Menu Close

Why I Still Teach

About 3 months after I graduated from high school in 1978 I suffered a very serious accident in the home where I grew up. My brother had run out into the garage, and in doing so, had pushed the kitchen door open as wide as it would go. This door had a heavy spring closer on it, and pushing the door that far open meant a house rattling slam was coming unless I could stop the door first. I instinctively reached out my hand to catch the door, but instead of my palm contacting the door’s wooden frame, it impacted the pane of glass in the center of the door.

Over the 18 years I lived in that house I had probably done that hundreds of times, but this time my hand shattered the glass and even ripped through the wire screen on the other side of the window.  The glass ripped open the underside of my wrist and severed the ulnar nerves, tendons, and arteries. Thanks to a quick-thinking neighbor I didn’t bleed to death before the EMS arrived.

paramedic working on an ambulance
paramedic working on an ambulance

I’ll save the details of this for another day, but suffice it to say that this event sent my life in a very different direction, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the accident sent Becky in my direction. Less than 2 years after my accident we were married. I was 20, she was 19, and we thought we were grownups.

Over the next 12 years, I worked in industrial and commercial sales. The money was enough to live on and our economic future looked promising, but it wasn’t. (Had I been a real grownup I would have known that.)

The 1980s were a time when many once-profitable businesses started closing their doors which resulted in many people like me finding themselves out of work. Having just a high school diploma at a time of rising unemployment meant my earning potential was very limited.

In 1992 I met some college students that were older than me. In talking to them about their experience of going back to school a crazy idea began to form in my head. I wasn’t sure I was smart enough to be successful in college, and I was afraid that I had lost much of what I had learned in high school. Both fears proved groundless.

Stylish young students walking down on stairs of college corridor.Teenager in campus.
Stylish young students walking down on stairs of college corridor.Teenager in campus.

I started off as a criminal justice major, but within a few weeks, I realized that was not going to be my career. One of my professors, a retired homicide detective, told my class to get the idea out of our heads that we were going to helping people. “You won’t work with people,” he said. “You’ll be working with the scum of the earth and doing so on the worst days of their lives.”

As a 32-year-old freshman with a wife, 3 kids, and a mortgage I wasn’t going to drop any classes and further delay getting out of school, so I stuck the CJ classes out.

After classes, some of my classmates would meet for coffee in the cafeteria and discuss the days’ lessons. The teachers were decent enough guys, but they were not experienced educators, so the lessons were not always clear.

In the cafeteria, I became the go-to person to explain what was taught in the classes that day. After doing so I often had students tell me that I had a knack for explaining things in a way that anyone could understand.  After hearing this kind of comment over and over another crazy idea began to form in my mind.

I could be a teacher.

Male teacher and teenage young students talking during a break in classroom
Male teacher and teenage young students talking during a break in classroom

All I had to do was to go to school full-time year-round for nearly 4 years while somehow making enough money to keep my family alive.

About 3 years and 4 months after I started college, I graduated from the University of Houston. On my last day of classes, I had a trio of three-hour final exams and 2 job interviews that resulted in my first teaching position. It was a school where I would work for the next 12 years.

At the beginning of my first year, I remember hearing someone say that it takes 5 years to become a good teacher. I remember telling my mentor that I wanted to be a good teacher right away.

I wasn’t, of course, but I kept at it year after year.

More than 2 decades later I still want to be a good teacher. Some days I think I am, but a lot of days I’m not so sure.

I am most confident of my success whenever I consider the enduring friendships I enjoy with the former students I’ve taught over the last 21 years. It is those friendships that inspire me to continue in the job.

Some of my former students are firmly into middle age and have growing families. They seem so grown up, but then looking in the mirror, and seeing the kid that looks back at me, I am reminded of how looks can be deceiving.