In honor of my 30th high school reunion this year, I decided to do a few blog posts on the subject. The previous one was about going to Catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade. For this next one I asked three high school friends, Ann, Lisa, and Theresa, who all chose to become teachers, about their rewarding profession:
1. What made you decide to become a teacher? Talk about one of your teachers through the years that was a source of great inspiration.
Ann: I decided to become a teacher in the second semester of my sophomore year in college. I wanted to be a forester and work in the national park system, BUT I wasn’t good at math (Trigonometry) and decided to be practical. I opened the course catalog and found the degree with the least amount of math requirements. It was Education (how ironic). I only had to take Intro to College Algebra and Math for Elementary Ed teachers. I knew I loved kids (lots of early childhood requirements), and I knew I’d get a teaching job, so that decided it for me!!! Nothing very inspired there in my choice . . . that was to come later.
I had a college professor that taught Medieval British Literature. He’d go off on tangents about molecules, the university tenure, etc. I loved when professors would go off topic because you weren’t responsible for THAT material!! Anyway, Dr. Roach (that was his actual name) sat cross-legged on his desk, playing a cigar box lyre and sang Beowulf in Old English. He reminded me of the role Robin Williams played in Dead Poet’s Society. I loved learning with Dr. Roach . . . always irreverent, challenging and probing . . . made us laugh almost every day, too.
Lisa: I wanted to be a teacher since I was little and played school all the time. I loved and adored the “sweet” and “hard-but-respected” teachers. Sr. Philomena will forever hold a place in my heart. I loved Sr. Christina. In high school I have to give it to Mrs. Magilow (Latin) and Mrs. O’Connell (Algebra II). I actually LEARNED in their classes. But hands down, the ones I loved the most were the Persingers. I learned a lot about the election of 1980 because of Coach Persinger (Reagan vs. Carter) and voted for the first time because he instilled in us that we should. Mrs. Persinger was wonderful as well, and she’s probably the reason I teach English today.
Theresa: Although I am the baby of seven I was given several opportunities to teach younger children. As a choir member at St. Thomas Aquinas (STA) grade school, we were given the opportunity to baby sit during Mass for $2. I did this for 3 years every Sunday! All of my 8th grade year, I helped the Kindergarten teacher in the early morning. At Bishop Lynch my Senior Service project sent me to a neighborhood school to help a first grade teacher. I loved the feeling of giving knowledge to another.
Coach Rainey at STA is the man who inspired me to have an impact on the lives of others. He showed me that dedication and hard work pay off and that I was the only one who could make a difference in my life and impact others by doing so. He taught me how to be confident and to not be afraid of being a bit aggressive from time to time.
2. What grades and/or subjects have you taught and which have been your favorites and why?
Ann: I have spent 23 years in either Kindergarten or Pre-Kindergarten and 2 years in 1st grade. I think I enjoy Pre-K the most because the students must be at risk (qualify for free/reduced lunch, second language learner) to enter the program and I have a chance to really influence their early learning and prepare them for reading! Plus, they are soooo funny . . . announcing farts, telling me I need to use my PedEgg, etc. Unfiltered and uncensored (kinda like me, huh?)
Lisa: I am only certified to teach English Language Arts–reading and writing, basically. I have only taught these subjects, and the reason is because it’s the one subject I loved in school and was good at. I hated Math, Social Studies, History. It’s funny now, I incorporate all of those subjects in my curriculum, but my heart belongs to English.
Theresa: At STA I taught 6th grade World History, 7th grade Texas History and 8th grade US History for 8 years.
In Kaufman (smaller town outside Dallas) I taught 8th grade US History for 7 years and in Mesquite (Dallas suburb) 1 year of Texas History, while accumulating 10 years of US History. So in short I have taught 8th grade US History for 25 years!! Obviously US History is my favorite because I get to teach the kids what being an American is all about! But my favorite was teaching at STA because I got to teach the kids three years in a row . . . wow, the stuff those kids learned . . . and the cultural celebrations we had . . . so much fun. Back in those days we were not concerned with passing state tests.
3. All of you teach in the public school system. Have you thought about teaching in private or parochial schools?
Ann: I have thought about teaching in private school, but would feel underpaid!!! Private school teachers see what I see in the public schools but get paid less. I also feel it is a vocation to teach in public schools for children of diverse backgrounds (race, religion, income, parent education level). Public school teachers often fill such a void for their students . . . guidance especially!
Lisa: I have always been public. Private school salaries aren’t so great.
Theresa: Think I already answered that. I would love to go back to private, but I would lose some of my retirement. Maybe I will retire public and then go back to parochial. Money, money, money! When I switched from STA to Kaufman . . . it was a $5,000 raise . . . and that was back in 1993!
4. Do former students keep in touch with you? Do they come back to visit?
Ann: I see my former students in the hall as they progress from Kindergarten to 5th grade and they usually ask for a hug. I’ve received one or two high school graduation announcements, also. Many years ago, I remember seeing one student on a Crime Stoppers episode. He had been shot and killed in a drug-related offense. Tragic and quite alarming! I also had a student (this past school year) die from a brain tumor–a medulla blastoma. Very sad and difficult to understand for me and our school community. I often wonder what my former students are doing–are they parents, in college, are they productive citizens? I hope and assume they are all of the above.
Lisa: They do come back to visit, and there are days I have a tiny taste of what Oprah gets daily a million fold. There’s nothing like walking into a crowded gym of students and have students yelling at you to say hello. Likewise, having 8th graders run to you after you had them in 6th is pretty cool, too.
Theresa: Oh yes! This is the most incredible experience. Before Facebook, they would send letters to the school updating me on the successes, wanting to share with me because I made a difference for them. Some come back just to see if you are still there! Others track you down for special events in their lives . . . a performance, a graduation, a marriage, children, or even a death in their family. Nowadays Facebook has made it really easy! Every summer I get together with some of my old students. I just got an email from one kid the other day, and he is a trainer at the University of North Texas. He wants to give me tickets for a game as a thank you for making a difference in his life. Others send money for Student Council projects. I have been sponsor at my current school for almost 10 years.
5. Describe one of your most triumphant teaching moments. For example, when a difficult student made a breakthrough, or when your class made you proud.
Ann: I think seeing the growth from the beginning of the year to the end of the year is always a proud moment for me. Coming into Pre-K without knowledge of letters and letter sounds, then being able to sound out words or read simple text by May! I also had several 1st graders that could read on a 4th to 5th grade level . . . due to a good foundation at home, it was fun to read chapter books with them and to foster their love of literature and reading!
Lisa: Most triumphant is hard. My first year of teaching in McKinney (county seat of a county north of Dallas) was ROUGH to say the least. I thought those kids would never want to see me again. I moved up to 7th with that class (of heathens! 🙂 only to have them and the principal beg to have me again. I understand them. I empathize. But with an iron fist and they know mom and dad are an email away. Triumphant now is watching my students present their research projects. Last year, I got teary-eyed during several. Kids are amazingly talented and creative. You wonder if you’re getting across where they need to be and what they need to understand. Then, they apply all you have been going over, and it turns out amazing. Then you think, no way I am responsible for that. That’s all them.
Theresa: OOOhhhh soooo many . . . but the most current is a young lady who is on a mission called Jeans for Jesse that I posted about on Facebook. I taught Jerica and she was a member of the Student Council. Her best friend was Jesse, a child who was fighting for her life. I had the honor of teaching Jesse, too. Two incredible young ladies. Through Jesse’s difficult life, she never complained but smiled and showed others the love of our awesome God. Jesse passed in 2008 and Jerica wanted to do something to honor her friend so she established Jeans for Jesse. She has a jeans sale and gives the money she makes to Children’s Medical Center. At her first sale she made over $2,000. People donate the jeans and we sell them for $5. Another story is about my 4th period class last year. They were a crew of rowdy loud kids who were going to show me who was boss . . . we had difficult days but eventually they realized I was helping them to become more than a bunch of rowdy loud kids and they became the glue that got me through a challenging time. My mom was diagnosed with kidney failure last December. Although she is currently doing well . . . we had no idea what each day would bring . . . these kids were my prayer warriors. They could tell when I came to school after spending all night in the ER . . . they would hug me (which I don’t allow . . . it is dangerous in this day and age) and say, I’m gonna pray for her right now. They would sit in silence while I answered the class phone. They would bow their heads and start praying as soon as they figured out it wasn’t the office calling for one of them. When I missed 15 days of school . . . more than ever before . . . they would do exactly what I left for them and not one would misbehave for the sub (miracle in itself) . . . they would send me care notes and prayers on my school email. Gosh, I miss those kids!
I could go on and on . . . my most famous student is a Playboy centerfold! What amazes me the most . . . is how many of my former students are teachers! This year I have broken my own record for teaching the most siblings. I have now taught all 5 children in one family. If I continue to teach at my current school, in two years I will teach my first second generation student!! WOW! I’m old!! The kids keep me young . . . just imagine being in 8th grade for 26 years.
I still want to teach high school but have not been able to make that move yet.
Thank you very much for answering these questions, Ann, Lisa, and Theresa. I am grateful that you three are teaching the citizens of tomorrow and have been for many years.