teaching: My Pedagogical Biography

June 25, 2015

my great grandmother

If you ask my grandmother, she will tell you I was always meant to be a teacher. Looking back, I find my path more winding, and less definitive. A series of events brought me to my decision to teach, and I have a series of people that helped me to maintain this undertaking.

Both of my grandmothers were elementary school teachers, but neither of my parents were interested in teaching as their chosen careers. Whenever my parents were busy, my grandparents were willing to watch my little brother and me. I remember playing school with my grandmother; memorably, one day I acted as teacher, field trip chaperone, and prima ballerina. School and teaching were magical ideas, capable of expanding to hold all of my interests and passions.

As I grew older, a love for reading replaced my love for pretending. My days of playing teacher were relegated to teaching Sunday school at church, or babysitting in the neighborhood. I spent most of my time with my nose buried in a book, which is its own kind of magic. But then my junior year of high school, I agreed to give up a study hall hour to tutor freshmen that were at risk for graduating late because of their grades for their first semester of high school. This experience showed me that even the most difficult students are highly capable, but often they need extra support and accountability. Each day was exhausting, but I looked forward to seeing those freshmen, and was energized by helping them have their moments of clarity.

After two years of tutoring, I went to college as a declared Communication Arts, and Literature Education major for grades 5-12. I figured that I could combine my love for reading and my new found passion for working with students. I really enjoyed my literature classes, but also found myself quite distractible. By the end of my freshmen year, I was unsure of what I wanted my path to be out of college.

This changed my sophomore year when my American Literature professor reignited my passion for reading. I read all the assigned readings, and loved them. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Kate Chopin, and Zora Neale Hurston. They came into my life as I was at a pivotal point. They spoke of self-reliance, of beauty, of meaning. Their words, and my professor’s enthusiasm, cemented my resolve to be an English teacher, and share my passion with my students.

As I took more education classes, I learned that I really loved planning. Looking at a blank year calendar, and making meaning and order out of that void, was exhilarating and terrifying, challenging and edifying. Teaching has required me to be much more organized, in the best way possible. Many teachers opened their classrooms to me, and allowed me to observe and teach. They allowed me to be a novice, and gave me advice and space to develop. This process- of staring at blank lesson plans, losing hours of time in my head, plotting, and then being in a classroom and passing hours like minutes interacting with students- is addicting. It’s the cold and the hot, the cerebral, and the active.

I have so many people to thank for inspiring me to be a teacher. My grandmothers, who act as my supporting pillars, they are the invisible history, the strong foundation of my love for education. Teaching itself feels mystical, when placed in the saga of my family, it seems genetically inevitable, a trait that skips generations, lays dormant in double helixes.

My high school teachers allowed me to be student and instructor simultaneously. I was living in a twilight existence- learning and teaching- which I hope to continue my whole life. My college professor’s excitement for American literature was truly contagious and inspired me to want to share my passion for reading. Authors scribbled words onto a page, and I read those black scratchings hundreds of years later and was still moved, inspired, and almost evangelical about their beautiful ideas. Teachers mentored me, and gave me space and advice to make mistakes and succeed on my own terms.

As exhausting and difficult as teaching is, it is challenging and fulfilling. It is duplicitous. It is magical. It is infectious. Is is debilitating. It is empowering.

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