You know, I never wanted to be a teacher. It wasn’t a hey-I-might-think-about-it kind of thought. It was a firm refusal, arrogant, I-think-my-life-was-built-for-more, I’m-not-wearing-cat-sweaters verdict. (Yes, I was under the delusion that all teachers wore cat sweaters). My senior year at North Georgia College and State University confirmed this proclamation when I was forced to share classrooms with pre-education majors. With their colored pencils and foldables in tote, they complained about proximity, rubric construction, and bulletin boards. These were not my people. My people were the analytical, satirical, argumentative over literary qualms people. I’m even embarrassed to say that my senior capstone project was centered on the thesis that education degrees were nonsensical. All educators should be required to have content degrees versus degrees on pedagogy. Even though I still think there is a lot of merit to that thesis, it was clearly an arrogant and ignorant 21-year-old writing that capstone report.
However, God put two dear friends (later turned bridesmaids) in my life who challenged all my judgmental assumptions. They were both English Education majors who opened my English Publication major eyes. We shared courses, commonalities, and convictions. All young. All engaged. All focused on our lives ahead of us, not the absurdities of college drama. They both exuded such passion for young adults and faith for the future, they starkly juxtaposed the annoyances of those I judged all education majors from. By the spring of my senior year, I was taking a heavy course load (including Spanish 2001 and Spanish 2002 at the same time), working full time in retail management, and planning a wedding that was just 6 days after graduation (Yep, I was crazy!). Both my English Education friends were finishing up student teaching and one friend had already been offered the job she was currently learning from. She knew of another opening at that school, same department and hallway, and persuaded me to apply. With seriously no thought on obtaining an interview, I applied mainly to appease her kindness. I was looking for opportunities to break out of the retail rut and get my feet wet in a career, but education was clearly far from my sight.
You know, I wanted to be Barbra Walters. Ok, maybe not the overly teased bangs or radical disposition spoken from The View, but I want to make a mark on the news just as she had done. I wanted to write, and interview, and tell stories. I wanted to inspire, encourage, and lead. To me, Barbara Walters was all of this. She was a pioneer. She was significant. She was respected.
As a little kid, I have this memory of me standing in my front year on Union Church Road, wearing my mom’s stethoscope around my neck. With the ear pieces in, I would take the diaphragm chest piece and would speak directly into it. Really, I was corresponding. I was live from Union Church Road letting the viewers know that indeed the mail was being delivered at that very moment. I would even take Kermit the Frog’s broadcasting catchphrase; “Hi, ho. This is Kermit the Frog here reporting live from Sesame Street.”
Somewhere in the shuffle of college classes, retail management, and pre-married bliss, I forgot about my passions and instead focused on finding that career, you know, the one that pays the bills.
Well, a week after haft heartedly applying to teach, I was hustling across campus running late from work and even later to class when my phone rang. Dr. Terry Sapp and Mr. Bill Thompson from Chestatee High School requested an interview . . . with ME! What was I was going to say to these two lifetime educators? With, I’m sure, an out of breath response, I set up a date and time. I had little time to panic as I continued running down the hill from Jason’s apartment at Sherman Green (where I parked to avoid paying for a parking permit) into the always freezing Newton Oaks building.
One week later with my crisp J.Crew navy blue suit and matching pumps, I printed a fresh copy of my resume and prepared for questions that I had no idea how to answer. In hindsight, the interview is somewhat of a blur, but I do remember Dr. Sapp complimenting me on my suit choice. I later learned that a compliment from Dr. Sapp was a major win. I would spend my first couple of years in fear of her, and the rest in absolute awe.
Well, as you can tell, I got the job. What were they thinking? I knew nothing! Literally nothing! I did not know about classroom management, or GPS (Georgia Performance Standards) or EQ’s (Essential Questions). Everything I knew about education came from the other side, from observing, from being a student myself. And not always a good one at that. I mean, let’s not even talk about math!
But like everything else in my life, I have always learned best by doing. I’m a kinesthetic learner (yes, teaching has taught me about learning profiles too). I jumped feet first into the educational world, luckily surrounded by advanced swimmers and industrial-strength personal flotation devices. I went under more times than I care to count with more teacher fails than I’ll ever share but somewhere along the way, I figured something out: if you don’t love the kids, the kids will never learn to love. They will never love the curriculum, each other, or themselves. So that’s what I decided to do, about three years in, I began focusing all my attention on the learners. The curriculum, instead, I would learn right along with them.
I began attending every Friday night football game, theater production, cheer competition, and student fundraiser. I chaperoned Homecoming, Video Game Night lock-ins, and danced with seniors at Prom. I participated in Spirit Week, Open Mic Night, and Dancing with the Teachers (first place for fundraising, second place for dancing . . . . yeah, yeah, Kyle Counts!). I played on the faculty softball team, dressed up as Vanna White and Mrs. Clause, planned senior trips to New York City, and “starred” as the intoxicated mother of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde.
Along the way I began to see that the more I invested into my kids, the more they were invested in the classroom, with school spirit, with healthy relationships.
And yeah, in 2010, Jason and I even brought home one of those kids who we proudly loved on until she graduated college four years later with guess what . . . an English Publication degree. Now, I’m not saying that every teacher should adopt a teenager, but for us, it was the right decision. One that has forever changed my attitude and my outlook. Raising a teenager is hard! Raising a teenager when you’re barely an adult . . . is ludicrous!
Over these past ten years I have developed such profound relationships with some of my students. I have seen obnoxious freshman boys transform into powerful influential men of character. I have seen my students’ graduate college, travel internationally, become lawyers, missionaries, Microsoft Engineers, and professional poker players. I have sat in the congregation as they took their wedding vows, have visited their homes after the birth of their children, and cheered them on from the sidelines of social media with exclamation points and emojis.
I probably love my students too much. It’s probably not healthy. Not professional. I’m sure there are case studies about teachers like me. Those that get “too close.” But thanks to these young men and women, I have learned who I want to be. They have humbled me. Required me to be vulnerable and transparent. They have softened me, as someone just recently said. It is so true. They have made me soft. Maybe parenthood does that to people. Makes them soft. Let’s face it. These young adults are the closest thing I have to parenthood. Thinking about each and every one of their faces, I have so very much to be proud of. With Mother’s Day right around the corner, maybe I do have reasons to celebrate?
Which is why leaving them is so very hard. After ten years of allowing my identity to be “Miss Chestatee,” Teacher of the Year, R.A.C.E. Program Director, Girls Golf Coach, STAR Teacher, Yearbook Advisor Extraordinaire, I am taking a giant leap of faith and am perusing my own passions, something I tell all my students to do but have been so fearful to do myself. You know us teachers; do as we say, not as we do. Well, I am tired of being a hypocrite, I am ready to do as I say.
What’s crazy is that I have been saying for years that I would only teach for ten years. I guess I had this magical number in my head that after ten years, I would have this whole what-do-I-want-to-do-with-my-life thing figured out. I mean, I love my students. I love teaching. I love my school! But every year I hit May and immediately begin job interviewing. Sometimes even before May! Just ask my poor husband. I have gone on interviews and been offered the most amazing (sometimes even random) jobs every spring the last several years. But as much as I want them, I always turn them down. I just couldn’t stand the thought of leaving “my kids.” Of not being there for them. Even last year, two amazing job offers, two really hard refusals. It just was not the right time, personally, nor professionally to walk away. Anyone who would have hired me last spring would have been a fool. I was just a hot mess wrapped up in insecurity and overpriced Anthropologie.
But this year is different. This year I have peace. God given peace. God has given us both peace (which is remarkable!). Jason is usually the one that keeps me grounded when my hipster ways want to allow me to fly out on a whim. An incredible job opportunity that I have longed for, interviewed for on three separate occasions, and turned down on three separate occasions, is finally right. My ten year premonition is coming true. I am proud to accept the position with Herff Jones as the new Northeast Georgia Yearbook Representative! I get to take my mad yearbook skills on the road and really be a support system and resource for teachers and advisers that I will forever identify with. I’m still an educator, just with a broader classroom that will span seven counties.
Even though I am excited about this transition. There is still so much unsureness, anxiety, and insecurities that come with a life change. I keep waiting for God to open the heavens with grand gestures of confirmation. Yeah, He could totally do that. But sometimes I feel the greatest gestures comes from the still, small, quiet moments with Him.
Just earlier this week, I was back in my spot, sitting on my leftover sectional that I’ve commandeered as my office chair, sorting through my reading. I opened up Love Lives Here by Maria Goff just to grab a receipt that I had used as a book mark. On page 63, right next to my coffee stains, were these highlighted words (because like every good English teacher, I annotate as I read): “If you feel like your ambition isn’t big enough because it’s not the same ambition as someone you love, don’t buy the lie . . . start with the ambition and desires God has given you and then go take the next step with what lights you up. Fuel it with your faith, not just your energy.”
Oh Sweet Maria (if you’re a Bob Goff fan, you get this), you are so right! Yeah, my passions are people, publications, and even yearbooks! Some people might not get this, might not see my transition as worthy or noble, but God gets it. He sees me.
With just 22 days until graduation, I am ready to “feel all the feels” as my wise friend advised. I am ready to hug, listen, shed more tears than is humanly necessary, and love. Love all the people who have been gracious enough to love me in return. It may have been ten years, but love lasts a lifetime.
The Big Bang Theory, Series 03 Episode 23 – The Lunar Excitation