To be (a teacher), or not to be

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be teaching a media writing course at the college where I work full time in public relations. I also serve as an adjunct faculty member. Ironically, I applied for a similar position in the English department about 10 years ago, and my interview with the very erudite professor fell on the day my grandmother was being taken off life support.

I had decided to go back into the work force at least part time, beyond freelance writing and running my small painting business and raising three kids. Something had been telling me I might need to support myself in the years ahead.

The professor and I sat in his office, surrounded by books…books full of words, none of which in any combination could have expressed how I lost I felt…or how sure I was that I should be there. As the professor asked me about my experience, I thought of my grandmother teaching me how to hoe a straight furrow for the green beans; how to pick catnip for tea; and how to tell stories over the dinner table.

By the time I drove away from the campus, my grandmother, my friend, and my teacher was dead. My mother and father were with her, having to be the ones to let her go and choosing to do it alone.

I didn’t get the teaching job. But I tried another local college and was hired, and it proved to be the “experience” God knew I needed. And I know I was the teacher many of those students needed.

I’m not quite sure what brought me to teaching in the first place. I recall being opposed to the choice of vocation as a girl. I didn’t even realize that I felt that way until one day a farmer’s wife from down the road asked if I was going to be a teacher when I grew up. I recall my timid self silently protesting that women’s career choices weren’t limited to teaching…or nursing or being farmers’ wives.

Don’t I look like an archeologist to you? Or a National Geographic photographer? Or a famous novelist?

Looking back, I think I was angry because I feared I didn’t look like any of those things, and I was too young to consider the woman’s possible lack of imagination or the fact that she was just an old lady trying to make conversation with a reserved child.

But she ended up being right. I am a teacher. Like my grandmother was…although her classroom was the garden plot and the woods and the kitchen. My grandmother taught me about teaching: Good teachers love their subject. Good teachers care about you.

I teach writing, which for me feels more like a sharing of my joy than a propagation of correct grammar usage and communication theory. But I’m not an academic or an erudite professor-type. I’ve been writing for too long. In fact, I came back to this college years later to accept a position as a writer in the public relations office. But within a year I also took on the adjunct role. Once again, I was sure that I should be here.

Funny that my grandmother never asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up…

by Mackenzie

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