How I Started in Education

I recently rediscovered a piece I wrote about why I entered my profession…

“It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain, but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night.”

Those words begin the second paragraph of Edgar A. Poe’s short story “The Tell Tale Heart,” in which the narrator attempts (unsuccessfully) to demonstrate his sanity. Like Poe’s character, I once had an idea enter my brain, and from that day forward it haunted me day and night. Unlike Poe’s character whose haunting idea entered with stealth, I can say exactly how the idea of becoming an educator first entered my brain. The sanity of one who chooses a career in education at the turn of the 20th to the 21st century is unresolved.

As a young person I had strong interest in nature and the environment—largely the result of a youth spent in Boy Scout activities and wandering around the woods near my house. When I was in junior high school, I wanted a career in wildlife biology, forestry, or some other natural science. In high school, where my interest in the life sciences became focused, I became a top biology student. At a college fair hosted by my high school, there was a gymnasium full of college representatives, and I was making the rounds speaking with those who represented colleges that listed biology as a major offered to students. One man described the two tracks available for biology majors at the college he represented: “pre-med” or education. Thus, the idea of being a teacher first entered my brain.

Over the coming weeks, I watched the teachers who worked at the school I attended—especially the science teachers—closely. I concluded that teaching (science) would be a good life. As I finished by high school career, I made sure to enroll in all of the science courses that were open to me; and otherwise prepared to attend college where I intended to study to be a science teacher.

After a year as a biology major at a small private college that allowed me to run around on the football field as well as study, I was accepted into the undergraduate program in science education at our state university. I completed my student teaching and was hired as a middle school science teacher five years after I had graduated from high school. I was 10 years older than my students, and one of my colleagues was old enough to be my mother.

Those few years between my decision to become a science teacher and my entry into the profession were a marked by a nearly-obsessive interest in teaching science. I enrolled in the same cell biology and animal physiology classes as the students planning to apply to medical school; it turns out that college representative described a common two-track biology major for undergraduate students. I also took botany courses which tended to enroll tens rather than hundreds of students and which required original research. I also completed sufficient physical science courses to earn my general science teaching credentials.

Almost all of my experiences outside of the classroom and laboratory were interpreted by the question “How can I use this to teach science?” and I spent hours walking behind a lawn mower (my job that supported me during my studies) planning and scheming how to make science meaningful. I still have some of the course and teacher  evaluations from my students and supervisors, and they suggest I was successful in my career from the earliest days. My students seem to have generally enjoyed my classroom and my supervisors recognized me as a creative and effective teacher.