I want to become a teacher for the same reason I became an English major. It’s less a matter of choice, than of identity. It’s less a matter of making money or ends meet, and much more about who I am, what I want to do and what makes me happy. In my few years I had the privilege to coach high school sports while taking units at community college before the University of San Diego, I found that the happiest I have ever been was when given the chance to teach, coach, and instruct. I was probably too young to be coaching kids that were in some cases the same age as me, but what I found on those sun soaked fields in late Septembers and wet Springs was that heaven on Earth can exist. I know that can sound cheap, or trite, but to be honest, when I had a lot going on – when my girlfriend at the time had suffered sexual assault at a frat party after going away to college, when I was stuck with a bus pass and a two hour commute for what would have been a fifteen minute drive – I was blown away, completely surprised at just how all the stuff I was worrying about fell away as soon as I stepped onto a field, what was then my classroom. As the years passed, and as my passion for English grew, in my few chances to step up in front of the class, I found myself remarkably more confident, self assured or at peace than I am ever accustomed to being.
I had the chance to coach at three different schools, one of which was Costa Mesa High School, the other, Newport Harbor. They could not have been more different. At the former, I walked up to my freshmen players stretching, only to find the fallen face of Alfredo, my favorite sixteen year defensive end, whose quiet, peaceful sense of assurance inspired me in my more flummoxed moments. However, one day, I noticed something was wrong, and I took the step of asking him what was up. “My sister, coach… she’s pregnant. She’s fifteen. I know the guy who did it, and I want to…” His voice trailed off, and I knew what he meant. Contrast that scene with the one at Newport Harbor, when kids came to practice straight from AP and SAT test prep or Associated Students events, and I got to see two different sides of the same school district, separated by fifteen minutes and two different worlds.
My time at Costa Mesa makes it hard for me to believe that our country’s educational issues and availability of opportunity boil down to individual accountability, or personal responsibility. What I saw were kids without dads, moms who worked too many jobs for too many hours, whose children were lost, filling the hours between class getting out and a parent coming home with the kind of mischief that people seek when they have holes to fill, and little hope.
I too, came from a broken home. My mother was abused by a step-father whose anger issues stemmed from losing his father to a motorcycle at an early age, and suffering the loss of his best friend and brother in the same year, one from which he’s never recovered. I too, know what it is like to come to practice, to play with an angry edge that drew the coach’s attention, praise, and concern. I remember the day I moved out of my mom’s and into my grandmother’s home to escape the chaos, and the next day reading Catcher on the Rye on the bus with no clue what the book was about before starting, heading to a game in Downey wherein my emotions, bottled up, were released in fiery tears and too many fouls. I’ve been there.
I have come from privilege. My grandma gave me the opportunity to go to college, and though I come from a land of cardigans and four dollar coffee, I am no stranger to distress, dysfunction and violence. And, as the years of my childhood come to a close, and as I think forward towards my future, and the one I want for my kids, I know that I want to make sure the children I can reach have the kind of support I way always able to find in the English teacher’s of my not so distant youth.