When I was four, I made my first major life decision.
My friends and I had been playing Sailor Moon at preschool, when our teacher asked for a “teacher’s helper”. Now, maybe it’s because my friends were trying to convince me to play Luna, or perhaps I felt like they just didn’t grasp the latest episode like I had, but at that request, I shot my hand up and ran over before anyone else had a chance. Within five minutes I was gluing Popsicle sticks to paper plates, sitting next to the woman whose name I still remember, that treated me differently than the rest of the kids that day. While I was with her at the desk, I could see the whole room. My playmates fighting over the dollhouse, or painting at the tables in the centre of the room, while Mrs Lepard reigned over them all. Then, she’d turn to me and tell me what we were going to do with these crafts we were creating – a secret for next class that only I got the privilege of knowing. She asked me about my family, and my plans for the weekend, and told me about hers, too. By the end of class, my mind was made up: someday, I was going to be a teacher, too.
As I grew up, this decision only became more firmly settled in my mind. In kindergarten, when I was lucky enough to understand something before the other kids did, Mrs. Smith would give me my own group of students to help along. (I’m sure they all hated that, and me, but I was in dream land) My sister and I would set up all our stuffed animals in a row and take turns reading stories to them. When I’d hang out at my friend Hayley’s house, I’d beg her and her sister to come with me into their basement, where they had ACTUAL desks and a chalk board. In grade 3, I convinced student council to let the student representatives (as I was one of them) “teach” their own class for an afternoon. I look back on this day as my first teaching practicum: I designed a too-difficult spelling test and even ended the day with a round of Seven-Up. I had this thing DOWN.
Sure, I had other career dreams lace their way through my life as I moved through the years; I toyed with the idea of being an event planner, or a hotel manager, or the director of movies. I compare these deviations to this: if you’re only ever in a relationship with one person, from high school onward, at some point you’re probably going to be curious about what you might be missing out on. You’ve focused all your time and energy on this one person for so long, that naturally you’d be curious. Of course, whether or not you act on this curiosity is a whole other story, and while I did take the odd class/credit towards these “other” career choices, but they never stuck. The one thing they all had in common was this: I would be in charge of helping people and I would get to make a difference. Because of this, I was always led back to teaching. I didn’t realize, in high school, how lucky I was to already know how to begin my path. By grade 10 I knew the pre-requisites to the teaching programs, so I knew what the pre-reqs to THOSE were, too. My course planning was meticulous, allowing my passion for writing, and my future career as teaching, mesh together and work out in my favour. Even as I pursued a creative writing degree, I knew I wasn’t going to try and make it solely as an Author. I had my plan.
I volunteered a lot, I took a variety of courses that would make me stand out – in fact, the only thing I ever truly struggled with was the decision to apply as a high school teacher, or an elementary school teacher. High school would give me the option to focus all my lessons plans around literature, and novel studies and story writing and learning the craft of my very favourite subject. But in elementary school, I’d have one class. A little family of sorts, where I could create overlapping units, combining art and English, PE and science… it would be so much fun. My lessons would be the best. My students would love to read, and all become amazing writers, and scientists, and soccer players. Eventually, the latter won out (for now…) and I applied in January to one school. Yep. Every egg was in a single basket. I printed all of my documents, drove up the mountain to Simon Fraser, dropped the folder off on the receptionist’s desk… and then, the panic set in.
Luckily, I only had to wait about a month. 33 days after dropping everything off, I got the email I’d been waiting for, for practically my entire life.
“Dear Kylie, the PDP Admissions Committee of the Faculty of Education has now completed its review of your application… (we are) pleased to grant you admission to the September 2015 intake.”
Success. And yet… the panic did not subside. In fact, it only grew, exponentially, with every passing month. I managed to keep the fear at bay while I was in Europe, but now I’m back home, 2 weeks away from the start of my program, and I am essentially frozen in fear.
Why? I’ve been preparing for this my whole life, haven’t I? Shouldn’t I be excited, not nervous? I should be bragging, talking about all the wonderful things I’m going to do, how many lessons I already have planned in my head… but I’m not thinking of all of that. Instead, I’m thinking of all the kids I’ve tutored who have had the education system fail them. I’m thinking of the many subjects that elementary school teachers take on, and all the MONTHS of prep work I’m looking at. I’m thinking about ways to make kids excited about reading, or how to make them learn their time tables like I used to have to do, surrounded by all these new rules in the education system that I just don’t understand. I’m thinking, and worrying, that maybe I’m not cut out for this after all. Maybe I’m so used to doing things my way, that I’m going to have trouble adapting to the way things are now, verses the way things were, because of the way I’ve been raised, and taught, to feel about certain things. I’m thinking about how horrible it would be to fail at something I’ve waited my whole life to excel at. When something’s a hypothetical, you don’t imagine yourself being bad at it. But when it’s reality, somehow, it’s the only thing you think about. Or at least, that’s the way it has been for me.
I need to try and remind myself that everyone else is going to be in the same boat. That the teachers I’ve admired throughout my life did not start off as amazing as they are now. They learned and grew, and are likely still learning and growing, if they’re as good as I think they are. I have this perception that I’m going to walk into class and not know anything. But I have to remember that there is a whole intake of us who are feeling this way. In fact… I think, in a large way, I’d be more worried if I didn’t feel nervous. I think we, as a society, should hope that brand new, teachers in training are terrified, because that means that they, that we, care. That we want to make a difference. That the thought of being responsible for these little, developing human lives is worth losing sleep over, and worth caring so deeply about.
I read an article the other day, posted by one of my favourite high school teachers, about what students remember most about their teachers. And it isn’t the fancy lesson plans, or the subject matter, even. It’s a teacher who cares. It’s a teacher who wants them to succeed. This makes sense, to me. It’s calming in a time of great stress and fear, because when I think back… that’s what I remember too. I remember Mrs. Lepard from two decades ago, not because she taught me how to spell my name, or how to count to ten, but because she made me feel valued. Mrs. Smith gave me purpose when she let me help out a group of peers. A teacher who I hated seeing daily, one who made me cry on a regular basis in grade 4 (Even though she still gave me straight A’s), was also the one who told me she recognized a quality in my writing that she thought I ought to pursue. The teachers I remember most were those who encouraged something in my personality, or my character, and not in my test marks. The ones who, sure, maybe had amazing lesson plans, or fun homework assignments… but who, most importantly, helped me out in some way. And this is why I enjoyed the idea so much, as a kid. Before I realized how many other elements were involved in teaching, like prep and planning and marking and report cards. Before I realized that teachers always get to spend Christmas with their families, or sleep in on summer holidays. Before any of this, I wanted to be a teacher, because I saw teachers as helpers. And I wanted to be one too.
So I sit here, now, two weeks before the beginning of my program. Scared. Terrified. But hopefully, for the right reasons. I hope I never lose this fear, either. I am going into this program, maybe naively, hoping that I am a good teacher. I hope I’m not the boring teacher that everyone groans about on the first day of classes when they see their name listed under mine. I hope my lessons are fun, and memorable, and lead to learning. I hope that my students can trust me, and that they’re not afraid to let me in, or tell me when they’re lost. I hope I can help make a difference. That I can do everything in my power not to let the system fail somebody as horribly as I’ve seen before, and that instead, I can help foster all the good that can come from education.
I don’t know… am I being too optimistic?