5: Destined to Teach

5: Destined to Teach

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

Destined to Teach

All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother.

~Abraham Lincoln

My mother made me a teacher. I don’t mean that she forced me to become a teacher; in fact she was adamant that I could be anything I wanted. My mother made me a teacher because she taught me to love learning, and to love sharing. Her own father told her that there wasn’t any point in a girl going to school past the eighth grade, but my mother knew better. Between her influence, and my own natural tendencies, I was destined to teach.

In addition to my mother’s overriding influence, there are several other events in my life that convinced me to become a teacher. When I was little I could not pronounce the syllable “er.” No one could understand me. I remember being VERY frustrated. Then, when I was four, my mother took me to meet a wonderful speech teacher named Miss Philips. Within six weeks the problem was fixed; I could say “sister” and “flower” and all of the plentiful and powerful “er” words. I learned then, in a very personal way, the tremendous power of education. My mother said, “Teaching is the world’s most important job,” and I knew exactly what she meant.

When I was thirteen I spent a month in Shiner’s Hospital having a spinal fusion for scoliosis. I was there for two weeks before the surgery, having tests run and getting to know the other patients in the ward. The other children were wonderful, very sweet and caring. I had them sign an autograph book so I could remember them. I remember being shocked that although they were all close to my age, and very intelligent, many of them could barely write their names. My mother explained that many of them had been in and out of hospitals their entire lives and had not had a stable education. I learned then what a difference the opportunity to learn could make for a child. My mother said, “An education is the one thing no one can take away from you.”

In middle school and high school I took the most difficult, most diverse classes offered to me. My classes included band, industrial arts, visual arts, creative writing, calculus and physics. Physics was hard, and it made me really think; it was wonderful! I made straight A’s and graduated as valedictorian. My mother always said, “Learn every day like you are going to live forever” and, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” So when I was ready to pick a career, I had a strong work ethic, a love of learning, a respect for teachers, a desire to think and help others, and the belief that education could change everyone’s life for the better. I knew I had to be a teacher.

I purposefully made the choice to teach, and except for a few times during my first year, I have never regretted it. Teaching has been a wonderful career for me and I have been lucky enough to make what I feel are some important contributions to education. I am eternally grateful to the teachers and programs that helped me learn the art of teaching and I am committed to helping other teachers. As a presenter at district, state, and national meetings and as a national “Physics Teacher Resource Agent” I have had the opportunity to share ideas with teachers throughout the state and even the nation. I know that by helping, equipping, and encouraging other teachers, I am able to touch students that I will never see.

I am very proud of my work with other teachers, but I consider my first responsibility, and most important accomplishment, to be the success of my students. I love to see the light in a student’s eyes when understanding dawns. I also love hearing from former students. This note came from a girl who would hardly talk above a whisper when she first started my class. “Ms. Gill, I didn’t realize HOW MUCH I learned in your class. It is three years later and I am getting A’s in PHY 232 without even studying!” This e-mail came from a girl who started my class with no interest in math or science: “I’ve officially declared my major. I declared as a Physics BS with a math minor. I am seriously considering working towards being a professor or high school teacher. I guess this just goes to show how much a class in high school can change what you want to do with your life. Thanks again!”

Throughout my teaching career I have had many students say to me, “I know why you became a physics teacher, it’s because you get to play with the coolest toys!” I just smile. The “toys” are a great teaching tool. They catch students’ attention, help them relax, and make them want to understand how things work. I do have to admit they are cool—but they aren’t why I became a physics teacher. My mother did NOT say “Playing with toys is the world’s most important job.” Watching the students learn and be excited about learning, feeling like they have benefited from my planning, support, guidance and passion—those things make teaching a wonderful job. Hearing them say things like “This is cool,” “Wow—this makes sense,” and “Ms. Gill, you have corrupted my mind; I am seeing physics concepts everywhere,” and especially having them come back to visit after they graduate—that is why I love teaching. I feel like I am making a difference in the lives of my students, and in the world, and so I will always be grateful to my mother for making me a teacher.

~Karen Gill
2009 Kentucky State Teacher of the Year
Physics teacher, grade 11

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