Teacher's Desk: Anatomy of a career

Mine was a circuitous route to the classroom. I initially planned on a teaching career, belonged to Future Teachers of America in high school, and started my secondary teaching classes at Metropolitan State College in the 1970s. But I decided not to go into teaching at the time because the prevailing school of thought was to bend over backwards for poor and minority students rather than help them meet high expectations - contrary to my values - so I did a variety of other things for some years. It took a bout with pneumonia to finally get me back to teaching.

In my feverish bed, I decided I wanted to become a school principal so I could affect as many students as possible. I began working for the Gear-Up program at a Denver middle school. I lost at musical chairs, so I tutored and performed inclusionary services in the seventh and eighth grade math classrooms. The poor seventh grade teacher was earning a license in an alternative licensure program having previously been an engineer.

One of the best ways for me to help, so we thought, was for me to pull half the class of thirty some students, so that he could get his classroom management under control. It probably wasn’t a good idea since one of the students who stayed in his classroom lit another student’s hair on fire. Eight weeks later, I filled in as the seventh grade math teacher. It went reasonably smoothly, but one day two of my female students began to fight. I couldn’t get to the telephone, so I sent a student to get help and I protected the computer! My priorities were obviously in the correct place!

While attending graduate school, my student colleagues suggested I go into special education since I needed to have a teaching license in order to obtain a principal’s license at the end of my graduate program. I finally found a position with an elementary school in Aurora Public Schools district. I worked with kindergarteners with developmental delays in an inclusive setting. I had great fun with the kindergartners, forged nice relationships with parents, but always felt that I was all thumbs. A troubled high school in Denver Public Schools posted a job listing for a special education math teacher. One day I was teaching sweet kindergartners and the next day teenage thugs. I had a case of educational whiplash. Don’t get me wrong; I love my thugs. It truly was an interesting experience. At 1:20 P.M. every day for two and one half years, the alarm went off and we would evacuate the building. At lunch time, there was a girl fight two or three times a week. There was always some sort of craziness going on.

I absolutely loved my students. I built great relationships with them---and their parents and we frequently tag-teamed to discard poor behaviors and replace them with positive behaviors. My final year there, I taught both math and life science. Once in two of my classes on the same day, students totally broke me up. During a math class, one of my male students stood up and said, “Did you call me gay?” I immediately told him, “No. Do you want me to?” We all broke up. Later in a science class, after I reviewed the previous day’s lesson on male anatomy, one of my juniors who was engaged to be married blurted out, “I have a penis!” “Oh,” I said. “Whose?”

It may have been a full moon (cue moon jokes here). Or just the lingering fever delirium that never goes away when you have the teaching bug.

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator at Colorado High School Charter, holds a masters degree in educational leadership, and ran for the State Board of Education.