From the moment I realized that I could read, I wanted to shout to the skies for the whole world to hear: “I can read! I can READ!!” Up until that time, my mother and my grandmother read to me, and, while I still loved that, I longed to read on my own. Books were my passion, and just as soon as she could, Mom got me a library card. From then on, my world expanded.
When I was in grade school and then high school, English classes were my favorites. I wrote stories and poems and haikus; plus I experimented with writing styles from my favorite authors; Stephen Crane, Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe and others. Over time I developed my own style of writing.
I decided to go to a teaching college to get my degree. My goal was to teach English and turn the hearts and minds of students to the magnificence of reading, writing, poetry, grammar, perfect sentence structure, style, etc. All I could think about was how much I loved it all and wanted young minds to love it, too.
Back then, if you were going for a teaching degree, you didn’t get to “student teach” until you were in your senior year. Although my focus was on teaching high school students, my student teaching was directed toward junior high (or what they now call ‘middle school’) students.
Well—let’s just say that the most I did during my student teaching was to bore the pants off my students. I also made the classic rookie mistake of trying to be their friend. The only bright spot I remember from it all was the time I asked them to write a Halloween short story. After all the moaning and groaning ended and my student teacher adviser in the back row of the classroom rolled her eyes, they got down to it. I took their stories back to my dorm room to read and correct that evening.
All except one were pretty average, mostly based on horror movies they had seen. But one boy’s story got my attention. This boy barely looked up during my classes, and only rarely contributed a word or two. But his horror story delighted me and made me laugh. He had written about an innocent snow tire in his father’s garage. When the moon was full, it grew studs and tore around the neighborhood, running over people.
To this day, it makes me laugh. I gave the kid an ‘A’ for creativity. I will never forget the surprise and shy delight in his eyes when I handed him back his story.
Student teaching taught me that school was not my favorite place, and that I didn’t enjoy teaching English at all. I found that you can’t always fire up enthusiasm for subjects you personally adore, but others don’t. But my teaching degree opened doors for me for jobs I liked. Gradually, I became a technical writer, and all the things I’d learned in college clicked into place.
Along the way, I took up Tae Kwon Do for exercise, and to my surprise, I found I adored it. For three and a half years, I sweated, kicked, punched and learned holds and moves to counteract attacks. Although this was a ‘non-contact’ school, I still got plenty of bumps and bruises. I finally attained my first black belt, and later on received my second, third and fourth degree black belts.
Two other women and I started a school and instructed together. I discovered that I absolutely loved this kind of teaching. Children and adults paid us to teach them; a far cry from the classrooms where no one appeared to listen or learn—they all wanted to be there. And it wasn’t about the money, either—I learned a teaching style that worked for me. If a student just couldn’t grasp a new move, I had to come up with a way to make them ‘get it.’ In my mind, the student wasn’t at fault; I was. So often I used different methods for different students, and it worked.
I taught Tae Kwon Do for ten years and loved it. I loved my students, and loved their progress. When they received their black belts they thanked me; I would tell them that I only showed them what to do: that they were the ones who actually did all the hard work.
So even though I went to college to obtain a teaching degree, I got much more from it than becoming a school teacher. I learned more about myself and how I operate in the world; most of all, everything I learned I found I could apply to life itself. In teaching, you must learn to be clear, understandable, approachable and most of all, flexible. Even though my student teaching experience was a disaster, I learned from it.
Best of all, I found that teaching benefits both teacher and student. As an added plus, the experience enriched my life in more ways than I can count today. I treasure all the classes I took in college, all the frustration of student teaching, and all the satisfaction of watching a shy child work hard to obtain a new rank in karate.
The truth is, you can be the kind of teacher who teaches the same things in the same way for years and years. Or you can be the kind of teacher who grows and changes, keeps their mind open, learns what works and what doesn’t, and most of all, is flexible.
It’s like the old oak and willow story; you can be as strong and unmoving as an oak tree, or as whippy and flexible as a willow tree. But when the high and damaging winds come, the oak may break and fall. The willow will not because it has learned how to bend.