When I entered the education program at MU, we were asked to reflect on why we wanted to be teachers. Out of 35 students, I was among only a handful who did not claim to have dreamed about being a teacher since I was a young girl. It was not my life plan to become a teacher, but I was led to the profession due to various twists in the road.
In the years before I entered college, I had become highly interested in the arts, particularly fine art. I had a strong desire to do something with this passion, but I lacked artistic talent; I figured that I needed to find some major where I could make enough money to permit me the luxury of traveling to museums to indulge myself.
As I was applying to colleges, I came across a talk-show on television. There was a woman who was speaking about her great passion for opera even though she could not sing. Instead of remaining an outsider to the opera scene, she found work in an opera house to be close to what she loved. Her story inspired me to look into majors that would put me around the art I loved without demanding artistic talent from me.
I searched for a website that listed various college majors. I did not need to scroll far: art history was my answer. My time as an art history major began in the fall of 2004. From my first semester in the program, I knew that what I really wanted to do with the degree was be a professor. It wasn’t my desire to simply share my passion with like-minded others in galleries or museums; I wanted to reach out to those who think they don’t care about art but would be taking the classes to fulfill pre-requisites or indulge a curiosity.
I managed to cram in extra credits and summer classes and I entered my final semester in August 2007. Instead of graduating in December as expected, my world fell apart.
All along I had been under the impression that my senior seminar was going to cater to my major being art history; after all, it would only make sense for this to be the case. Yet there are many things in life which do not make sense, and my senior seminar was one of them. I entered the classroom for seminar in late August to find myself surrounded by 38 studio art majors.
My experience in that class was humiliating. When the professor would ask for students to define terms, I would define them according to my discipline; it ends up that studio art would define those terms much differently. Rather than acknowledging the legitimacy of my answers as they related to my discipline, the professor would laugh and ridicule me, often getting the other students in on the fun. As one would imagine, all the assignments were studio art in nature; I failed every last one of them. My painting wasn’t good enough, my sketches weren’t good enough, my to-scale model of a gallery installation of my work wasn’t good enough.
A little less than half-way through the semester I realized that I was not going to graduate. There was an overwhelming feeling that I was nothing and that I was completely without a future. I was a failure and I disgusted myself.
If it had not been for the student loans hanging over my head, I would have given up. They motivated me to find some professional track that would land me some form of steady pay. I began thinking about what I had actually wanted to do with my art history degree; I had wanted to be a professor, to teach art history. By logical extension, I decided I should become a teacher.
I applied to MU–and only MU–figuring that if I was rejected then it was not meant to be. But I was accepted, and it became my second chance.
When I arrived to register for classes, I had not really thought about what grade I wanted to teach. However, before I could register, I had to make a choice. High School required I get a degree in English before I could complete the program; I wasn’t up for six more years of college. Elementary seemed do-able in the older grades, but early-childhood was out of the question. To my surprise, they had a middle school program.
My middle school years were an inferno that I am more than happy to have left behind. I spent my two years there tormented by a group of girls who all went to the same church–I like to refer to them as the Baptist Brigade–who decided I was an excellent target since my baby cousin was bi-racial. According to them, she was a sin against God. So many notes were shoved in my locker that I quit using it, instead carrying everything in a duffel bag. I was followed through the halls as they would pray for me to come around and see that she was a crime against faith; they also prayed for my cousin to emerge holy from the sin of her birth. I could not even escape them in the restroom, where they would shove prayer cards under the stall doors. They went so far as to physically attack me attack me at a prayer circle. I know teachers saw all of this–the prayer circle incident took place in front of the principal–but nothing was ever done to protect me.
I knew from the moment I saw the middle school option that this was where I was meant to be. I realized that I had a lot of experience and understanding to offer middle school students. No matter why we are ostracized and attacked, it hurts us and shapes us. I knew I could be there to help my students get through tough times.
In my three years of placements, I have been through a lot with my students. This past semester alone I helped identify three suicidal students to the counselors. It isn’t easy, but I am satisfied that I have made the right choice. Finding myself in this profession is like being born again. I have a purpose, I have a passion, and I have a path.
And I no longer feel like a failure.