As a teacher, I have learned to expect the unexpected. Leaning in over my desk, he almost whispered his question to me. Had I gone to college? Now we all bring different life experiences to the table. I noted he was sincere so I quickly wondered how much detail to give him. With some bemusement, I quipped back to the 15 year old that indeed, I had gone to college. I made light of it and remarked that no one had found me in the parking lot and directed me to a third floor classroom to teach German. He followed with another question about how long it took me to finish college.
With some quick thinking, I proceeded to answer him. I said I did not follow the normal route many students in the U.S. do. The storyteller inside me wanted to include all the details of taking a longer and more circuitous route to finish. I started my mental math. Two and one half years undergraduate years then off to Germany for three years. Back again to the US and graduate work before full-time teaching and a move. More mental math. All total, I calculated it took me about 13-14 years to earn five degrees in German and become a German teacher . Words that come to mind would be resoluteness, fortitude and perseverance.
I was not prepared for the look of disbelief on this young man’s face when he heard how long it had taken me to “finish” college and become a teacher. His incredulity told me that I must be either very dumb or very slow to have taken all that time to finish college. I smiled and told him that, of course, it is possible to finish in four years and to find a job. Trying to explain the merits of being a life-long learner to a tenth grader was more information than he wanted. So I left the story at that.
Would I have done it differently if I could have? No. Probably not. I knew I wanted to teach and have never regretted the routes I took towards achieving those goals. There is some sense of satisfaction and fulfillment which comes with seeing things through, persevering and lots of hard work. A sense of accomplishment. Today I was asked by another class about how many places I had taught. After some thought, I finally sat down and told them as they counted. Who knows? Maybe I have planted the seeds for other future teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, life-long learners, leaders and global citizens. By sharing with others about our experiences, we learn more about ourselves in the process. I routinely give the “talk” about being successful in college and beyond. Work hard. Organize. Manage your time. And don’t forget to have fun. Finding a good balance is important.