Chemistry and Accounting and Pigs

My first career goal was pig farmer. I remember showing up to career day during elementary school in overalls, hair up in curly blonde pig tails, toting my expansive pigs-only stuffed animal collection. Bless my poor mother’s soul; I’m sure she received a few strange looks from the other mama’s whose children were dressed much more sensibly as nurses and firefighters. Curiously, I had no interest in raising pork (I frankly had no real concept of people eating pigs), I just wanted to live like a barefoot hippie on a farm surrounded with pigs as my profession.

Soon, though, I realized that pig farming the way I wanted to do it didn’t really exist, so I set my sights on the next logical career: architecture. I consumed Frank Lloyd Wright books as a fourth grader and spent hours filling notebooks with floor plans for houses and stores and, because God loves a little bit of foreshadowing, schools. I jumped to pediatric pulmonologist when I realized how much math was involved in architecture and then I floundered during my early high school years when I discovered that anything remotely medical makes me vomit.

Teaching was an accident. I never had a magical “this is why I’m going to be a teacher” moment, no sudden epiphany or life-changing conversation with a mentor or touching experience with a child. I just felt this slow, steady tug towards teaching. I fought it HARD. I wanted more, I wanted different; teaching was too boring for someone like me (I laugh now at the ignorance of High School Sarah because teaching is the most exciting job there is). And besides, I had no teachers in my family tree. My college major orientation class made it apparent that ALL teachers go into teaching because their moms and grandmas and great-grandmas were all teachers. It’s a legacy thing, and teaching just isn’t really in my DNA.

Except it is.

As luck would have it, I come from a line of accidental educators.

My grandfather, Pawpaw, was a farm boy from Iowa. He served in the 101st Airborne Division and the 77th Special Forces in the late 1950’s, loved motorcycles, and working on cars. But he had an itch for something more. My mom tells me that education always mattered to him; he felt the weight of it and worked hard to pass that importance on to his children. Pawpaw practiced what he preached and, after years of working as a chemist in various industries, he got his master’s in science education to become a chemistry professor. He was rough and hands-on and sharp as a tack. He lit the spark.

My mom never thought she’d be a teacher, and I’m sure if you asked her today, she would be quick to assert that she isn’t one even now. But, let me assure you, she is. After high school, she set her mind on completing two degrees (accounting and computer science) in three and half years. The chaos of life swirled and, about a decade ago, she landed at a high school working as the treasurer. But on a boarding school campus, one must wear a multitude of hats, and that’s where the educator fire started to burn. Over her years at GCA, she’s taught classes, led youth leadership groups, and chaperoned trips all over the country. She’s tough; ask any one of the students she has mentored. But her students will also tell you she has the biggest heart, the biggest passion to educate as many kids as possible.

And then there’s me. I didn’t have to make a big career change to find my soul’s purpose. But teaching still feels very much like the happy accident it was for my grandfather and my mother. I’ve always felt offbeat, a little too much and still not enough, just different. And somehow, teaching affirms all of those uncertainties. The spark in my grandfather, the fire in my mother, has turned into a full-on inferno in me. And, as that passion for education burns within me, I can finally see it now. My DNA is indeed wired to teach; hands made to scribble on the board, voice made to shake with excitement, arms made to comfort playground tumbles, feet made to pace the classroom. Like my mother and grandfather before me, God created my heart to beat for the quest for more. Giving in to that calling was the best decision I have ever made.

And I can always retire on a pig farm.

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