Thursday, October 6, 2011

Being a teacher

Back when I was younger, I didn't want to be a teacher. I couldn't stand the thought of spending day after day in a classroom with rowdy, bratty kids. I viewed it as going to college just to be a baby-sitter. Even when I got my first teaching job in 1989, I still was in the same mind-set. That was until I worked a day with my teaching mentor, Esther.

Esther was a quiet, sweet tempered woman. At the time, she told me she had been teaching for 16 years, and I was floored. I couldn't imagine doing this for 6 months, let alone a decade and a half! We were required to shadow the teachers for 12 weeks to complete the program and I thought this was going to be such a disaster. How could this woman ever control a classroom?

It didn't take long for me to see that this woman was amazing. Her style of teaching was as equally gentle as her manner. The kids loved her, and best yet, they respected her. She showed them respect in return, actually, she showed them respect first. A lot of the kids she was working with were from tough situations - single moms, teen moms, nasty divorces, unemployment, poverty. You name it, and there was at least one kid in the room that fit the bill.

It didn't matter to Esther though. She saw where these kids were from and she understood it, but she told me that it didn't define who they are. She also told me that this was precisely what affected these children most: being defined by what their circumstances were, not who they are.

It was so amazing to me. At this point in my young adult life, I didn't even make that distinction in myself, let alone seeing that distinction in these young children. I always had equated the who with the what when it came to people. I thought no matter how fast you ran, the past always catches you. I realized at that moment that even with the book learning I had about being a teacher, I had so much more to learn and Esther was just the one to teach me.

Needless to say, by the time I finished the 12 week program, I signed on to finish the rest of the year. Every day I worked in her classroom, I learned a little more. I learned how to open myself up, to find the child that was inside me (though buried very deep). I learned to hug (a skill I did not have - honest....ask my Aunt Jan) and be okay with getting giant hugs in return (you would be amazed at how big of a hug you can get from a 2 year old!), I also learned that it was okay to be silly, and to sing, and to dance. Young children don't judge like adults do - they live each moment to it's fullest. We as adults have so much filling our heads that often we can't even get out of our own way, but young children live on pure spontaneity. I couldn't remember being like this as a child, but I was slowly learning how to do it as an adult.

Looking back, I realize if it weren't for Esther, I would have never spent 21 years as a teacher. I don't know what I would have done, but it wouldn't have been that. Because of this amazing woman, a teacher was born.

I realize now that even though I don't teach at a school anymore, I am still a teacher. I can't help it. When I see teachable moments, I slip into that teaching skin faster than I can put on a pair of socks. It is like an automatic gear I shift into. I realize that like those kids, I am not defined by my circumstances, but by who I am.

I am a teacher. 

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