Well, most of us want to be rock stars and dolphin trainers and astronauts when we grow up.
I, on the other hand, had completely different dreams for myself when I was a kid.
In the fifth grade, I decided I wanted to be a laboratory technician when I grew up.
Isn’t that what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Sure, this may have seemed like an odd career choice for a ten-year-old girl – especially for a ten-year-old girl like myself.
I had a lot of hobbies at the time, but performing science experiments was not particularly one of them. I had no interest in dissecting animals. And, well, I probably couldn’t have told you the difference between the periodic table and a dining room table.Let’s just say, my pursuits were not exactly intellectual.
For example, I really enjoyed dressing up farm animals in doll clothes. (And, seriously, if you never dressed a goat in a dress when you were a kid, then you obviously did the whole childhood thing wrong. Just saying.)
I was also pretty good at hot gluing stuff together. In fact, I would say I could wield a hot glue gun better than most fifth graders I knew — mostly because I was the only fifth grader I knew who was allowed to play with a hot glue gun.
And, despite never having received any formal dance training in my life, I fancied myself something of a dancer. Mind you, I tried to get some training, but when I asked my mother if I could take dance lessons she informed me that I was not “the graceful type” and that she wasn’t about to “throw away good money.”
Not one to give up easily when it came to proving my mother wrong, I spent months in my bedroom secretly working on an interpretative jazz routine to Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach.” I felt the song really embodied my own fierce defiance of parental prohibitions. Plus, the lyrics lent themselves to a showstopper of a finale in which I’d pull a Cabbage Patch Doll from under my shirt to symbolize the baby I was “gonna keep.” I was planning on making the big public debut of my performance just as soon as I finished hot gluing my costume together.But then pollination changed my life.
That year, I was the only student in the entire class to get a hundred percent on the final science exam. It had been my accurate labeling of a stamen that had secured my perfect score.
What can I say, I knew a thing or two about the birds and the bees. (The real birds and the bees that is — not the figurative ones. The figurative ones would continue to confuse me for, ummm, ever. I mean, are the girls supposed to be the birds in this scenario and the guys are the bees? Or is it the other way around? And if you’re a bird, is there some way you can learn to talk to bees? You know, without the aid of liquor?)
I had even managed to beat out the teacher’s pet – a feat I had never dreamed possible. This was a girl who could rattle off the capitals of all fifty states and could climb all the way to the top of the rope in gym class.
I, on the other hand, hadn’t even known the states had capitals. (I mean, really? A capital for each state? Isn’t that a bit much? Can’t some of the smaller states just, you know, share a capital?)
And, as for being able to climb the rope in gym class?
Not a chance.
The best I could hope to do was hang piñata-like at the bottom of the rope for a few minutes until I’d start to cry and the gym teacher would take pity on me.
When the science exams were handed back, our teacher made a big deal about my grade and about the fact that I had been the only person to get a hundred percent.
I took my score on the exam as a sign.It was obvious I had a calling – to science.
These dreams didn’t last long, though. I decided that becoming a scientist sounded like it would take a lot more effort and ambition than I was really capable of. Maybe, I reasoned, I’d be better suited at helping scientists rather than actually becoming one.
That’s when I decided to become a laboratory technician. This sounded like a solid, stable career choice that would afford me a little extra free time to pursue my non-scientific interests – like, say, hot gluing stuff.
A couple years later in the eighth grade, I would give up my dream of becoming a laboratory technician in favor of becoming a veterinarian’s assistant. After a lackluster performance in chemistry and little to no interest in physics, I decided maybe it was best if I stuck to the life sciences – specifically, the life sciences that wouldn’t involve much human interaction as I still wasn’t particularly good at talking to boys.
While many of my friends dreamed of becoming veterinarians, I had heard veterinary school was highly competitive and could take at least eight years to complete.
Who had that kind of time?
Besides, I’d learned a thing or two from my years of hanging off the bottom of the rope at gym class – namely, aim low.
I didn’t need to be on the cover of Weekly Reader or save anyone’s pet pony.
All I needed was a steady, nine-to-five job that would allow me a little free time for my creative pursuits… and maybe a little extra change to buy myself a new hot glue gun now and again.Over the past twenty-some years, my career aspirations have changed considerably.
I gave up all hope of working in a laboratory. (This is probably for the best. I look horrible in white and could never pull off a lab coat. Plus, I have a tendency to set my toaster oven on fire. I can’t even imagine the kind of damage I’d do with a Bunsen burner.)
After seeing a goat give birth, I decided I wasn’t quite cut out to be a veterinarian’s assistant. (But, hey, I still think I’d make a pretty fine goat dress designer… you know, should that ever become a thing.)
I’ve even, dare I say, had a few high hopes for myself.
(Maybe a bit too high. For a while in college, I entertained the idea of becoming a puppeteer despite lacking the ability to talk and move my hands at the same time. As much as it pains me to admit this, my mother was right about me. Not only am I not the graceful type, I am also not exactly the coordinated type.)Then, somewhere along the way, I decided I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. (Okay, I was about twenty-eight years old when I decided that, so, technically, I was already “grown up” at that point. But, whatever. I refuse to believe I’m grown up until I stop considering a tube of Oreos a suitable meal replacement and I, uh, figure out what the heck a 401K is.)
Despite my earlier aversion to having to do any more schooling than absolutely necessary, I went to grad school to get my Master’s degree in Education and then landed myself a well-paying job at a university in Japan.
I had high hopes for myself and my career.
But, when I left my job in Japan after three years, I felt burnt out and unsure as to whether I really wanted to be a teacher anymore. I took a year off from teaching in the hopes that it would give me the break I needed, and I would come back to the classroom feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
I can’t say that exactly happened.My first semester here in China was not an easy one for me.
I arrived in February to a bleak, grey, wintery Wuxi. After a year of living in sunny Southeast Asia, my immune system revolted, and I promptly came down with a respiratory infection that I seriously suspected might be tuberculosis. Or Black Lung. Or possibly rickets. (Yeah, I realize that rickets doesn’t have much to do with the respiratory tract, but it is kind of my go-to diagnosis when I come down with something funky… mostly because I like the word “rickets.”)
My classroom looked like something straight out of Little House on the Prairie, complete with wooden desks and creaky, old chalkboards. To add to the rusticity, there was no heat in my classroom. For the first two months until the weather warmed up, my students sat through class like they were ready to hit the ski slopes — in puffy parkas, hats and gloves. For a little extra warmth, many of my students hugged hot water bottles during class. (Yep. Hot water bottles. I mean, did you even know those things still existed?)
My students were a hodgepodge of twenty-year-olds whose level of English ranged from pretty decent to totally no clue what I was saying. They were well-behaved for the most part, but they were also largely unmotivated and, frankly, more interested in covertly tapping out messages on their cell phones than learning anything about thesis statements. (And, really, who could blame them? But still would it have hurt them to fake a little enthusiasm for thesis statements? I mean I had to fake enthusiasm for teaching thesis statements. It was the least they could do, really.)
The only time I saw my students truly impassioned and willing to speak up in class last semester was when they were begging me to let them go to lunch early.
I did not feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
I just felt disgruntled. (Which, I believe, is also a sign of rickets. Seriously, people, I’ve got the rickets. Is there something I can take for that?)When I signed up for another semester, my hopes were not particularly high.
In fact, my aspirations were pretty on par with those of my ten-year-old self.
I just wanted a steady job that would allow me a little extra time for my creative endeavors, like working on this blog and writing my book. Seeing as I only teach four days a week here, I have plenty of time to do that. (Theoretically, that is. Mind you, I tend to spend a lot more time watching reality television than writing. But, uh, yeah, I’m working on that. Or I will work on that, you know, right after this season of Project Runway has finished up.)
And, while my wage isn’t much, it covers my expenses and still leaves me enough on the side to save for a rainy day. (And, yes, by “rainy day” I mean “when I get the rickets.” What did you think I meant?)
Given my low expectations for the semester, I figured I would just take a page out of my gym class rope climbing days to get me through it – namely, I’d aim low and hang in there. You know, and then cry if I had to.
When I arrived at my first day of class three weeks ago, I was greeted by collective groans and eye rolling from my students… followed promptly by them pleading to please let them go to lunch early this semester.
This was not exactly the warm welcome back to the classroom I had been hoping for.Luckily, things got better.
In my other three classes, my students seemed almost, dare I say, happy to see me. (Either that or they are finally starting to learn the art of faking enthusiasm. I’d like to think I’ve taught them that. In addition to, you know, the exciting intricacies of a thesis statement.)
I even found myself, dare I say, happy to see them. After a pretty quiet summer spent mostly on my own, it’s nice to be surrounded by people again — even if those people are just faking enthusiasm for thesis statements so you’ll let them go to lunch early. (This, by the way, totally works.)
And, for the first time in a long time, I’ve found myself excited about teaching again.
I’m still not sure if I want to be a teacher when I grow up.
But, I am happy to be a teacher right now.
(You know, until I grow up, stop eating cookies for dinner and figure out what a 401K is… and, hopefully by then, goat dress designing will have become a thing.)