I’m applying to graduate school this week. I earned my Master in Secondary Education back in 2o12. I thought that would be it for me, but it seems like opportunity has begun knocking upon my door again. I’ve decided to answer it–this time in the form of a Education Specialist degree (Ed.S.).
Part of an application to graduate school includes a letter of intent. In this 2-3 page essay, I am supposed to give my life story. Where did I come from? What were my goals? What do I hope to achieve? Ayi, ayi, ayi! I feel like the dumbest person on the Earth as I sit down to try to hash this out every day.
What is my origin story? How did I become an educator? I wasn’t bitten by a bug…or a spider (literally, anyway). I did not endure a large parental tragedy that left my seeking revenge on the criminals of the city. I also did not survive some sort of nuclear science experiment, but I do have an origin story. We all do. Here’s mine.
I grew up in small town Texas. Compared to some of the other surrounding areas, I was in the big city, but truthfully, it was small town. Every one knew every one. My state of knowing others was compounded by the fact that my mother grew up there and my grandparents had lived in the community for many years. We could not go to a restaurant or movie without seeing someone my parents or my grandparents knew. We would run into people from church, from sports, from work, from school. It was neverending. Sounds quaint, right? Not to me. Part of the problem with everyone knowing everyone is that everyone knows everyone…or at least thinks they do.
I went to several elementary schools when I was growing up. We would move to a new neighborhood, and I would move to a new school. Where most people would view this a fresh start, it wasn’t. I always ended up at a school that either knew me or knew my parents. For my brother this wasn’t so bad. He was popular and likeable, but I was THAT girl. I was sickly, overweight, and uncoordinated. I suffered from severe allergies, asthma, and my undiagnosed heriditary angioedema (HAE). I would miss a lot of school which put me on a lot of “teacher” lists.
“She’s smart. She’s just lazy.”
“I don’t think your daughter should be in honors reading. Yes, I understand she reads grade levels ahead, but she just misses too much class. Yes, I understand her TAAS scores are high and she’s in our GT program.”
“I’m not sure she should go to college. I’m not sure she would make it. Perhaps she should stay close to home. Maybe try to get a job.”
Little did these teachers know just how sick I was. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I endured tests and unnecessary surgeries in an attempt to figure out what was going on. (Because of my rare condition, I wouldn’t find out what it was until my thirties).
The way teachers reacted to me in class didn’t help my social life. Given the fact that doctors would prescribe steroids to control my asthma or unexplained abdominal pain (that turned out to be HAE), I was puffy and larger than most students my age. I was called “fatso” and “ugly.” One of my most horrific memories was when I received my period early (5th grade), which meant I had to carry feminine products with me to school in my purse. One day, this blonde popular student began ridiculing me in the cafeteria. She stole my purse, looked inside to see if I had anything worth taking, and pulled out my small supply of pads and tampons. I was horrified. She then ran around the cafeteria calling me out and teasing me for no longer being a girl. Suddenly something that was supposed to be celebrated became my scarlet letter. I never quite recovered. I was in a small town and stuck with these people through high school. I was always THAT girl.
I suppose my origin moment, my spider bite, came when I was a junior in high school. I actually heard my high school counselor call me a loser in front of another student. I was mortified. If I had been more confident and wiser to what was expected of adults in that position, I would have reacted differently. However, all I knew was shame, and after years of being called a “loser” by my classmates and apparently adults. I actually finally believed it. It led me to make decisions that I am not proud of but led me to understand the desperation of teenagers later on.
Loser or not, I went to college anyway.
And I flourished.
I was challenged. No one knew me, so it was a fresh start. A Brand Spanking New Beginning. I became president of clubs. I was an officer in other clubs. I made very good grades…better than I ever made in high school (and I didn’t make bad grades in high school). I cared about what I was doing. I was still sickly, but the flexible schedule helped tremendously. I had a group of incredible friends and extremely encouraging professors. Encouraging. Wow! What a difference that made!
When I graduated, I went on to a successful career in sales. (I know, the social outcast becomes marketer–crazy, right?)
After Madeleine was born, I decided that I would go back to school to become a teacher. I had work to do and wrongs to make right. I vowed that if I was ever in a classroom that my one daily goal would be that EVERY student felt safe in my classroom. EVERY student would feel valued, and EVERY student would feel encouraged. No student would ever feel like a loser. If they learned some skills along the way—great! But if they felt valued, safe, and like they could do anything, then THAT would make the real difference, and it would allow them to learn more than they thought possible.
And that was it. A high school counselor referred to me as a loser. I vowed that no student in my classroom would EVER feel that way from me.
I won’t write most of this in my letter of intent (or at least I’ll work to put it down more eloquently than I did here), but it’s true. I became the teacher I am because someone did not value me. It gave me the will, strength, and determination to value others.