The other day, one of my students asked me if I had always wanted to be a teacher. As the words fell from his mouth, I enacted one of my superpowers and stopped time. I looked across the teenager-filled room and took a moment to speculate their time in life. Indeed, it was in their seats many years ago that I speculated my own future, and it was at their age that I felt that itch of mystery, adventure, and worry about what the future might hold.
Consequently, I beheld the 26 sophomore faces, their ages ranging from 14-16, and smiled as I contemplated how in the near future, they would be my doctor, my insurance agent, my co-worker, and my peer. I say these words because I have worked long enough for this to have already come true.
And as they sat paused in my moment, I walked around my podium and pondered the original question. I knew the answer, but a simple monosyllable reply seemed to rob the history of it. The answer is “No.” No, I have not always wanted to be a teacher. But that is not enough.
Thus, I reminisced on how I started out my vocational journey as a bus-boy; I cleaned off tables at the old Hen House restaurant, carried them to the dishwasher and washed them. I doubt anyone remembers that old barn of an eatery.
Comparatively, at another job, I was a professional hamburger flipper. I made up the title for myself and it amused me because it was true. Seriously. I took a class on it. I often tell my students how I had to watch a video, take a test, and demonstrate my ability. To this day, I can still do the Wendy’s four-corner press on a square hamburger.
The low point in my working career, literally and metaphorically, would have to be when I was employed as a painter in a prison in Pikeville. I will always remember one particular moment from that job. I was young and honestly not good at the position and felt I was given jobs to get me out of the way. As such, one day I found myself two floors below ground level, in a halfway built prison, in the back edge of a gigantic room, in a small 5x8 drunk-cell, painting its cement block walls by the light of a work lamp. It was very dismal and very lonely. After I finished one cell, I went to another, and then another. To this day, sometimes I wake up saying, “Shakin the bush boss. Still Shakin. Shakin the bush boss!”
Then there was the bank. I worked at three different banks, and from that first day of employment as a banker, the last found me working with many of the same people. The bank was perhaps one of my favorite jobs. As a matter of fact, I found employment at the bank while working at the factory. I didn’t like the factory. If it wasn’t for the bank, I might still be walking back and forth on an assembly line, pulling levers and pushing buttons, making pistons for cars I would never see.
Consequently, I worked at least eight different jobs before I became a bank employee. And when I became a bank employee, I worked four different jobs inside that institution, one of the last being a repo-man. My supervisor gave that designation a friendlier name: Loan Adjustment Officer. We repossessed cars, trucks, boats, four wheelers, and one time, a trailer. However, many times I found it hard being the hatchet-man to a lot of people’s financial low point.
Consequently, my supervisor and I have been chased down the interstate by indignant men, had guns pulled on us, dogs sent after us, and one time had the Harlan Police Department telling us to come into the police station because we were in deep trouble. I swear sometimes I heard Uncle Jesse saying, “Them Duke boys are gonna repo the wrong car one day.”
Beyond the adventures and the sometimes-grilling jobs, I was going to college. I wrote a paper about the Iliad while I worked at Frisch’s Big Boy; I gave a presentation about teaching while I worked at Wendy’s; I did observations while working at a clothing store. It has been a long, arduous road.
Finally, I un-pause the class, or more truly, come back to reality from my introspection, then I reply to my student’s question.
No, I did not always want to be a teacher, but I have worked my whole life to get here.
Brian Theodore is a language arts teacher at Corbin High School and lives in Corbin with his wife, who is also a teacher at CHS. He can be contacted at Theteachersdesk.firstname.lastname@example.org.