I’m sure everyone grew up dreaming about their perfect job like I did. In middle school, I wanted to be a plastic surgeon or a fashion designer. In high school, an author or a reporter for a travel magazine. I always envisioned myself in a quaint apartment in New York City, rushing to work everyday and documenting the lives of the seeds of the Big Apple. Several friends thought of me as the Carrie Bradshaw of the group, minus the blonde tresses and the sex column (and the excessive puns…).
Enter college, the land of revelation. Your dreams become dictated by dollars, not desire, as I experienced my sophomore year when I struggled, emotionally, through a semester of business classes I hated. On some level, I knew that pursuing a business degree was my way of saying to my parents, “Are you happy?” and not, “This makes me happy.” Don’t get me wrong, my parents never pushed me into business. I just thought I’d make them proud if I could snag a very well-paid job in (again) NYC, because that’s what I’ve been conditioned to think all along.
But like I said, I despised endless hours of accounting problems and e-mailing my T.A. every two minutes for help on my statistics homework. Enthusiastically, I packed my bags and moved back into the College of Arts and Sciences.
You can read my bio or take a peek at resume to see that I’ve immersed myself in the chaotic, volatile world of journalism. Unless you really pay attention to my work experience, though, you would never guess that I’m a huge advocate of education.
That’s why I applied to Teach For America, and through (I’m guessing) divine intervention, I got accepted. Nevertheless, I’ve been indecisive about the whole thing, namely, I’ve been wrestling with the question, which career path do I stay on? Journalism? Education? None of the above?
So when President Obama spoke about education as the future in his State of the Union address, I couldn’t resist. Granted, Obama has a certain verbal magnetism that can make your jaw drop even if you’re an acolyte of Glenn Beck, but what matters is not that he’s eloquent or assertive–there’s truth in his words.
“After parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom,” was one of many things he said about education, and yet, I feel it’s something that either we choose not to understand or to underestimate.
On average, a student spends 8 hours a week at school 180 days a year (at least in Texas, where I attended school) for at least 18 years. That’s 25,920 hours, or a lot of time with some adult a kid is obliged to address as Mr. or Ms, not Mommy or Daddy.
Luckily, school was my second home. Most teachers instilled a passion for learning in me, and the best ones made me fall in love with the subject they loved as well. Even the terrible ones were not so bad in the end–their subpar teaching methods were helpful in pinpointing the flaws of any education system.
“A child’s education begins 100 years before that child is born,” is a quote I found on Twitter (though I like to think it found me) and perhaps the most powerful description of one’s role in the evolution of education. It has served as my motivation ever since.
In making my decision, I evaluated all of the aforementioned factors and a few others. I thought about my dreams as a young girl, the dreams encouraged by my parents and teachers. I thought about the many times I told my mom I’d one day live in New York and, after my first million, buy her whatever she wanted. I thought about my peers in high school and their own aspirations. I thought about Julio, the 8th grader I tutored who was shy, yet smart, even if his teachers didn’t think so. I thought about my semi-fear of public speaking and the joy of being surrounded by tons of little rascals.
The choice was clear. Say hello to Ms. Martinez, 2011 Teach For America corps member.