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I Was Never Ever Going to Be a Teacher
  • Education
  • Formation
Audrey Ewalt

When I was in the sixth grade, a classmate asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Without pause, I replied, “I’m going to be a cop.”  

As an eleven-year-old with minimal self-confidence, this was my attempt to project what I thought I wanted onto future-Audrey's life. I wanted to be tough. I wanted to hold authority. Most importantly, I wanted to be seen and known, to have a voice. 

To my surprise, these classmates had the gall to laugh at my decided profession! Once the cackling stopped, someone mused that I would probably become a teacher.  

I had zero intention of being a teacher. The very suggestion seemed prosaic. Teachers weren’t tough. They had no authority. They weren’t important… 

…until one teacher was. I don’t recall the grievance suffered, but I do know it came at the hand of a seventh-grade boy. My English instructor found me, tucked in an empty classroom, crying. She encouraged me to share my tale of woe, and when I concluded, she said kindly, “Audrey, seventh grade boys are the worst. But they get better. It will get better.”  

Shock drew me away from the wound over which I was perseverating. Was she allowed to say that? She was a teacher! She taught SEVENTH GRADE BOYS.  

Mrs. Goodloe’s words made me feel seen, heard. They poured a bit of confidence into a girl who was terrified she was nobody, with nothing of note to offer. It was a small action—and almost thirty years later, it has meant the world to me.  

She started handing me books like Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Mrs. Goodloe introduced me to poetry by Edgar Allen Poe, Lord Byron, and William Blake. She showed me how words can play and dance across the page to delight my ear and inspire whimsy from my own pen. This educator met my hunger for learning, but she also saw me and thought I had something of value to give. She believed in me, and Reader, to have someone believe in you is a gift indeed. 

Not quite suited for law enforcement, I eventually stumbled into—you guessed it—a teaching career. This was not planned. I am a teacher because God made it exceedingly clear that He would like me to be. And while having someone believe in you is a gift, having the opportunity to believe in someone else is just as great.  

Earlier this year, my third-graders were working on mental math. One of my students, a lover of mathematics, flew through the problems, then quietly waited for his classmates. I started to whisper side problems to him.  

After a few, he whispered: “Could you please give me a really hard one?” 

Thinking for a moment, I asked if he knew how to square a number, and he excitedly shook his head no. After the briefest of explanations, I started him off easy: “Can you tell me what three squared is?”  

It wasn’t his correct answer that startled me, it was how his eyes shone, bursting with light. I had taught this student a basic algorithm; but more than that, this simple tutelage had communicated to him that I saw him, believed in him, and thought he brought value to the table.  

Inwardly, I shrugged it off. This wasn’t a big deal, not particularly noteworthy or hard. But then it happened again! What I thought had been simplicity of actions and words made such a difference. I taught one eager Grammar student about bare infinitives and handed a Redwall children’s novel to another. I listened for five minutes as a third-grader shared their birthday celebration in exacting detail. My students are exceedingly different—their needs are different—but these interactions sparked the same light in their eyes. They felt seen. They felt their voices were heard. Sometimes, a small action is what communicates to students their value and worth. And in a world that repeatedly tells us we’re not good enough, this is a true gift.  

As an elementary instructor, I have the honor of teaching my students about long division, and Roald Dahl, and Minoan bull-leaping, and even (especially!) the delights of adverbial subordinate clauses. While I love these things, and they are SO valuable, I recognize that they are only part of my work. I have the ability to use my voice—sometimes as simple as a whisper between math problems—to pour confidence into the sweet, precious hearts of the students entrusted to my care. It is an opportunity to point them to the heavenly Father and wonder in tandem at His goodness and majesty, and to remind us all that He believes in us. What greater profession could I possibly hold? 

While I can say that I never ever thought I wanted to be a teacher, I am so enormously grateful that God led me here.