“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”     Nelson Mandela

Starting college at the age of 17, I was unsure of what I wanted for my life, professionally or personally. I studied communications, but I wasn’t sure what kind of career I wanted to pursue when I graduated. After several small jobs in sales, in insurance, and in a restaurant, I learned about the property management business. I loved my eight years with apartment management, but after having a family, the long hours and weekend work became too much for our schedules.  I decided to stay home with my sons and regroup as far as my career was concerned.

Staying home with my boys for a couple of years was a wonderful blessing. Eventually, I wanted to start back part-time to ease into a new job and ensure childcare. Through the advice of my mother, who at the time was a Richland One Employee, I applied to be a substitute teacher.  She knew my love for children and thought it would be a good opportunity while I explored other options. I loved substitute teaching and discovered I wanted to pursue a full-time job in a school. She told me about instructional assistant positions in the district. I knew instructional assistants aided teachers in their daily needs as well as worked directly with children, and this felt like a perfect fit. I was offered and accepted a position at an elementary school. Needless to say, I fell in love with my job, the teachers, and the children.

During my time as an instructional assistant, I was able to work with multiple grade levels. I worked with small groups of students and assisted teachers in their many responsibilities. Seeing the children grow and learn was a remarkable experience, especially with those I was able to work with for more than a year. It was this experience that made me realize education was the right path for me. I wanted to further my education so that I could be more equipped to support children.

I wanted my own classroom with my own students.

In my second year as an instructional assistant, I was asked to make a bulletin board in a drab hallway whose appearance needed improving. This area would be used for small groups. I didn’t know how to make a bulletin board or what to put on it. I began thinking of things that might motivate and encourage the students with whom I would be working. I found the following quotes:  

B.B. King: “The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”

Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”

Vincent van Gogh: “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

I found myself motivated by the very quotes I used to motivate my students. I wanted to work in education for twenty more years, and I wanted to be better equipped and prepared to help students reach their potential.

I felt I had the qualities of a teacher. But unfortunately, unless I returned to college to get a degree in education, teaching didn’t feel like an option. I briefly mentioned this to my assistant principal, and she told me about a program at Columbia College called Alternative Pathways to Education Certification. That moment changed my life. The program was a perfect fit for me. It allowed me to keep my job as an instructional aide and go to school.

When considering the reality of going back to school, still working as an assistant, and being a wife and a mother, I panicked and didn’t think I could do it. I waited on pins and needles for three weeks to find out if I had been accepted into the program. Upon receiving my acceptance notification, I felt so many emotions at once: shock, excitement, and fear. The program began with a summer assessment course led by a phenomenal professor. Her leadership, ability to teach, and general disposition gave me confidence I didn’t know I had. I learned to trust in my abilities as a developing educator. Every class that followed, over the course of a year and a half, taught me how to become the kind of teacher I wanted to be. Eventually, this prepared me for a successful first year.  

If you asked me five years ago if I wanted to be a teacher, I would have answered, “No.”  It never occurred to me that this would be an attainable goal. Now that I am in my first year of teaching at age 41 I can honestly say I have found my career and my calling. If you are having similar feelings and want to pursue education, there are options for certification. I encourage you to explore the possibilities.

This story is published as part of a storytelling retreat hosted by the CarolinaCrED housed in the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. CarolinaCrED partners nominated practicing educators, administrators, and system leaders to share their stories. The Center for Teaching Quality(CTQ), a CarolinaCrED partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @Carolina_CrED and @teachingquality.