On Becoming a Teacher

I was in fourth grade. We were in the dining room for a fancier than normal dinner. I’m pretty sure that the neighbors were over. Someone was asking all the children what they wanted to be. My sister, who was in kindergarten, wanted to be a garbageman. Everyone laughed. I wanted to be a teacher. My father was curt, “Don’t be silly. You’re too smart to be a teacher.” No one disagreed. The chair pushed hard against my back. I stared through the door into the kitchen beyond. I didn’t want to cry. And the conversation moved on.

I was in college, considering a career in the foreign service. My school didn’t even offer an Education major. I studied Economics and International Politics, Political Science and Philosophy. I went to a fancy dinner party. I was wearing a long dress, holding a cocktail in a dark-paneled room. I laughed as I told an acquaintance that I wasn’t a grown-up yet because I still hadn’t quite gotten over that standard childhood dream of being a teacher. She looked perplexed. My voice rose as my statement became a question, “You know, how everyone wants to be a teacher when they’re young?” She said, “No one I know wanted to be a teacher.” And the conversation moved on.

I was in the hallway of my boyfriend’s apartment in France. I curled the phone cord around my finger and told my father that I still wanted to teach, that I had always wanted to teach. I told him that teachers should be society’s best. He agreed. I tried not to cry. And the conversation moved on.

I took a class that allowed me to teach in a local elementary school. I took a job that allowed me to teach my colleagues. I moved overseas so I could “see if I like teaching.” I did. I applied to grad school. I taught and I taught and I taught.

I sat in the principal’s office, interviewing for a job I couldn’t hope to get. I was only sort of qualified. It was after hiring season. I only had the interview because of a friend of a friend. The office was paneled in dark wood and the hard chair pressed into my back as we talked. As the conversation moved on, I confessed that I was more of an English teacher than a Math teacher. She was curt, “Nonsense. You are very clearly a teacher of students.” And I was.

And I am.