“why do you want to be a teacher?”

In college, I majored in history, and I loved it.  I remember clearly the existential crisis I had at the end of my junior year when I realized that you can’t do anything with a history degree.  After graduation, I was engaged and working as a receptionist at an Architectural Design firm.  I was eventually promoted to Submittals Coordinator, and soon after that my husband was accepted to graduate school in another state, so we moved.  It was then that I decided to make my move into the classroom, and soon found myself in an interview for a teaching position with a small private school.

When the headmaster asked me that question, “Why?”, I had two answers – I love history, and I really want to work with youth.  I believed that I could make a difference and bridge whatever educational and/or moral gap they were missing at home.  I was going to change the world, one teenager at a time.

I attribute this sense of optimism to my parents.  They are good, honest people with a passion for serving others.  They amazed me yet again recently when they called to tell me about their latest adventure – they took in a homeless student from the local high school.  They learned through the school’s social worker that there were a number of families in the community who are living in vans and camping out in parking lots, and many of them have school-aged children.  My parents decided to take in one such student, an 18-year old senior, so that he could finish his degree and graduate.  His name is James.

James did not have a storybook childhood – his parents divorced when he was 9, and he was forced to choose who he wanted to live with.  He chose his father, which meant that he would be split up from his mother and sister.  When his father began living with a raging alcoholic, James felt it would be best to move in with his mother.  Unfortunately, her live-in boyfriend became physically abusive, and James was eventually kicked out, making him homeless.

I learned that James was surrounded at school by educators just like me – teachers, guidance counselors, and social workers who wanted to help and maybe even change the course of James’ life.  The arrangement seemed to be working out well.  Then I received a phone call from my parents.

It seems that James has found himself wrapped up in some very serious illegal activity.  Unfortunatley, my parents are the victims.  After some items went missing from their home last Wednesday, they came home from church today to broken windows and more stolen posessions. 

When I heard this news, I felt upset and immediately angry.  My instinct was to get in the car, make the 7-hour trip home, and roam the streets until I found this kid.  Then it would be just me and him on the street, no witnesses. 

Now I am only left with questions.  Why would he choose to do this?  Was my parent’s kindness not enough?  Even with such a lousy childhood, didn’t he learn different behavior somewhere else?  What about all the teachers who supported him, even chipped in to pay for a motel room for him? 

And if, after all of these interventions, he still turned out like this…why do I want to be a teacher?

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