Sarah Styf | Accepting the Unexpected Journey

August’s guest post is written by a dear friend and former teaching colleague, Alicia Drier. We started working together when she was a brand new teacher and I was starting a new teaching job at the same school. Over the years we have sharpened each other as teachers and writers, and I can definitely say that I am a better teacher and writer because of our friendship. As many of us are returning to the classroom in the coming weeks and the questions about what that looks like keep some of us up at night, Alicia reflects on the unexpected diverging paths her teaching career has taken over the past ten years.

I was 12 years old when I first decided I wanted to be a teacher. It may sound early to have my life figured out, but at that point my dreams of becoming a ballerina/veterinarian or a full-time writer had been debunked by my parents. And since my dad was already a professional educator, the image of spending every day of my adult life in a classroom sounded like coming home. My parents had both shown me through their own careers that a job that made a difference was far more fulfilling than one that solely paid the bills. And so I decided to change the world, one student at a time.

So I did the work. I went to a four-year college that specializes in teaching and got a double major in secondary education and English and a double minor in Lutheran doctrine and mathematics (crazy combo, I know). I was offered a job right out of student teaching, and I went to school part-time in the evenings for four years to complete my masters degree in writing studies. I volunteered in my community and went to church every Sunday. But five years into my teaching career, there were no other words for how I was feeling: I was exhausted and uncertain if I was ever going to make a difference for even one kid.

This triggered my two-year sabbatical from the full-time classroom, a shift that involved a move from Fort Wayne to Chicago and a 180 career shift away from teaching. Those years are their own story, one that I’m still unraveling today. The short version is that I’m writing this now from a desk in Indianapolis, and I will be starting my ninth year of teaching this August. And the reasons I keep coming back to the classroom? They keep revealing themselves with each new school year..

Every day is different:

During my time in Chicago, I worked several desk jobs in offices around the city. A week into each job, I could have told you what the first Monday of every month would look like and the third Tuesday and the second Wednesday. It was one of the hardest mental shifts I had to make from my time as a teacher. Because as an educator, every single day is full of surprises. From the energy students bring into the room, to the surprise school assemblies, to classroom technology suddenly dying, my mind is stretched and engaged in a way unlike any other work I’ve ever done. Someday I hope we can get a brain-scan of an educator throughout their day. I can only imagine how bright that scan would be!

Alicia Drier

I get to share my passion:

I was raised in a home of avid bibliophiles. Next to writing my own work, reading is one of my greatest passions. And while this meant I was volunteered to lead several book clubs among my office friends in Chicago, nothing rivals the level of sheer joy in a classroom when a student finally engages with a text. Being an English teacher challenges me every day to find books and reading material that is relevant to my students, that brings them out of their shells and inspires them toward empathy and action. I don’t know another career out there that offers me opportunities like this.

Alicia Drier

Teenagers are better humans than us:

Every single day I walk away from the school where I teach and no matter the failures, I am constantly brought to my knees by the way these kids are already winning in the world. As a teacher, I get to celebrate victories, sooth heartbreak, encourage teamwork, and lift up the voice of the quiet student in the back. In so many ways, teenagers simply don’t have as many walls built around their emotions as we do as adults. And as a result, the classroom space is often raw and unfettered in a way the rest of society simply isn’t. I may hope to encourage one student every day in my job, but the reality is that they are the ones who impress on me what love and grace and “barbaric yawps” are really meant to look like.

Alicia Drier

We still have work to do:

I would be remiss to ignore the fact I am writing this post in 2020, a year when education is full of more uncertainty and grief than the rhythm of the known. I am blessed to be working at a school now where my principal has responded to the faculty’s reservations and is working to create an environment driven by safety and awareness. But more than anything, I have learned in the past six months that the classroom is where change has always started and will continue to grow. Be kind to your teacher friends this fall, because we’re trying to instill in young minds a foundation for a better world.

Alicia Drier

This August, I will put on a mask and pack a personal bottle of hand sanitizer in my teacher bag next to my favorite grading pens. I will come back to the classroom because it is the most important space where I can make a difference. I will return as a teacher every fall for the foreseeable future because of the challenge, not in spite of it. Books will be loved by the right reader without my tutelage, but I will not be the same without the opportunity to teach.

And with every “aha” moment I share with a student – on a page or through a screen – I can only hope I’m making my 12-year-old self proud.

About the Guest Author

Alicia Drier

Alicia Drier is a high school English teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana, by day and pie shop aficionado by night. She has previously self-published two novels through; been published by the literary magazines Confluence, Obra/Artifact, and Tilde; been featured on the podcast The Other Stories; and worked as a writer at Study Breaks Magazine. You can access her previously published writing here.

Thoughtful and nuanced responses welcome!