“When you love people and have the desire to make a profound, positive impact upon the world, then will you have accomplished the meaning to live.” By Sasha Azevedo
This week I was asked to describe a specific situation in which I questioned my decision to become an educator. After thinking about my eight years of teaching I could only think of one time I had questioned my decision, which ironically was my first year of teaching, yet I remember it as if it was yesterday.
To give you background on my first teaching job, I taught in an inner city school that was K-8. The school was title one and not in a safe neighborhood. The school held night classes for parents by the teachers, to help the parents learn English and receive their GEDs. The school had child care to help these parents attend these classes. We also held Saturday school, every Saturday, for students that needed extra support and that were in danger of failing.
I was teaching 8th grade science support for the state test, basically I had the group of students that were on the cusp of failing and/or dropping out. Many of the students were already affiliated with gangs and we had a police officer in the hall at all times due to so many fights that would break out. We, as a staff, had been trained to look for certain colors, logo’s and clothing that would represent certain gangs. I knew that if students came in basic clothes, such as a white t-shirt, that it could mean they planned on fighting, as they wouldn’t fight in their ‘good cloths’. I knew when girls wore their hair back and no earrings this was also a sign. The biggest sign was when they would be wearing Vaseline on their face, so when someone threw a punch it would “slide off”.
I like many educators, poured my heart and soul into trying to make my lessons fun, exciting and hands on. I cared about these students and spent many hours before and after school along with on Saturdays trying to help the students. It took me a while to gain the trust of many of the students and I never gained all of their trust. I did see a change, and a more passion for learning, within many of the students as I let them complete hands on experiments verse only book work, which many of the other teachers did at this school in order to keep control.
Even though the school was title one and it was in rough neighborhood, I loved teaching. I enjoyed what I did everyday. I loved seeing the excitement when the students figured out how force and motion worked through making their own roller coasters. I loved the discussions they would have when they were trying to work together to build a bridge that could hold the most books using just toothpicks and marshmallows.
Then in late May of my first year teaching, I did question myself and my decision to be an educator. I was on my way back to the school as there was going to be a talent show. It was about 6:00 in the evening and I was almost to the school when I came to a dead stop. Coming down the middle of the street I saw a boy being chased by several boys (many I recognized from being in my class) that were holding baseball bats and bricks. They stopped right in front of my car and started beating him. I called 911, who said they knew about it and were already on their way. It was only a minute (maybe less) but it felt like an eternity that the police came. I watched as they handcuffed several of the boys and saw some had gotten away. I was scared and shocked
The next day, I was teaching about solid, liquids and gas and having the students being the atoms, when in walked one of the boys that got away. He came right up to me, standing only inches away and said, “I will cut you up and put you in a body bag and send you down the river,” and then just left the classroom. I somehow kept teaching the last 15 minutes of class and then broke down. I started thinking about if this job was really for me and worth all the stress. I didn’t want to be scared to come to work. I thought long and hard that night about what I wanted to do. I could always just quit but what kind of message would that leave for the other students that were working so hard. I couldn’t let one person change what I have always wanted to do since I was little.
I didn’t quit and I worked harder then ever to get those students to pass. Out of the twenty-two students, fifteen passed the science portion that year, but that wasn’t the best part. One of the students said that she wanted to become a science teacher so she could always have fun at work like I did; that meant more to me then anything and I knew not only did I do the right thing by sticking with teaching, I knew I was changing at least some kids lives.
I have been teaching eight years now and no matter what has been thrown at me, I have never questioned my decision to be an educator again. It is my passion to teach and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.