When I Knew

By Alisha Thompson
Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

There is a strong desire in me to become a great voice for educators through writing about the hot topics that are current and on the front burner of all things changing in education. Someday soon, I will get to that, but for now I will pen my educator testimony and tell my story, stepping stones, the journey toward this place I am now as an educator.

Teachers that have participated in any number of interviews would agree that they have answered the question, “When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?” Like, is that a date question, am I supposed to discuss a vision or transformation, a profession or declaration of my mission in life? That question was the the dreaded one for me. I do not recall an experience that solely sealed my decision to do the greatest work known to man.

The inclination of teaching came to me early on, although I never recognized it for what it was at the time. In the beginning, there were subtle hints that I was being called. How are you already born with the all the talents and gifts you’re going to need to fulfill the mission you’ve been given to do? As time passed, these signs became more apparent and outstanding and led me on my path.

Coincidentally, it began with my mother. She was called into a kindergarten parent meeting concerning my younger sister. Now, going down to the school wasn’t something that my parents wanted to do. Coming from an uneducated background left my parents with the idea that “the teacher knows best and we will not get involved.” The conversation was short and sweet. “Please ask your daughter, not to teach your kindergarten student. We are not covering that material yet.”

That’s when my mother knew.

Several years later, sitting in a Sunday School class as a teenager, I became aware of some changes that I wanted to see made in the class. One monotonous morning, after hearing the lesson begin in the same fashion as it had the last twenty-four Sundays, I thought I could do the lesson with better instructional practices. About 10 minutes in, I assertively asked the seasoned teacher if I may share something. After being granted permission, I walked to the front of the room, took up the piece of chalk being used, and finished Sunday school for him complete with charts, discussion, and ended with a group game.

That’s when he knew.

Fresh out of college, I was called for my first teaching position. The joy of changing the world flooded my soul. Touring the school, it was a beautiful building with clean glistening floors, spacious classrooms, and novel-inspired murals. As I followed the principal downstairs to the bottom level, the basement, the dungeon, I was introduced to my classroom. It was quaint, filled with storage furniture, and secluded, I was going to be alone, at the bottom, no one but me. Just as the principal left me with it, I said in my most courageous voice, “What curriculum will I use for the students?” Her response, “ Oh use whatever you want..”

Gulp. This room doesn’t have one book or supplemental resource, and Google wasn’t thought of yet.

That’s when I realized, I didn’t know.

Of course the first day of school I was so excited to be teaching. I anxiously awaited my first period academic intervention students. The bell signaled students to exit homeroom and the fourteen junior high students on my list made their way to me…and they were angry, very angry. Their schedules had just been given and administration had removed P.E. so that twelve eighth grade boys and two girls could get reading interventions and make them proficient by testing.

That’s when I realized I didn’t know.

Fast forward past the aggression, anger, and blatant hate the students had for my class, the one that took P.E. away, we began working toward learning. I, being the new teacher that I was, was also asked to be the school newspaper sponsor. These fourteen students became my newspaper staff for lack of curriculum. They became reporters, writers, and editors. Establishing a newspaper staff with at-risk students sounds like I worked a miracle and changed their lives forever. Contrary to that, we struggled everyday to produce ideas and sentences. The first publication came out. It was a labor of love. The kids sat and looked at their first edition, proud.

Tony, a tall, broad, athletic, and angry student sat there staring at his article. I had typed it as he dictated it to me a few weeks back. I said, “Tony aren’t you proud? Read your article to me.” He looked at me with big, brown, sad eyes and said, “I can’t.”

That’s when I realized, I didn’t know.

As the year continued, we produced four to five school newspapers. They were not high caliber. They were not masterpieces or examples of extensive research or well-thought out interviews, but it was real and productive and it belonged to them.

The last edition, Tony and I had written about the basketball season. He wanted to put himself in the write-up quite a bit. The edition rolled out and sold quickly.

As we sat and read our last publication, Tony said, “Mrs. Thompson, do you want to hear my article?”

He began, “This…season…the basketball…team….won…”

That’s when I knew.

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