I Want to Teach in America

Location: Wang Nam Kheow District, Thailand.

Purposefulness, Commitment to Teaching as a Lifelong Profession. 

In my teen years, school was the most stable environment in my life. My teachers were my role models, and their pedagogical practices offered me a foundation for dealing with people and challenges, and moving through life. Last year I read in the newspaper that a student from my high school jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge during a class field trip with two of my teachers. I can’t get him out of my mind. The boy survived. But when I see him in my mind, he’s in mid-air, and I stop breathing.

My respect for the magnitude of services that teachers provide to our communities grows all the time. Walking into a classroom every day is an act of social leadership. In the hearts and minds of young people who may otherwise have difficulty believing it, it sets the very premise that things in life are possible. The same two teachers whose student jumped off the bridge sat with my class in 1998 as we watched students jumping out of windows during TV news coverage of the shooting at Columbine High School. Three years later, it would be the Towers.

The emotional landscape of young people tends to be extreme. But we also live in extreme times. I believe that literacy and communication open a pressure valve whose function is crucial for our survival. This is why I have always wanted to be an English teacher. I believe that people must learn to manage trauma to survive. And we owe it to our young people to offer everything we can to strengthen them to endure and improve the world we have created.

On my path towards teaching, I took every left turn I could find. At 15, I departed from classroom instruction in high school and started building websites for a dot com. I attended four community colleges. I transferred from UC to CSU, wrote fiction, ran out of money, and worked at a tourist bureau. I dropped courses, withdrew from courses, and petitioned for course substitutions…and worked as a web designer, web trainer, web specialist, and web producer. I went to grad school (for love), worked at a social change nonprofit (for love), then taught in prison for eight years (for love), and flew to Asia to teach EFL.

Now that we know Jobs and Wozniak hacked college, too, I don’t feel so bad. My education was designed by a heuristics fanatic, someone relentless and dynamic. I didn’t want to be a high school teacher with no remarks about the world beyond my classroom. Now, I’ve watched wars in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan… Earthquakes in Haiti; oil spills in the Gulf; nuclear meltdowns in Japan; an Arab uprising and an Asian airpocalype; elections in Florida, inaugurations in DC, an occupation on Wall Street, and a renaissance of the television drama. I’ve observed the role of Internet technologies in all of it. And I’m itching to get to work teaching English.

Why an urban school? For the same reason I left Santa Cruz for San Francisco, San Francisco for San Quentin, and San Quentin for the developing world. Because the chemistry is different. The focus is sharper. And the need is greater.

The primary resources I have used to overcome obstacles are imagination and perception.

6 thoughts on “I Want to Teach in America

    • Thanks, Sonal! We shall see. I’m taking exams in 2014, seeking acceptance in a credential program which does not bring a burden of debt. I learned abroad that I’m willing to jump through these hoops to teach at home. :)

  1. I’ve been running a program that provides aspiring teachers with research opportunities at national labs. In parallel to research internships, we also run professional development workshops to help teachers translate their research experience into classroom practice. If you go to a CSU for your credential, you should apply to my program! http://www.StarTeacherResearcher.org

    Also, you should check out the Noyce Scholar Program. It’s an NSF scholarship for aspiring teachers; in exchange for a year of tuition, you commit to two years of teaching in a high needs school. http://www.NSFNoyce.org

    I guess what I’m saying is: go for it! And let me know if there’s anything I can do to help!

    And if you ever think about *starting* a school, one where science and ethics and poetry and community blend together as students work to improve their neighborhoods and themselves, let’s do it!

    • Dimitri, so nice to hear from you! I love what you are doing. I hope it’s going well! Can you give me some perspective on what percentage of aspiring teachers with humanities backgrounds pursue teaching in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects? Does this ever happen? Are these teachers successful? All the STEM programs (STAR and NSFN are both for STEM teachers) make me wish I had earned a BS alongside my BA when I was an undergrad.

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