Several times throughout my career I have been asked “ Why do you teach? What inspired you to teach?” I know what people are assuming my response will be, expecting to hear about my passion for education and desire to inspire young minds. A teacher is often the gatekeeper of knowledge, but hopefully even more so, the catalyst for developing the habit of learning. But I don’t teach for that reason, really. I am not overly concerned about algebra, endoskeletons, grammatical mastery, or even academic advancement. I am invested all because of a deck of cards and a seed planted, along with a series of events that at the time seemed like an albatross searching for truth within broken mirrors and Nevermores.
I should probably interject at this time that I spent several years dancing in old poetry as a teenager. When I was approximately two years old, the most likely place you would have found me was attached to my mother in some way or at least in close proximity. As I grew older, the ultimate torture for me was to be placed in social situations which forced me to interact with other children my age. Now mind you, I was fine with my extended family,…as long as my mother remained in my range of vision. But when it was time to venture off to the world of Academia, and the initiation into autonomy, I still remember the panic and misery that quickly developed. I wanted to remain at home, always, in my room that became first my refuge and then later an asylum for the dysfunctional …but that is another story.
So the reason I now teach can be traced back to a scheduled Show and Tell Day, my kindergarten year. I don’t remember much about that classroom, or details about the teacher. I do recall my offering for that day, though. It was a tiny deck of cards, small even for my five year old hands. These had been purchased from a gumball machine, and were of supreme quality. The morning of the event, my teacher, to remain nameless, collected our items and placed them in a wicker basket behind her desk. The anticipation of showing my prized possession hung in the air around me throughout the early part of the day, making the time seem stagnant. Then it was announced we would break for recess and upon returning the treasures would be revealed. The excitement was almost too much to bare.
And then, came the moment- We reentered the building and moved toward our assigned seating. But in the process of doing so, an outbreak of upset occurred. The scene of the upcoming tragedy had been laid out. On the floor behind the teachers desk was scattered all the little offerings for time of Show and Tell. The basket had mysteriously dumped over. My tiny deck of cards had been thrown about and several items were broken. And then began the most horrible unfolding of all. The teacher, to remain nameless, and from that moment heartless and irredeemable to me, grabbed her broom and dust pan. She quickly begin to contain and dispose of the debris, the messy cheap trash she would now be spared from hearing boring tales about.
The event, in my memory wasn’t discussed and quickly dismissed. I now suspect the teacher was O.C.D.. So, of course, my deck of cards were gone forever and sadder yet, pure innocent trust. I truly don’t remember that teacher’s name. And now as an adult, I accept she wasn’t really Satan. Actually, I might still think she is Satan, but don’t want to have to undergo therapy so I will deny it. As an adult, I realize she had no idea how much damage she did that day. Obviously, I now realize what a silly, insignificant loss it was compared with real, inconceivably unbearable issues faced by so many children in the world. But, for me a seed was planted. That seed remained cold and undeveloped at the age of eleven.
To note, life had been mostly smooth in those formative years, especially compared to what I know of the average homelife of students today. But that year initiated me into an abyss of alienation that still reserves a corner of my mind, even to this day. I didn’t fit. Nothing fit. The world then was like what I can now compare to the Matrix, and I felt lost and alone. I lived in books and daydreams. At school I found ways to assimilate on the surface, however, it was miserable, and I hid behind layers of masks and fabrications. No one saw me, really. And eventually I preferred it. And then one day I was okay. Well, sure, that is how the story ends.
Not really, of course, but this isn’t about endings, really. This story is about inspirations and beginnings. So, the seed did bloom one day, and with it came the desire to grow and to make that barren place healthy again. But, ironically, it wasn’t a desire to grow myself. The need had been planted to help children. It was ingrained in me to find those children whose cards had been scattered and tossed; that were lost in books and shadows. I returned to the classroom to be that teacher who cares. The one who truly listens to the Show and Tell and watches and tunes in for the Unseen and Not Told. So, even though I bear the title of ‘teacher’, I am actually in the classroom to insure children don’t end up in dustpans. So there is my story, but in closing don’t forget: It isn’t my fault I am not dealing with a full deck. ( I teach Middle School, of course).
Cheryl Essex is an award winning teacher at a middle school near Fort Worth. Her unique perspective and outstanding work ethic triggered the request for her to write a guest post.Please comment and hopefully she will be open to writing more articles.Cheryl, thank you for sharing an insight for all of us to benefit.—Chad