School is about to start up again. I had a nightmare about it last night. This time of year is always hardest for me, even after 13 years of teaching. Sometimes it makes me wonder if I chose the right career. But I don't have to think for long before the anxiety is replaced by excitement and anticipation, and I know that I chose both the right career and the right community in which to practice that career.
When I left my parents farm in rural East Atchison County, my goal was to be rich. When I looked at possible college majors, I needed one that would result in a big paycheck. I was miserable my freshman year of college.
I came home to work the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. My jobs from the previous summer were waiting - life guarding at the Tarkio pool and helping out however I could at Hy-Vee in Tarkio. It was while working at the pool that I had an epiphany: I like kids. Even more surprising, I like kids ages 10-14 better than older or younger kids. Most people consider that a preference worthy of being committed to some sort of hospital where you might not be able to check yourself out, but that just made my conclusion more inevitable -- I needed to teach junior high, regardless of the paycheck.
I immediately felt that a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Greeting customers at Hy-Vee who almost all knew me or my parents, or a cousin, or an aunt, or a long-deceased great-great uncle further cemented my new-found career path: I would not only teach junior high, I would do it in a small town. I could hardly wait to get back to William Jewell College and change my majors to English, history, and education. I'm really not a true historian, so why did I add history? Why, if I ended up in a really small town, I might need to be able to teach more than one subject!
Life, being what it is, rarely lets us choose a path from point A to point B that we can follow in a straight line. I have a decent lot of close relatives in the Kansas City area, including my dad's wonderful parents, so I thought I'd give metropolitan living a shot. Plus, I was single and everyone knows you have a better chance of catching a fish in a larger sea, right? I taught my first year teaching high school English in Kansas City and my second year teaching ninth grade English in Independence. (A change in the state education system had landed me with a 9-12 certification instead of a 7-12 one.) Was I miserable? Far from it. I still loved kids and teaching... but a fish from the itty-bitty pond of Atchison County got snared on my hook. I would marry a transplant to Atchison County who perhaps at the time appreciated my homeland more than I did. I was headed back to rural living.
The initial plan was to stay in Rock Port a couple of years, then possibly move back to the Kansas City area. However, once I had taught in a small school and started a family, I knew I would never let my children attend a large school. I don't love my small school students any more than I loved my city school students, but I can give them so much more attention; students are much less likely to fall through the cracks; and the staff with which I work all care as much as I do. With 10 students in a class period, rather than a minimum of 18 and possibly up to 32, I can assign so many more writing assignments. Maybe that makes my students moan, but they will be soooo much better off for the experiences they will have. Instead of writing one essay in freshman English, students at Rock Port write at least four. (Susan Nauman teaches that class.) I am so thankful that Rock Port never jumped on the "block scheduling" band wagon; I truly cover nearly as much material in the 45-minute periods here as I covered in the 90-minute periods in the city.
Of course, one can get an amazing education in the city, but every day I am thankful that I am raising my children in Atchison County, where I know all my students' parents, all my children's teachers, where I see my parents twice a week. Though August makes me misty-eyed with nostalgia for the summer about to pass, when I walk into my classroom to greet a new crop of seventh graders, I know I have come home once again... and I'm not leaving.
PICTURE: Rock Port High School Mass Media class, which produces the yearbook and Blue Jay Corner in the Atchison County Mail