A Dream Deferred

I remember when I was about fifteen that I was riding in the backseat of my parents’ car on the way home from a day-trip. I was contemplating my future. I suddenly had the revelation that I wanted to be a teacher when I grow up. I think this epiphany occurred after the Great Depression of my sophomore year.  I was rescued from that dark time by the intervention of Sister Rose, who taught religion and geography and acted as spiritual counselor at my Catholic all-girls school. I wanted to be like Sister Rose and rescue other poor nerds like me.

I immediately apprised my parents of my intended vocation, and received an adequate if not overwhelmingly positive response. My parents basically just wanted me to go to college, hopefully get a better job than they had, and be able to support myself financially as an adult. They really didn’t care what career I chose. Other adults in my life on the other hand were less than supportive about my decision. “You’re too smart to just be a teacher. You should be a doctor or a lawyer.”

I decided that I would teach high school English and Spanish. I actually told people that by the time the kids got to me in high school I couldn’t screw them up anymore and I might actually be able to save a few. I had always enjoyed all aspects of English class (literature, writing, grammar, and vocabulary) and I was doing well and really enjoying my Spanish classes. I intended to take Spanish III and IV for college credit during my last two years of high school, and adding Spanish to my resume would make me stand out from other teaching applicants.

Well, once I got to college I lasted one semester as a Spanish major, actually about half a semester. This idiotic adviser put me in a 300-level Spanish history class, taught in Spanish, with the most horrid professor on earth. I mean this guy used to correct other native speakers in the class. I quickly realized how incomplete my high school preparation had been, even though I received college credits for it. I was lost in the class, and the professor made me miserable. He was really rude and insulting; everyone hated him. And due to other circumstances I couldn’t drop the class or I would go below the minimum hours required to keep my scholarship.  I skipped as many classes as I felt that I could, because I would just be so depressed before, during, and after class.  I barely passed the class by reading the history of Spain out of an encyclopedia to fill in the blanks of my notes.

I really enjoyed the New Testament class that I had happened into, even though I really didn’t care for that professor, either. I was doing so well that I was invited to a recruiting reception for the department of Religion and Philosophy. Well, a different Religious Studies professor gave a short speech talking up the discipline and inviting people to consider a major or minor in Religious Studies. He seemed like such a nice guy that I followed him out of the room and tentatively asked if he would help me change my major from Spanish to Religious Studies and if he would be my new adviser. He graciously obliged.

Dr. Snyder became a really important person in my life over the next four years.  Not only was he a really nice guy, but he was a really good teacher for my learning style.  I met his wife and children through my job at a local restaurant and started baby-sitting his kids; my senior year I had a key to his house so that I could pick his daughter up from day care two days a week and take her home to wait for his wife to arrive.  I attended his son’s school show and his first baseball game on the pitcher’s mound.  His family became like family to me, and his daughter was the flower girl in my wedding.  Dr. Snyder also hooked me up with my first post-college job.  I still e-mail with his wife every once in a while (he’s become extra busy since he became assistant dean at the college), and met her and their daughter for lunch the last time we were in Kentucky.  Dr. Snyder was also the first person to tell me that he thought I would be a great teacher.

So I was double-majoring in English and Religious Studies, and I started the teacher certification process my sophomore year.  I was immediately struck by my classmates in my first education class.  You had a few students like me who were enthusiastic about teaching, but you had many more who had ascribed to the philosophy of “Those who can’t do; teach.”  They saw teaching as a stop-gap until they figured out what they really wanted to do with themselves.  And from what I saw of some of them, I felt really sorry for their future students.

I was really enthusiastic about teaching.  I kept a notebook where I would write down ideas for covering different material or ways to engage students.  This was completely different from the stuff I was tested on in classes.  I didn’t enjoy my education classes at all; they really just seemed like a bunch of pointless hoops.  Looking back I think I just sensed that there was something wrong with the whole process, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I wasn’t really enjoying my English literature classes, either.  The other English majors who weren’t going for teacher certification seemed so pretentious, and some of the professors weren’t much better.  I really didn’t enjoy my World Literature class; the professor had an obsession with Greek tragedies and expected everyone to have every aspect of every one memorized.

By the end of my junior year, I just felt burnt out.  I had been taking 18 and 21 hour semesters.  It was the only way to take the classes that were required for my double major and certification and take extra classes that I was really interested in, like Hebrew.  I was also working 25 to 30 hours a week and keeping a pretty active social life.  And I dreaded the next level of education and English classes.  So I made the decision to drop English down to a minor, and since you couldn’t get certified to teach Religious Studies, I dropped out of the teacher certification program.  My parents were a little concerned.  “What will you do with a degree in Religious Studies?”  I didn’t have a specific game plan, but I figured I could get some kind of entry level position somewhere with a college degree.

I still had a desire to teach, but I just couldn’t jump through all of the idiotic hoops.  And I knew that there were people in the program who would have no problem jumping through those hoops who could care less about their future students.  And there were a few who would make it through with the barest understanding of the subject matter they would be expected to teach.  It just all seemed so wrong, somehow.

The most interesting part of my time in the education department was the first semester that I was expected to shadow a “real” teacher.  During Spring Break of my sophomore year, I went back to my old high school and followed around my Senior year English teacher.  I think he had always respected me, but it was kind of neat the way he started treating me like a peer.  He gave me all sorts of little tips and anecdotes, and once while we were walking down the hall and talking, he got a little embarrassed to find a student behind us lest she would have heard what we were discussing.  It was the first time I really felt like an adult.

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3 Comments on “A Dream Deferred”

  1. eljoe1235 Says:

    Very nice post! Good to get some insight into your collegiate path. I think we all end up doing the same sort of benefit/burden balancing in doing something that fits. I started out as a broadcasting major, fwiw.

    Dr. Snyder is an incredibly nice guy. Wish I could’ve fit in more classes with him.

    As regards the not named Spanish professor in question, I will never forget that when I took his class, he didn’t show up the first day, and we waited and waited, and a few brave/foolish souls just left, and finally, about 25 minutes in, he showed up and announced that he thought the class met on the other days of the week (i.e. it was a MWF class that he thought was TTh). Never a dull moment.

    Joe

  2. barboo77 Says:

    Just as Dr. Snyder is famous for his intelligence, kindness, and sense of humor, that not named Spanish professor is as infamous as El Guapo.

  3. eljoe1235 Says:

    Alright, you got me on that one. I was picturing the professor in question terrorizing Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short. This thought will certainly help while away the day.

    Joe


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