So today was my first day back to work, after a fun-filled (but too short) summer vacation. During one of our super-thrilling, action-packed faculty meetings, a question was posed that I hadn't really thought about in a long time: why did you become a teacher? Now generally, when presented with that question, most teachers have a generic, one-size fits all response: "I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference."
And because I've heard that question so much in the past, I generally don't give it much thought. My mind automatically selects one of the readily available responses from my mental answer bank, and that's that.
But today, something different happened.
Upon hearing the question, my mind immediately zoomed backward twenty one years and there she was: Ms. Koon, my first grade teacher at Chicora Elementary School. Her image was crystal clear in my mind's eye, and I smiled at the memory. There she stood, as short as some of the students, with long red hair flowing down her back. Ms. Koon always made learning fun, and I enjoyed being in her class. But as much as I liked her, I couldn't understand why my mind immediately conjured up her likeness when presented with the question of why I became a teacher. I had been lucky enough to have tons of great teachers during my academic career, all of whom had used some of the same classroom practices that Ms. Koon had. As hard as I tried, I couldn't remember anything specifically that she had taught me, other than all the generic things that first graders learn.
And then I started to remember the way I felt each day when I left her class, and the more I pondered, the more I began to realize why Ms. Koon was so special. She was the first person to ever make me feel like I could be whatever I wanted. The first to really help me understand that there was no excuse big enough to stop me from accomplishing the things that I truly wanted to accomplish. Poverty wasn't an excuse. The neighborhood I came from wasn't an excuse. Coming from a single-parent family wasn't an excuse. Not having a father wasn't an excuse. At the tender age of six, Ms. Koon helped me to realize that I had to use the hardships in my life as fuel to propel me to the next level, not as a crutch.
So each day when I left her classroom, I went home to the small house I shared with my mom, my grandparents, my aunts, and my cousin. Even though I didn't give her words a lot of thought, they permeated my subconscious more than I realized. They shaped the way I approached the rest of my life. That year, I learned one of the most valuable lessons of all: I had the power to do with my life whatever I wished. All I had to do was make it happen.
And make it happen I did. A bachelor's degree, an MBA, an M.Ed in the works, a successful advertising/marketing career, and a promising career in education ahead of me. Sitting in that faculty meeting, I realized the real reason why I decided to change careers and become a teacher. I wanted to be like Ms. Koon. I might never become a millionaire, but if I could help just one child see that their potential amounts to more than their obstacles, I would feel like the richest person in the world.