Air conditioning. It was more than likely a need for air conditioning that led me into teaching. I remember that hot, steamy summer after graduating from high school in the small East Texas town of Saratoga. It was a summer when I needed to work and save money for my freshmen year of college. I thought I wanted to be a geologist or a petroleum engineer. My dad, a lifelong worker in the oil industry, arranged for me to get some much-needed practical experience with a summer job working as a roustabout in the oilfield that supported our town. A daily coating of oil, sweat, and chigger bites revealed to me that a new career choice needed to be made.
My first two years of college at Lamar University found me taking the usual schedule of general education classes – the classes that would meet the entry level requirements for most degree plans. During that time, I spent many weeknights and weekends getting help with my homework from Donna Gabrysch and Juanita Martin, the two high school teachers who inspired me to choose a career in education.
These teachers provided two very different perspectives. Mrs. Gabrysch, just a few years older than me and my classmates, was fresh out of college with a diploma so new, the ink was barely dry. Miss Martin, on the other hand, was nearing the end of an illustrious half-century career. One educator was making an influence for the first time, while the other had already left her mark on generations of students, including my mother and all my aunts.
Still, it is what these two dynamic teachers had in common that made both of them great in the classroom. Both shared a passion for what they were teaching. Whether it was Miss Martin trying to help us understand the complexities of Lady Macbeth’s guilt or Miss Gabrysch exploding sodium metal in water to show the power of chemical reactions, both ladies combined a love for their subject matter with a heartfelt desire to help their students accomplish great things.
My first teaching job was absolutely amazing. I was lucky to have an incredible group of students. Honestly, they probably taught me as much as I taught them. It took having students of my own to open my eyes to the importance of a parent’s role in the education and success of a child. It took someone else’s children to reveal to me how influential my own parents were in my success. I had never stopped to wonder why Mom made me read to her every afternoon when I came home from elementary school. I never had a clue why she always signed up to be a room mother. Now, after twenty-six of teaching, what she did and why she did it is crystal clear.
Great teachers, great parents, and a true love of my job and students created the teacher I am today. They are the reason I am having as much fun teaching now as I did that first day some twenty-six years ago. They are the reason I show up every morning. I will continue to show up as long as I feel relevant…and the air conditioner keeps running.