I began teaching at age seven.
I gave my poor siblings handwritten worksheets with simple addition problems to solve and letters to trace. When they were done, I graded their work and planned the next day’s lesson.
A few years later, all of my friends were begging their parents for walkie-talkies so that they could play army games. I begged as well. But I had no intention of running around an imagined battlefield.
I wanted an intercom system for my little private school.
The minute my parents gave in and handed me my new handheld devices, I promoted myself to the position of principal and allowed my younger sister to take over the classroom. She set up instruction in her bedroom while I set up my office in my own room. Each of us had a walkie talkie. Oh, how I delighted in interrupting her classroom with multiple announcements.
“Everyone, please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.”
“The lunch menu today will be peanut butter crackers and Tang.”
“There will be no running in the hallway.”
But the best disruption was for our fire drills. “Students, when you hear the alarm, please quietly go to the window and jump out.” And they would!
I never shared that story with my mother until I was well into my fifties.
The spirit of teaching was wrapped around my soul. Perhaps I was born with it forming quietly somewhere near my heart.
During my senior year in high school, I joined the Future Teachers of America Association. Most of my friends didn’t even know such a group existed. They didn’t exactly shun me. They just believed I was a bit touched.
I was placed at a grade school where I worked with my former fifth grade science teacher. She let me make real worksheets on a ditto machine! She let me grade papers! She let me be in charge of the classroom whenever she needed a break!
My high school counselor met with me for about fifteen minutes that year. Even though I was in the top ten of the graduating class of 600 students, there was no attempt to assist me with much college planning. He looked at my aptitude screeners, saw that I did well in science, and steered me in the direction of biomedical engineering.
I barely made it through my first semester.
The spirit of engineering was NOT wrapped around my soul.
I followed my heart into the College of Education and, a few years later, stepped into my very own classroom. I had my own chalkboard, an overhead projector, and a real intercom box on the wall.
I had real students with real lives full of stories. They filled me up with excitement as much as I hope I filled them.
There were plenty of rough days. Some were so difficult that I felt like I would never be able to return. Then the next day would be filled with amazing positivity and I swore I would never leave.
How quickly the time has flown. Here I am finishing up my thirty-fifth year as a REAL teacher. So many kids have sat before me and subsequently left me to start their own lives. Some have even become teachers themselves.
But kids don’t talk about needing walkie-talkies or about becoming teachers anymore.
It’s as if the spirit of teaching has been banished from the human soul forever.
But it is still very much within ME. I love what I do. I am proud of what I’ve done.
Tomorrow, teachers across my state, will be marching to the Capitol to protest low salaries and poor funding of our schools. Conditions for schools have deteriorated, and there is a severe shortage of teachers in our system.
I am a bit anxious, but I am marching nonetheless. I do so to improve compensation and care for all educators. I do so to fortify my colleagues. I do so to prevent the death of public education.
But mostly I march to inspire a new generation of children to beg for their own walkie-talkies, to set up their own classrooms in their bedrooms, and to dream of the day when they can be a real teacher as well.