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.