An Unexpected Path
Kate Remillard

 

Growing up, I never expected to become a teacher. Throughout my school-age years in Pennsylvania, I tried out several different ideas to see if they would fit—marine biologist, published author, fashion designer, doctor, professional figure skater… (That last one was particularly delusional.) Each idea fizzled with time as I moved on to the next one. 

By the time I was a senior in high school, I still had no idea—no particular "calling." My parents humored me as I pursued a liberal arts education at the University of Chicago, with all the teasing it entailed from my older brother, the business major. At the U of C, my world opened with the diversity of both people and ideas. My friends—all more worldly than me—were an inspiration. I found my way to a major in International Studies, then graduated and joined the Peace Corps. I packed my traveler's backpack for Niger, ready to leave home and never look back.

Then something unexpected happened. While walking down the street in the capital, Niamey, I was hit by a motorcycle. While I was mostly ok, I had hit my head on the pavement and needed medical care that could only be provided back home. My two-year commitment to the Peace Corps ended after only six months. I was devastated, of course. My grandiose plans of saving the world one village at a time were shattered. 

I didn't realize it at the time, but this would be one of the most important turning points of my life. Taoism, the philosophical school of thought from ancient China, teaches that life has balance. In Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty recounts the Taoist parable about a farmer whose horse ran away:

"How unlucky!" his brother tells him. The farmer shrugs. "Good thing, bad thing, who knows," he says. A week later, the wayward horse finds its way home, and with it is a beautiful wild mare. "That's amazing!" his brother says, admiring the new horse with no small envy. Again, the farmer is unmoved. "Good thing, bad thing, who knows," he says. A few days later, the farmer's son climbs up on the mare, hoping to tame the wild beast, but the horse bucks and rears, and the boy, hurled to the ground, breaks a leg. "How unlucky!" his brother says, with a tinge of satisfaction. "Good thing, bad thing, who knows," the farmer replies again. The next day, the young men of the village are called into military service, but because the son's leg is broken, he is excused from the draft. His brother tells the farmer that this, surely, is the best news of all. "Good thing, bad thing, who knows," the farmer says. (p. 58)

With the benefit of hindsight, most of us have moments like this. Good thing? Bad thing? Who really knows? Life has a funny way of taking over, no matter what you have planned. Don't judge the moment because your perspective might change.

Ending my Peace Corps service prematurely set my life on a different course. I moved to Washington, D.C., and began working with refugees, then followed my now-husband (a teacher) to New Orleans. After getting my master's degree in Public Health from Tulane, I encountered another unexpected twist. My husband and I were looking for overseas jobs together, and he found an exciting position teaching in Saudi Arabia. With limited public health opportunities there, would I like to be a teacher, too?

It turned out that I loved everything about teaching. I loved the girls in my class and enjoyed talking with them about their own experiences and struggles, seeing the world through their eyes.  As director of the school's Model United Nations program, I traveled with them to international conferences and connected with students and teachers from around the world. Our son, Ollie, was born in Saudi Arabia, and we moved to Guatemala next, equally satisfied with the passion of our students and the exposure to yet another interesting country and culture. In my years overseas, what I learned most was how much I didn't know. These experiences showed me how much one could learn with a mindset of respectful curiosity.

Fast-forward seven years and several education classes later, and New Orleans has become home once again. Now with two children (Ollie - 3rd grade; Zoe - 1st grade), we have found a community of like-minded people at St. George's. Though teaching was never my life plan, I now see that the path I wandered along had direction. I have been a better teacher because of my previous experiences. Last year, when I read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park with my homeroom students, I could explain from personal experience how difficult it really is to balance a large bucket of water, and also how necessary it is for people experiencing desertification. In my reading group, we read Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, a novel written in poetic verse about a refugee child from Vietnam who moves to Alabama after the Fall of Saigon. As we read, I could share personal stories about the refugees I worked with in DC and the difficulties they faced when resettling in the United States. 

With my own students, I discovered just how powerful books can be as windows into the lives of others. They broaden our exposure to the world around us, building empathy and understanding. We can meet people from all walks of life through the books we read. Books are also mirrors, reflecting our own lives and values in characters with whom we connect. As a character struggles, we struggle; as a character overcomes, we overcome. Every time a child picks up a book, it is an opportunity for growth.

As the incoming Interim Director of Lower School, I know the importance of having wide-ranging, diverse stories that allow students to explore and ask questions about our world and its people. With this in mind, I am excited to announce a new initiative that has gained momentum this year. As part of our St. George’s JEDI work, we have begun an intentional examination of the books that we read. Our goal is to expand our knowledge and use of books that reflect a diverse racial, cultural or religious perspective, as well as those that feature characters with different intellectual and physical abilities or unique social-emotional struggles. In partnership with Starting Small, our Early Childhood JEDI group, we have begun to create an inventory of the books already in our library and classroom collections. With generous support from St. George's donors, we intend to purchase a "wishlist" of books that will be utilized for Read Aloud, curriculum integration and free-read circulation among our students. Our name, Growing Minds, comes from the idea that we have so much to gain from taking a peek into another's perspective and seeing our own perspectives reflected back to us. This is how we grow our minds and open our thoughts to the world around us. 

At St. George's, we believe that all are welcome. We teach this explicitly as well as by example. The books we read are one more avenue by which we can teach awareness, respect and appreciation for different cultures and perspectives. It is an opportunity we in Growing Minds are honored to pursue. As you read with your children, we invite you to join us in this important work and examine the books your children are reading. After all, parents are teachers, too. Together, we can learn from the past, travel the world and embrace new ideas that align with our core values. Together, we can guide our students to not only become St. George's citizens—honoring and exemplifying perseverance, integrity, respect and compassion—but globally-minded citizens who are ready to engage and connect with people from all walks of life.

 

 

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