I love it when teachers find creative ways to challenge their students. Having been on the receiving end of that during my school days, I did my best to be creative and challenging as I planned how to present curriculum in my classroom every year. One of my most memorable experiences as a student came during my senior year of high school.
I was in my fourth year of math and was at the top of the class. Yes, I was one of those girls who kept believing that she was smart enough to learn anything she wanted, even when society told her, “No. That’s just for boys.” I guess having a mechanic for a father , one who loved to challenge me with thinking/problem-solving puzzles during my childhood, had something to do with that attitude.
Our teacher let a handful of us, who caught onto ideas quickly, work ahead of the others in the class. We completed the curriculum by the spring of that school year. Now, he had to figure out what to do with us for the next month or two. So, he made us peer teachers/teacher’s aides. We were given the opportunity to prepare and present math lessons to the class, always under his watchful eye and occasional intervention. We became classroom aides, helping our peers one-on-one to understand concepts they found difficult. We helped with grading papers, and more. I found that by teaching, my knowledge and understanding grew. An unexpected outcome of a new and novel experience.
Applying to college earlier that year was another interesting experience. I decided to start at a nearby junior college. When it came time to fill out the application, there was a list of majors one could choose. I didn’t know at the time what I wanted to study, but I felt I had to choose something. So, I started down the alphabetical list. Many were definitely out, but there were some maybes, as well. When I got to the “M” section of the list, mathematics stared me in the face, and I couldn’t help but stare right back. I was good at math. I enjoyed the challenge and the problem solving. I had transcribed pages and pages of math problems from my 6th-grade math book to do over the summer, since I was moving away with my parents to Northern California and knew I would have lots of free time. Yes, I could major in math. I wasn’t sure what I would do with a math degree, but that wasn’t too important to me at that point. Check! I majored in mathematics and minored in English, both subjects I enjoyed then and still do today. An uncommon pairing, for sure, but one which served me well over the years.
Skipping ahead to forty years later…
I came across an old fill-in-the-blanks sort of book, Senior Memories, while trying to find some high school pictures and memorabilia to share with some of my students. One of the last pages was about goals, short-term and long-term. Next to the word “Career” I had written these words: “Mathematics teacher in a high school.” Next to the words “Where You Will Be Living”, I wrote, “Somewhere in a rural town.” I was amazed to read those thoughts after boxing them away so long ago. Even more amazing, those long-term goals, written down at the age of 17, were realized. I spent the last 10-12 years of my career teaching high school mathematics in a rural Northern California community. I even served as Math Department Chair most of that time.
Maybe the elementary school PTA and my high school math teacher knew something I didn’t know. Maybe I knew it all along, deep inside, but was too young to know it consciously for myself. Becoming a teacher was certainly my destiny, for whatever reason.
What about you? Do you have a story about how you chose your career path? I bet your kids and grandkids would love to hear about it. Share Your Tale!!