A letter to Ms. Thomsen: the woman who changed my life without either of us realizing it, until now.

As of late, I have struggled to answer the seemingly simple question, “Why do you want to be a teacher?” My struggle is not founded in uncertainty, but rather the inability to transcribe what is in my heart, to paper. Teaching is not only the career I have chosen, but the lifestyle that I choose to live every day: a lifelong devotion to encourage others, lend a helping hand, & ignite the curiosity that burns within all humans. I want to be a teacher, because what makes me happiest is positively influencing others. More than anything, I want to leave lasting, meaningful, & inspiring impacts on my students, whether they realize it or not.

In 11th grade, my chemistry teacher, Ms. Thomsen, asked each of us to think of someone who impacted us in our scientific lives. We were to dedicate our lab notebooks to them. It could be a scientist, a mentor, or an inventor, anyone really. I don’t remember who came to mind that September day at Milaca High School, but whatever name I wrote down 6 years ago, is drastically different than the name I would write down if asked to do the same today.

Ms. Thomsen was everything that I strive to emulate as a science teacher. She created a welcoming learning environment for all students, & motivated each of us to do our best & work hard. Rather than forcing us to simply regurgitate information about Chemistry, she encouraged us to get our hands dirty & DO science. She always brought lessons full circle, by showing us how they related to the real world, & she had a gift for instilling confidence in those who lacked their own. Perhaps most importantly to the younger version of myself, Ms. Thomsen modeled what it meant to be a fearless woman in a field dominated by men. I could write numerous essays about all of the incredible male science teachers that I’ve had over the years, but Ms. Thomsen was the first female science teacher I had in high school. If it weren’t for the passion that Ms. Thomsen brought to her classroom, I am not sure that I would have pursued science at the collegiate level at all.

It took me a long time to grasp that there is no limit on what we can discover through science, but when I did, I knew that I wanted to explore it all, & share it with others. I quickly realized I didn’t really want a career in science. Rather, a career devoted to unveiling the scientists within the next generation in hopes that I might inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences themselves.

In three months I will be tossing my cap at graduation, & like I dedicated my science notebook in 11th grade, I’d like to take the time to dedicated my degree to someone who inspired me. I am very passionate about science, & yes, scientists make incredible, noteworthy discoveries every day, but I have come to realize they are not who has inspired me most in my scientific life. My passions were in fact galvanized by my past teachers. Unfortunately, Ms. Thomsen passed during my freshman year of college, so I never had the chance to tell her how much of an impact she had on my life, or that I am now dedicating my life to being the type of teacher she was, but that isn’t the point of teaching, is it?

Interestingly enough, this is one of the aspects of teaching that I find most beautiful. I am not becoming a teacher because I expect my students to tell me that I changed their lives, but I AM becoming a teacher to change their lives. I want to be a teacher, because dedicated teachers played a crucial role in my life, expecting nothing in return & I feel that it is my calling to do the same for the next generation, whether they realize it or not.

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