Kacie is the big sister I never had. In almost every phase of life, she's walked a few steps ahead of me, blazing the trail and then helping me navigate it once I got there myself. We first met sometime in middle school, and for the last 15 years, we've walked together through basketball, YoungLife, and English Education classes. Kacie was a bridesmaid in my wedding and her nurturing spirit and loving heart make her infectious. She's the kind of friend that is always there, no matter how long you go without seeing each other. I am honored to be featuring her honest, powerful words in today's moment, and as a teacher myself, I am thankful for the truth she's shares!
A few days ago a sweet student of mine asked me if I always knew I wanted to be a teacher someday. I laughed and (a little too quickly) responded, “Oh no, definitely not!” He looked very surprised and took my response to mean I didn’t like my job. That wasn’t how I intended my comment to be taken, but it was an entirely honest response.
Being a teacher was never part of my plan.
I did not grow up wanting to teach. I never dreamed of having my own classroom, of decorating bulletin boards, writing lesson plans, or owning an insane amount of cardigans. I was an incredibly introverted and inventive child and my dreams oftentimes revolved around writing stories and traveling the world: exploring and creating. I preferred to live outside of structure and boundaries and had no idea how that would play out in my adult life. Being a teacher certainly never crossed my mind.
Yet here I am.
Most days when I enter my classroom I wonder how on earth I got here. I often feel like a fraud and pray that no one notices how out of place I am in this world of essays, standardized tests, common core, and professional development. Nine times out of ten, I am simply trying to survive… to make it through to the next day. I am still not entirely sure how I started my freshmen year of undergrad at the University of Missouri with an undeclared major and walked across the stage four years later with a degree in Secondary English Education. The path to landing my first official job was incredibly difficult as I competed with educators who were far more qualified and possessed far more ability than I did. It was very challenging to explain to potential employers why I wanted a job in their district when I could hardly answer that question for myself. I felt lost in a system that I barely understood, and after several years of just not being good enough, I was on the verge of finding a new plan. But, something compelled me to move forward and quietly reminded me that whether I understood it or not, a greater purpose was being fulfilled by staying on this path.
So instead of giving up, I held onto the one wish I had by becoming a teacher--making my former ones proud. During my own high school years, a few of my teachers invested in me in ways that will impact me for the rest of my life. Several kept my head above water when I was more than ready to let the waves win; they saw me through the darkest and most broken moments of my life. They taught me humility when I needed it most. They taught me that respect is earned and keeping your word holds the most power of all. They taught me integrity, courage, kindness, and how to think for myself in a world that only wanted me to conform. They taught me that everyone has something to offer and we make the world around us better when we choose to see the good in others. They taught me to have high expectations of myself and of those around me and to accept the consequences of my actions, for better or worse. Most importantly, they saw something in me that I never dared to imagine for myself.
I also wanted to follow in the footsteps of one of the greatest women I will ever know, who also happened to be my very best friend, and who wanted nothing more than to be a teacher. She will never have the chance and my heart will never cease breaking for all the kids whose lives never encountered hers. That is largely a story for another day, but I hope she’s happy knowing I am doing my best by her dream.
I finally recognized that to those men and women, teaching had little to do with the content taught in the classroom and everything to do with learning to lead the best possible life; that subtle difference completely changed my outlook on this potential career of mine. After spending years preparing for a job I wasn’t sure I even wanted, I suddenly realized that there was no better way to repay a debt of gratitude I can never truly fulfill than to attempt to emulate those men and women who came before me and changed my life irrevocably.
After what I still claim to this day to be the worst interview I ever participated in (on my end), an incredibly brave and wonderful man took a very big risk and hired me to teach 11th grade Communication Arts in a very small rural school.
I was 23 years old. I was beyond terrified. I was so overwhelmingly unprepared.
And. It. Changed. Everything.
I am now in my fifth year of teaching in the same school where it all began. I never expected to survive the first year, let alone FIVE of them. I once heard a statistic that 30% of teachers quit within the first five years. I have no idea if that statistic is still true, but I do know I understand WHY if it is. I’m going to spare everyone the stereotypical teacher rant about lack of funding and resources, being overworked, the downfalls of differentiating instruction but standardizing testing, those in power who make decisions regarding education without an actual understanding of what it means to be an educator, and an overall broken system that may or may not be failing our kids (okay, so I ranted a little bit).
Instead, here’s what I want to end with. Here is what I have learned so far from my years of being an educator.
This job is far more difficult than I ever imagined it would be. Not only in regard to the actual planning and executing of content, but in being physically, emotionally, and morally responsible for 100+ lives in addition to my own. I don’t think there was any way a course in college could have prepared me for the depth of that responsibility. This job demands more than I ever thought I’d be able to give, and there are days when I genuinely consider calling in sick because it’s all just too much. I have cried driving to work in the mornings. I’ve cried driving home. I’ve cried locked in my classroom during my planning period. What these kids go through? It’s A LOT and it’s hard to not become tangled in the complexities of their lives. It’s frustrating watching them make the wrong decisions, watching them fall and not know how to get back up. I desperately want to protect them, to take what little I have from my own experiences and use it to safeguard them in any way I can. Every Friday they walk out the door at 2:50, and as they leave I shout, “Make good choices!!” and hope and pray they will walk back in Monday morning all in one piece.
Again, I go back to my own teachers and realize that they let me fall. I stumbled. I messed up. I made the wrong choices. I failed over and over again. They stood by and let it happen. You know why? Because I learned from it. I learned to take the pieces and scraps of a very messy life and put them together again. I was made better because they let me get knocked down and they showed me how to get back up.
Life is hard. Not once are we ever promised that this world would be easy or kind to us. Suffering is inevitable. Failing is certainly unavoidable. Hearts will undoubtedly break.
But you know what? It is all worth it.
I will never be the best English teacher. That is a fact. I will forever be amazed and impressed by my colleagues whose knowledge and skill far exceeds any level I will ever reach. But, I’m okay with that. I know that eventually I will reach a stage where I am getting better every day, instead of just getting by. Like the teachers I so admire, I want my students to learn not just from the stories on the pages I place in front of them, but from the life I so willingly share with them.
Above all, what I have learned is this; being a teacher was not my plan, but THE plan was never mine to begin with anyway. The story is not, and never will be, mine either. I believe in a greater author who predetermined the story of my life long, long ago. I believe that despite all my years of fear, questioning, confusion, and hesitancy, that I am, beyond a shadow of a doubt, exactly where I need to be. I believe that being a teacher is one of the greatest privileges I will experience in this life; the days I will spend crying in my car will be far outnumbered by the moments celebrating the incredible lives of the kids I am blessed to know.
I will always be thankful to be part of the story.
Thank you for reading a very small piece of mine.
P.S. I would also like the record to show that I officially understand why teachers love cardigans. They truly are the most versatile and amazing article of clothing and if I could afford to buy one for every day of the year, I totally would.
Ha! I couldn't agree more. Teaching is much, much harder than most people would assume, but every day we as teachers get to love on students and make a difference in the world, no matter how small it may seem. Kacie is much too humble to say it, but she is making a huge impact on her kiddos. Even though she didn't plan on becoming a teacher, God certainly did and it has been so wonderful to see the way that He's using her.
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