The first day of school

Three years ago, I was preparing to be called.

That is, I was waiting for my first assignment of the new year through the automated substitute teacher request line. I was a teacher, in the most basic sense of the word, and I was feeling the usual dread for a career I thought I’d do really well in.

How I got to this point was simple. I took an advanced Biology class with a great teacher – Mr. Denis Hofflander – and set my dreams for his profession. I, like many prospective educators, set out to become a teacher that would be able to convey the passion for his or her chosen subject. You know, the same way his or her “teacher/role-model” was able to. I went to Southwest State University, then transferred to St. Cloud State University, to move further along. I did my student teaching and felt a little overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure if it was something that I wanted to do anymore, but a series of “a-ha moments” helped me persevere.

While student teaching for a middle school classroom, I remember really latching onto the notion of making a difference in a young child’s life. I really enjoyed teaching biology to the class that I had – an eager to learn, advanced track class. They understood my concepts, they asked intelligent questions, and they made teaching fun.

However, this was the best it ever got. Teaching is not easy, and I found that from there on I would be dealing with a wide slice of learning levels and abilities. I didn’t have the patience to handle difficult students, and I didn’t have the spine to be a disciplinarian.

I graduated from St. Cloud State with a head full of good ideas and a desire to make a difference in the world. I applied to over 50 jobs in the Minneapolis/St. Cloud and Sioux Falls areas throughout the next year. I received very few interviews and was never chosen for any jobs. I was becoming a little discouraged. And the few subbing jobs I worked, I hated.

I continued to substitute teach once we moved to Sioux Falls. I still applied for jobs (because I couldn’t give up and just work on the phones at a relay center, obviously) and became increasingly frustrated. Additionally, I didn’t receive as many subbing opportunities as I’d have liked, so work wasn’t very steady.

Eventually, I applied for a promotion at the relay center and got it without a problem – a big fish in a small pond sort of thing, I always assume. With little management experience and a degree in education, I managed to move to the highest position I could conceivably get at a relay call center. And from then, I quit my teaching career. For good.

It all worked out in the end. I used my down time to strengthen my writing talents and eventually searched out something in that field. Once I found it, a weight was lifted. I was no longer doing something I had merely settled on. I had found my niche, and it felt rather snug.

But to this day I still feel a little sting of failure. I went to school to be a teacher. I was given the highest mark in my methods class because, on paper, I did a great job. But that’s all the further it went – the potential never realized, the Darko Milicic of the Sioux Falls school system. Everyone thought I could really do it, including myself, but I really had no chance. There were people more devoted to the ideas. There were teachers who would had the skills necessary to really teach. Not just on paper, but in action.

To this day, it’s my greatest failure. But, as all great failures do, it led me to something that is much more important to me. And I like to think I left whatever position was coming to me open for someone with a greater desire. With greater skill and knowledge. With more tenacity. A teacher, and not just a guy who went through all the motions because that’s what his degree dictated.

It took me two years to make that decision, to back out of a profession that I had spent thousands of dollars and five years preparing for. But it helped me realize what I was really meant to do. And it gave me the utmost respect for anyone that enters – and succeeds—at a job that is more difficult and less honored than most people will ever realize.

Teaching is a profession. It’s important. And anyone who’s out there doing it – anyone who tromped into his or her rooms on this first day of school and faced our future – deserves all of the respect in the world.

Thanks, teachers.

This was lovingly handwritten on August 21st, 2006