I didn't choose to become a teacher. Teaching chose me. I know, a lot of people say that about their careers, relationships, and even cars. But for me, it really is true. As a student in elementary and high school, I would watch what the teacher was doing and think, "This would be pretty cool. I think I could be a teacher." Then I would look around me at how the other students in my class were behaving, and think, "On second thought ..." I even was that student, at times. Then there was the issue of ability. I was mainly a ritually compliant student who did what I was told. My work was turned in on time, I usually didn't talk or cause problems for the teacher, and I got along with everyone in my class. But I wasn't really good in any particular subject area, unless you count music. During my first year of college, I got a job at a grant-funded preschool on my campus. My first responsibility was to come in and wash the lunch dishes. This was pretty easy, and it gave me a chance to snack on their seemingly endless supply of cinnamon Life cereal. When that task was done, I would move into the main room and sit with kids who were taking a nap. I usually ended up reading to kids who had outgrown naps or couldn't fall asleep. Then I would come back in the afternoon and supervise the children playing until their parents came to pick them up. It wasn't a bad job, and it started to grow on me a little each day.
This job just so happened to coincide with an English class I was taking. As I said earlier, I really wasn't that good in any one content area, but I was a decent writer. I wrote for the school newspaper, and worked on the yearbook staff. When registering for my first semester of college courses, I decided to challenge myself and take an advanced English composition class. This was the only subject in high school in which I took advanced or AP courses, so I felt up for the challenge. The instructor challenged me alright, but more than that she helped me find my voice and a love for writing. I actually looked forward to writing assignments, a trait I carried with me into graduate school.
At the time all of this was happening, there was a part of me that was very discontent. Most of my friends had left my hometown to attend college in other parts of the country. Some went to big state universities, while others went to private schools in places such as Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, Nebraska and California. This wasn't a big deal during the summer before everyone left, but when they came back for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I heard them talk of their adventures and was able to see for the first time what I was missing. You see, I was attending the local community college in my hometown, which was not only less than five minutes from my house, but was also where both of my parents taught. It is a really good school, but it was like going to summer camp in your backyard. In the span of a couple of weeks, I went from thinking my situation was pretty good to being miserable, wanting nothing more than to go somewhere else ... anywhere else.
My parents finally conceded to let me look into some different schools that we thought were affordable, far enough from home to satisfy my wanderlust, and had programs of study in which I was interested. After extensive research and number crunching, I chose Utah State University as my next destination. And this is when all of the circumstances in my life seemingly lined up. I had already made up my mind that I didn't want to be a teacher, but I thought that I could leverage my love for writing and of children by majoring in education, with the intent to become a curriculum specialist. With the correct training and experience, I thought, I could write text books.
As anyone who has taken education classes can attest, schools of education don't really train people to write text books. They train people to become teachers. My school just so happened to believe that extensive field experience was a major ingredient in this training, so rather than learning how to write text books, I spent a lot of my time in classrooms throughout the Cache Valley. Sometimes it was for a couple of hours, and all I did was observe. Other times it was for whole days, even weeks, at a time, and I would work with students in a variety of settings. I even got to plan a couple of lessons and deliver them to the whole class. And if the teacher happened to leave the room, I would try to be funny, disrupting whatever level of compliance she had been able to establish. Just as the preschool job grew on me the longer I worked there, these field experiences actually began to shape my self-perception. I started to see myself--dare I say--as a teacher.
One of my friends from high school had graduated from college a year before me, and during my student teaching year she was teaching music at an elementary school in Colorado. I had gone to visit her one weekend, and I found myself being envious as she showed me around her school and introduced me to her students that we happened to see around town. A year earlier I would have told anyone that I was going to apply for law school and try to get a job in the FBI (What happened to writing textbooks?). Now, here I was actually wanting to be a teacher.
As I drove home from this trip, I remembered an e-mail from my mother telling me she was going to have a long layover at the Salt Lake City airport. She had been in Dallas leading a Christian ladies conference, and she gave me her flight information in case I was able to stop in and have coffee with her. Normally I wouldn't have made the hour and a half drive to Salt Lake City to have an hour-long coffee break, but I happened to be driving through town around the same time as her layover, so I stopped in and waited for her flight to arrive.
I will never forget her first words as she got off the plane: "You will never believe what just happened." These words are not uncommon coming from my mom. Her life has been one of chance encounters and divinely arranged relationships. She proceeded to tell me that while at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport with my uncle, her gate was suddenly changed to a different terminal. My uncle decided to go with her to the new gate so they could visit some more. While on the tram, the conversation shifted to me. My uncle wanted to know what I was up to, and more importantly, what I planned on doing after graduation. She began to tell him that I was about to complete the requirements for my degree in elementary education, but no one, including me, knew what I was going to do after that.
Just then a man on the tram looked up and walked across to where my mom and uncle were standing. He asked, "Did I just hear you say your son is an elementary education major?" He then introduced himself as the recruiter for the Grapevine/Colleyville Independent School District, and they were looking for men who were interested in teaching elementary school. He told her a little more about the school district and handed her an informational packet to give me. Just as he was handing her the packet, the tram stopped and he got off to catch his flight. All of the recruiter's claims about this school district were confirmed by my uncle, and he emphasized to my mother that if I had any interest in coming to Texas to teach, this was one of the best school districts to be in.
This is when my mom handed me the folder she had received just two hours earlier. She told me this man would be at the job fair I was to be attending in a month or so, and he wanted me to look for him. I stuffed the folder in my backpack, and basically forgot about it for several weeks. As is the case for many college students, items that go in the backpack didn't always find their way out again. Thankfully, this folder eventually found its way out.
Several weeks later I was standing in line at a teaching job fair to speak with a representative from a large school district in the Denver area. I was now engaged full throttle in the job search, and I was pretty sure this job fair would yield the golden ticket. My goal was to teach in the Denver area, where I could still be fairly close to home and in the backyard of my beloved Denver Broncos. I had gotten interviews with six school districts, and I was trying to make it a lucky seven. But as I was standing in line, I happened to see an oddly familiar poster. It was for the booth across the aisle from where I was standing, and there was no one there. I quickly jumped out of line to investigate. Perhaps I had already stopped by this booth, and I was experiencing a bout of deja vu. I dug through my backpack to see if I already had an informational packet from this particular school district, and sure enough, there at the bottom of the pile was a folder identical to the poster hanging above my head. Only, I didn't pick this folder up earlier in the day. This was the folder my mother handed to me in the Salt Lake airport.
Just then, a man sitting behind the booth stood up and introduced himself to me. He proceeded to tell me a little about the school district, information I had already heard from my mother, and he asked me to tell him a little about myself. He mentioned he had one interview slot open for the next day, and wondered if I was interested in coming back to talk with him some more. Despite the interview being at eight o'clock in the morning, I agreed, shook hands and walked back to where I was staying for the evening. I never got back in the other line.
Without giving too many boring details about the interview, I will say that the man behind the booth was the same man who met my mom on the tram in Dallas. He told me he might contact me in a couple of weeks to follow up, which he did. He then flew me to Grapevine to interview with 12 different principals, in one day nonetheless. The weekend concluded with him offering me a job, which I accepted.
You see, this is my Sierpinski's Triangle. Each of these points in my life, if observed in isolation, seem random. I mean, do any of us really see order in the tram we get on or who we stand behind in line? What if I had gotten a job at a local store or restaurant instead of the preschool? What if I had taken basic English composition, cranked out my three or four essays and moved on? What if I had not gone to see my friend in Colorado, or forgot to print the e-mail with the flight information, or decided I didn't have time to stop at the airport? What if I had forgotten about that folder in my backpack? What if my mom and uncle had talked about something else other than me? What if one of them had stopped to get a drink or tie a shoe and sat on a different tram with different people?
I guess this is why God refers to himself as "I Am," and not "What If." If you truly believe that God is sovereign, then you must choose to believe that everything is on His radar and nothing escapes His attention. Oswald Chambers put it this way, "It is only a faithful person who truly believes that God sovereignly controls his circumstances. We take our circumstances for granted, saying God is in control, but not really believing it." I am one of those folks who struggles to believe that God is paying attention to the details of my life in such a way that even the trivial choices I make really aren't so trivial. This unbelief exists even though my personal history is filled with evidence of what God is doing in and through me.
So, if you ever wonder how I stumbled into this profession known as teaching, well, now you know. I didn't stumble at all. It was there all along just waiting for me to show up.