I never wanted to be a teacher. My mother made me become one. I didn’t know what I wanted to become, anything but a teacher, I guess. I would think about what I wanted to become, but I’d get sidetracked by what I wanted. I wanted two things: my own apartment (probably because I had always shared a room with first my younger sister and brother and then just my sister, but still YUCK!) and my own car, both symbols of independence, at least for me. And in retrospect, the desire for independence was crazy, because in truth, our parents were very encouraging and supportive and gave us free range as long as we were home at a reasonable hour—first before the streetlamps came on and later by our curfew time.
But that’s what I wanted—apartment and car. The means to those things, however, was elusive. I think the real problem was that I didn’t know what was available. I went off to college in the fall of 1965 clueless, except for not wanting to be a teacher and knowing that I couldn’t possibly be a nurse. In high school I had found a biology lab partner who was happy to dissect whatever dead animal was slapped before him, while I handed him pins and made labels. I only looked at the poor, splayed out carcass when I had to draw the poor dear departed, and my stomach was in my throat the whole time. I planned on the same course of action for college biology and luckily achieved that goal.
I declared several majors and dabbled, but nothing stuck. Then I took a required speech course, and the professor asked me if I’d ever considered majoring in Speech and Drama. I hadn’t, but I did. The same professor secured a job for me in a summer stock theater, and finally I knew what I kind of wanted to be when I grew up! Someone who worked some place in the theater.
My iron-willed mother had additional plans, “You can be whatever else in the world you want to be,” she said, “but you also have to be a teacher, get a teaching certificate.” She obviously didn’t see much of a future in the theater.
“You can’t make me become a teacher,” I said. “I’m paying my own way now.”
By the time we had this conversation, I was working in the college theater, and I was making enough money to pay for my college tuition and expenses, while also paying off a loan from my freshman year at a private school.
Very calmly Mother said, “Where do you plan to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and Spring Break?” I may have wanted to be independent, but I still loved my family, both immediate and extended, and I didn’t have a car. I also knew that when my mom made a declaration, she meant it, and my dad, who never liked to discipline any of us, would always back Mom up.
So I started signing up for education courses en route to becoming a teacher, and I cursed my mom during every hour in those horribly boring classes, taught in those days by professors who had never stepped foot in an elementary, middle, or high school classroom as a teacher. Argh! “Hate” is way too mild for my feelings toward those classes. It was a good thing I could leave those classes and go down to the theater shop and pound some nails to blow off steam.
Eventually I was a senior, and the time came for me to do my student teaching. I still didn’t have a car, so the college was kind enough to place me in a high school just three miles from my home. Mom and I could share a car. I was in the emergency room from an accident in the college theater shop on the day I was to meet my cooperating teachers. Instead I was told to be at my assigned school at 7:30 a.m. on the first day of student teaching to meet Mr. W. whose first class, junior English, began at 8:00 a.m.
I think I got there around 7:10. I reported to the office and was given a class schedule and a map of the building. I found Mr. W.’s room and waited outside the door. Students were arriving, and the halls were alive with excited chatter, squeals, and some roughhousing. At 7:55 the students started moving toward their classrooms, and Mr. W.’s classroom began to fill. At 8:00 the bell rang as a few students came flying around a corner and ducked into the room before the sound faded. Mr. W. was missing in action.
Looking into the room from the hall, I watched a female student, go up to the teacher’s desk, open a drawer, pull out a slip of paper, write something on it, then bring it out to the hall and attach it to the door. She returned to the room and closed the door behind her. I went to look at the slip of paper. It was the absence report. Jimmy Shoe, I kid you not, was absent. I waited in the hall for Mr. W. to arrive. A student came by and collected the absence slip. I waited.
At 8:20, I took a deep breath, opened the classroom door, and entered saying, “I’m Miss Murphy, your student teacher. May I see your literature book, please?” The students looked at me like I had just arrived from Jupiter, but one of them brought up his literature book. Fortunately, it was the same book that had been used in my high school English class just five years earlier.
I took a quick look at the table of contents, and announced, “Let’s turn to page 68 and take a look at this story.” Someone raised a hand. “Yes,” I said.
“We’ve already read this story.”
“Great,” I said. “We all know it, and we can talk about it.” Another hand.
“We already discussed it.”
“But not with me. Page 68, please.”
And we were off to the races. At 8:50, Mr. W. finally arrived, coffee mug in hand, folded newspaper under his arm. “Looks like all is well here,” he said in a deep, sonorous voice. “Carry on,” he said as he took a seat in the back of the room. I learned later on that Mr. W. was the night DJ on a local radio station, and he loved student teachers, so he didn’t have to worry about being on time for his early class.
When the dismissal bell rang and the students departed, I took a deep breath. Mr. W. came up and introduced himself and suggested that I just observe the next class. He also gave me a copy of his “lesson plans,” little jottings which suggested page numbers in various text books. These lesson plans didn’t look anything like the plans I’d been forced to make in those boring education classes, and they were next to worthless.
In the afternoon, I moved upstairs to work with Mrs. Aubaugh, a wonderful teacher who would have me observe her teach her sophomore English classes that day.
My first day of student teaching, and it was the best day of my life! I went home and hugged and kissed my mother for making me become a teacher. Five minutes after walking into Mr. W.’s classroom, I knew that my mother had been right. I had to become a teacher! Of course, my mother wasn’t a fortune teller. She didn’t know that I would love teaching. She just wanted to be sure that I had a way to support myself, if needed. But over the 27 years of my teaching career, I thanked her often for wisely forcing to me become a teacher. It turned out to be just what I wanted–wonderful path to attaining my own apartment and a car and oh, so much more! With summers off, some friends and I started a summer theater, Brooke Hills Playhouse, that is preparing for its 46th season.
NOTE: In Mr. W.’s room, I never looked back. I taught the 8:00 class from day one and shortly thereafter took over the 9:00 and 11:00 classes, also. Mr. W. and I had our planning period at 10:00, an hour when he smoked in the teachers’ lounge, read his paper, and did the crossword puzzle. I happily graded papers and made detailed lesson plans. Mrs. Aubaugh had me observe her classes for a week, then she masterfully and gradually moved me on to working with students, teaching lessons, and eventually taking over her two afternoon classes. I considered her my mentor, but I must say, Mr. W. lit a spark that soon raged into a love of teaching.