When I started brainstorming ideas for this post I kept coming back to one question: Why did I become a teacher? It certainly wasn’t for the paycheck, or because it was a super sexy career. I became a teacher because I had a desire to share my love of learning with others. I became a teacher because I loved to teach.
I remember the moment I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I was in my early twenties sitting on the train commuting to a job that I absolutely hated. I was reading the book The Five People You Meet in Heaven. This book made me think a lot about my life and the choices I was making. I was working in a super glamorous job that many young girls would die to have (think Devil Wears Prada) but as it turned out, I wasn’t one of those girls. I sat on the train and thought about what would truly make me happy. The answer came to me surprisingly quickly. I had a flashback to my childhood and remembered a person who had changed my life, my third grade teacher.
A huge smile came to my face as I sat on the train staring out the window and remembering my years at North Side School on Long Island. It was at that moment that I knew without a doubt that I was going to be a teacher. I quit my job soon after that train ride, and I started graduate school a few months later. I feel very fortunate to have had many teachers in my life that have inspired me to be the person I am today. I wrote my graduate school essay about my third grade teacher Ms. Longo. She probably has no idea how much she influenced my life, but I trace my love of learning back to her. When I became a teacher, my hope was to do for my students what she did for me. I wanted to light a spark.
Being an educator is a major responsibility but also a great privilege. There’s no glamour in teaching, no spotlight, and a lot of times no respect given, but I woke up every morning and loved going to work. I absolutely loved my job. I really felt that it was a privilege, an honor, to teach my students. Being a reading teacher, I worked mainly with struggling readers. Children who needed to add a few more tools to their toolboxes before they could tackle reading on their own.
My job was not easy. In fact, it was very challenging, but it was extremely rewarding. I loved the way my students’ faces lit up when they figured a word out on their own. I loved how excited they were when they realized they could read. Most of my students, who were in first grade, started the year off not knowing any letters, and were not able to write their own name. By the end of the year, they were reading.
I started my career working in a middle class school district in New York. I faced challenges there, but those challenges seemed minor compared to the challenges I faced working in an inner city school in San Francisco. Yes, there were bureaucratic challenges like receiving a pink slip the first 2 years I worked in San Francisco because of lack of funding. Yes, my salary was tens of thousands of dollars less in San Francisco than in New York, but those are not the challenges that kept me up at night.
A large portion of my first graders at the first school I worked in San Francisco had never really picked up a book before coming to school. They did not know how to hold a book. They did not know that you read left to right. They did not know the difference between a letter and a word. A lot of them could not afford to buy books. For a lot of them, the only time they ate was the free breakfast and lunch they were given at school. They came to school with a huge disadvantage, a disadvantage that was not their fault.
As challenging and frustrating at times as it was, I would not have wanted to work anywhere else. I had the opportunity to work with some of the best teachers that inspired me to work harder to hone my craft. The parents were so supportive and so appreciative. The PTA even offered to fund my salary when they heard my position was going to be cut. There was such a strong sense of community.
I am now a stay at home mom. I don’t know why I hate that term, but I do. Someone somewhere needs to come up with something else to call us. I’ve joked with my husband a few times when filling out school forms for my kids that I’m going to start writing CEO of my house under occupation. I hate writing N/A. Anyway, that’s a topic for a completely different story. I will always consider myself a teacher.
It’s been a little difficult for me to let go of the teacher hat when sending my kids off to school. My son started Kindergarten this year. My daughter is in nursery school. I cried like a baby after I dropped my son off at school. I was exactly like all the parents I comforted when I was teaching, but, now, I was on the other side. They were telling me that he’s going to be fine, we’ve got it covered, etc. These were the same things that I said to parents on the first day, but now I understood how they really felt. Not only was I sad because my baby was no longer a baby, but I was so nervous to be leaving my child in the hands of someone else for the majority of his day.
Meet the Teacher night came a few days later. It felt weird being on the parent side. I was so used to being the one standing up talking to parents about everything we did during the day, giving suggestions about home activities, getting parents excited about the year ahead, etc. But here I was, one of the nervous parents sitting with my husband and all the other parents at the small tables in the classroom, reading the note that my child had left for me, looking at the projects around the classroom, searching for my son’s name on all the artwork hung up, waiting for his teacher to start her presentation.
By the end of the night, all of my nervousness was gone. My son is in great hands. Listening to my son’s teacher speak, I remembered why I became a teacher – why most teachers become teachers. We love to teach. It’s in our blood. It’s in our DNA. So when you drop off your child at school, know that your child’s teacher is there because they chose to be there. They didn’t choose to be a teacher to get summers off. They didn’t choose to be a teacher because they think it’s easy. They chose to be a teacher because they truly love to teach.
Lauren lives on the north shore of Long Island, New York, with her husband and their two children. She lived in San Francisco with her husband for 10 years before moving back to the east coast last year to be closer to family. Lauren earned a dual Masters degree in Childhood Education and Literacy in 2006 and a Reading Recovery certificate in 2009. She has worked in elementary schools in both New York and San Francisco as a Classroom Teacher and Literacy Specialist. She has now chosen to stay at home with her two children who are 6 and 3 years old. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, gardening, kickboxing, and wine – she really loves wine.