One of the most eye opening, magical and transforming experiences of my life was the day I decided to become a teacher. This extraordinary day came by accident when I visited a first grade classroom during my first year of college. It wasn’t how I wanted to spend my day off, but I will be forever grateful to have said yes to my friend who needed an extra hand in her classroom. In order to fully understand what happened to me that day, I must start from the beginning.
When I started school I was a very shy, quiet child. I never wanted any attention directed toward me nor did I engage in long or deep conversations with anyone. I did not talk about home life nor did I ever invite friends to my house. I made sure I made good grades in hopes that teachers would never have any reason to dig deeper. You see, I was absolutely embarrassed and confused about so many things in my life. My mom died unexpectedly when I was five, and my dad was an alcoholic who could not take care of himself, much less his four girls. Therefore, my grandparents took on the task of raising four very young, confused girls. Soon after moving in with my grandparents, my oldest sister moved to live with my aunt—four girls may have been too much for my grandparents to handle.
So when I was five, just starting school, I had lost my mother, my father and my oldest sister. I felt like someone had taken ahold of my small wings and clipped them. Someone much more powerful than me basically said, “You won’t be able to fly. Sorry!”
These factors and so many more affected my personality, self-esteem and interactions with others. I have vivid memories of feeling like an outcast and petrified about having to talk to anyone about my personal life. I didn’t know how to explain my situation, and I was sure that everyone else had a perfect, normal family.
I can remember being in third grade standing on the playground with a group of girls. One said, “Last night my mom…..” The other said, “I hate when my mom…..” I have to use “….” because I have no idea what came after “my mom.” As soon as I heard those words I went into panic mode. I knew I could not contribute to the conversation. If I said, “My grandmother…” they might ask where my mother was. I didn’t know how to answer because her death was a mystery to me. They might ask about my dad. How do you explain alcoholism in third grade? So, I basically became a pro at avoidance. There was always someone calling my name, or I had to go to the bathroom or I had left something in the classroom I had to go get. I used this strategy for most of my school life. It was the only way I felt that I could survive. Needless to say, school was not a comfortable place for me. It was filled with anxiety, panic and avoidance.
So back to my first year in college, I was majoring in engineering and found myself back in a first grade classroom. When I walked in that room I, surprisingly, did not feel any tension or anxiety. I was an adult now and understood life’s twists and turns and unexpected blessings. As you get older you realize that it is your experiences, good and bad, that make you the person you are. It builds your character and your identity. But unfortunately you do not realize this until you are an adult. Children cannot comprehend the complexity of life’s curveballs.
As I walked to the front of the classroom, most of the kids ran up to me and wanted to know all about who I was. They were so cute and friendly—and then I saw her. She was sitting by herself trying not to look at me or attract any attention. She was obviously shy and not outgoing like the other students. My heart instantly hurt. I immediately felt the pain and anxiety I had at her age. I did not know if she had any similar issues as I had, but all I wanted to do was run up to her and hug her. However, I didn’t dare do that. I knew what I would have felt if someone did that to me at that age, but I couldn’t help the need I had of wanting her to feel accepted and proud of who she was. It was at that exact moment that I knew my destiny was to be a teacher. I wanted so desperately to make children feel whole. Every child has broken parts, and I wanted to fix those broken parts, to give children the courage to have a voice and believe in themselves. I wanted to make sure that no child ever felt like their wings were clipped. They would all fly, wherever their heart desired, and I wanted to help steer the way.
In that one day, I saw innocence, adventure, creativity, love, potential, eagerness, inspiration and so much more. I was engulfed with an overwhelming feeling of awe. These children turned on a light for me.
I knew I had to be a part of this magical experience every day of my life. There was absolutely no question of what I was to do next. The following day, I changed my major to elementary education, and I have never looked back.