A throwback. And the road ahead

I mentioned this in a post last fall but this academic year marks my 29th year of teaching. 29 years! Kind of wild to look back over the last three decades and think about the students with whom I’ve worked and the experiences I’ve had. Before I decided to become a teacher, I sat down and did some soul searching. I was in an engineering program and while I enjoyed the coursework, I couldn’t envision working in the field. So, I changed majors and went into teaching. At the time, I proposed two questions that would guide my professional decision making moving forward. I’d like to say they’re groundbreaking or mind blowing, but they’re not.

  1. Will this bring me joy?
  2. Can I make a difference?

That’s it. Pretty simple stuff. Have fun. Try to make an impact.

And so, I’ve attempted to apply these questions to my career and to my life. Sometimes, I’ve misjudged what would bring me joy. Sometimes, I’ve overestimated my ability to make a difference. But for the most part, they’ve helped me make (mostly) good decisions over the last 29 years.

This weekend, I was reminded of one of the first instances of needing to apply these questions professionally. A former student reached out and sent me a news article and some pictures from early in my career. When you’re a first-year teacher, you get asked to do a lot of things. Can you chaperone this trip? Can you supervise this activity? Can you be the advisor for this club? And that’s how I became the coach for the school’s science team.

When I weighed my decision to take on that role, I considered my options. In the end, I thought it would fun (question #1) and that maybe I could have an impact (question #2). But I have to admit I was pretty intimidated by the role. I was working with some really smart students and I had to prepare them to participate in different science-based competitions at the local and state level. Was I up to the task? Would the students be open to taking feedback from a beginning teacher who really didn’t know what he was doing?

The photos and news article tell the story. The students were really successful. Ultimately, several of the students received medals at the state competition and they were featured in the local newspaper receiving a commendation from a state congressman. The former student shared these throwback memories because her mother was cleaning out their basement and wondered whether she’d like to have them. And she shared them with me. And while they offered a great lens to the beginning years of my career, they also offered me a view of the road ahead. As I stare down the remaining ten or so years of my career, there are still tons of opportunities for me to make an impact and to find joy in my work. And there are still more memories to make.

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