My career got off to a rocky start. The ink was still drying on my degree and teaching certificate, as I set out to find my first teaching job. With the optimism of Shirley Temple and the enthusiasm of a Mouseketeer, I combed the job postings. I soon discovered that the widely-advertised science teacher shortage did not apply to biology teachers of which there was a disturbing glut. Undeterred, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and went back to school. I subbed during the day and went to school in the evenings to finish my chemistry and general science endorsements. Having suffered through Rocks for Jocks and Intro to Weather, I was again hopeful. But it was not to be. The next school year was forever marred by the tragic bunny boot accident of 1990 wherein I blew out my back. I was out of commission for six months. When I was finally back in action, there were statewide teacher strikes. I was starting to think that the Universe was sending me a message that my stubborn Greco-Celtic nature refused to see: You are not supposed to be a teacher.
I was desperate to find a job when a friend gave me a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute by Bolles. It seemed like a sign. I spent a couple of weeks reading the book and diligently completing each exercise. It was the first time I intentionally considered what I needed in a job, or really thought about my personal characteristics in relationship to a job. I just always knew in my heart I was a teacher. (I think I convinced every child I ever babysat that “School” was a very fun game all kids played.) I pored over each page like the book was the map to a long-buried treasure. At the end of the all of the exercises, I was supposed to select someone, who knew me well and would be completely honest, and share the results. I selected my husband, who knows me best of all and who is incapable of anything less than brutal honesty. I made a poster out of all of the exercises and proudly explained what I had done. I told him that somehow all of this information pointed to what I was supposed to be in life. I asked him, not without fear, “So what do you think this all says I should be?” He looked at the poster, took a beat and said, “I think it says you should be a teacher.” I don’t know what I was expecting but that was not it. “A teacher?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “It’s obvious.” I probably should have felt reassured or comforted by his pronouncement. Instead, I just stared at the board looking at the “obvious”. All that work and reflection, and I already was what I was supposed to be?! Once that sunk in, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and got back to looking for a teaching job. And I admitted to my husband that he was right.
I think with all of the obstacles I encountered in getting a teaching job, I just assumed that I had made an error. I assumed that I was really supposed to become something else in life. I forgot that I loved teaching. I forgot that I was never happier than when I was in the classroom. I forgot how exciting it was to see that moment when a kid got something and the lights went on. I forgot that obstacles sometimes are just obstacles and not a billboard from the Great Power of the Universe warning you off from some horrible error you are about to make.
Last weekend, I went to a reunion and visited with students I taught over 20 years ago. As we reminisced and laughed, that period of my life came rushing back with the kind of clarity you only get when remembering something that was really special in your life. After all of the struggles to find a job, I ended up in a small town where I taught science and coached volleyball, basketball and track. It was the perfect place for me. I knew, even in the hardest of times, that I was where I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to do.
I chose this picture from the reunion for this post because it reminds me of special kids and the adventure of teaching them. It was so great to catch up with them and hear about their adventures in life. It was an amazing day. I am grateful for all of the obstacles that led me to that town and those kids. Side note, the chicken is locally famous for being the star of a senior prank played out over generations in the town. It was a great reminder the mischief and mystery of working with teenagers!