Why I Teach

My colleague has been commemorating “Teacher Appreciation Month” by recalling some memories of his teaching career. He’s much, much older than I am, so he has many more stories than I do. Still, it made me think of a question my students ask often: How’d you know you wanted to be a teacher?

When I started high school, I met teachers entirely different from those I’d had in grade school. They were just so intelligent, and would actually ask questions for which I didn’t immediately have an answer. Nearly every one of my teachers was not only an expert in their subject, but also clearly cared about us students and enjoyed their job. But for all the great teachers I had, the one who is most responsible for me being a teacher was without a doubt my least favorite.

My favorite class as a freshman was World History. I’d always enjoyed reading about history, especially ancient civilizations, and so this course was right up my academic alley. Unfortunately, I did not like the teacher. He was sarcastic (but not charming, like I am), frequently rude to the students, and one day he stole my milk money (true story). I’d always been a teacher’s pet, but for the first time I was in a position where I loved the subject matter but not the teacher. I found myself going home often and thinking to myself, “If I were teaching about ancient Rome, I would’ve done it this way...” I was formulating in my head my own little lesson plans and projects.

I actually have a specific memory of lying in bed one night, thinking about that class and what I would do differently, and realizing, “Huh, I guess that means I want to be a teacher.” From that point on, I never really wavered, no matter how much my mom tried to convince me to be a doctor. I flirted with Corporate America briefly, but fortunately Corporate America dumped me before it was too late. I imagined going to law school, but then I realized I didn’t actually want to practice law, just wanted to tell people I went to law school—not a good reason to do anything.

That teacher that “inspired” me to do better? He’s still teaching, and I even had the... pleasure of working with him briefly. I never told him his role in making me who I am. I wonder if he’d be flattered?