Knowing it all along
“Did you ever think about being a teacher? You’re really good at this.”
Those were the words of my 11th grade English teacher, a man who never seemed overly impressed by me, a man who my mom had to fight to convince that I should be in AP English. I had just finished a major presentation that I had worked incredibly hard on. I did well on it, grade wise, but I never forgot that look of surprise and encouragement on his face. That look that suggested he had found the perfect career for me.
I probably just shrugged, convinced that there were other paths ahead.
I entered college in 1999, determined to pursue writing and book publishing. At the time, there was not a writing major. Students had to pair writing with another discipline in what the college referred to as an “interdisciplinary.” Perhaps because my 9th grade history teacher had told my mother that he knew I would one day teach history, she encouraged me to choose history as my other major.
I had always been interested in history and done well in the subject, taking AP courses to earn college credit. I passed out of the required core college courses and headed straight into studying ancient and medieval history.
But still, teaching was the backup career. Writing was my passion.
After college, I landed a job at Soap Opera Digest, where I worked for three years as an editorial assistant and eventually a show editor. The job was fine. I liked the hours. I enjoyed working at a magazine just like the protagonist in “The Devil Wears Prada”, which had been published (luckily, minus the editor from hell). The pay was terrible, but I was writing! I had a byline! It wasn’t a novel, but it was a start.
Except that I was not very good at the style of writing required. I just couldn’t express myself in that buzzy, gossipy tone of voice that permeated the magazine. I became frustrated at my inability to match the style that seemed to come so easily to the rest of my colleagues.
This wasn’t really what I wanted to do, right?
I tried keeping a journal but didn’t have the energy to stick with it. I had no good ideas for a novel. I felt stuck. I tried looking for other magazine or publishing jobs, but was scared about running into the same problem over and over.
And then one night, over Chinese food and too much wine, I got into a conversation with a friend that somehow ended up with me delivering a lecture about how Christianity evolved under the Roman Empire.
At the end of it, she looked at me and said, “I always hated history but you just made that really interesting. Why aren’t you teaching?”
And just like that, the career that was always chasing me finally won. Not long after, I enrolled in a Masters of Adolescent Education program and started studying educational theory and practice. After a few months, I met with the former head of my high school, who was now running a school in Manhattan. She promised to keep my resume on file.
Later that August, when the eighth grade history teacher abruptly decided to leave, I was hired to take over.
I had no idea what I was doing. My first parent teacher night was terrifying. I struggled with trying to decimate content without lecturing and with how to create a student-centered classroom. There was so much to learn that could never be taught in a graduate school class. Like many things, I learned by actually being in the front of the classroom.
I had the support of mentors and colleagues, and eventually found my groove in the classroom. I taught at an independent school, which afforded me autonomy in my classroom and allowed me to avoid “teaching to the test”. I learned how to give the right amount of homework and how to write tests. I bonded with my colleagues and students alike. I worked hard to improve my curriculum, undertaking several professional grants in order to do so.
I wasn’t writing. But I was happy. I felt that I had found my place career wise.
And then I moved to Pennsylvania. I took a job at a wonderful school, but between a difficult early pregnancy, a very tough winter and a challenging group of students, I felt as though I lost my passion for education.
When I left teaching to raise my daughter, I did not look back. It felt weird not starting school in September, but suddenly, I felt free from the exhausting, non-stop work of the classroom. Sure—I traded that in for the exhausting, non-stop work as a mother, but I was glad to take a break from education.
During my time at home, I fell back into writing. I never saw myself as a newspaper writer, but ended up with a book review and events preview column—with my own byline— for three years. That led to some other writing gigs. I started to rethink going back to teaching. Maybe I could change careers into something more writing-focused.
I started work on a novel. I searched endlessly for writing jobs, which are few and far between. I applied for some positions in communications and media departments within schools. But nothing got me excited.
In December, I started working with a faculty recruitment group to find teaching jobs for the fall. When I started hearing about positions, for the first time in a long time, I felt excited about teaching again. I began browsing school websites and reading about their history departments.
Recently, I attended a hiring conference where I had the opportunity to meet with a few schools. As soon as the first school started asking me questions, I suddenly remembered how excited teaching made me. I love talking about student-centered classrooms, as well as the various projects I led and collaborations I took up with other teachers.
I left that conference confident that I made some good connections, but also that teaching is the right path for me.
For the first time in a long time, I feel ready to return to education. I’m excited to see what opportunities arise as the teaching hiring season takes off and I’m hopeful that I will find a place in the fall where I will continue to evolve as an educator and become part of a school community once again.
I may never finish that novel in progress or get it published, but I know that teaching is the career I was meant to have and I’m excited to return to it.