Over the weekend, as I have been working on final papers and projects for the quarter, I have spent time reflecting on the work I have done and what I have learned. As I was re-reading my Educational Autobiography I thought more about how my educational experiences shaped my desire to teach and informed me of the type of teacher I aspire to be. I thought I would share some of my autobiography here:
Mr. Niekamp’s greeting of “I saw your dad running in the fog this morning and I thought he was dinosaur!” is one of my earliest memories from school. Mr. Niekamp, my kindergarten teacher, could really relate to his young students. I remember lots of fun activities: making animal masks, learning about how paper is made (there was a paper mill in my town), making books for each classmate and I still think of him when I sing the silly songs he taught me. I was fortunate to have him as my first teacher and even more fortunate to have many other dedicated and passionate teachers throughout my education.
I started out in that public school kindergarten class, but from there completed first through eighth grade at a small private school before going back to public school for high school. In the private school I benefitted from combined grade level classes, extremely low student to teacher ratios and the experience of working as a tutor for younger classmates, but probably not much else. There were no music or art classes and not much to speak of in terms of technology or science. That changed in fifth grade when I had the unique experience of being a student in my dad’s very first class. He did a lot of project based learning, is an artist and had a real passion for teaching. I was in his class for two years and still have a lot of fond memories from it. I moved to finish seventh and eighth grade with a veteran teacher who had been using and reusing the same tired lesson plans for years (my older sister had been in his class seven years before me). This man often made personal and disparaging remarks about students in the classroom. It was disheartening for me to see an adult behave in this way, especially in those middle school years. I remember not having much respect for him, which was a new feeling for me. I still strived to do my best work, but I felt an alienation from my teacher.
From this tiny private school, I moved to a fairly large and diverse high school. It was like a whole new world opened up to me and I loved it! I had teachers that took a real interest in me and noticed me. Mrs. Grimshaw’s art classroom was always open and became my home base. Over those four years she became a real support for me. I had teachers whose passion for their subjects was evident, from the way Mr. Eiler would jump around the room while discussing DNA to the way Mrs. Kuebler would display a mixture of exasperation and delight when the rats managed to escape their cages again. This passion was infectious, it really drew me in. Mr. Cooper was passionate about Shakespeare and literature, but I loved how he would forget where he parked his car, it made him seem human to me.
Making the decision to become a teacher has been a long road for me. I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Washington in Environmental Studies. I knew I wanted to join the Peace Corps after I graduated, but wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do after that. During my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I ended up being a teacher in many different settings. I taught preschool, environmental education, life skills and HIV/AIDS education with individuals aged three on up to adults. When I returned to Seattle, I began teaching preschool and over the years have thought more and more about becoming an elementary school teacher.
Every experience I have had as a teacher has brought its own challenges. The difficulties of trying to teach children with whom you don’t share a common language, the struggle of finding engaging lessons that would meet every child in my Life Skills class of over fifty girls, to the more routine challenge of conveying sensitive information to parents. Although in every case, the rewards of teaching have greatly outweighed the challenges, these experiences have added to my own personal and professional growth and I look forward to everything I will gain from my role as an elementary school teacher.
Challenges are not my reason for wanting to become a teacher though, as I mentioned above the rewards I have gleaned from teaching have been many. Witnessing the learning process and seeing children develop competence with a subject is so exciting to me. When one of my students experiences joy and discovery, I feel it too. I love seeing the growth of children over time, having those moments when I realize that a particular child has mastered a new skill. Being a caring and attentive adult in a child’s life brings a lot of satisfaction for me.
I was so fortunate in my own education. The majority of my teachers have been passionate, caring, dedicated and innovative practitioners. I want to bring these same qualities to a new generation of children. I have many role models to emulate. Teaching is a way for me to give back to my community, to repay the energy and love that was bestowed on me throughout my education.