Lauren Smith ’19 reflects on her journey in becoming a kindergarten teacher, and the dizzying responses she receives when professing her love for education.
In a conference back in high school with about a hundred of my classmates, I listened to a speaker who spoke to us about finding a career path that would make us truly happy. I do not remember many speeches from high school, but one thing he said has stuck with me five years later: all you have to do is find something you’re passionate about, something you’re good at, and someone who will pay you to do it. At the age of 16, as soon as I was legally able, I became a kindergarten counselor at the Taylor Family YMCA. Although I have changed positions over time, this upcoming year will mark my sixth year in youth programs at that same YMCA. I was fortunate to be one of those high schoolers that knew exactly what I wanted to do, and ended up loving every second of it once I had the chance to pursue it.
Moving forward to my senior year of high school, I was honored to be nominated to apply for a spot in the Goodnight Scholars Program, and was ecstatic the day I read on MyPack that I was a recipient of the scholarship. Not only was my dream of becoming an elementary school teacher coming true, but I would also be able to attend the school I had been a fan of since I was born. I really didn’t know what to expect, but once I arrived, the transition was made so much more inviting and enjoyable through the mentors and friends I encountered through the Goodnight Scholars Program.
I am extremely passionate and goal-driven. I knew that when I had made up my mind to teach, and graduate from NC State with a degree in STEM education, I was going to do just that no matter what it took. One thing that I find so shocking about majoring in education is the way people react when you tell them you want to teach kindergartners. Once you are in college, your major comes up in virtually every conversation when meeting someone new, and I always hold my breath for people’s reaction to my answer. Most commonly I get a response resembling, “That is so noble of you!” or “Wow! You must have a lot of patience. I could never do that!” or my personal favorite, “Well bless your heart!” I will let you in on a little secret – education majors everywhere cringe when they hear those responses! As for me, I always smile and say teaching is simply what I love to do and that I cannot imagine myself doing anything else. We know that teaching requires a tremendous amount of patience and understanding. We know that we will have to interact with all kinds of parents and children. And we know that we will not make a lot of money doing it either. In our eyes though, changing the lives of young children is the best way to make a huge impact on the world. I felt it at age sixteen, and I feel it even more now, that teaching is where my heart is.
However, just because I am a passionate go-getter does not mean I have not had times where I questioned my career path. This semester was by far the most difficult for me as a student.
Now I am writing this blog during my break between finalizing lesson plans. This past semester, I have had many amazing opportunities. It has been wonderful getting to know the twenty other future teachers in my cohort and building lasting relationships with both them and my professors. In addition, I had the opportunity to represent my sorority in Circle of Sisterhood, the Panhellenic philanthropy supporting women’s right to equal education around the world. I am on the LEGO Brick Build committee for the Goodnight Scholars Program, and I cannot wait to see how amazing the event turns out this year. I was able to be a mentor to two amazing young girls in the Goodnight Scholars Class of 2021, both of which are also in the College of Education. It has been a very busy, but very rewarding semester. Best of all, I was finally able to actually be in a classroom student teaching a kindergarten class.
However, just because I am a passionate go-getter does not mean I have not had times where I questioned my career path. This semester was by far the most difficult for me as a student. I was placed in a school with an extremely high poverty rate in Raleigh. Many of my students were homeless or came from complicated and difficult home-lives that any five year old would struggle to cope with. The behavior management aspect, as well as handling my own emotions, was difficult at times and I questioned if I had the ability to do this for the rest of my life. In addition to my field experiences, the professors in the College of Education have very high expectations of us (as they should, we are teaching the next generation after all). It can be difficult seeing some of my peers cram for an exam, get an A, and move on with their week. Meanwhile, I work for days or even weeks on lesson plans, meet with my field partner, receive more feedback from my professors, edit the lessons, and finally teach the lessons in my classroom while being videotaped and observed. There were definitely times where I had to ask myself, “Who in their right mind would chose to be a teacher?” The voices I had heard since first expressing my desire to teach seemed to be speaking louder to me than ever before, telling me I would never make any money and that I would probably burn out within five years. Even when I felt the temptation to listen to those voices, I remembered my 21st birthday, when I was in that kindergarten classroom all day, and my students made me a book full of pictures, and were anxious to sing to me and tell me all about their drawings. I remembered when the student I tutored in reading got a 100% on her alphabet test for the first time. And I remembered on my last day in the classroom, when my students came running to hug me from the playground, asking my field partner and I if we could stay just a little longer.
If you ask me what my major is and I reply boldly and proudly that I am an elementary education major, don’t feel like you need to feel any pity for me. I feel as though for so many people, figuring out what that thing is that they can picture themselves doing for the rest of their lives is the most daunting task they have ever had to face. And when I am struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I just think back to what that speaker told me so many years ago. If it is something you are passionate about, it is something you are good at, and it is something that someone will pay you to do, go for it.