Q: I will be a college freshman next year and at the moment I have my heart set on becoming an English teacher. I can't imagine myself doing anything else. Education, literature, and writing are my passions and I want to share that with people and try to make a difference in someone's life, but sometimes I wonder whether it's the right choice for me. I guess some self doubt is only natural. With that in mind, I have a question for Miss Dame: "What advice would you give to someone wanting to be a teacher? Who or what was your inspiration, and how did you know you were making the right choice?"
A: Such juicy questions! I just had a conversation with a student today about what advice I would give him before he goes to college this fall. As always, the following response is my own unique perspective and experience, so take from it what you will because every teacher will respond differently.
It all begins with the people that inspired me to become a teacher: Anne Frame and Chris Ruge. Mrs. Frame was my English and acting teacher. She was the first person to treat me like a valuable human being who deserved respect. Mr. Ruge’s music classes were my refuge. I found my emotional outlet, and he gave me the space and creativity to just be myself in a place where I felt judged. I used the notes and lyrics that he gave me to express all of the joy, pain, longing, and hope that I held within myself. Words cannot express how much Mrs. Frame and Mr. Ruge affected me, and they in turn helped me realize that I wanted to teach.
Rainbows and butterflies my inspire you to teach, but my goodness it is haaaaaard! And I guarantee you, you WILL ask yourself, “What in the world was I THINKING when I signed up for this?!?” Here is some advice I have for you to keep and think about as you start your own college career.
Options, options, options.
Whatever your passion or drive, make sure you choose a major in college that will give you the most options for employment upon graduation. Majoring in acting or theater will not leave you qualified for a substantial job pool, and with the unemployment rate of college graduates over 20%, you need to be cognizant of economic reality. I know that current atmosphere for teachers is pretty abysmal with layoffs and hiring freezes, but the beauty of a teaching degree is that it leaves you options to work in your field outside of the education system. For example, if I lose my job as an English teacher, I am still qualified for any number of jobs that requires a person to be an presenter, writer, editor, and/or administrator of people. And even though things are bad now, one thing is for certain: we will always need teachers…unless we use robots or clones. Which is a whole other issue in itself.
Take your methods courses seriously.
These classes will teach you literally how to teach (if the school is any good). These classes will be the hardest of your life, but they weed out the weak from the strong. 32 students started in my class at SUNY Cortland in 2006, and 9 finished. Use these classes to really ask yourself, “Is this what I want to do with my life?” Keep in mind, you are not married to teaching forever and even if you major in education, teach for a bit, and realize you hate it, you can always leave. Study hard and make a decision while it’s not too late to change your major if necessary.
Seriously, follow your heart
The only thing you can do now is be true to how you feel. If your heart is telling you that you are on the right path, listen! Just keep your wits about you and notice if your feelings ever change. I hated teaching the first two years, but I knew deep down that I was where I was meant to be. After the third year, I figured out what it really meant to be a good teacher and got the hang of things so my life didn’t suck so much. And I started to notice that my heart was (and always will be) with my kids and my coworkers, even when I’m not in school. I experience the pure joy and absolute torment of my students every day, and simply witnessing and playing a part in that chaos is (please forgive the horrid cliché/reference) crazy beautiful. It’s my groove, my niche, my beat, and I don’t think I could ever leave it, even if I tried.
Miss Dame is the 10th grade English teacher and National Honor Society advisor in the Bronx, NY.
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