Monday, September 07, 2009

Any Road Will Get You There

There was a time when I wore suits to work. It was the 1980’s and I was the communications manager at the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. I let my freak flag fly by matching my socks to my tie.

One of my colleagues had this slogan on the wall of his office:

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

It’s an epigram about setting and pursuing goals, but every time I read it, I would think, I’d rather take the scenic route. I’d begun to realize that the business world wasn’t for me, and the idea of all those roads, leading lord knows where, had far more appeal than any single goal I could conjure.

Fortunately, I was married to a woman who knew where she was going, which gave me the opportunity to dump the suit, grow a real freak flag, and follow an up and down back road as a freelance hack writer, which landed me a decade later as the stay-at-home father of a perfect baby girl named Josephine. I readily dropped all pretenses of paid work and set out on a detour that, at that time, not many men had taken. I entertained doubts about the wisdom of my decision until my father, who had spent good chunks of my childhood traveling on business, said, “I missed you boys growing up. You’re the luckiest man alive.” (I’m glossing over it here, but that was a huge moment for me.)

I loved her to pieces as a baby, and there were rewards aplenty, but it wasn’t all that much fun until Josephine started talking and walking. That’s when I knew that the road I was on had taken me someplace I really wanted to be.

When Josephine turned 2, all the important women in my life (wife, mother and mother-in-law) were for once unanimous in their opinion that she wasn’t ready for preschool. “She’s too young to be on her own,” was the main argument. The only way I could get around their objections was enrolling in a cooperative preschool.

For the uninitiated, the cooperative model of early childhood education has been around since at least the 1940’s. The basic concept is that the parents own their children’s school and operate it at every level from the executive to the janitorial, with the teacher being the sole paid employee. Typically, every parent also spends one day a week serving as an assistant teacher, bringing the adult to child ratio up to an incredible 1:2 or 1:3, depending on the age of the children. There are obvious benefits of teachers and parents working so closely together, both inside and outside the classroom, not to mention very low tuitions.

From our first day we knew we had found a home. Three years later as Josephine prepared for kindergarten, her teacher asked me, “What are you going to do once she’s in full-day kindergarten?” To be honest, I hadn’t thought about it, but the idea of going back to sitting by myself, at home, in front a computer looked like a grim prospect. “Have you ever considered teaching preschool?”

And so as my girl took the road that headed to grade school and beyond, I diverted once more onto a side street that lead me to becoming Teacher Tom. Children come to me now as 2-year-olds in diapers and leave three years later, “sophisticated” 5-year-olds ready for kindergarten. These are remarkable years of development and I’m honored to be a part of the lives of these kids and their families.

Eight years later, I’m still enjoying the scenery. I continue to write and I’ve added some artistic pursuits to my portfolio, but teaching and parenting are how I fuel my ride.

When I graduated from college I didn’t have a career in mind so much as a strong desire to spend my time around great minds engaged in worthwhile endeavors. That’s what I’ve found in preschool. I’m in awe of these amazing brains. Every day I learn something I didn’t know when I awoke. And every day I hope I'm helping make the world a little bit better.

I’ve edited my chamber of commerce colleague’s quote for my own wall. It now reads:

Any road will get you there.

And here is always great place to be.


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7 comments:

MOM #1 said...

Well, I don't know WHEN I'll get THERE or even IF there is an actual THERE I'm trying to reach . . . but . . . like you . . . the scenic route is my path of choice. Let your Freak Flag show! ;-)

Pumpkin Delight said...

It is interesting where life leads us. Glad you found your calling. Is tomorrow your first day of school? Have a wonderful new school year!

PJ Mullen said...

That is a very cool story, Tom. My father was a rambling, traveling man for a living and missed a lot of our childhood.

I spent my early career with my nose to the grindstone, seeking out any opportunities I could to get my material needs met and one day, hopefully, be able to settle down and have a family. I didn't want to travel like my dad did. I didn't want to miss the big moments.

At one point my stock options were worth millions, and then one day I learned about something that happened and then they were worth nothing. All I got for my time was a hard lesson in the corrupt business practices and eight years after I departed an invitation to a witness stand.

You have really piqued my interest in the cooperative school model and I am going to have to do some search to see if any are around in my area. I like the idea of maintaining my involvement in my son's education. Thanks for this post.

carlylennox said...

I really enjoyed reading your road to teaching, and how lucky your daughter was to have her Daddy at home! Now I know why your parents were in decorating over the holidays, wow. What a perfect set up. I really wish we had community opportunities like that where I live... or maybe I just need to get out there. So while I'm off on maternity leave and taking a break from teaching, I'm going to join the PTA in my daughter's new school. Best wishes, Caroline.

Life with Kaishon said...

This is so beautiful! I am popping over from Pumpkin's page today. Nice to meet you. LOVE your costume! Have to go read about the speech!

sproutsinthekitchen said...

a-ha.

"great minds engaged in worthwhile endeavors"

those are MY kids.

You are in a good, good place, Teacher Tom. Thanks for taking me there, too.

Tracey said...

the destination is never as great as the journey...and i love tagging along on your journey :)

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