Friday, August 23, 2013

Time in The Classroom ~ Becoming a Teacher

Missing the classroom begins when the shelves are stocked with new school supplies.

The beginning of any new school year always causes me to be a bit nostalgic.
I found myself in the school supply aisle at the store the other day.
Who can resist looking at those new notebooks,
and pens,
and pencils?
I know I can't.
I love this time of the year when the shelves are stocked with all those new school supplies.
This year,
I didn't buy a new notebook.
I didn't even buy a new pen.  
I don't need a new pen since I bought my favorite pen of all time:
the wonderful Bee Blossom Seven Year Pen.
(I do love this pen.  It is the best pen I've ever had. It might not last seven years, but writing with it is pure joy.)  
Ok, maybe that last statement is a bit over the top, but some of us really love our pens and pencils.

Missing the Classroom

Maybe, just maybe, it was my love of pens and pencils, and of books that set my destiny in motion.
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to teach.
I decided I wanted to become a teacher in kindergarten.
I loved school.
I loved my teacher.
I loved the classroom.

No wonder, I get a bit of a lost feeling when the school year starts without me.

My journey to becoming a teacher was a long one.  It took me longer than I ever expected to actually become a teacher.  In high school, I'm not sure I had my pathway mapped out for the future the way I wish I would have.  I knew for sure that I wanted to teach.  I also knew that would mean I would need to go to college.  No one in my immediate family had ever graduated from college when I was in high school.  My father had attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs, but he had dropped out just short of finishing his degree.  I think he only needed about seven credit hours to finish.  Somehow, the financial concerns during the Depression Era, and marriage, must have gotten in the way, and he never finished. 

My father was a man who championed education and placed great value on reading and writing.  He was always reading.  He wrote well.  He was a wonderful story-teller.  He encouraged great discussions at the dinner table, and he encouraged us to read and to think.  He also was realistic when it came to helping me select the courses I should take in high school.  He thought I was foolish to take Latin instead of Spanish.  I think we was pretty much right on that.  Latin always helped me with my understanding of vocabulary and grammar, but I should have also taken Spanish.  I regret that I did not.  He also insisted that I take typing.  He said that I would need that skill to get a job.  He was right on that advice.  He thought it was fine to take college prep English, but he also knew that I really needed help in the mathematics department.  He tried to help me all he could as I suffered through high school algebra.

When I graduated from high school, I was offered scholastic scholarships to two different state colleges.  I insisted that I wanted to attend what was then called Colorado State College in Greeley, Colorado.  It was the "teacher's college."  And so, on a September day fifty years ago, I went off to college on the first leg of a journey that would take more years than I ever imagined to becoming a teacher.  (This photo of me, decked out in my new going off to college outfit,  was taken one late summer afternoon all those many years ago by my high school boy friend.  Yes, he is now my husband.  And yes, I did wear this outfit, right down to shoes and the purse, on my first day as a college co-ed.)

Off to College
My head is full of many happy memories of my college days.  I lived in a college dorm, worked in the college dining hall, joined a sorority, Sigma Kappa, and met many wonderful friends.  One of those friends is still one of my dearest friends.  I am so grateful I had these opportunities and experiences.  Unfortunately, after the first semester of my junior year, I left college.  

I thought I would get back to school to finish my degree, but before long, I met a young man at work.  Six months later, I married this young man.  He and I spent nearly sixteen years together as husband and wife before we divorced.  During those years when we were married, he would finish his college degree, earn a masters degree, and earn a living as a high school teacher.  We also have five children together.  Those years, short on money and time, I spent my days taking care of my children and home. Going back to school to finish what I had started years before was only a dream that I knew would have to wait until later.  

After my divorce, I found my self in the unenviable position of being a single mom without a job or a college education.  During this time, in the Summer of 1981, I went to a conference where I was inspired to follow my dream to get that long desired college diploma.  That night when I returned home, I wrote the following words in my journal:
August 6, 1981
"The time frame in which we attain our goals may be altered but never lessens our inner need to fulfill them."  These words were spoken tonight at the conference for women by Dr. Lindquist at Weber State College.  My deep inner needs include a need to write seriously, to finish college, and to teach.  With the Lord's help, I do hope to fulfill these goals in the timeframe in which I have to work.

In reality, meeting such goals right after my divorce seemed like a dream that would never happen.  I had no money.  I didn't have a job.  I hadn't worked in years.  I didn't have any marketable job skills, except, I could type.  (Thanks to my father's instance, I could do that.)  

In time, I found a job as a secretary for a school district in Colorado Springs where I had relocated from Utah.  My salary was low.  I was a single mom.  I need to work.  I could not take off the time to go to college.  Even if I did finish my college coursework to teach, I could not take the time off to do observations of classrooms and student teaching.  

So, I went a different route.  After a few years, I went back to college at night to work on a BS degree in Business Administration.  Finally, in 1987, twenty-five years after I had begun work on my first year in college, I earned that long sought for college degree.  

Earning a BS in Business Administration
I was very proud of what I had accomplished in that moment, but I still didn't have a teaching certificate.  I had not let go of that dream yet, but again,  it seemed rather bleak that I would ever actually turn this dream into reality. 

Fast forward to 1992.  I married my high school sweetheart during that year.  I also began working as an accounting assistant doing bookkeeping for the school district in Pueblo.  About a year later, the carpel tunnel syndrome  and cubital tunnel syndrome problems I had ignored for years finally caused me seek treatment.  My surgeon said I could not work during the time I was recuperating from surgery, and in fact, told me to expect to be on workman's comp for at least a year and a half.  He also told me he would never release me to go back to doing the kind of work I had been doing for the past ten years.  In the meantime, I lost my job and my benefits.

Looking back, this turn of events was a God send.  My doctor would not release me from going back to work, but he didn't say I couldn't go to school.  So, in January of 1994, just a few weeks after surgery to release my trapped ulnar nerve from the cubital tunnel on my right arm, I began college again.  Julie, my youngest daughter was a college freshman at the same University.  She proudly wrote my name in my books for me since I could not yet write with my right hand.  Equipped with a tape recorder, I began the coursework that would lead me towards my long sought goals. 

A year and a half later, after taking all those English courses that I loved, and after a wonderful trip to England to study Theater in London, and after student teaching on my 50th birthday, I finally graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English and a secondary teaching certificate in English/Language Arts. I thought I was pretty old, to be entering the teaching profession, but as I look at a photo from that time, I marvel at how young I was!
Sally & one of her favorite professors
Dr. M. Barber
Oxford, England
I guess the rest is history.  I did land a teaching job after graduation.  I began my teaching career by teaching seventh grade English in the toughest middle school in the school district.  I was told not to smile before Thanksgiving because the kids would eat me alive if I did.  I don't know when I smiled; all I know is that I never cried.  That year deserves a book.  I will tell you about it in another post.  Just know, that I was hooked on teaching, even though my first year was worse than rough.  

I don't know that I have ever gotten the bug to teach out of my system even though I retired from teaching at the University level seven years ago.  I miss those times in the classroom.

To Be Continued...


  1. I enjoyed reading this story of this part of your life and I loved the picture of you decked out for college. When I started college at the University of Vermont, there was a rule that female students could not wear pants to classes unless it was below zero. (Shorts? Not even a consideration.) Five years later there were two dorms that would be co-ed and dress codes were a thing of the past. Things changed so fast in that time ... as I guess they always do.

  2. Nice to hear the challenges of someone else's life; I'm looking forwar d to the continuation...being a retired teacher myself, I always feel inspired and a bit hopeful in Sept. , hopeful for all those thousands starting another year in school, even though I don't have to!

  3. I knew some of your stories but not all of it, Sally. It's a very inspiring story for all those women who never finished college or followed their dreams. It's never too late! :-)

  4. Wow. Loved hearing your story. Isn't it incredible how life turns out sometimes. I also left school, raised kids, and finished my degree(s) years later. I began teaching at 41, and like you, 7th grade in a tough inner-city school. Finally high school and then retirement. And yes, I do stand in the aisle at Staples and wish I needed to buy something.

  5. Ah, dreams are the fuel of the soul...

  6. I worked about forty years at colleges and universities (in public relations and publications), and I still feel the rhythms of the "academic year." And really, who doesn't need some new Post-it notes or gel pens around the first of September? Thanks for sharing your story. You've met and overcome a whole lot of challenges in your life.

  7. In my opinion, if you can raise five children, you can do anything -- as you have obviously proved.

  8. Interesting account of your road to becoming a teacher! I admire your courage and persistence. My journey was much easier, I suspect, but my first year of teaching was an absolute horror show. I can't wait to hear about yours!

  9. You are a great writer - but that is not surprising. I loved your story and what's more I loved your honesty. It is good to know the stories of our friends lives. Sandie

  10. I nearly quit during my first year back to teaching after 10 years away raising our kids. My principal soothed me and encouraged me. And the second year was a dream. Like you, I do go through that pang in September.

    You have such an amazing history and are so very accomplished. I am very impressed.

  11. You should be so very proud of all you managed to accomplish in spite of all the roadblocks....:)

  12. Bravo. I graduated at 50 too, and immediately picked up two galleries. What more could an artist want. :) Bravo to you.

    Yes, you look about 24. :)

  13. What a complicated journey with many side tracks you took to reach your dream. Most would have given up and settled, but you didn't. Very impressive. Can't wait to hear about that first year.

  14. I read this post with much interest...taking in each word....loving the tenacity that you showed in getting done what you always wanted to do, Sally. I understand, completely. I do.
    Not only did you accomplish your goal of becoming a teacher (and I'm sure that you were an excellent one)...but you shared your experiences with me in such a way that it made me want to read more.
    I'm so proud of you.

  15. I did NOT want to be a teacher when I went to college, or for many years thereafter. MY mother, though, wanted me to be a teacher, and she lived long enough to see me as a very successful teacher.

    I entered the classroom when I was 37 after years in sales and publishing which was great experience for dealing with high school students. Sounds like your past was prelude to your teaching career, too.

  16. Well-well-well... I had no idea that your college education came in spurts... That is so neat. I think I know you--but there's always more to learn, isn't there?

    I just thought that you must have taught English (which you love) for years and years and years... I'm sure you were a fantastic teacher. It's no wonder it was hard to retire!!!!

    I went back for my master's AFTER my divorce.. I started it in 1986--and completed it in 1993.. It was hard, as a single parent working fulltime. BUT--where there's a will, there's a way.

    I love reading your 'story'... Can't wait to read more.

  17. Hi there Sally. Sorry I'm late! Well, that was a very interesting story that you told there. How lucky to have a dad that took such an interest in education and encouraged you like that. (I love pens as well by the way and love writing with them). I was a little confused at first when you said that you married the man who took that picture of you holding the flowers, and then said that you married the man at work, but then all became clear!! I am full of admiration for you, firstly with coping with being a single mum with FIVE young children, and for carrying on to fulfill your dream of being a teacher. I am sure that, because of the time delay, you would have been a very good one. Great post my friend.

  18. You are a very talented person and as one of the readers commented....... raising 5 children is no easy feat and you did that too.
    Maggie x

    Nuts in May

  19. You know what I love most about this Sally (apart from the fabulous photos and a mutual love of writing implements)? It's that you DID it. You jumped in and went back to school at a time when learning isn't just an extension of the studying from classes in high school. It's hard going back. And you did it -- and in the process, discovered something you were good at and loved. And, something that changed your life. It shows that anyone -- with determination and a dream -- can take steps toward realizing that dream at any time of life. It won't be easy, necessarily, but it can happen. And look at you!

  20. enjoying reading your story-thanks for commenting on my blog. I think we are both friends of Kay from Hawaii.

  21. Wow, I loved reading of your journey to become a teacher. I am also a high school English teacher and entered the profession late - when I was about 40 after years as a stay at home mom. I also love teaching. It wears me out but I can't imagine doing anything else! My husband, seeing how much I loved teaching, made a career change about eight years ago and he now teaches math at (like you) one of the toughest middle schools in his district. What a life! Thanks for sharing. I will look forward to part II!!

  22. I always feel some longing for the classroom this time of year too, and especially for some new school supplies : ) My daughter has her first teaching job this year-third grade. She has a sweet class and is loving it so far. I'm living vicariously through her this September : )

  23. I so enjoyed reading this story, Sally. You and I have so much in common! I dropped out of college before my junior year to get married and then start a family. But I'm still married to the same man, and I went back to school just a few years later, so that part is a little different. But I understand that desire to teach and that it never leaves you. The first year after I retired, I was excited to see the back-to-school sales knowing I didn't have to go back that fall. Now, though, it makes me nostalgic, too. You just never stop being a teacher.

    By the way, I stock up on those sales anyway, letting my grandkids take what they need and giving the rest to different charities who help needy kids.

  24. I'm smiling because that photo of you going off to college could have been me! Now, I want a Bee Blossom pen.

  25. What a wonderful story, Sally. And beautifully told, as always. I can hardly wait to hear the story of your first year. I wish you lived closer. I'd be more than happy to give you beginning-of-the-year opportunities. :-)

  26. What a fascinating and inspiring post, Sally. It took great courage and determination to hold onto your dream for so long before being able to achieve it. I bet you were a super teacher!


Thank you for visiting my blog. I love reading your comments. Comments are moderated by the author of this blog. It may take a short delay for your comment to be published. No anonymous comments are published, nor are comments that are offensive to myself or other readers.