It happened in the second grade. The moment I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I had had an awful first grade year. I was a chatty little girl, and my first grade teacher wasn't very fond of that trait (or it seemed maybe me). I was always in trouble- sitting by myself with my desk turned away from the class. Once she even put my desk in the supply closet, isolating me from everyone and thoroughly humiliating me. Each six weeks we were given a cardboard cut-out, usually in the shape of some popular children's cartoon character. Each student's cut-out would be displayed across the bottom of the chalkboard, all strung together. Every time we got in trouble, our teacher would punch a hole in our cut-out. I vividly remember one of these said six weeks. The cardboard cut-outs were Shirt Tales characters. I got in trouble so many times that grading period that my Shirt Tales looked like a piece of swiss cheese. I was so ashamed. And then it got worse. She made us wear our cut-outs around our necks for the entire day on the last day of the six weeks. I wanted to cry. Now the whole school would know just how "bad" I was- in the lunch line, at the restrooms, on the playground. I had decided that I didn't like school very much that year.
I reluctantly started the second grade, sure that I would be embarrassed again. I really wasn't a bad child. I just liked to talk... a lot. My second grade teacher surprised me in so many ways. She never moved my desk. She never yelled at me in front of the entire class. And she did NOT do those awful cardboard cut-outs. I remember that she had her very own library in our classroom. Looking back, she used that little library quite a few times to redirect me when I was being a little too social. She would ask me to sit back on the little rug among the bookshelves and pick out a book to read. But I felt special, not punished. I was allowed to go back and read to myself any book that I wanted during class time. That school year my reading level took off. I loved to read. I read all the time. I actually loved going to school.
My second grade year was the year I decided that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I wanted to be just like Mrs. Cromwell. I wanted to help children, teach them, make them feel special. I would spend hours lining up my stuffed animals in front of a chalkboard at home and playing school.
I did become a teacher, and I taught middle school and high school for almost 8 years. I mostly worked with at-risk teenagers- rough home lives, had been expelled from their previous schools, reading way below grade level, on house arrest or parole. You name it, I have probably seen it. I loved what I did, and my hope is that I was able to touch at least a few of my students the way that my second grade teacher was able to inspire me. That maybe I was able to make a few of them feel special too. I think that one day I will return to teaching, or at least to working with youth in need. But right now I have the most important and rewarding job that I can even imagine. ;)
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