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Living the Dream That Began in a Parking Lot – How I Became a Teacher

A question I get often is, “Why did you become a teacher?”

I love telling this story, because it involves a collection of concidences that I personally believe weren’t coincidences. I’ve always been a church-going guy, so when I look back at how my life was changed by some of these events, I honestly believe it was part of some divine plan to bring me to where I am today.

Here’s how it happened:

I graduated college with a degree in English and a minor in Computer Programming, not really knowing what I was going to do with my life. I was assuming that I would be a tech writer, creating manuals for computer software, etc. I wasn’t really looking forward to sitting in front of a computer all day checking for spelling and grammatical errors, however.

I knew I definitely didn’t want to be a teacher.

I had worked as a subsititute teacher for two years, and I hated it. Having to go to a different school every day, basically baby-sitting a group of students who were set on trying to take advantage of you had given me a bad image of what it was like to be a teacher.

Then I was given a long-term substitute position in an ESL class. ESL stands for English as a Second Language. Now we call it ELD – English Language Development.

A long term position is when you are the teacher for more than just a day. In my case, it lasted 30 days.

In those 30 days, I found my calling in life. I saw how the students learned. I got to know the students. I had to lesson plan. I saw the expression on their faces when they grasped a concept. It was great! In those 30 days, I discovered the joy of teaching.

Unfortunately, according to my contract, I could only teach in one class for 30 days before I had to be replaced, unless the principal requested a waiver to that contract clause, which he did.

I was given permission to teach beyond the 30 day limit. I even received a raise in my daily pay rate. That was nice.

I taught for anoter 15 days, loving every moment. I worked way too hard back then, making up packets, grading, etc., but I loved it.

Then it happened.

I remember walking into the office to get my classroom key. (They still didn’t issue me my own. I was just a sub, remember?)

The secretary said, “Oh by the way, Mr. Rangel. We hired a teacher for the class. Today is your last day.”

I was crushed.

I spend that day showing the new teacher around the class, getting her up to speed on where the students were in their studies.

I didn’t even have a chance to say good-bye.

Kids were crying. I was almost crying. It was a sad day. There was one girl in particular who was having a hard time. Her name was Thavonne, and she was a Vietnamese girl who was crying in the back. I’ll never forget that image. I went back and tried to explain things to her, but I know she felt that I had betrayed her by leaving.

I remember telling myself as I walked to my car that day, “I’m going to be a teacher, and nobody is ever going to take my class from me again.”

My next question was, “How do I become a teacher?”

I had already graduated from college, and I really didn’t want to go back and start again.

That’s when the “coincidences” started.

A few days later, I got a call from my mom. She was working a bilingual instructional aide in a local school district. She was sent to a conference for teachers’ aides and while there, she got lost.

My mom walked into the wrong room by accident.

In that room, there was a lady talking about a new scholarship program for Hispanic college graduates who wanted to become teachers. It was called the Hispanic Teacher Mentoring Program, and it was being offered at Claremont Graduate School. (Claremont Graduate University now).

What a coincidence!

I’m Hispanic.

I have a college degree.

I want to be a teacher.

My mom just happens to walk in the exact room where this new program is being discussed.

What a “coincidence!” So cool.

My mom decided to spend the entire session getting more and more information about the program, asking questions, completely ignoring the real reason she was at the conference.

When she told me about the program, I was excited to say the least. Not only was I able to pursue my desire of being a teacher, but I was able to go to a prestigious school and have almost all of it paid for.

My next question was, “What’s the catch?”

Well the catch was that I had to be bilingual.

I needed to be able to speak both English and Spanish. When my mom told me this, I saw all my dreams begin to fade away. I didn’t speak Spanish that well.

I could understand everything in Spanish, but I had a difficult time speaking the language, and according to the terms of the scholarship, there was going to be an interview portion that was to be conducted in Spanish.

(By the way, I consider myself fluent in both English and Spanish now. I married a Mexican woman who spoke little English, so I was forced to practice my Spanish in order to get her to like me, and eventually marry me. Our courting was a lot of sign language, but now we are both fluent in both languages, so my advice to those who want to learn Spanish – marry a Mexican woman.)

Anyway, back to my story…

I also had to write an essay in Spanish detailing why I wanted to become a teacher. This was relatively easy. I had taken Spanish classes in high school and college, so I knew how to write the language. That, along with my Spanish-English dictionary and the help from my mom, I wrote a nice essay.

I still had the interview, however, that was weighing on my mind. I couldn’t fake that. I couldn’t bring in a dictionary into the room. I definitely couldn’t bring in my mom. Duh.

I was so stressed out as I drove to the school for the interview. I said several prayers, and decided I was just going to do my best – which was not good at all I knew.

When I arrived at the college, I was invited into a room with one of the professors. She was an Hispanic lady who greeted me with, “Buenos Dias. ¿Como está? (Good morning. How are you?)

This one I knew. I responded, “Muy bien. Gracias. ¿Y usted? (Very well. Thank you. And you?)

Then she said seven words that changed my life.

“So tell me a little bit about yourself?

This she said in English. In ENGLISH!

I know English!

I have a degree in English!

I fit four years of college into five and graduated with a BA in English!

So I answered – in English.

We spent the rest of the interview speaking English.

At the end of the meeting, the professor said, “Sam we would love to have you as one of our students here at CGS.” (or something like that.)

I got the scholarship, and I spend the next two years at Claremont.

The second of those two years, I was placed in a school on an internship.

I thought it was going to be as a student teacher where I would work under another Master teacher, but I was surprised when I found out that I was going to be THE teacher, and I would get visits from my college mentor to see how I was doing. So, after one year of school, I was in my own classroom, getting paid to be a teacher.

I had realized my dream that started back in a parking lot.

That was 23 years ago.

I still find it hard to believe how my life was changed. Not only am I doing what I know I was destined to do, but I’ve been able to serve as a Master teacher to other Claremont Graduate University students.


Here’s my challenge to other teacher bloggers: Create a post that describes how and why you became a teacher. Let me know about it, and I’ll share it on SITC. Tweet me the link at @SamRangelSITC or send me an email.

By the way, I don’t believe in coincidences.

Thanks, Sam

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  1. May 18, 2011    

    Well, this post was certainly worth a good laugh.

    I’m actually working on a post about my entry into teaching, and it seems we have a few things in common – particularly blaming our mothers for getting us into teaching.

    I understand completely about dreams & crushing disappointments as a relief/substitute teacher. I’ve been there, done that … on more than one occasion.

    We get knocked down, we get back up again. Its hard to bounce back, but we come back as stronger teachers for it.

  2. Sam's Gravatar Sam
    May 19, 2011    

    Hey Michael,

    I have a soft spot in my heart for substitute teachers due to the experiences I had. I always make sure my subs have an easy day.

    I still get knocked down. I still get up. I still love what I do.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. May 30, 2011    

    As promised, here’s my story – published as a guest post on @whatedsaid’s blog:

    • Sam's Gravatar Sam
      May 31, 2011    

      Hey Michael,
      That was a great post. “an encounter with one particular child would change the course of my life.” We all have encounters like this. Now, you are poised to change the course of many students’ lives. Keep doing what you’re doing. Thanks.

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