I’ve spent my life with words. Not just studying, but playing with, analyzing, thinking about and admiring them. Teaching English, therefore, is a joy. I get to immerse myself in words and there’s a never-ending supply of them! They jump out at me, lean against me and whisper to me most often when I’m with my students and they catch my gasp as I touch a word in awe or delight. An odd profession for someone who didn’t grow up around books, I realize.
To the surprise of my students, I tell them that I represent a paradox: my childhood home contained only the Bible and coloring books. Sure, my mom invested in encyclopedias once, but the rest of the family looked at them suspiciously, at best. I wanted to read them cover to cover, but the unspoken question was always, why? So I read privately. I rode my bike to the public library and sat among the books – content to just be among them. Of course I browsed and read, too, but I also somehow knew that I was on to something.
Elementary school meant reading through all the stories in color-coded boxes. I knew that I was a good reader because of the box’s color and the speed with which I progressed, but what I really cared about was reading more. In junior high, I remember reading “The Monkey’s Paw” and the teacher unlocked a few secrets: there was order and reason to the author’s craft. Layers existed that I could see and it was so exciting! Then…the high school. It boasted a larger library and I spent many hours there crook-necked as I scanned the spines. Just reading, putting titles and authors together.
It was in 10th grade that I realized that I had a knack for this. My teacher took notice of my affinity and encouraged me. By twelfth grade, I was in love. I had always known I’d attend college, but now I had a purpose: I would learn more about books and writing and if I was lucky, could spend many years among these friends. And I have…but what I didn’t know at the time was that my students would become my friends, too. It’s not that I don’t have healthy peer relationships – I do, but with my students I can get giddy about a story or hug a book (yes, I literally do this) or marvel at a word’s nuances.
I don’t want this journey to end, and I don’t know where I’m going but as long as I have a well-turned phrase waiting around the corner, I’ll enjoy the ride.