While teaching isn’t something I talk about on my blog often, teaching my students is a huge and very happy part of my life. I do believe students deserve their privacy which is why posts on this topic are very infrequent and limited. However, I love the people I get to work with and if you ever have questions about my job: I’d love to share!
I always wanted to make sure that my job wasn’t just a job, I wanted something that made me feel like I was contributing and had a cause I could get behind from day one.
As a freshman packing for college, my career had to be so obviously earth shattering that people knew I was going to make an impact on the world around me; this is incredibly prideful and immature, but I digress. So, I made sure to even tell God about my grand plans which included never being a teacher because that is the most seemingly logical thing a 17-year-old freshman in college does.
I was sitting in a broadcasted fireside when I heard this quote in 2007 and it ended up being a driving force for finding what was truly my contribution: “You can do something else for another person that no one else born can do.” Ironically, in that same meeting, I remember writing out my 5-10 year plan for graduating and becoming a nurse (this phase only lasted a few months).
I decided on a major to become a something else. My life was planned out and I had a five and 10 year plan to prove it. However, I slowly became disenchanted with my something else major and didn’t want to admit to it. I felt my heart tugging in a different direction and I felt a different need to contribute. Over the next few years, I tried out a variety of something elses.
For the most part, I loved my experience. However, I was totally in the cadaver lab for anatomy once when the electricity died and I would be lying if I told you I just got to the point six years later where I can cook with raw chicken again; you think I am joking or exaggerating, but I am not!
In every church I attended, literally every for years, I was asked to teach Sunday school and finally I threw my hands up in the air and told God that the message was loud and clear.
The summer before my senior year of college I decided I was going to be a Special Education teacher. Not only did I want to be a teacher, but I wanted to pursue the most stereotypically burned out category of teaching. I taught for two and a half years in this capacity in an elementary, middle and high school. I taught children how to read, I comforted children after they were bullied, and I made friendships with some very, very dear students. I felt I was contributing to the world in such a tangibly real way! However, I was also beginning to feel like I was drowning in paperwork and a sea of red tape of potential liabilities. Seventy hour weeks were becoming a norm with testing portfolios and I felt like our family life balance was greatly suffering with Devin already working those hours or more.
I had put in over 1000 job applications in three years and the next school year would be at a different school. I thought a lot about leaving teaching for good, but I literally felt I was losing a part of my self. This is the part where I tell you that God always has a backup plan and sometimes those backup plans were really “the plan” the whole time.
The summer before my junior year of high school my family moved to the country.
Then one day the farmer next door began building a shed. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out why he was building it right in front of our house when he owned a lot of land, but we figured it was an office of some sort; the building was one room and probably about 1000 square feet. So, imagine our surprise one day when a large van that had been previously owned by a daycare was parked in front of our house. Even more so, when we found that 20 men from Mexico were going to call this tiny place home.
Please also imagine my Dad’s expression when his high school daughter explained that the men next door were showering in a see through green house. I ran in the house embarrassed and my Dad called the farmer immediately and explained it was inappropriate not to offer private bathroom facilities at least for the men; they had indoor plumbing that week.
This is the story of how I lived in a rural town in Kentucky, but across the street I saw a developing country everyday.
Dad mowed his lawn sometimes twice a week. All ten acres. Twice a week. It started out with Dad trying to gesture with his hands and feet to our neighbors that they could play soccer on it. I was taking a basic Spanish course and so I ended up being the liaison between the two homes. When I was in our yard or leaving the house, a chorus of Mexican men always yelled “Otoño! (my name is Spanish)”
If I was going somewhere, they wanted to know where. If they had someone over, we always would peek out our window because the music would start playing and it was literally the loudest thing our family had ever heard. Life was so simple next door, but it was literally a party every day.
We became very spoiled.
If I painted the porch, I had a ton of men come out to help me with the task. If my Mom left the home to mow the lawn, a team of mean was gesturing for her to get off and would mow our lawn. If they saw my Dad bring home mulch, they helped my Dad mulch 40 trees.
My family watched in fascination that little acts of kindness turned into this. After their 12 hour shifts, they often came to work or play at our house and we exchanged kindness back. Also, my parents began growing really, really hot peppers in the garden for them.
I came home to my Dad playing football video games with Nando.
I came home to my Dad teaching men how to ride the tractor.
I came home to my Dad loading shot gun shells with a group of men.
I came home to questions in Spanish about English words.
I came home to people asking if they could practice their English.
We lived in this magical world where kindness was currency and the missionaries in our church started teaching the men lessons. Several hours a week I’d go to their humble home and we’d talk in Spanish for hours every week. Until I went to college, these men became an extension of our family.
I saw heart ache and marginalization in a way that I was too naïve to know previously existed. I will never forget when one of the men showed me his wrist that had been slit with a tobacco scythe, completely stitched up, as he explained that he would have to work the next day or he could lose his job; he was in his late 50s.
I’ll always remember sitting on the back porch with my Dad and explaining how I couldn’t figure out my life or what I wanted to do with it. He said, “Autumn, why don’t you teach ESL (English as a Second Language)? This is something that really changes people’s lives.”
I told him: “I would love that, but there aren’t any jobs for that around here though” and he responded “so, that’s why you need to make one.”
…and Dad, truer words have never been said.
On my last day of teaching in the school system, I said a quick prayer and said “hey God, I’ve really been through the ringer this year and if you don’t want me to pursue ESL or grad school please just let me get rejected. If you want me to go, but want me to have a different time frame let me just get in. You can help me figure out the rest, but please just make this super easy for me.”
That night I received my email saying I had been accepted to grad school.
Going to grad school in a big city was always a day dream of mine, but by the time applying came around I felt absolutely paralyzed. I had researched this program for three years before I applied and knew from day one that I wanted to do it. However, also being a very practical person I resented that applying to grad school meant a world of sacrifices and emptying our nest egg of savings.
Part of me was afraid to go for my dream and the other part of me was afraid that if I did go for it that I would fail.
I graduated with my master’s in May 2016. It was the best of times and it was the worse of times. I studied more than I ever have, pushed myself so hard, stared at my computer after my brain had gone blank and I needed to muster up what felt like a million more words worth of writing. I prayed a lot and asked for more strength.
I can’t believe that I have now taught ESL for over two years. Those two years have gone quickly. I’ve learned so much about myself. More than that though, I’ve learned that I have a lot to be grateful for and I’ve learned people who are Doctors and dentists in their home countries will be house maids to have the opportunity to be here. I work with people everyday who know they need to learn English and know it will improve their jobs and opportunities. I work with people who give up the only free time they have, away from their children, to go to night classes to learn.
I work with amazing people.
When people ask me what I do and what I love, I can honestly say that they heavily overlap. I love learning about other cultures, I love contributing, I love feeling that I am helping other people. My job is more than teaching, but also showing my students what kind of medicine they need when they are sick in a foreign country (here). It is more than culture nuances, but laughing hysterically when a word I’ve said in English sounds really similar to something highly sexual in their language (if we ever meet and grab lunch, I will tell you this story). My students come to me for dating advice when they are baffled by our culture and tell me about the miracles they’ve had happen that make their lives easier.
My students have become more than people I teach classes to in the evenings, but rather, they’ve become friends.
I am so proud to say: I am an ESL teacher.