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Signs That The Education Field Was The Wrong Career (for me)

Updated on November 16, 2010

It has been said that for every five teachers that enter the education field, three leave within the first five years for reasons ranging from being unable to control a classroom to that old standby: The salary being too low.

As someone who left this particular profession nearly three years ago, even though I was in that field for more than 15 years I can certainly relate.

The two main reasons why I no longer work with young people are:

1.  The fact that I was ultimately ineffective with those kids who had learning and/or behavior problems, and also...

2.  Because I have Asperger's disorder, a high functioning form of autism that renders me as unable to interact with co-workers and supervisors in an appropriate manner, at least not consistently.

The longest that I worked in any one education job was three years as an elementary P.E. teacher in a local school. I was either fired or forced to resign from 11 of the no less than 12 schools that I was employed at over a 17-year span, due to not being able to fit in because of my Asperger's.

Looking back, I realized that there were signs from my own days as a student that should have told me that working with children was going to be a square peg in the round hole type of thing for me.

For instance, a basic commandment of working in education is to believe that all students can learn and be successful, regardless of natural ability or background. I didn't think like that as a kid, and unfortunately felt more or less the same way as an adult, to be perfectly honest.

I specifically remember as a child thinking that those fellow classmates who struggled with the reading, writing, spelling and math and got bad grades were lazy and dumb. I didn't know anything about learning differences or disabilities or cultural backgrounds playing a factor to whatever lack of success they had. School was easy for me and since my grades were always near the top of the class, in my young mind the kids who didn't get it were - pardon the expression - "retards", the term that we used at that time.

A perfect example of this was during the 4th grade. We would get ditto sheets as part of our lessons, and this girl who sat across from my desk would constantly plead to me, "How do you do this?" When I told her to read the directions, she would say, "I can't read."

I now recognize that she came from a poor Mexican immigrant family, where education is not necessarity the top priority. She may have had a learning disability on top of that, but at that time I thought she was just stupid.

I'm not proud of that, but it was what it was.

Fast forward thirty years: I'm working in a predominantly black, inner city area in an after school program, helping fourth and fifth graders with their homework and doing various other activities with them. One day this 4th grader, who had behavior issues in the form of talking back to me all the time and slacking off with her homework throughout the year, asked me what time it was.

In response to me pointing toward the clock on the wall, she said in a whiny voice, "I can't tell time!" I couldn't believe it, her being ten years old and not being able to read a clock!

Though I realized later that she had a learning disability with a reading level far below what it should have been, I couldn't help but think that either she was extremely lacking in intelligence, or she was extremely lazy while in the first grade, the age when telling time is taught, which I know is the worst attitude one can have when working with youngsters; it was a definite sign that that profession was not for me.

I recall as a student feeling similarly about those classmates of mine who constantly got into and caused trouble. I know now that many of them had some behavioral disorder like ADD or ADHD, but for the bulk of my youth any for many years afterward, I saw those troublemakers as just that - troublemakers, punks and incorrigible losers.

The fact that I was victimized and bullied by those kids didn't help matters or my views on this any.

Unfortunately, those views I had on young folks constantly causing trouble and disrespecting authority carried over into my career in education; that clearly wasn't good.

A particular memory that comes to mind was at the school where I taught P.E. for three years. During my last year there were roughly 15 fourth graders who did nothing but tear the school apart with their antics; 15 rotten apples spoiling the bunch.

Nothing I or anyone else did had any positive effect, and we tried almost everything short of suspension - which the principal wouldn't pull the trigger on and was desperately needed.

So by the time I gathered them all together and told them that they would be watched like hawks and nailed for any rule they broke, I had already written those delinquents off as losers and lost causes, which those who work with kids can't ever do.

Feeling the way I felt regarding this issue as a young kid should have told me that I wasn't cut out to be successful with children. One must have an infinite amount of patience with those young-uns who struggle with classwork and behavior, and my patience would usually run out by springtime.

Four words sum these sentiments up:

I should have known.

In case those of you who are reading this are wondering why I entered this field in the first place, it was because it was the family business and I enjoyed my holidays and summers off, and saw no reason why that couldn't continue just because I was an adult.

Little did I know what was in store for me.

The lesson that should be learned here is to not do something just to follow in your family's footsteps - or anyone else's footsteps for that matter - but to follow your own heart (to coin a Disney phrase) and search for a line of work where you can not only be in the best position to be a success, but that you also love.

A good rule of thumb is if you don't wake up in the morning looking forward to going to work every day, then you shouldn't be at that job.

In other words, look for a square hole for your square peg to fit into.

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