Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Confessions of a Soon-to-be Teacher (Maybe)

Being a teacher, in my opinion, is one of the most underappreciated jobs in our world. It's not that this career path isn't appreciated by anyone, it's just that the life of a teacher, everything a teaching job actually entails, is unknown by the general public, and therefore disregarded. We (as the general public) have a very basic understanding of what goes on in a teacher's life; it doesn't seem like many people understand what a teacher really does behind the scenes, unless they themselves are already a teacher or are in the process of becoming one, and this is why a teacher's job seems underappreciated.

I decided that I wanted to be a teacher when I was in seventh grade. I know it isn't typical that people already know what they want to do that early on, but for me, there wasn't any hesitation in knowing that teaching is what I wanted to pursue. When I entered my junior and senior years of high school, when others begin to ask you what your plans are for college, the responses I received about my career choice were somewhat shocking and frustrating to hear. While I did hear the occasional, "You're going to make a great teacher!", so many other times I heard, "But you're so smart, why would you do that?", or "Wait really? You could do something so much better!", or my personal favorite, "Why would you want to do that? You aren't going to make any money.".

Hearing these things started a fire in me. Why did so many people think negatively of my choice? Didn't anyone realize that teaching was so much more than those surface level things? As a middle school student, I already had the pull, the passion, the understanding that accompanies the desire to become a teacher. I had experienced these things in some of my own middle school teachers, and I had already formed the desire to give back and pour into future students, the way they had done for me. I wanted to show people that I could be a teacher, and that I could be a good one. I wanted to prove that I could be the teacher that students went home and talked about because of something exciting that had happened in class. I wanted to be the teacher that students felt they had a relationship with, not just as teacher-student, but as friend-friend or mentor-mentee.

That was me in seventh grade; passionate, confident, and determined to prove to everyone that this was where my life was supposed to go. Here's the thing though; that was eight years ago, and even though I had never thought twice about changing that path, this year has posed to be a difficult one in that regards. After working towards this career for 2.5 years now in college, I still find myself thinking about the questions above, almost more than I did when they were originally brought up in my life. For the past several months, I have had some sort of inkling that maybe I'm not pursuing the right career path anymore. It's not to say that I can't still picture myself having my own classroom, teaching math to middle school students; that picture is still pretty visible in my mind. But, there also exists a picture in my mind that doesn't include teaching, a picture that God has decided to put in my life, even though I have no idea why. As someone who had never doubted or second-guessed her degree choice, I struggle with what to do now. This new picture is blurry; it doesn't show me what else I might be doing in the future, it just doesn't show teaching to be something I pursue. So here I am, a junior in my college career, not sure that teaching is what I'm being called to do anymore, despite the fact that I felt that calling for eight years.

I'm not trying to make this post about the inner struggles of Kelsey York's life, but I do feel like these thoughts have made me more observant to the things that teachers don't generally get recognized for. Being in the education program, you get all the background information, all the stuff no one thinks about until it's staring them in the face; things like the need to care for students as if they're your children, the importance of teaching students that it's okay to fail, showing students that they aren't just a number in the grade book, the need to connect with students and form relationships, to get to know students on a personal level rather than looking down on them, the importance of meeting students where they're at, both as students and as people/children outside of the classroom; things like how to talk about politics when everyone's on edge, or how to address religious or cultural issues and how much personal input to include. These things are what make teachers who they are. These things are powerful; they show the true grit and passion it takes for a person to decide to be a teacher and these should be the things that teachers are recognized for. These are the things that I picked out as a seventh grade student, because I saw them in many of my teachers, and although I don't know for sure that teaching is where I'll end up anymore, I am still confident that these things, these connections, are what I will strive to fulfill until I figure that out.

Now I know I've jumped around a bit, but I promise I'm about to tie it all together, so keep reading. Please. Going through this struggle of not knowing what to do with my career path these past few months has been, and still is, a pretty stressful situation for me. There has always been a pull from society to know what you're doing with your life the minute you step into the college world; what's your major, your minor, what are doing with that degree when you graduate, where are you going to live, where are you going to work, and so many more. We even encourage this thought process in students who are only in middle school and high school. Shouldn't the focus simply be to learn for the sake of learning; to grow for the sake of growing; to form relationships with others for the sake of learning to maintain those relationships? Believe me, going through the 'life choices' issue as a junior in college is no fun, but that doesn't mean we should force it upon students who barely know what they're passionate about yet. In my opinion, in order for teachers to fully encompass the ideals and connections mentioned above, encouraging students to take life one step at a time is the only way to go. When college comes and it's time to decide the path you want to take from there, it's okay to not have any idea yet. The ideas will come, and until then it is simply a teacher's job to support them wherever they end up. In this way, and only in this way, can we encourage students to truly find what they are passionate about, what they're interested in, and what they want to work towards someday, hoping that those things will be made clear to them by our actions, not our teachings.

Sorry for the jumbled thoughts, but life is jumbled sometimes anyway. In any case, I am a math teacher in the making (maybe), a fellow math nerd, and these are just some of my thoughts. Thanks for reading.