It must have been that cardboard blackboard my parents gave me one birthday. Its borders showed the alphabet, numbers, and a variety of everyday objects. What else to do but teach one's dolls? My first disenchantment came in high school. The Future Teachers of America Club set members up to spend the day in a classroom. I was assigned a second grade visit, where I was bored to the point of sleepiness, and returned with lost faith. Snobbery reinforced my rejection of the profession. I would not go to one of those "teachers colleges," as they were called then, where I rudely concluded only students of lesser intellectual ability attended. And did I want to live like my teachers, in dreary apartments, or worse, with their parents in middle age? No, I would go to a real liberal arts college, one without teacher training, and find a more suitable career. (Photo of my high school. Sophomore year during classes the gym burned down--a great benefit to all.)
The career oyster lacks a pearl.
Where more to raise one's hopes than a woman's college, Douglass C. in New Jersey, where women ran every show, whether the newspaper or the German Club. Surrounded by brighter and better-prepared women only spurred me to work harder and suck up knowledge like a desert wanderer at the oasis spring. However, as fans of Mad Men know, employers were not interested in our well-trained minds. Upon graduation, the choices were to become a school teacher, already rejected, or a secretary, and I hated to type. (The other women in my family had gone into nursing, where I would have preferred to be a doctor, again not much likely back then.)
So the obvious choice was Graduate School, which meant training to teach on the university level. Now that could not be boring, and I foolishly imagined my days would be as in Ronald Coleman movies, a wonderfully gentile life in a large Colonial home near the ivy-covered campus. (Photo of Dining Hall checker, Douglass College.. We had to wear skirts to sit-down dinner served by waitresses, and had assigned seats.)
From research on teaching to teaching itself.
My first job was as a research scientist at the Center for Schools at Johns Hopkins University. As with many universities then, JHU was still all-male, and the few women faculty were not even allowed in the main faculty dining room. For three years I did research on games in education, edited a journal, and raised hell on the streets of Baltimore in peace marches and related activities.
Hearing of an opportunity to join a new California college, one where teaching was reputed to be highly valued, I crossed the country, to remain at Sonoma State University the remainder of my career. Though hired to teach Sociology, I also taught courses as needed in the departments of Women Studies and Management. Discovering Jack London, along with a post-doctoral year on African-American history at Brown University, left me disenchanted with sociology. Hence I welcomed an invitation to switch to the history department, something almost unheard-of in the rigid culture of academia. There I specialized in teaching U.S. history, (Gilded Age to present day), and graduate courses in research methods and thesis writing. My teaching approach was activity-based, the consequence of my Hopkins experience. Designing courses and projects was, and remains, very enjoyable. I miss being able to go into a class with the latest discovery or brainstorm, to discourse with students, to experience the privilege of entering a tiny piece of their lives.
Retired, but still coaching others on their roads to discovery.
Home free! I taught courses for the SSU Lifelong Learning program on California Environmental History and California Women's History. Music and volunteering soon filled my time. Teaching music was unimaginable. Then one day I realized that I didn't have to be a professional ukulele player to teach. Indeed, I'd taken workshops with major players from around the world, and while some were exceptional instructors, others left me puzzled or confused because they lacked an understanding of pedagogy. First I tried teaching youngsters as a volunteer with Mentor Me Petaluma. Could anything be more fun than starting a child on so joyful and instrument? Then I started giving workshops to adult groups in the North SF Bay area. The 'ukulele is a serious instrument: very easy to learn the basics, but quick to plateau without some music theory, skill development, and good practice methods. I'm a big believer in simple and short practices, one step at a time. (Photo of an F chord, first position.)