I never wanted to be a teacher, but I always wanted to help people. Post graduate school I was looking at my options, trying to see how to best serve my community and survive in it. I also needed a paycheck as research funding in the post 2008 world was uncertain at best, and nil at worst. An opportunity fell into my lap: teaching in prison. I had no experience as a teacher nor any experience working in prison. However, I was trying to find a way to survive and maybe even help people, so I took the job. At first, the idea was to just make a few extra bucks. How hard could it be? Given lessons, tests, and even PowerPoints, I would just have to show up, lecture, and leave.
What I found was several men looking for a second chance. Clawing for a way forward in a world that didn’t care, and honestly didn’t want them. I saw people who realized exactly how powerful an education is and how much they should not squander a second chance. I also realized exactly how different their experiences were. I grew up in a household where food was always available, parents always cared, and the right choice was, almost, always made. These guys had things rougher than I would ever have. They also interacted with people who I would never see.
What I found was a group of people willing to learn from me and honestly teach me how to be a teacher. They taught me how to teach as much as I taught them public health. I also was able to tie what was happening in the world to what was happening in the text, and they kept challenging me to bring more of my A game, or even MAKE an A game. I was able to answer their questions, and in turn, answer their family’s questions. I was able to inspire them to learn more, to use what they learned to answer other questions, and to change their lives.
At the end of my public health class, many of the students, not all, but enough, told me they would start getting their vaccine shots each year and make their families do so as well. I had changed their lives, and their families lives for the better. I had the opportunity to do that thanks to taking the path of being a teacher.