It is a truth universally acknowledged that a high school student applying to college must be aware of her major and probable future career.
As a result, for longer than she can remember, the girl has been asked by numerous friends and even more numerous relatives what she wants to be when she grows up (or, later, the subject in which she will major in college). From year to year, the answers vary widely – from a veterinarian (one trip to a local cow farm cured that) to the first female President. But in the back of her mind, the idea of teaching always percolated. It was her fallback answer, when she could not think of anything else to be.
It started when she was young, maybe six or seven, and she sat in the front of church for a children’s lesson. The pastor was explaining to all of the children how everyone should use the gifts and abilities God gave them. He gives some examples by telling a few children the talents they have, and how they might use them. He looks at the girl and says, “You’re nice, and you like to help other people. Maybe you could be a teacher.” Her mother is a teacher, too, but this does not deter the girl – on the contrary, she likes the idea of being “just like Mommy.”
As she gets older, though, the idea fades and becomes less appealing. She continues to change her mind almost as often as the weather in Wisconsin changes: first a private investigator, then a singer in a rock band, then a writer, then a missionary. Still, though, she thinks about teaching. As she gets to middle school and receives the reputation of “smart kid,” she starts helping her classmates with their homework during classes, study hall, or on the rare occasions when they even call her house. She likes the feeling of being needed.
One specific instance stands out in her mind even years later. A fellow eighth-grader and friend, Hailey, calls for math homework help. When Hailey and the girl are about halfway through the problems, Hailey says, “I’m smarter than I thought I was!”
“Yeah, that’s what most people say when they ask for help.”
“Yeah,” Hailey concedes (with the advanced vocabulary all thirteen-year-olds seem to have), “but you explain things in a way people can get them. You’re good at that.”
The girl positively glows for the rest of the evening.
Eighth grade and most of high school pass. At this point, she is positive about her college major: Secondary Education with an English emphasis. She will be a high school English teacher. For Winterim during her senior year, she interns at her middle school alma mater. She teaches fifth grade Spelling, eighth grade Literature (they read The Diary of Anne Frank), and helps her mother teach music to the fifth-through-eighth-graders.
She teaches all kinds of literary devices to the eighth-graders: plot diagramming, static vs. dynamic characters, symbols, foreshadowing, etc. Despite the fact that there are only five in the class (or maybe because of it), they all participate when she asks them to do so. As she teaches, it feels as natural as breathing. One day, they discuss point of view and character bias. She asks them if they think Anne’s description of the events she records are accurate. They look slightly confused, so she uses her favorite musical, Wicked, as an example.
“How many of you have heard of the musical Wicked?” One or two raise their hands. “Well, it’s the story of The Wizard of Oz, but told from the Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view. It explains why she became so ‘wicked,’ all the characters’ backstories, and things like that. Now, if you saw both musicals, whom do you think would have a more accurate picture of what happened in Oz? Dorothy or the Witch?”
One boy, Ross, replies, “The Witch,” immediately.
But another boy, Luke, raises his hand and says, “Wait, wouldn’t it be… kinda both?”
The girl (almost a woman; her eighteenth birthday is less than two weeks away) hides her excitement and asks, “Why would it be both?”
“Well, they’re both… you know, different…” He struggles with the words, but the girl can see that he understands the concept.
“That’s exactly right,” she says with a smile, and goes on to explain that every character has some kind of bias about the events of a story. This little memory sticks with her for the rest of the internship and afterward. She truly feels like a teacher, called to instruct adolescents. Luke's ability to think critically makes her so proud of “her” students.
When she thinks about it now, the girl realizes that these three people are rather unlikely influences. As she got older, she disliked the pastor’s personality. She and Hailey are friends, but never best friends. Luke did not seem like the sharpest sword in the armory, and his older sister had made the girl’s life a nightmare during middle school. Nonetheless, she was “ever sensible of the warmest gratitude” toward the three—who, by their brief interactions, had been the means of uniting the girl with her calling.