Originally published on October 10, 2019
So last week’s letter shared how I heard 2019 NYS Teacher of the Year Alhassan Susso encourage us to remember our “WHY” and he shared what his was. This week, I wanted to share what my “WHY” is.
Before I get there, here’s a little history about me. In truth, I did not go to college with the desire to become a teacher. In fact, the last thing I wanted do was teach when I went to college. I wanted to be a writer but I knew that I wasn’t going to become a well-paid, famous writer overnight and I didn’t want to live with my parents the rest of my life. My exposure and counseling regarding careers was limited so I felt like teaching was my only option for a back-up career plan and figured I would teach until my writing took off. Obviously, this was well before the 2008 recession when teachers were laid off and moved out-of-state to find jobs—it was more like things are now when we are in a teacher shortage.
To say that I was nervous going into my student teaching is an understatement. I was playing this loop of negative thinking in my head that went a little something like this, “I don’t like kids. I don’t like getting up early. I don’t know what I’m doing.” Then, I got to work with Dee Schwartz, my first cooperating teacher. Not only did she love her job, she loved the students and that was contagious. I realized that the things I love to do (read, write, and talk to others about what they’re writing and reading) were what English teachers did. I fell in love with teaching and never looked back.
For most of my teaching career, I worked as a 9-12 English AIS teacher where I helped seniors who didn’t pass the Regents and students in 9-11 grow as readers and writers—but more importantly as thinkers and people. I also taught 11th grade Honors English so I had students on both ends of the Gen Ed spectrum. By that point I had already started on my admin degree because I didn’t have kids and I thought if I’m ever going to go back to school, now is the time. It wasn’t that I wanted to be an administrator, it’s just that I wanted another back-up plan. Despite working in a department with people who were not just my colleagues, but my friends, I ended up accepting a position at BOCES as a staff developer who was specifically assigned to work with schools that were “underperforming” in English according to the NYS Assessments or Regents. There I learned the phrase, “leave no footprints.” This was our mantra about our work with schools…we wanted to help them improve but to do so in way that empowered them to do it for themselves rather than to give us the credit.
Throughout my career I have worked in highly affluent districts and extremely impoverished schools. I have worked with homogeneous buildings and those that were not. I’ve been in organizations where the average number of years teaching of the faculty was more than twenty and those were it was fewer than five. In other words, I’ve been blessed with a range of experiences and I know that has helped shape my WHY.
I believe my WHY is to help people (students, teachers, administrators, parents, staff, etc.) go from wherever they are to their next place and beyond. This is because I am a progressionist NOT a perfectionist. In other words, my WHY is to help people grow so they can achieve their goals. In my position, I do this by directly working with adults so I can indirectly help the students because I believe that my job is to do what’s in the best interest of kids.
To say that I love my job is incomplete. More than loving my job, I love my craft. I love my calling. I love the work. I love the people. And I’m so grateful that over twenty years ago when I thought I didn’t want to be a teacher that I was wrong.