be a teacher (spoiler alert, I didn’t become a teacher). But then I started middle school.
There’s a strange shift when starting middle school that goes beyond adapting to a new school with new rules and a new system. You go from one classroom with one primary teacher (plus a visit to the P.E., second language, art, and music teachers in rotation) to six different teachers of equal class length and authority. And with this comes a different teacher culture.
Teachers in middle school and high school are far more sarcastic and blunt. They don’t shy away from showing any disgruntled feelings they have. It was clear that they had zero tolerance for undedicated students and had high expectations from students like me (this contrast in teachers’ perception of and attitude towards students is another important topic for another post).
As usual, teachers showed interest in my achievements and work ethic, and at one point or another each one of them asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. But instead of the flattered excitement I was met with in elementary school, my middle and high school teachers reacted with some variation of, “A teacher? No! You have way too much potential for that!” as if to support the old adage, “Those who can’t do teach.” And look, I get it. Teachers are undervalued, underpaid, and overworked. Not many people want that future for their kids (and you know teachers see all their students as their lil baby chicks). But then I think about what they should want for their kids: happiness. And that doesn’t come from a big paycheck or positive evaluation (but, yeah, I know it doesn’t hurt). That comes from day to day joy in the things we do.
And I think about fifth grade me and how happy I felt teaching little kids the building blocks they’d need for the rest of their academic careers. And I think about Taylor Mali and his awesome poem “What Teachers Make.” And I think that if you’re going to deal with bullshit anyway you should go ahead and do the thing that makes your heart sing.
I didn’t become a school teacher, but my passion for helping others learn is still a major part of who I am. And I want you to know that no matter what you fall in love with doing or how many people tell you that you should do something else, I think you should do whatever it is that you want to do (unless it involves, like, hurting others).
To quote my favorite professor quoting Joseph Campbell always always always “Follow your bliss.”