The first time I remember saying that I wanted to be a teacher was when we were living in California and had friends over for dinner. We were in the dining room because there were too many of us for the kitchen table, and I think a few of us kids were seated in a row on one side. One after another, we responded to some adult who had asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. The boy from next door said he was going to be a pilot, like his dad. My youngest sister, who must have been four, declared her intent to be a garbageman. I said I was going to be a teacher. Both of us were met with scoffing laughter, in my case because, “you’re too smart to be a teacher.”
For years, I assumed that everyone wanted to be a teacher, kind of like lots of little kids want to be construction workers or, like my sister, garbagemen, and then they got over it at some point. I just couldn’t seem to get over it. I nurtured my secret desire while telling well-meaning adults that I planned to be a lawyer or, later, a diplomat. Meanwhile, teaching leaked through my every crack: I taught swim lessons and coached swim teams; I volunteered as a tutor; I nannied. Even though I attended a college that had no education major, I took a course that involved an internship, and convinced the prof to let me work in a third grade classroom; then I took a language acquisition course, then a children’s literature course. None of these were in my major.
When I finally accepted an overseas teaching position, I packed a stack of graduate school applications, already printed. I started filling them in after my first day in the classroom; I’d sent them all by the end of my second week.
Teaching is who I am; I am as likely to tell a stranger that I am a teacher as that I am a mother. In fact, I can’t imagine someone knowing me and not knowing that I teach, but lately I’ve been wondering… what if I weren’t a teacher? What might I be?
The serious options:
- A lawyer – I deeply admire my friends who work for justice and equity through the law.
- An editor – I have been blessed (?) with a brain that sees spelling and grammatical errors quickly and easily, and I’m pretty good at straightening out complicated sentences.
- A librarian – I had no idea about all the cool things librarians could do. My librarian friends curate art, help with tech, do research for Parliamentarians, and much, much, more.
- A nonprofit worker of some sort – which is what I did between college and teaching. I worked for the Red Cross and for a small nonprofit that worked with some UN agencies. It was kind of cool.
- A psychologist – which, in some ways, isn’t that different from being a teacher.
The wilder options:
- An actress – obviously (she pirouettes and takes a bow)
- A former swim champion turned coach – ideally a champion with some medals or something
- An organizer (one of those people you call to come help you get your house sorted out) – because I am *much* better at organizing other people than myself.
- A midwife or a doula – in fact, ever since having my first child with a doula alongside me, I’ve imagined doing this, maybe after I retire. What a thrill to help someone bring life into the world!
- And, in the realm of the completely impossible, a dancer or acrobat – I have precisely zero ability to do this, but every time I attend the ballet or watch Cirque de Soleil, I dream of being able to move my body like that. So impressive.
I’m sure there’s more I’ll remember after I publish this; it’s kind of fun to think about who else I could be. What about you? If you weren’t you, what would you do?