Becoming a teacher…

In June of 1977 I sat in a donut shop on Main Street in Brunswick, Maine, circling possible jobs in the classified section of the newspaper with a red pen, like this one:

             Assistant teacher needed in contained classroom for disaffected students. BA degree. No teacher certification necessary. Apply: Mt. Ararat School, Topsham.

I had just graduated from college, and I needed a job. This was well before the world of internships and knowing where you were going – the world my own kids zoomed into. Though I never thought about teaching as a vocation before seeing this little square of print or knew what I might be getting into with the word disaffected, I applied because I needed a job.

I certainly had had some fine teachers in my eighteen years of education, several memorable. Mrs. Stewart, my kindergarten teacher at Westfield Friends School, somehow made me love words. I can return so quickly to her classroom, see and touch my black wordbook with wide-lined white pages – those lists I’d learned to spell. I remember her calling me up to her desk as she did to each of us at some point in the week during the quiet hum and darkness of rest time. I pulled myself off the sturdy blue canvas cot to share with her the new chunk of words I could spell: day, say, way, clay, nay. I found the power in patterns and rhyming early; poetry pulled me even then.

Ms. Beck cried in front of us when President Kennedy was shot and killed. Young and eager, she touched me with her involvement in my little world. “Do you have a special thing for Larry?” she asked. She must have seen how excited I was to be going to speech class with him. She smiled, knew about third grade crushes, knew to speak softly about them.

In high school there was Mr. Boehmler, who unearthed a passion in me for chemistry. My myriad test tube shatterings never fazed him. I loved it all – the equations that seemed like puzzles, the heating on Bunsen burners and mixing, and his dry humor.

College gave me Professor Geoghegan, who sparked a desire to major in religion – he was such a force in the classroom behind a podium. I loved his booming voice about routinized charisma and his astute statements like, Buddhism is more of a psychology than a religion. He’d walk in the lecture hall, take off his suit coat, drape it over a chair, reveal his signature suspenders, and start with a bang.

But even though I had experienced real magic in the classroom, I never entertained becoming a teacher until I simply needed a job, and an assistant teaching job was available.

Thirty-seven years later I feel so fortunate to have backed into a vocation I grew to love. The first two years were a crucible that I barely passed. However, in the third year I landed in what seemed a utopia, which led to the past thirty-five years of feeling lucky to be doing something so rewarding.

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