Throughout high school, my love for words and literature and dreams of travel to lands I had seen in "National Geographic" led me to consider writing as a possible career goal. Intrigued by foreign correspondents on TV news, I concluded that journalism was the solution to my love of writing and desire to see the exotic.
I began exploring ways to pursue journalism as a college major by visiting a career aptitude seminar at a regional college with my church teen group. I read about schools with a reputable journalism department , regardless of whether my parents could afford them or if I could pass the entrance requirements. My goals were lofty, but eventually my family insisted I be practical as well and attend one of the state universities.
The summer after high school graduation was approaching, and I needed a job to help buy clothes for college. President Johnson's War on Poverty had recently begun, and the local Head Start Program was looking for summer teacher aids among the high school Future Teachers of America club. As a habitual joiner of extra-curricular activities, I was a member. The job sounded easy and fun, and the pay seemed a gold-mine compared to the small salary I had earned as a substitute secretary at my step-father's insurance office.
The week of teacher training before our instructional duties began and enlightened me to the unique life led by these preschoolers from the "other side of town". Sleeping sibling upon sibling in one bed and avoiding school on rainy days because of no transportation seemed strange to me, not to mention facts learned about the peculiar symptoms of sickle cell anemia common in African-American children then.
When the excited little folks arrived, they sang finger-play songs, played with new and brightly colored toys, learned reading and math readiness skills, and ate wholesome school lunches. All of this opened up a novel and enchanting world for them.
But this did not compare to the novel and enchanting world that opened up for me as well. Seeking ways to assist my assigned teacher with instruction in basic learning skills, arts and crafts projects, and children's literature, I encountered new outlets for my creativity and fantasies of magical places. I developed an instant rapport with the children, playing with them as a child myself. I took endless Polaroid pictures of dark-skinned tots, which I included in photo albums of my all-white world. I visited their homes with my mentor and witnessed the heartbreaking conditions many of them endured in ignorance of anything else.
Needless to say, my college major later changed from journalism to elementary education. Now after 40 years of teaching, I have experienced the ups and downs of educating the underprivileged, the over-privileged of the suburbs, the preppies of the private schools, and the less sophisticated of the rural areas. Not all of it has been as fulfilling and stimulating as those early days with Head Start, but it has all been worth it in order to awaken one child now and then to reaching his or her potential.
A profound quote I once read said, "It is not for school, but for life we learn." With my many years as a teacher, if I have given a bit of life to a child that was hungry for something that could not be defined, then this career choice was the right one. Yes, there were other options that could have paid more and been more glamorous. Yes, there are drawbacks to teaching that are well known. But there is no other way I could help another person develop individual abilities for life that would give me life as well.
I thrive on learning; I thrive on knowledge; I thrive on creating learning and sharing knowledge. Teaching affords me the best opportunity to do this that hopefully changes a life for today, tomorrow, and for a life time.
C. S. Gordon is an educator and 360 Education Solutions contributor