I had big dreams. After graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Journalism and already a decently impressive resume at the age of 25, I was well on my way to achieving those dreams. The dreams were ESPN The Magazine or Sports Illustrated.
But when I received a job offer for a sports writing position at The Macon Telegraph, a newspaper I’d interned at a few years prior, I turned it down. I decided to stay in LaGrange, Georgia, working for The LaGrange Daily News, a small newspaper that certainly wouldn’t propel me to sports writing stardom.
Then my dreams began to change.
In October of 2005, I had to write the most difficult sports stories I’d ever written. Dazman Anderson, the quarterback of one of the high school teams I covered, was was fatally shot in the back. I interviewed students and staff for dozens of stories throughout the aftermath of Dazman’s death. They were heartbroken. I was heartbroken. I began to learn more and more about the teenage population in Troup County, Georgia, and the issues they faced.
I wanted to be part of the solution.
So one afternoon after interviewing a coach after baseball practice, I sat with him on a picnic table and our conversation turned towards me.
“Natalie, you’re so good with these kids,” he said.
I thanked him, and said I loved covering high school sports, and I loved the kids in Troup County. That’s why I didn’t take the job in Macon.
“No, it’s more than that,” he said. “You really care about these kids. You’d make an outstanding teacher.”
Between the coach’s words, and a stirring from the Holy Spirit, it didn’t take long for me to agree to change my career path. I would be a high school English teacher. This was an especially easy path in Georgia, given their extreme shortage of teachers.
I was accepted into the Master of Arts in Teaching program at LaGrange College, had an informal interview with the principal of Troup County Comprehensive High School, and within a few months I was teaching high school English.
My journey through the world as an English teacher could be a book, even though my stint as a teacher was short-lived. Two years in Georgia, three and a half years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and one year in Uganda, and I was done with teaching.
Aside from teaching, I’ve been a Crime Beat Reporter. A Sports Reporter. A Marketing Assistant, a Customer Compliance Administrator, a Communications Coordinator, and currently, a Director of Marketing and Donor Engagement. Not to mention years of being a waitress and working at Dairy Queen through college.
No, I haven’t done it all. But I know enough to know this- teachers work hard. I even feel comfortable saying they work harder than most, if not all, of the rest of us.
Teaching is hard. The hours are awful because they never actually end. The hour of “planning” teachers get each day is usually filled with professional development or other meetings. Teachers spend hours and hours on nights and weekends grading papers and planning for what’s next. They hunt down parents who need to know their child is struggling. They send home notes of praise when a child is performing well.
Teachers not only teach, but they counsel. Children don’t leave their issues from home at the classroom door, they bring them into the classroom with them, and sometimes their teacher is the only one who says, “I’m here for you.”
My job description said I was to teach literature, composition, and grammar. But it was so, so much more than that.
I had a student whose mother had been murdered. By her father.
I had a student dealing drugs so mom could pay the rent.
I had a student who wanted more than anything to get pregnant so she would feel loved by someone.
I had a student who wanted to go to jail so he would have some structure in his life.
I had many students whose parents told them they were worthless.
I had a student whose twin brother committed suicide.
I had dozens of female students who had abortions because their mothers insisted on it. Multiple abortions.
I had a student who was shot over Christmas break, survived, but knew those same people were still after him.
I had a student hauled away from school in handcuffs and placed in the back of a squad car. I never saw him again.
I had female students who cut themselves.
I had male students who told me they wanted to die.
And my job, and the job of my co-workers, was to teach them. English. History. Math. Art. Music. Science. Everything those kids carry into the classroom, and it’s the teacher’s job to get them to focus on education.
But more than that, the job is to get them to pass a test.
When I taught in Georgia, my school took a, “We can do this, and we’re in it together” approach to standardized testing. But when I taught in Indiana, it was more of a, “Your students better pass or you’re in trouble.”
Still, I loved teaching. It was incredibly fulfilling. I loved my students, and, for the most part, my students loved me.
So why did I leave teaching mid-year in 2011? It wasn’t the students. It was politics. Administration. Not being able to teach how I best know how. Standardized testing. The list goes on and on.
As education continues to get worse and teachers keep losing battles with administrations who don’t support them, schools will lose good teachers.
I was a good teacher. Maybe I wasn’t a great English teacher, but I was a good teacher. I know this because I still hear from former students, both from Georgia and Indiana who say, “Miss Trout, you believed in me when no one else did. Thank you.”
I hear from students who just got out of jail who say, “I’m going to start living right, Miss Trout,” because they want to make me proud.
Just today a former student gave me a shout out on Facebook saying, “I appreciate Miss Trout for teaching me in 9th grade and always keeping me positive.”
And that makes it all worth it. All I ever wanted was to make an impact on some students, and I did.
Don’t forget that each teacher in your child’s life also wants to make an impact. No one goes into teaching for the money or the prestige. Teaching has neither of those. People go into teaching because they care.
I’ve never worked as hard as I did when I was a teacher. So, today, I’d like to thank all of the teachers in my life. The ones who taught me. The ones I taught with. The ones I taught who will one day teach others. Happy National Teacher Day from an ex-teacher who will forever admire the work you continue to do.