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 Teacher 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.