Navigating Life’s Challenges with a Teacher’s Compass


I wish I had been one of those teachers who always knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. So often I’ve heard my colleagues talk about how they always knew they wanted to be a teacher, and how they would make their friends play “school” when they were young. I think this is why we often hear that people are born with the traits necessary to be teachers.

My path to teaching was quite different; to be honest, it came as a shock to most people. When I was 18 years old and told my family and friends that I wanted to be a teacher, my best friend actually laughed. No one could believe I would want to spend my entire adult life in the place I hated the most: school. I could barely believe it myself. My high school career was less than stellar. Although I was in many honors classes, I rarely attended them. And when I did show up, I was never prepared and did not participate. And, much to the dismay of my parents, I even failed 10th-grade math! I was not anyone’s ideal candidate to become a teacher. And I was not the type of student who could understand why teachers deserved our thanks and appreciation.

But, there was a moment at the beginning of my senior year where my favorite teacher, Mr. Domencetti, sat me down and told me that I should consider teaching. Mr. D (as we called him) was a rare type of teacher. As the director of music in our school district, he conducted the marching band, both high school bands and the jazz band. Although I wasn’t a great student, I was a dedicated musician throughout middle and high school, and Mr. D was the type of teacher and person I respected the most. He was kind to everyone. Straight A students and students labeled as a lost cause were always welcome in his office to talk and find refuge from a rough day. Mr. D would always greet us with a smile and an invitation to talk, no matter how busy he was.

It was one of those days when I needed shelter from the storm of high school hallways when Mr. D told me I should become a teacher. He told me I had a unique perspective, because my high school experience wasn’t perfect. That perspective, he said, would allow me to reach students who need someone to turn to when no one gives them a chance. He told me I could take the lessons I had learned from being a not-so-great student and use them to help other people in my position, and he said that teachers so often praised the good kids but had trouble meeting the needs of the kids who are struggling.

And so, I gave it a shot. I applied to college education programs, and even wrote my college essay about Mr. D. And a few years later, I found myself in front of a classroom of my own trying to best instill into every student the confidence and voice Mr. D had given to me. I tried to remember his mantra, “learning is hard, and that’s OK” and to let my students know that struggling is part of the process; it’s through those struggles that we grow and learn. Through Mr. D, I became a teacher, and was able (in my own small way) to touch the future the way he did.

Every time I returned to my hometown, I would stop by my high school and visit Mr. D to thank him for helping me find my path in life. As a teacher, it was always an amazing feeling to have students recognize the work we did each day, and I expressed that gratitude to my teacher. In this time of extreme pressure on teachers, it’s more important than ever that we reach out to our former and current teachers or colleagues and thank them for the impact they’ve had on our lives. When teachers are bogged down in the day-to-day, it can mean so much to hear a simple “thank you.” To make this even easier, Google Applied Digital Skills has created a free lesson, Show Appreciation with Google Slides with a template to help students and colleagues pass along a quick word of thanks for the teacher, coach or even a friend who has made a deep impact on our lives. You can see examples of them here and here. It’s a great resource (even for adults!) to show thanks to those who are always working tirelessly on our behalf. It’s important to show our appreciation for teachers year-round, and not just during teacher appreciation week!


Join us this summer in Washington, DC for the biennial TEACH Conference! Connect with educators from around the country and participate in comprehensive, hands-on experiences that provide you with concrete strategies, tools and materials you can use in the classroom to meet students’ needs.


Kat_Duttkin's picture

Submitted by Kat_Duttkin

I am in school to become a teacher right now, and I am someone that you described as always knowing they wanted to teach. I had a math teacher in high school that had experiences that are similar to the ones you describe. She is one of my mentors on my journey as a future educator. Thank you for sharing your story, you are not alone! I admire your courage to pursue something that did not seem as obvious to you or some people you were close to. Even as someone who was great at math, my own teacher who is like you gave/gives me advice that is very unique and I can never find anywhere. Students really pick up on teacher attitudes about school, and with your background and your attitude, you surely are a great asset to your students.