“You’re going to teach in elementary school? But you’re so smart.”
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times. As soon as I announce that I will soon be completing my Master of Arts in teaching in early childhood education, confused looks cross faces. Why would anyone want to do that? These questions are discouraging. They tell me a lot about the common perception of education, especially of the elementary sort: It’s just ABCs and 123s. It’s brainless babysitting. To the contrary, I have found education to be a field requiring vast quantities of intelligence, perseverance, and heart.
Education has always been in my blood. My mother, grandmother, and four aunts have all been teachers. When I was young, I’d come home from class and immediately begin playing school. As I grew up, I knew I loved kids and wanted to help others. Teaching seemed like a natural fit.
I graduated in May 2011 from the University of Georgia with degrees in journalism and English. But the tug toward the classroom was irresistible. So, last fall I enrolled in the M.A.T. program at Augusta State University and began my journey toward becoming an educator. The visions I had of the perfect classroom à la Roald Dahl’s Matilda were quickly shattered by the harsh realities of budget cuts and standardized testing. But no amount of standardization or lack of resources can take away the look on a student’s face when he understands a new concept. When she finds something she has a passion for. When you watch someone who was struggling just to get through finally sprout wings.
This belief in the transformative power of teaching is what drives me and many teachers I’ve encountered. I believe in the ability of knowledge and learning to empower and free students, even those who will have an uphill battle most of their lives. Being a teacher allows me to indulge my love for learning while equipping the next generation to achieve.
Recently, while reading for a class on multicultural education, I came across this quote from Linda Christensen, Director of the Oregon Writing Project: “As teachers, we have daily opportunities to affirm that our students’ lives and language are unique and important.” Christensen’s insight embodies why I’ve chosen education as my profession. Education is about so much more than reading, writing, and arithmetic, or wrangling strangers’ children, as so many perceive it. For me, it’s a chance to nurture hearts as well as minds. I like to imagine a world in which everyone knows how valuable he or she is. I know I can’t change the whole world, but I can create a classroom where all my students are recognized and respected, and I can send them out into the world with the knowledge of their own power. I am excited by the possibilities.
Next semester I will be completing my student teaching, and I know I will have hard days when I hear those questions loud in my ear. But those are the days I will tap into the intelligence, perseverance, and heart nurtured by the teachers in my life. And I will seek to pass on these gifts to the next generation. In the elementary school classroom, your only limits are your own heart and mind. The possibilities are endless.
Why would anyone not want to teach that?