I’m a teacher. I can say this now, midway through my eighteenth year at the head of my inner-city, high school classroom. But I did not feel like a teacher for a long time and I’m still sometimes surprised to find myself here, considering the circuitous route that deposited me before of all of these expectant faces at the tender age of 45.
My job, I’m told, is to prepare my pupils for a future filled with “college, career, and life.” So students are often asked to ponder what their lives might look like 10, 15, 20 years down the road.
“What should you consider when choosing a career?” I ask.
Blank faces all around.
“You will spend more time working than doing anything else. If you don’t enjoy your job, life can be depressing.”
“Think of the adults you know,” I urge. “How many times have you heard them say they hate their jobs?”
A few heads turn. One child nods. Then another. A hand in the back goes up. “Ms. Montgomery, why’d you become a teacher?” The dark-haired boy grinned, incredulous that anyone would love my chosen profession. “Do you really enjoy this?”
All eyes are on me.
I was one of those “professional people” who thought life in the classroom would be easy. And since I’d devoted a few decades to officiating amateur-level sports, I had spent a great deal of time around kids. The teacher-thing should be cake, I’d incorrectly opined.
With a background as a TV and print reporter, I barged into my first classroom, bursting with the knowledge my video-journalism students needed to conquer the world. My deadlines and standards were strict and unyielding.
I know what your thinking. “Good for you, teach! Be tough on those kids. The world is a harsh place and they need to be ready!”
And, you’re right. However, I forgot to consider that I was dealing with children who were confronting all sorts of heartache forced on them by the poverty in which most of them live.
I was compelled to recognize my error early one morning when a shy boy was, once again, tardy for class. Frustrated at his constant losing battle with the clock, I took him outside where I berated him for his inability to get to my room on time.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, not meeting my eye. “It’s just that…”
“There are no excuses for being late,” I pontificated. “When I was in television, I couldn’t be one second late getting on the set. If the red camera light went on and I wasn’t in my seat, what do you think would have happened?
“I would have been fired!” I said, not giving him a chance to respond.
He nodded, still staring at the ground. “I’ll do better. But…”
“But what?” I crossed my arms.
“It’s just that . . . I’m never sure where I’ll be sleeping.”
“I stayed on my uncle’s coach last night, and I didn’t realize how long it would take to get to school.” Brown eyes looked past me.
Though I’d seen them often enough driving to school, I’d never known a homeless person. The child before me was living on the streets and here I was chastising him for being a few minutes late.
It was then that I learned there was more to this teaching gig than imparting information. All these years later, I am still strict and, admittedly, demanding, but now I realize my job also entails getting to know my young charges, seeing the world through their eyes, and trying in every way possible to make the future look a whole lot prettier than the present.
“How do we pick a career?” I ask my students.
They consider the question.
“Find something you like to do,” I say. “Something you’re good at. And something someone will pay you to do. Then, you will enjoy life.”
I should know.
Anne Montgomery’s novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other? The Scent of Rain is available at https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780996390149 and wherever books are sold.