I can never pinpoint a single reason I chose teaching, but sometimes I wish I could. When I listen to fellow educators recount their stories, I always search my rolodex of memories hoping to find a singular event that catapulted me towards a life of education. While I just can’t seem to settle on one experience, I do often think of the teacher that planted the seed of teaching.
I had wonderful teachers at every public school I went to, but one teacher in particular who spoke something into my life early on was Mrs. Virginia Peterson. Mrs. Peterson was my joyful eighth-grade English teacher who excited us with engaging content while also developing our written communication skills. She was pretty sneaky like that. It’s no wonder my favorite subject in school was English.
One class assignment had us create poems on air balloon-shaped construction paper. Our “Who Am I” poems explored our personalities, desires, hopes and dreams. I’d brought my poem up to her for feedback and had quickly received her stamp of approval to begin the final draft.
As I walked back to my desk, Mrs. Peterson said, “I see you want to be a computer programmer when you grow up.” I replied, “Yes ma’am. I love computers.” Her next words laid dormant in me for nearly 10 years, but they stuck nonetheless. She tilted her head to the side, smiled, looked over her glasses, and said, “I think you’d make a wonderful eighth-grade English teacher.” I laughed at the thought of being a teacher, especially a middle school one and sauntered back to my desk to finish my poem.
Fast forward to August 2008,I accepted a job offer from Judson Independent School District. I’d just finished up my undergraduate program at Texas Lutheran University (Go Bulldogs!) in December 2007 and was working as a pre-K-3 teacher for the Head Start program. It still hadn’t quite dawned on me that I’d become a teacher after telling Mrs. Peterson that it would not happen. Oh, the irony…
I arrived on campus for my first day and received my new teaching assignment. They had to make some changes, so I was going to be teaching a different grade than they’d originally told me. It didn’t bother me one bit though because I was just excited to have a teaching job. The assistant principal shook my hand, smiled warmly and said, “Hi, Ms. Bethany. You’ll be teaching eighth-grade English this year.” Immediately, my mind darted to Mrs. Peterson standing in front of her long rectangular table, looking at me over the rim of her glasses, speaking into my life what would become some of the best years of my career.
I don’t know where Mrs. Peterson is today, but I wish I could thank her. She may have been joking around that day in English class, but she planted a seed in my life that blossomed into something I was able to use to reach a multitude of children. I still can’t give you the one reason I do what I do, but I can tell you that it is because of teachers like Mrs. Virginia Peterson and their words of affirmation that I know what it takes to be a witness and advocate for students everywhere.