Honor Your Path

I struggled with imposter syndrome for my first few years as a teacher. My path to the classroom was not typical — teaching has not been my lifelong dream. Growing up, I excelled in school, thriving on the structure, routines, and guidelines set in place by my learning environment. I was good at school, and I was able to achieve success in just about any class (except for athletics, which I’m sure was a bit disheartening for my sports-loving parents). I graduated high school with interests in singing and theatre performance, accounting, physical therapy, and optometry. In college, I added surgical technician, radiologist, and ecologist to my list of potential career options. To set myself up for the greatest flexibility, I decided to major in biology and minor in chemistry. 

I spent four years studying and truly believing that one day, I would be certain which career path was best for me. From my perspective, “growing up” meant that one developed a particular sense of self-assuredness when it came to these important decisions. Everyone around me who had a “clear” path simply “had things together;” I was waiting to arrive at that sense of clarity. Spoiler alert — at 32, I’m convinced that most adults are simply figuring things out as they go, making the best decisions they can each day… but there are few to none who can navigate life’s challenges and decisions without accepting some level of risk. So, to my surprise, I graduated college in 2010 with a degree and no plan. 

I spent roughly two years bouncing around in odd jobs while I waited for my destiny to strike: I worked for a florist, I researched legal files for a local law office, I worked as a proof operator in a local bank… and at some point, I suppose destiny did strike — I was presented with the opportunity to serve as a long-term substitute. I would commute 45 minutes to teach high school students biology and chemistry for 10 weeks, with no lesson plans and little guidance. I naively accepted this job thinking, “I can do that!” It was incredibly difficult, but I made it… and somehow, it didn’t scare me away. I applied as a substitute teacher in a school district closer to home, working with students of all ages. I opened milk cartons for kindergarteners, taught grammar to 2nd-graders, supervised 5th-grade recess, and helped lead choir rehearsals for middle and high schoolers. Every day presented a new adventure with its own unique challenges – and somehow, I kept coming back. I relished getting to know the next generation of learners and I took pride in helping them discover new concepts. 

After about a year, I decided to take the leap — I enrolled in the Mississippi Alternate Path to Quality Teachers program, which begins with a 3-week intensive study designed to prepare participants for the classroom. I learned how to create lessons, write unit plans, decipher IEPs to make accommodations, and manage a classroom. Of course, my real training came in those first few years of teaching. Remember that imposter syndrome I mentioned? Though I worked tirelessly each day, I regularly experienced failures. Lessons didn’t always go the way I’d planned. I lost my patience. Students challenged me with disruptive behavior. I often thought, “Maybe if I’d majored in education, this would be easier. I would be better. Maybe I’m not cut out for this.” Today, I am certain that no amount of schooling can totally prepare a person for the full experience of the classroom. As I encountered regular challenges and failures, I also built relationships with students and colleagues. I saw high school students gain confidence learning science, some to the extent that they chose to pursue their own careers in STEAM fields. I’m a much more confident teacher now, with 8 years behind me, but to this day, students ask me questions I have never considered.

Such is the life of a teacher: it’s challenging, it’s unpredictable, and it’s worth it. 

Though the stress of the classroom can at times, seem overwhelming, I am continually inspired by the students I teach. Their insightful perspectives help me to grow. Early on, I expected that by my 3rd or 4th year teaching, I would have perfected things enough to be able to “coast” a little in my lesson planning. Now, I realize one of the greatest benefits to the profession is that I am learning as much about my practice as my students are learning about cells and ecosystems. I am happy to walk into my classroom each day, fully aware that something unexpected will happen, and it will probably make me a better teacher and a better person in the long run. Now I know my path to the classroom was exactly right: I bobbed and weaved and eventually found myself teaching, and I’ve grown to understand those uncertain days help me better appreciate choosing this career. My own unpredictable journey helps me encourage students who struggle with “figuring it out.” Today, I choose to honor the path that led me toward becoming Mrs. Robinson, the biology teacher. 

Sarah Robinson

Sarah Robinson 

Biology I, Pre-AP Biology
Sponsor: Anchor Club, Students for Alzheimer’s 
Oxford High School 
Oxford School District

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