I was sure Sophia* was going to become a teacher.
Sophia was a 12th grader who had shown a passion for teaching. Last summer, she tutored a group of classmates in history and did a great job. After the experience, Sophia told me she wanted to become a math teacher. I told her to reach out to us after college to teach at our school and she loved the idea. I even wrote about Sophia, calling her The First Hire of 2023 (link).
So this past June, I was surprised to see that Sophia had changed her mind.
Because of Sophia’s passion for teaching and her success over the summer, we decided to give her more teaching experiences during her senior year. We assigned her to be an assistant in a 10th grade history class. At the end of the year, she wrote a reflection.
“At the beginning of the school year 2018-2019,” began Sophia, “I was very excited about this class because I wanted to be a teacher just like Ms. Jones [the teacher Sophia assisted], but I changed my mind after I saw how difficult students are.”
“What?!” I thought. I was disappointed. What about hiring Sophia in 2023?
I kept reading: “Personally, I could not handle the class like Ms. Jones did. She is a great teacher and a great woman because she cares about the students as if they were hers. She knows how to be strong and calm, even in the most annoying moments.”
I continued to argue as I read: “Sophia, you’re strong too! Don’t give up!”
However, I thought about Sophia’s two experiences. During the summer, she had tutored a group of 6 students her own age, 11th graders going into 12th grade. But the during the year, she assisted a teacher with a full class of 10th graders, many of who were brand-new to the country. They were more needy, rambunctious, and immature.
As I read on, though, I realized Sophia still liked the 10th graders she had assisted, and the experience had been meaningful to her: “I have gotten very attached to some students. They would come to me and ask me things about the class or just come and talk to me about how they wanted to give up. I shared with them how I learned to not give up and to believe in myself.”
She wrote on, “I am very happy that this class opened my eyes because now I will be doing what I really want and am destined to do. My new major is Computer Engineering. I love computers and anything that has to do with technology.”
I suddenly saw that Sophia would make an excellent computer engineer: logical, introverted, and a person who loves math and science. It made sense.
I thought of myself. In college, I majored in Film/Video and Literature. Convinced that film was “it” for me, I spent a summer hustling for production assistant jobs, and I got a few. However, in my senior year of college, I applied mostly for teaching jobs. I thought back to that summer working in film, and somehow, it was no longer appealing. The experience itself had been valuable in revealing that film wasn’t quite for me. My passion had probably always been education.
And so it went for Sophia, except her passion had probably always been some form of engineering or science. She concluded, “Every class I tutored or assisted showed me how to work with others and how to be a great person. I will always be thankful for everything that high school taught me.”
And I have a hunch that no matter what her field, Sophia will find a way to be a teacher, and a leader.
*The names and identifying features of students and teachers have been changed.
Photo credit: Julie Nariman