Going through hell: how I earned the title of teacher

This is a story about how my soul was crushed over and over. My dreams were repeatedly stomped on. My hope was destroyed, restored, and destroyed again. It’s a true story.

But don’t worry, it has a happy ending.

This summer I’m going to regale you with stories from my first year of being Mr. H, biology teacher extraordinaire. But before I open that chapter, I believe it’s important that I explain how I got here. Why does a man suddenly switch to a brand new career at 44 years old?

First, it didn’t happen “suddenly.” It took time, patience and one hell of a lot of perseverance. Pay attention, kids. This is how real life works.

My initial career chose me; I didn’t choose it. I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school, making me a prime target for military recruiters. I joined the Marine Corps. My job for the next decade in the Marines was public affairs. When I left the Corps, my resume helped me land a job as assistant spokesman for a sheriff’s office where I worked for another decade. There were other, short term jobs in between, but these were my two main jobs in roughly the same career track.

But there was a problem. Both the Corps and the sheriff’s office had interesting aspects to them, but they weren’t what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t give them my full effort and attention. I just went through the motions and collected my paychecks. For those 20 years I went along with life’s flow, washing up on whatever shores it took me. In 2006 the building dissatisfaction and frustration finally got to be too much. It was time to make a change.

For years I had toyed with the idea of teaching. My wife at the time was a teacher, which made me envious. I also really liked science. I took every science course my high school had to offer and I did (and still do) volunteer work for a science education advocacy organization. But without a college degree, teaching was just a daydream.

In 2006 I seized control. I enrolled in college with the goals of getting a teaching degree and certification. It was a difficult journey with a lot of “oh no, my assignment deadline is tomorrow!” moments. Here’s a piece of advice for you young folks out there: get your degree while you are young. It’s much more difficult juggling a more-than-full-time job, a family, and college. Oh, and I wrote a book, too. College is lot more fun and fulfilling when you can devote your full attention to it. My college experience was a blur of assignments turned in at the last possible moment and exams I never felt prepared for.

I finally earned the degree and certification a few years later and it was time to go after the next goal of getting a teaching job. But the timing was all wrong. I graduated in the middle of the school year when the chances of my getting a full time teaching job were slim. My family wouldn’t be able to get by on a substitute teacher’s pay, especially since it would take a while for my degree and certification to be officially processed and in the system. I wound up accepting a deal to continue working at the sheriff’s office for another full year. My teaching dreams were postponed but not dead.

About a year later I applied for a job at the school down the street from my house. I scheduled an interview with the principal and things were looking great. I did my teacher internship there, so getting hired was about as close to a sure thing as I could get. Then my wife left me. It was a soul-crushing surprise. Shortly thereafter, I had to file bankruptcy. At about the same time, foreclosure proceedings started on my house. Emotionally and financially, there was no way I could make the stressful job transition. I reluctantly called the principal and cancelled the interview. It looked like my teaching dreams were dead.

Given some time, life calmed. A gorgeous woman rescued me from my sinking depression and stuck with me when I decided I was ready to give this teaching dream another try. I was bursting with excitement as I signed up for a teacher job fair, feeling full of hope and sunshine. At the job fair my confidence soared higher with each morning interview. I was knocking them out of the park! In the afternoon all the applicants were assigned a group number and told to report to the auditorium at specific times to learn how many hiring recommendations each applicant got. I was assigned to the last group. At the time, I didn’t know what that really meant.

I got zero recommendations. None. Zip. Nada. The excited new hires gathered in the gymnasium to celebrate. I slinked out the front door and drove home, full of disappointment and dark clouds. What did I do wrong? Nearly every interview felt like it had been wonderful! Why didn’t I get even a single thumbs-up? To this day I don’t know. Perhaps my lack of teaching experience and the length of time between earning my degree and applying for a job were my downfalls. I’ll probably never know for sure.

My teaching dreams were definitely dead. Buried. No hope.

A few weeks later I got a call. A middle school principal wanted an interview. A glimmer of hope was restored but I was cautious. I was tired of that crushing feel of defeat. The interview a few days later was OK. It didn’t feel as well received as the ones at the job fair. Sure enough, another disappointment. “I’ve decide to go in another direction,” he said.

Dreams. Dead.

Quotation-Malcolm-Forbes-victory-defeat-Meetville-Quotes-1156Then another phone call came about two weeks before the first day of school. A high school assistant principal wanted an interview. Could I come in that afternoon? Not sure what to think at this point, I made the arrangements and went to the interview. One of their biology teachers had transferred to a different school at the last minute. They needed to fill that position right away. That night I was told they wanted me and the next day I was officially offered the position. By the end of that day I had keys to my new classroom.

What the hell had just happened?

A week and a half later I was going to be greeting my first students. That was an emotional roller coaster! I’ll tell you all about that desperate scramble later, though.

Right now, let me tell you that I was named the first-year teacher of the year at my school. I was chosen out of about a dozen other teachers, many of whom were hired at that cursed job fair.

Have you been paying attention, kids? Want something? Go get it. Work hard for it. Don’t give up.

I’m a teacher!

2 thoughts on “Going through hell: how I earned the title of teacher

  1. Congratulations, Brandon! I appreciate your efforts in the defense and promotion of sound science education in Florida and beyond.

  2. Helluva story – you got guts!

    For some reason, this reminds me of a line from the old Whole Earth Catalog, to the effect of:

    “The trick is, when you finally hit the right note, don’t drop the violin.”

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