“You are the Author of Your Own Life Story.” It’s a quote hanging on the wall in my classroom library, and its implications for my own life purpose go deeper than a chapter in any book. I was a timid child who silently, shamefully struggled with panic attacks. I was a bookworm, an artist, and loved younger children – but never believed myself to have the potential to be an educator. Even when I casually brought up teaching as a career, friends and family members would kindly say “Oh, no, Erin; I don’t think you could be a teacher.” However, God doesn’t call the qualified – He qualifies the called. Within my own life story, He placed two driving forces to guide me into education. One was my aunt, Dawn Mose, who taught first grade for 35 years. I adored Aunt Dawn for her faith in my abilities and belief that in spite of my struggles, my life had purpose. In my young mind, she was the ideal person – a woman who rose from the poverty of her childhood to become a college graduate, loving mother and aunt, and devoted, beloved teacher.
One month before my 16th birthday, Dawn died suddenly – and I was devastated, shaken to the core. As I dealt with my grief the best way a teenager can, I was overwhelmed with the impact Dawn had on the lives she touched during her career. She left a legacy of learning among her current and former students, many who cited her as their reason for becoming teachers. To help me through the grieving process, my mother suggested I become a PASS (Providing Academic and Self Esteem Support) volunteer at the school where she worked. I obliged, and soon I was mentoring an at-risk student in a third grade classroom. Though the pain of losing Dawn endured, my PASS student and I developed a bond over the next three years. I delighted in her success and accomplishments – and was astounded I had played a crucial role in her academic and emotional development. Not only did I realize that I had control over impacting the life of a child, but I also could control my panic disorder, the monster destroying the success and joy in my life. The thought of being a teacher and having to speak constantly, publicly terrified me, but my plans to pursue a career in journalism paled in comparison to cultivating a love for learning. So, as many college freshmen do, I changed my major. Few were convinced I made a wise decision, but the fear of not fulfilling my life purpose outweighed confronting my issues with anxiety – in fact, it was the first time something ever had.
I’d like to think that the ensuing chapters of my life prove that the best stories are when you can’t predict the ending – or rather, the new beginning. I’ve taken the pages of my life story, the lessons learned from my aunt and my experience as a PASS volunteer to shape the fundamentals behind my contributions to the profession. Treat each child as an individual. Give every student the best of yourself, every day. In the words of Alex Haley, “Find the good – and praise it!” One of my greatest contributions in education is making learning exciting and authentic for students – and sharing these ideas with other teachers. Let’s face it: life’s most important lessons aren’t 8 ½” by 11,” black and white, and sitting neatly on your desk! I’ve nurtured an interest in learning and self discovery through hundreds of students as a social studies fair coordinator, and delight in their successes as they continue to pursue projects in middle and high school. I’ve shown the most timid student that armed with a voice recorder and a well-written script for a commercial or podcast, he or she has a message that speaks volumes. My students have played many roles by the end of the year, from homesteading pioneer in a play written themselves to archaeologist cleaning and analyzing fossils. Developing a newspaper education program that seeks to motivate young students to write and read is one of my proudest contributions to education. The WRITTEN Initiative (Writing, Reporting, and Integrating Technology through Elementary Newspapers) gives students the background to develop writing and interviewing skills, graphic design, and running a business as they sell their newspaper to the school and community.
My students are my greatest accomplishment. I love them so much. They have taught me everything - from day one as a young new teacher with her heart pounding nervously in her chest to today humbly accepting my role as an educational leader. In turn, my desire is to give them a year like no other – where “cannots” don’t exist, the approaches to reaching your goals are endless, and respect is a given. My students range in abilities from learning disabled to gifted, extroverted to introverted, eager to learn to reluctant to try. Through all of them I have seen it all, but in all of them I see myself. Because I am a teacher, I’m the person I never thought I would be – and I have certainly found my voice.