My Life as a Teacher

Pat GordonPatricia S. Gordon, an educator originally from New York City, served on the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) Board of Education from 2000-2010. In honor of Women’s History Month, Gordon blogs about her family’s history in the education field as well as career possibilities for today’s girls.

I come from a family of educators. My mother’s father was for years the only teacher in the “colored school” in the small town of Troupe, Texas. He was known throughout the community as “Professor Hamilton.” Born before the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation rescued him from slavery when he was in his teens. He was fortunate enough to attend college in Kentucky and get a lifelong job as a result. One of my proudest possessions is a group picture of his school, students from kindergarten through high school. He and my grandmother had nine children, and he taught them all. One by one, as the girls finished his school, they went off to college and became teachers. My mother taught home economics in Dallas, Texas before she and my father married. She was a wonderful, creative seamstress, making not only my clothes, but my three brothers’ suits as well.

When I graduated from Hunter College in New York City, the career options for women were very few. It is probably strange for you to hear that for the most part, the two professional careers most available to women were teaching and nursing.  Other careers were male dominated to the point that even thinking about law or medicine for women was actively discouraged. Now, in 2017, there is no profession to which a woman cannot aspire.

I wanted another career, to be different from my teacher and nurse relatives. So for the first few years after college, I was first an investigator for the Department of Welfare, and then a probation officer in the New York City court system. Both jobs were interesting and educating. I learned to be tolerant and accepting of most people, and that most people can benefit and learn when offered help and given the chance to move past bad experiences. I also learned that not all people can be turned around, but we all must keep on trying.

I finally decided to become a teacher, and that finally was and is my lifelong career and how I define myself: as a teacher. My first class was a challenge. I had to develop my own style of teaching that would make me comfortable in my role, and would make the children comfortable as my students. The greatest challenge was discipline. By my second year in the classroom I had developed my own effective style – firm but fair. My entire teaching and administrative career took place in schools with an economically disadvantaged student body. I learned to be pleased with student advances in learning that, though minimal, in most cases exceeded the progress the students had made in previous years. The advantage of being an elementary school teacher is the students are yours every day for the entire school year, and one can develop a relationship with each individual child. After six years in the classroom, I became a guidance counselor. For the last 16 years of my career, I was a principal.

For my entire career, I enjoyed my work. Not that every day was uniformly pleasant, but on the whole, it was stimulating, intellectually and socially. Children can be great companions. I have had some engaging conversations. I strongly recommend teaching for curious, intellectual “people” people.