The life-long teacher

When I went to college, I did so with the express goal of becoming a high school science teacher. I completed the necessary classes. I struggled through student teaching. I realized it would be a tough job, but I persevered. I graduated and started searching for a job.

Back then, I assumed teaching was my calling. I had some wonderful experiences that I continue to hold on to. I discovered the joy of the “a-ha moment,” the split second when something clicks, when a child comprehends an idea unfailingly. I was thrilled to become a teacher – I gushed about it over beers, practiced the proper stereotypes and prepared myself for the calling.

It never quite worked out that way. My true calling was in writing, and I had taken a detour through teaching thanks to some random experiences and good luck. The negatives ended up outweighing the joy, the breathless search ran dry, and I found myself looking for solace in the one trade in which I knew I could succeed.

Fast forward four years. It’s been ages since I’ve thought of myself as a teacher. It’s a dream long dead, a wrong turn at the fork in the path of vocation, a valuable experience long passed.

Now, I have a daughter who I adore, as any father adores his daughter, with unceasing love and amazement. And every day, I find she’s changed – grown in size and in knowledge and in motor skills and all of that. It’s a wonder to realize the constant trail of discovery that Sierra travels. Though it sounds cheesy and cliché, it’s all true – life changes with a baby, both literally and figuratively. Our lives changed, and hers constantly changes.

The changes are visible, too. You can tell on her face that Kerrie and I have evolved from fuzzy black and white images floating somewhere in Sierra’s brain to something more defined, more real and worth examining. Before, we were simply sounds, familiar voices and shades reminiscent of a Peanuts teacher, a “wah wah” that was both soothing and familiar. Now, we’re real.

And now, with what seems like sudden recognition, Sierra focuses nearly exclusively on our faces – grasping to every word, studiously examining every sound, making a study of every aspect of her life.

It’s the idea of learning everything for the first time that seems so amazing. We don’t make the connection as adults – we’ve become so practiced in every minutiae of life that we take it all for granted. But it isn’t just that we’ve learned to do our jobs well and construct meaningful relationships and rattle off complex theories and political positions. We’ve also learned the basics, perfecting them over time until they become second nature. Which makes sense. After all – it is nature.

We had to learn not just to read and write, but to talk and listen. We learned not just how to play games and ride bikes, but to kick our legs and move our arms.

Our muscles developed, our sight, our hearing and our thoughts. We began to learn to remember things, to identify, to make simple connections. And we did it all without even knowing it.

When Sierra was first born, I marveled at her ability to seemingly do nothing. To stare aimlessly into space, to eat, sleep and cry 24/7. But as she progresses through her learning, I realize she was constructing the basics.

You can’t learn complex algebra until you learn how to count. And knowing the monstrous mountain of learning that Sierra has ahead of her, I now take a little offense when people assume babies don’t do much.

They do. In fact, they do more learning than we can even comprehend. It’s like imagining the simple binary code that makes up the most complex computer language. And in realizing that, I’ve discovered that my life as a teacher was only on hiatus – each of us as a parent becomes the most important teacher our child will ever have. Except this time, I’m ready for the task, excited and willing to teach, thrilled to finally find a child I can relate with on a personal level.

So I guess things did turn out the way I first thought. I am a teacher. Just not in the way I ever imagined.

This was lovingly handwritten on September 21st, 2007