1986 was my rookie year. All these years later, I’m still in the teaching game. You could easily refer to me as a grizzled veteran without running the risk of exaggerating. You might also call me an old crank. I’ll answer to pretty much anything.
All these years of experience have provided me with ample opportunities to think about my profession, and I’ve even had an insight or two while doing all this cogitating. For one, it seems that there are basically two types of teachers: Those who chose to get into the profession and those who happened into it by sheer accident. This second bunch I call “Accidental Teachers.” As the title of my essay and memoir makes clear, I certainly consider myself a member of the latter group.
Not long ago, during a Thanksgiving get together, I had a conversation with Betty, the wife of one of my cousins. Several months prior to this talk she had completed her degree in education and was now teaching at Central High School in San Angelo, Texas. She told me all about how her new job was going, what her students were like, and stuff like that. She also revealed that she had always dreamed of being a teacher. When I heard her say this last bit, about she’d always wanted, from the cradle onward, to stand up in front of students and spout, I felt momentarily dumbstruck. It was because her experience was so different from my own. Once this first feeling passed, I felt as if I wanted to congratulate her. She had dreamed of doing the very thing she had ended up doing. I would imagine that’s a pretty rare accomplishment in these United States of America, which might explain why so few people are really happy about the work they do.
Unlike Betty, I had not always (or even ever) wanted to work in the classroom. I had grown up wanting to learn, though, and I owe several members of my family a huge debt for having helped me become the curious person I’ve always been. First of all, there’s my mother, a woman who brought me into this world and then proceeded to carry me around when I was a wee tyke. While doing so, she would point at things and help me really see them for the first time. She would then tell me what these objects were called. I am almost certain this is why I later became so intrigued by words and language and such. Secondly, my father, the dreamy artist and philosopher, helped me learn about the power of the mind and the will to create new and beautiful things. From him, I learned quiet introspection and deep observation. Thirdly, my maternal grandfather, a man now dead for many years, instilled in me a love of current events. He was an opinionated fellow who loved to reason and make arguments. Even though he had little formal education, I still, to this very day, think of him as one of the most influential people I’ve even known as far as my intellectual development is concerned. For example, he instilled in me a deep fascination with politics and international affairs.
These individuals prepared me well to enter school and do well once I got there. I grew up a pretty capable kid, and then I went off to college and fell in love with studying all manner of esoteric subjects. It was this fascination which became a double-edge sword. It both set me free and left me enslaved.