I recently moved to a new state, for the first time in my 34 years of life, and have quickly come to find out that when moving 1200 miles away, discussing what you do for a career (I can’t call it “work” because it’s not work to me since teaching is so rewarding!) comes up pretty frequently since you’re meeting a lot of new people.
Given that, I noticed once I share that I’m a teacher, and then elaborate that I am a special education teacher, 90% of the time, the next questions is: “Wow. That’s great. What made you want to do that?!” So, having been asked this a great deal over the last year, it gave me an opportunity to reflect on just what did make me “want to do this?”
The Peer Who Unintentionally Steered Me Toward Teaching;
When I think back to the years (yikes!) before college, and before I “chose a career path,” I remember sitting in a junior/senior grade advanced German class.
There was a senior (I was a junior at the time) whom I had known for quite a while in the class. This senior, let’s call him Seth, had been known to cause trouble in class. And, by trouble, I mean disrupting behaviors like making noises, inappropriate jokes, instigating other students and anything else that would frustrate the teacher, and, in turn, yield laughs from peers.
We were seated alphabetically by last name, and it just so happened that this put Seth in the seat immediately behind me.
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Throughout the first several weeks Seth did as he had always done, and participated in his “antics,” which included whispering to me throughout class, pushing my chair/desk with his feet, grabbing my books and papers, even writing on the back of my arms.
Quite frankly, he would do anything he could to try (keyword!) to get a rise out of me.
Because of our seating arrangements, this also meant that during partner work, Seth and I were often expected to complete work together. Needless to say, this wasn’t an easy task…for Seth, or for me!
So, I did what I thought was the best solution, and helped Seth as best I could – collaborating on the work rather than engaging in his behavior OR letting him simply copy from me…I didn’t want to do ALL of the work alone!
Fast forward 8 weeks, when our teacher did the standard, let’s change seats. Conveniently, Seth was still behind me. I was confused, but, also unfazed and continued to do as I had done the first 8 weeks.
Fast forward again to the end of the semester, and despite the multiple seat changes, Seth was always near me.
Unbeknown to me, this was intentional, and, low and behold, Seth actually ended up doing very well in the class, even on tests/quizzes when we were unable to work together!
As our teacher said her goodbyes at the end of the year, she handed me a piece of German chocolate (so delicious!) and said, “thank you for your patience and perseverance” and left it at that.
It wasn’t until I had gotten home and shared this story with my parents that I became aware of the intentional seating arrangement (all semester!) and what my teacher really meant in her words to me.
It was that moment, two years later, which I never forgot (and never will) when was a sophomore in college, that helped me realize exactly what I “wanted to do.”
I wanted to help students, of any age, learn and grow. It didn’t matter to me what that “help” looked like, or the patience it took, the reward of seeing growth, of any kind, in everyone I had the chance to work with, made every single second worth it. The path I chose in large part because of Seth, is teaching.
Fast forward 8 years, and I ran into Seth at a mutual friend’s wedding. Seth greeted me with a hug and we had a nice, mature chat about where life had taken us. So, I decided to share this story with him. We both laughed as we reflected on that class together.
And, we ended our conversation by thanking each other: he thanked me for “dealing with him” and I thanked him for guiding me to a career of teaching that couldn’t be more rewarding, or more right for me.
If you’re a teacher, what made you decide to choose this path?
~ Diana Chase