Today I heard that a teacher at my former high school was surprised to find out that I had become an educator “based on who I was in high school.” Now, I can’t begin to imagine what this person may have meant by that, but it’s hard to think it was said in a positive context. It took me back to my senior year in high school when I had my heart set on going to the University of Iowa and my guidance counselor told me he didn’t think I would fit well at Iowa. He suggested a smaller school. And then the next year, he sent his own child off to become a Hawkeye. I wondered what that meant: that Iowa was a good fit for his child, but not for me.
Disclaimer: I was not a straight A student in high school. Though I took advanced courses, played varsity sports, and had parents who were strict and supportive, I spent my time on the weekends with a wide variety of people, sometimes making good, responsible choices, but oftentimes not. I did not work extra hard for a grade because I didn’t see much personal utility in the things I was learning. College would teach me what I needed, I’d assumed, and all would be well.
Oddly enough, I planned to be a teacher when I went to college. To put it nicely, I was an “uninspired” student in high school. (To put it honestly, I was bored stiff). After winning a teacher’s union scholarship my senior year of high school, I headed off to college hoping to change young lives in a way my high school experience hadn’t changed mine. When I got to college, I took one education class and decided it wasn’t for me. I told my college adviser: “I’ll be burnt out in five years. I need to do something that changes periodically.” Becoming an English major instead, I ended up spending my time reading and writing. It was a constant challenge to read, think, and write in new ways and from new perspectives, so I finally felt fulfilled in my own education.
I didn’t realize that I needed to be a teacher until I was in my first post-college job. I worked in advertising sales, and despite my not quite cum laude college GPA, somehow I excelled right away. After training new hires in the field, I was asked by my boss’s boss to teach a training session at our headquarters. They didn’t give me any tips or guidelines; I was free to teach the session however I saw fit. I realized then that good teaching happens that way — when passion meets freedom.
Maybe I found my way back to education, or maybe I found it for the first time when I was living it in that first job, but either way, I am glad to be an educator now. George Couros says that “the biggest barrier to education is our own way of thinking” and “the biggest game-changers in education are, and always will be, the educators who embrace the innovator’s mindset.” Looking back, there are obviously a lot of reasons that I didn’t become a teacher until my mid-20s, but I have to wonder if maybe those influencers in my life and their mindsets had something to do with it.
As a teacher now, I am so thankful to have found the innovator’s mindset, and I hope that when my students are living their passions, they remember me as someone who was a game-changer for them rather than a barrier-builder.