They said I couldn’t be a teacher.

Not my parents. Not those who knew me well. But when I told my advisor in college that I wanted a double major in Elementary Education and Psychology he said it couldn’t be done. There were simply not enough slots in a four year plan to get through all the requirements. But, I did get a B.A. in both, with almost enough credits for a minor in Russian Literature.

My supervising teacher sat across her dining room table, in the Spring of the year I was to graduate, and said, “I don’t think teaching is for you.” She had seen me struggle with the class in which I was doing my student teaching; their teacher was retiring, and she didn’t have much control even before I stepped in.

The person who gave me a chance was the principal of a small school in Gelnhausen, Germany. I was overseas with my first husband, and I went to apply at the Department of Defense Dependants Schools. “Well,” she said, “let me see how you teach.” And so she sat in the back of a fifth grade room while I taught, and she watched me teach all afternoon. And then she hired me when the kids went home.

We took the students on long Volksmarsches, and by train to overnight trips during which we slept in youth hostels. One of my boys had cerebral palsy, but I told him I would stand with him and help him through.

When we came back to the States, a certain principal was impressed enough by my two years in Germany that he hired me in August, a few days before school was to start. And so my career with Indian Prairie School District was launched, 33 years ago.

I have wanted to send copies of my Golden Apple nomination, my Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers awards, my A+ Teacher Award, my Most Influential Educator awards, my Masters of Science in Education diploma, or my National Board Certification to those who initially scorned me. But, instead I focus on the years with my children.

There was Akhil, who made me laugh every day. Convinced he was a Storm Trooper, he’d come around the corner of my door with his arms pointed out in front of him saying, “Kick ’em in the balls, kick ’em in the butt, kick ’em in the ace.” (Which was how he pronounced “ass.”) I would tell him we weren’t kicking anybody today, and we’d smile at each other.

There was Artem, from Russia, who asked me the very first day if I knew what the largest lake in the world was. I hesitated, foolishly pondering Lake Michigan, when he told me it is Lake Baikal. I never saw a child more proud of his heritage in my life.

There was Jeffrey, who came to school without any valentines on Valentine’s Day because his mother was in jail. But when I looked on my desk at the end of the day, there was a heart jaggedly cut out of notebook paper which said, “Thanks for all the things you’ve done for me.”

I never expected the children to “color in the lines,” be someone they weren’t, fit in a mold of my making. Unlike the teachers my brother had, my son had, and most of whom I had, I said, “You can do it,” instead of “You can’t.”

What someone believes you can do makes all the difference. And when someone tells me I can’t do something? It just gives me that much more impetus to prove them wrong.

21 thoughts on “They said I couldn’t be a teacher.”

  1. I love these posts of yours about being a teaching. Or becoming a teacher. You have left a remarkable, positive impression on all of your students, this I am sure of. I know your school year and career and coming to an end in a few more weeks and I know you are feeling nostalgic and bittersweet. I’m sending you hugs and courage to help you through your worries and doubts, but know that, from personal experience, you are going to love the freedom of retirement. Every single day will be yours! xoxo

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    1. Thank you for always being such an encouragement to me, Lesley! The thought of being without the children is nothing short of terrifying; I have such an emotional attachment to them. We had a presentation from some awful Employee Assistance representative who basically said, “All your meaning, purpose, structure and social life has come from you job. When you retire you will be depressed.” If we weren’t before we listened to her speech, we certainly were afterward! I am fortunate to have my family, my little blog, my opportunities for classes and exercise and Bible study. But, I do not deceive myself that it will be easy. You have made a spectacular success of your retirement, and I hold you up as a role model which I aspire to. xo

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  2. Just think about all those children whose lives you impacted and how none of that would have happened if you had listened to the people saying you would never make a teacher. And give thanks for the people who did give you the benefit of the doubt

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    1. There is a strange thing about being doubted: it can make you or break you. I only hope that those who have been told a message that is anything but hopeful can find the resilience to prove otherwise.

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  3. I agree that your posts regarding your teaching are so wonderful, inspiring, and poignant. This one especially struck me. There is no way of knowing how much you have impacted lives. Only God knows. However, I suspect that when kids (those still kids and those who are adults) think of a ‘favorite’ teacher or a teacher who reached out and touched them in a special way, your name is the one they think of. Likely more often than you know. Well done for giving your heart, your mind, your strength, your energy to young people all your adult life. I love the fact that when someone told you that you couldn’t, you said ‘yes, I can’.

    As to retirement, well, just wait and see. I suspect that like many of us you will discover places that need you desperately. You’ll be able to rest and recoup and then watch out – life will find you. So many organizations (including schools and kid centered charities) are begging for help. God’s got something in mind for you next. I promise.

    Years ago, after I had my daughter and was no longer working as an auditor for the State of Texas, I thought about getting my MLS degree. I investigated it because libraries and I, we were simpatico. Well, my bachelor’s degree is in Accounting and I was told by counselors and advisors that Accounting and Library Science would not mesh well – that I wouldn’t do well – that they had no place for me. I was disheartened and didn’t pursue it. I so wish I had. I should have. Since that time, I have worked for the Austin Public Library in an administrative capacity for a few years and through all the years I have also volunteered thousands of hours at my local library (wherever we were living), my daughter’s school libraries, charities that sold used books as a part of their thrift shops, etc. That counselor was wrong. Books and I mesh in every way possible.

    So, good luck. God bless. Hugs deluxe. You just wait and see what’s around the corner. It’s likely amazing. 🙂

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    1. If course books and you mesh in every way possible! Who can define us, when sometimes it is hard even to define ourselves? I think one of the important things in life is to find a place that is beneficial to ourselves AND others. Volunteering is a beautiful thing, especially as so much is needed. When we can volunteer with what is our passion, how much better can it get? (I am hopeful I can read to the elderly in a nursing home across our street.)

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  4. I suspect that the person speaking about the depression that comes with retirement is telling you more about what her view of life is than what your experience of life will be. As for the rest, did you ever read the post I wrote about one of my formative experiences with a teacher — when I was an adult? You can read and listen here. Too bad I didn’t have you to teach me that lesson when I was a child!

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    1. I love this section from your wonderful, inspiring article: “If I tell you to do something which seems difficult or impossible, ask, ‘How can I?’ The answer may be that you ask for help, or find someone else to do it, but that’s not where you start. The only way you’ll succeed is by asking, ‘How can I?’” You know exactly of which I speak.

      I am in awe of you finding the perfect niche for yourself. Not many are able to meld passion and work into one. xo

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  5. Ah, there is nothing more wonderful than an inspirational teacher – I will certainly remember and love some of mine all my life! And I am sure you were that kind of teacher- and am so happy you proved those doubters wrong.

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    1. I wish I had more to remember. My French teacher was adored by me; I’m afraid the reverse was not quite true. 😉 However, proving one’s worth (even in one’s own eyes) is an important thing. There’s a fine balance between self-confidence and arrogance; I surely hope that it is understood by those who read this post that I merely wanted to make a stand for the importance of affirmation. xo

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  6. You have been my teacher in so many ways, patient and encouraging always. You have brought joy along with the lessons. Leaving the lessons behind for a bit gives you more energy to share the joy—and you will. I can’t wait to see, hear and experience our new time together and watch you find new wings for yourself. Mother

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    1. You have been MY teacher in so many vital areas of my life. From my faith in our Father to the ability to read, to the way that you have enormous insight and wisdom and spatial reasoning and design sense that totally eludes me. We make a good combination, and I cherish our time together.

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  7. Wonderful post & I’m glad there are examples like yourself iwho are part of the teaching world. I’d like to say I would have loved to have had a teacher like you but I believe I became the reader/person I am like yourself by kicking against those naysayers those who seem to see merely negative. Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but Kt my now 17yr old daughter is studying English, History & Philosophy with the aim after school to study at university & become a teacher.

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    1. Oh, Gary, it was told to me today that this post was self-centered, and I am so afraid that I came across as bragging. That was not my intent, but rather a statement about the importance of teaching in general, as well as overcoming obstacles or adversity. I love how you said you became the person you are by “kicking against those naysayers, those who seem to see merely negative.” If you feel that badly being in the classroom, or wherever the hell it is that you occupy space, get out! There are so many teachers who ought not to ever enter a school again. Yet, I am so excited about your daughter studying to become a teacher. For those who have a heart for it, there is NO OTHER job quite so fulfilling. It changes every year, and the possibility to impact so many lives takes my breath. It is truly a fabulous vocation. What good parents you and Paula are.

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  8. What an amazing journey! And congrats on all the achievements and accolades you’ve earned along the way. Reading through your post, I found it’s not just that you were trying to prove the nay-sayers wrong. There must be something stronger than that. I believe that you must have been driven by a deep passion for teaching heeding to an inner calling, and a strong love for your students. I’m sure that impact on every one of them will be with them all through their lives. Congrats on a most rewarding career and enjoy a well-deserved retirement, Bellezza! 🙂

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    1. Arti, your comment brings tears to my eyes that you can perceive what is in my heart. Leaving my students behind, and the ones which would come should I have stayed in the classroom, is the hardest part of all. I feel it a mission field, of sorts, that if I can love just one child, and give him/her hope or joy or a measure of self-esteem, my job is well done. Thank you for your congratulations, and now on to joyous reading together!

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  9. What a touching post. Good teachers are worth their weight in gold. With my children still in school, I can say this with a certainty. Teachers impact our children and can make a huge difference in not only how they learn about subjects, but also about life. Thank you for being such a teacher.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I firmly believe that if a child is not happy, or confident in some way about themselves, they cannot learn. Oh that there might be more joy, and less discouragement or defeat in this world, and I believe it starts in the home and in the classroom. My best to your children.

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  10. Wonderful post, just shows you should go for what you believe in and what is inspiring you. I wish I would have had such a clear idea of what I wanted to do in life. It turned out all right, but I think it must be wonderful to have something to burn for. I think you must have been a wonderful teacher and wish I could have benefitted as well. Good teachers are rare I have found. The teachers who could really inspire me also gave me my best remarks. They go hand in hand.

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