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For the Love of Teaching
And Other Reasons Teachers Do What They Do
Interview Portraits by Ira D. Shull

From “Change” (continued)

I once applied to teach third grade at an independent school in Richmond, Virginia. Some of the teachers were showing me around, and one of them said, ‘If you accept this position, you’ll be the Jackie Robinson of the Lower School.’ I said, ‘I will?’ This was 1987–88. I liked the school, the facilities, the people. The minority population was very small. I went home and pondered. I decided to accept the position for the black students who were there, as well as for the faculty. After I accepted, the principal said to me, ‘What can we do to make your transition a smooth one?’ I asked if she asked that of all her teachers. She said no. I said, ‘Why did you ask me?’ I thanked her for being sensitive, but told her this was not my first time in this situation. Then I told her that if she felt she needed to discuss the race issue, it would be better to talk to her faculty instead of me.
When I was five years old, my mother and I were walking to the five-and-ten-cent store. We always shopped there. I began to cough as we were walking down the street. My mother said, ‘Let’s go into the store and get some water.’ We did, and they wouldn’t give her any water. My mother said, ‘She’s just a little girl. Can’t you give her some water?’ At that time, I’m still coughing, and I can remember this big man in a suit came from behind us, and the counter guy said to my mother, ‘I think you’d better leave.’ So my mother took my hand and we left. She told me we’d be home soon.
That’s when my mother first explained what racism was about. A young child can’t get water! So when people try to bend over backwards, I take a deep breath and explain that whatever guilt feelings may be going on, those are something that they have to deal with. When I interviewed with Westminster, I asked the principal of the elementary school, ‘How many teachers of color have you had?’ She came out with ‘None.’ I went home and said to my husband, ‘This must be my calling.’
You get into the teaching profession because you’re committed to making a difference. It’s not just the planning of a lesson but the way you teach that lesson—the enthusiasm and motivation you give to the students—that’s important. You may not always be successful in teaching the lesson. You may have to critique it, edit, and start all over, but that’s okay. Even though a lot of teaching is lesson plans and the grading of papers, it’s more. You have to be dedicated enough to see that it goes beyond that.
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