I am a certified teacher. I don’t think I am going to ever be a teacher.
I went into the military right after I graduated high school. It was summer of 2003 and the Iraq war was only months old, 9/11 was still a bloody wound, and everything was quite uncertain. My four years in the military had me go on deployments where I saw how the rest of the world lives, go to New Orleans where I saw the destruction of Katrina and the neglect of a government, and where I ultimately learned how harsh the world could be.
My travels had gotten me very interested in History. I wanted to know why everything was so thorny and everyone so tense and untrusting. After reading and learning I began to feel that empathy and civic engagement and knowledge would do the world some good. I passed up my reenlistment and decided I wanted to be a teacher. Maybe I could help out a little.
I definitely wasn’t “born to be a teacher” as many teachers claim to be. I found the decision to want to do such a difficult and important job to be a bit narcissistic. Thinking you have what it takes to teach children and place them on a course to live out their life’s desires was a decision I did not take lightly. I was determined to do it, though.
I got home from the military and enrolled in school under the GI Bill. I did very well in school, and excelled in my teacher preparation program. I had a few practicum assignments and then, last January it was time to student teach. I majored in History and was enrolled in a program to get my K-12 Social Studies license. My student teaching assignment was to a small middle school in a very low socioeconomic area. Some would say urban, some would say the hood. It wasn’t season four of The Wire bad, but it was bad.
My students were 5th-8th grade. I taught four Social Studies classes a day to four different grades as well as a period of computer based Spanish since the district fired their Spanish teacher and relied on a computer program. As any teacher would know, having four separate lessons a day without the ability to repeat any of them puts a teacher in a rough spot. It was really hard.
My students were great, but they were extremely difficult. An eighth grader called me a “faggot piece of shit” on my third or fourth day. I was intimidated, but not scared. I was motivated, but less and less convinced that I would accomplish anything in those four months.
All in all the four months went well. Most days I would arrive at school at 7am, leave at 5pm, scream and yell on the way home, get beer, and then work until about 10pm. My girlfriend, who is also a teacher, could see me breaking down. I was doing it, and I was doing it well, but I was unraveling. I put my heart into it everyday. Some days I would get a return, most I would not. My final week at the school was the week of state standardized testing for two of my classes. I found out that “teaching to the test” and “overemphasizing the test” was not hyperbolic. These kids were essentially told that this test was their Super Bowl. It was the culmination of their school year; a year that still had five weeks left after testing.
I left the school hardened but not so confident. I felt that if I was to be a good teacher, I would be feeling invisible and alive with the possibilities that could be coming my way. I didn’t. I graduated Magna Cum Laude. My parents, who came to my boot camp graduation and greeted me home from deployment cried and I could see that they were very proud of me. It felt great for a moment.
This past summer I applied to about 50 schools in this state. I interviewed with a few, but did not land any jobs. At 28 I was facing the September reality of still working retail and not being able to find a job in a profession that I wasn’t even sure I had the fortitude to make a career in.
A visit to an old military friend in a New England state (I love New England more than anywhere) presented me with an opportunity. He is the manager at a very successful business and, after I stated how many times I wanted to move there, he said he could probably get me a position. My girlfriend agreed she wanted to move, I interviewed, and I got the job. The job uses many skills I developed in the military and graduating college certainly helped me obtain the job, but it is not teaching.
My parents are worried that I will get comfortable in this well paying job and never pursue teaching. They might be right. I will apply for a certificate in that state, but I have no idea if I will ever teach again.
I feel like a bit of a failure. Accepting anything but a teaching job would have been non-negotiable a year ago. I just don’t think I am cut out for it. I’m not sure. I think that uncertainty answers the question, no?