By Holly Wood
As a teacher, we have all been asked the question, “Why teaching?” I’ve always given an answer I deemed others would believe appropriate – “I love kids” or “This is my calling” – the typical answers that passionate teachers give.
The truth is that I really wanted to be a doctor, but life happened and changed my perception. I thought wanting to be a doctor made it sound like teaching couldn’t be my passion, that I had somehow validated the old adage, “Those who can’t do, teach.” I struggled with feelings of insecurity – feelings that teaching wasn’t enough of a profession for others to look at me and respect, that I was as educated as those who spent eight to 10 years in school.
Before you hit the back button and leave this page, let me explain. I do love kids – teenagers, actually. This is my calling, for which I blame Mrs. Rhonda Parker, who apparently foresaw how my life would progress and knew me better than I knew myself when I was a freshman in high school teaching a health and wellness class to 6th-graders. Mrs. Parker asked me, “Holly, have you ever thought about teaching?”
But teaching was not what I thought I wanted to do. At age 6, I wanted to be a doctor. At 9, an anesthesiologist. At 16, I was working in a doctor’s office. At 18, I was an emergency room tech and student athletic trainer. At 21, I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist.
Little did I know that on Sept. 1, 2003, the idealistic version of my life would change with a conversation. Everything I thought I would bring to others’ lives by practicing medicine – hope, a future, a smile – would be ripped from mine. That was the day, I was told I needed to prepare to never have children of my own. I was told it was physically impossible. My world shifted on its axis.
Twenty-five days after being told I was unable to have children, I was working a 12-hour shift in the ER. I couldn’t hold my head up because I thought if I actually had to open my eyes, St. Peter and some Pearly Gates were going to greet me. The illness was all encompassing. I didn’t have it going on that day.
Still reeling from the shock, a doctor who I had worked with for the past five years and knew I was less than my usual energetic self told me to get checked out. With much convincing, I did so and to my surprise, I was pregnant!
What? I had just come to terms with the idea of never having children. I went from “you will NEVER give birth” to “you are pregnant” in 25 days. I was only 21, had been married only two months and hadn’t graduated college. It hit me, for the first time, that life was happening and I needed to re-evaluate my plans.
Even though my story was about to change, my dream was very much intact. I wanted to give hope to kids who didn’t have hope. It was my desire to make today their very best day possible. I still wanted to promise parents I was doing everything I could to make a difference for their most prized possession.
So, in Central Kentucky with a biology major, I felt I could be a nurse or a teacher. Working alongside nurses for five years solidified for me that I didn’t want to do that. What was I going to do?
Cue in my walk down Memory Lane, to that freshman intersection, and I was reminded of that comment by Ms. Parker. “Holly, have you ever thought about teaching?” My 14-year-old response – “No way, I want to be an anesthesiologist!” – was not my response at 21.
What Ms. Parker said to me stuck. Her words resurfaced at just the right time in my life. There it was – the destination I was led to was not the greatest tourist attraction along my path; however, it was a significant junction for me.
When I have a student walk in my office that has no hope because he failed his big exam or she just found out her best friend cheated with her first love, I am fulfilling my ultimate purpose in this life. I am here to help children. I have had students who thought tomorrow would not come because their lifestyle choices would not fit the picture Mom and Dad had painted. I have had students that carry the scars of past teachers labeling them as no more than a problem they had to deal with. Those kids are my people.
It was my goal to make every day my students had with me the very best day possible until they walked across the graduation stage. I wanted parents to trust me to make a difference for their most-prized treasure – their children.
Now I am an assistant principal in Washington County. There is nothing more precious to me than my students – seeing the curiosity and potential on their faces.
So, why teach? Every carnation a teacher receives on graduation day to symbolize the difference they made in a life, every invitation to a wedding or baby shower, every visit, every note and every word of appreciation confirms that a teacher is exactly where they need to be.
My passion never changed. My calling has been the underlying current of this life. I just had my platform, my vehicle all wrong! All teachers get to impact students while there is still life to live. I am honored to challenge my students and my colleagues, giving them opportunities they may never have had if I weren’t in their path.
So, to answer that question I’m so often asked, “Why did you choose teaching?” Honestly, I didn’t. Teaching chose me – and I’m so blessed it did.
Holly Wood, a Hope Street Group Kentucky state teacher fellow, is an assistant principal at Washington County High School who previously taught biology for nine years and served as the dean of instruction at Washington County High School last year. Wood presented at the 2015 ASCD Conference for Teaching Excellence on behalf of the Literacy Design Collaborative. She received a bachelor’s degree in biology, minoring in secondary education, and a master’s in special education from Campbellsville University, as well as a master’s in instructional leadership from the University of the Cumberlands.