Today (March 14th) is National Write Down Your Story Day. One of my stories is why I decided to be a teacher, which is not what I wanted to be when I was a kid. In truth, I wanted to be an archeologist for the longest time, but that dream ended in 8th grade after a research project showed me all the history I’d have to learn.
Don’t get me wrong, I love learning about history, but I didn’t want to focus on it for the rest of my life. It turns out that before 8th grade, I simply wanted to play in the dirt.
Anyway, when one goal dies, a million more pop up to replace it. For me, however, not one of those million was teaching. Not one. You may be asking how I became a writing teacher, then… Can you believe that it all started with a song?
Once upon a time…
A long time ago when I was still a small child, my dad introduced me to Harry Chapin’s music. One song in particular stuck with me over the years: Flowers Are Red.
Chapin starts with a little boy, probably in kindergarten or first grade, on his first day of school. He starts coloring flowers in all different colors in the fashion of a child who has no worries about patterns or structures.
Unfortunately, the teacher isn’t the one we all hope for. She gets angry at him for splattering colors and flowers all willy-nilly on the paper:
And she said, “Flowers are red young man
And green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than they way they always have been seen.”
Not only does she get angry about him coloring his own way, but she also puts him in the corner until he decides to do things her way. That teacher breaks this little boy down by isolating him in the corner long enough to terrify him.
Eventually, “time went by like it always does and [he] moved to another town.” At his new school he meets a different type of teacher: an outgoing one who wants her students to use their creativity in the classroom.
I won’t tell you how it ends, but I will tell you that the ending (as well as the entire song) will forever be embedded in my brain. Every teacher hears something when they listen to this song. They remember teachers who fit both personas in this song, and they reflect on what kind of teacher they are and why they teach.
Why a teacher?
After abandoning my “when I grow up” idea of becoming an archeologist, I decided to try music instead. I loved band and was pretty good at the French horn, so music seemed like a natural progression into college.
However, after trying music and Christian studies, I chose English education as my major. (Third time’s the charm, right?) To be fair, when I was in high school, one of my friends told me I would make a great English teacher. I laughed it off then, but look at me now.
Unfortunately, I didn’t start teaching right after college. My husband and I moved to a different state (twice), and my certification didn’t transfer. I worked several jobs over those next three years, some of them in tandem:
- clerk at a 24/7 convenience store
- waitress at a small café
- Sunday school teacher at a church
- reporter for a local newspaper
All of those jobs taught me how to talk and relate to people. (Can you believe I used to be shy?) As a reporter, I had to talk to the mayor and the district attorney on more than one occasion, which meant breaking out of my shell to get the story.
Reporting led me to a city council meeting where I met a lady who wanted to bring a private school to the county. We talked after the meeting where I told her I was an English teacher and available if she ever had a spot open at her school.
She called me several months later for a position at her small private school for emotionally disturbed students. Over the next two years, I was introduced to a world of teaching different from almost everything I had learned in college. More than anything, I learned to listen to my students in order to help them each succeed because (as we already know) each student is different.
Not all flowers are red.
One kid I taught during those first two years wanted to be a famous rapper when he grew up. He asked if he could write a rap in lieu of the assignment that was due the following week, and I agreed.
He was thrilled and poured his heart into it that assignment. Maybe he’ll grow up to be a famous rapper, or maybe he’ll change his mind three times. Either way, not every assignment works for every student just like not all flowers are red.
Here I am, seven years after I first started teaching, and I still love it and strive all the time to be like the second teacher from Harry Chapin’s song. I want to encourage students to be creative in their writer’s notebooks, to try a variety of techniques on their writing goals, and to keep proving that they’re all different if we only listen.
But the little boy said…
There are so many colors in the rainbow,
So many colors in the morning sun,
So many colors in the flower and I see every one.