How I Became a Teacher

Last week, students in my ENGL3043: Professional Writing for eMedia course started their blogging project with an entry about career goals. Many of these posts will describe a lifelong dream of becoming a teacher, going back to elementary days and lesson plans practiced on teddy bears and Barbie dolls.

That isn’t my story.

In elementary school, my career path was set on one goal: author. I wrote stories and poems, some of which won awards. The goal didn’t shift in junior high, where I continued focusing on poetry and wrote my first fantasy novel (it was pretty bad, but it was long). I worked on the literary magazines at both of my high schools and racked up some state and national honors.

I still didn’t want to be a teacher. I had no interest in teaching creative writing, even.

In fact, by my sophomore year in high school, I had decided to pursue a career in biomedical research. I adored my biology class and professor. I loved dissection. And I wanted to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, which destroyed my maternal grandmother — my autobiographical story about moving her into a nursing home earned a decent cash prize from a magazine. Still, I was set on eradicating dementia, not writing about it full time.

I picked my college in large part based on the ease with which I could double-major in biology and English, the former for a profession and the latter for fun. I planned to pursue an MD / PhD after graduation and to become a bench scientist. I entered Bryn Mawr College confident in my path.

Limarie Cabrera, CC licensed content from http://www.flickr.com/photos/limarie/9027514659/

Limarie Cabrera, CC licensed content from http://www.flickr.com/photos/limarie/9027514659/

So what changed?

Well, first of all, I had to take chemistry as pre- and co-requisites for the introductory biology courses I wanted, which focused heavily on cellular and molecular biology. I didn’t get to biology until my sophomore year of college…and I hated it. It wasn’t the 8am TR class, either, since I had organic chemistry 8am MWF and didn’t mind at all. I couldn’t see myself growing bacterial cultures and dutifully counting up cells on agar over and over and over. My gel electrophoresis technique left much to be desired. I could have improved, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to study biology any longer.

I stuck with chemistry to finish out my premed basics, just in case I decided to go to medical school after all, and it’s because of chemistry that I became an English professor. My lab professor asked if I would like to be a TA the following year. I was shocked. Me? Like, teach people? I said I’d think about it. I thought about it for a few months before I worked up the courage to try.

And that was that. From organic chemistry lab TA, I went to first-year English teaching assistant fellow. I did summer school for 9th and 10th grade English — a job I did not get at first, I should point out, but the first choice quit after two days. I was going to teach high school English as a career, but one of my favorite high school English teachers looked me straight in the eye and said, “Don’t do it. If I could do it again, I’d be a a college professor. Do that.” I went straight to graduate school and had teaching assignments for five straight years. During the summers, I taught test prep courses for the GRE and MCAT. Upon graduation, I landed my current job as an English professor.

I have been teaching almost constantly, therefore, since August 1995. Do I ever regret not going to medical school? Nope. Do I wish I had pursued graduate studies in my other major, chemistry? Never. The challenge of educating a new set of students on a new set of topics, every single class period, is the life for me.

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