In a lot of ways, I was probably destined to become a teacher. The roots of education run deeply through my family, and have touched every facet of my life. When I was a kid, I knew that my mom was a teacher. She taught 4th grade at the local elementary school, and I was always a little jealous of the time that she spent outside of school working for her students, but I also saw how much happiness she got from the work and how much her students loved her and how much she loved them. As I got older, I realized that she wasn’t the only educator in my family. My grandpa on my mother’s side had been a teacher, a coach, a principal, and a lobbyist for UEA. Most of his professional life was spent in education. Even though he left the field to make lots of money lobbying for Utah Petroleum later in his career, he always had a special love for teaching and education that he passed down the generations.
With that being said, it’s not really a surprise that my older sister and I both chose to become teachers. Education has been the primary topic of conversation at Sunday dinner my whole life (including now). The people that I care about the most in this world are passionate about it and have instilled in me a healthy respect of the field and its power to change the world. I will be forever indebted to my family for helping me climb on this path.
In spite of my educational heritage, I didn’t always want to be a teacher. When I was in elementary school, I had the usual dreams of being an astronomer or a fighter pilot (thanks to the movie Top Gun), and I had no intention of following in the family business. Those aspirations changed a little as I got older, but they never changed toward teaching. I entered college at the College of Eastern Utah with every intention of becoming a lobbyist like my grandpa. After all, he had made a fortune using his communication skills and love of politics and government, and I figured I could use my strong communication skills and political nerdiness in the same way. I declared my major in political science, signed up for all of the government and poli sci classes I could, and embarked on my first semester with enthusiasm.
After my first semester, I left on a mission for my church, and everything changed. My mission call sent me to the 4th and 5th regions in Chile, spanning from the port of Valparaiso in the south to the resort town of La Serena in the north. While in Chile, I gained a profound love for the people and for the beautiful country, but I also discovered a powerful need to study and to teach that was growing inside of me. The passion for studying was born out of necessity. When I arrived in Chile, I realized that I was ill prepared for the job I was sent to do. I didn’t know nearly enough about the faith I was there to preach, and my faith was based mostly on the faith of my sweet mother, not on my study and meditation. So, as a result of this ineptitude, I poured myself into an almost obsessive regimen of reading and studying. I read every scripture and every book available to me. I took notes, I cross referenced, and I began expanding my knowledge and my faith through my own hard work. During this process, I realized that I absolutely loved to study and learn. I loved to pour myself into learning as much as I could about a subject, digging the hole as deep as I could.
Later in my time in Chile, I was given opportunities to be a leader of other missionaries. With this new responsibility, I ended up teaching classes to missionaries once a week. While I had been teaching the people in their homes throughout my time there, it wasn’t until I started teaching other missionaries that I realized how much I loved studying and sharing what I had studied with others in a classroom. I loved being in front of the group, watching faces sparkle with new insights gleaned from the lessons that I taught, growing and progressing from my instruction and the fruits of my study. The more I was allowed to teach, the more passion grew inside of me to teach more. I knew at that point that I wanted to be a teacher. It was what I was meant to do.
Why Teach English
When I returned to the United States, I went back to school with a new passion and new direction. I knew that I had to teach, and I was pretty sure that I wanted to teach older students (high school or college). Because I had been a political science major, and I delighted in learning about history and politics, I threw myself into a history program, figuring I would be the best history teacher in the world. I was ready to make history fun and relevant for the teenage masses. While I loved history and I had a passion for it, I also had a passion for other areas of the humanities. I had become an avid reader, devouring books every few days, and I had a burgeoning interest in philosophy and art. Then, my sophomore year, I had the realization that history wasn’t what I was destined to teach.
In the spring of my sophomore year, I pulled out the course book in my living room in hopes of finding a section of English 2010 that I could take and would work with my schedule. I asked my roommate who had been at the school longer than me which professor I should take English from. He said, “Anyone but Kent Templeton.” He went on to explain how hard Templeton’s class was and that he didn’t know anyone who had managed higher than a C, and he knew quite a few who had failed. As I looked through the book, the only English 2010 class that even sort of fit in my schedule was from none other than Kent Templeton. I signed up for his class with trepidation, but I determined to make the best of it.
The first day of class, Kent explained to us how he graded. He explained that an average good paper in his class would receive a C, a very good paper would receive a B, and any A’s would be reserved for papers that were nearly perfect, almost ready for publication. While listening to this, I resolved to get an A on at least one paper in that class. Much like my time on the mission when I poured myself into study, I spent hours working on papers and learning as much as I could about writing. I obsessed over every word, got feedback from every smart person I knew (including 2 English teachers), and wrote many drafts of each essay before turning them in. My first two papers both received B’s, and my final paper got the elusive A. With all of that obsessive hard work, I grew a passion for writing. I realized that writing and teaching writing opened the door for me to teach about all the things I loved: literature, history, politics, and philosophy. I discovered that writing was a skill that could be taught and worked through, not just a matter of inspiration. I grew to know that teaching writing was my passion, and I changed my major to English.
As a result of all these experiences, I have grown immeasurably as a human being, as a scholar, and as a teacher. These foundational experiences have shaped me into who I am. They have given me passion for what I do and the subject I teach, and this passion is what makes me effective in the classroom. My students see my love for English, for study, and for writing, and they rise to the expectations that I put in front of them. They listen to what I say, and they work hard for me. Aside from being the family business, I am convinced that this is what I was meant to do.
*This post was originally written as an essay for one of my educational leadership classes.