Teaching not quite dodging bullets, but you'll sweat some

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Since I was young, I had always imagined myself in one of three potential careers: a fighter pilot, a pastor or a teacher.

It was hardly Sophie's choice, but a tough decision had to be made.

Choosing to become a minister would have been too safe - had I picked up the clerical collar and stood behind the pulpit I would have been a fourth generation Christian minister and I quickly lost interest.

Contrarily, joining the Air Force and flying combat planes would have been too dangerous. I had no intention of dying in my 20s, even if I happened to look heroic and dashing while doing it.

So in high school, I declared that I would be a high school teacher, figuring it to be safe enough to not get blown up but dangerous enough to be a little scared every morning before going to work.

However, like most middle-class college students, my career path took more twists and turns than someone watching an M. Night Shyamalan film in the passenger seat of a race car.

While working as a campus garbage man, I decided to shelve my plans to become an editor, writer, detective, historian or professor and found myself in the education department, where I had planned to be from the start. Life seems to do that sometimes.

I would like to say that my decision to become a teacher came solely from a realization that I wanted to help teenagers discover literature and enjoy writing.

But I think dropping out of a upper-division screenwriting course with only one week left, not having written a single sentence of the 150-page assignment, taught me that a career in writing was not for me.

I truly wanted to work with kids though, having loved my previous work as a summer camp counselor, and could not think of another career that would make me happier.

After graduation, I unknowingly prepared for a future acting role as a cold, unemployed writer who needed a haircut and money for the heating bill.

If you are in the movie business, don't hesitate to give me a call, I'm your man.

But after more interviews than Larry King, I finally landed a job as a teacher and it was both the toughest and the most exciting thing I've ever attempted in my life.

It was also terrifying.

I have been in the middle of an Israeli riot, hit head on by a pickup while riding a bicycle and mistakenly held at gunpoint by counterterrorist forces in the Palestinian territories. I can honestly say that my first month as a high school English teacher was probably the scariest experience of my life.

When my 80-minute lesson plan was done in half that time and the principal had asked us to keep students until the bell, improvisation quickly became my best friend.

My other daily companions were coffee, red pens, panic and the sound of my own heavy breathing.

We teachers were a close-knit bunch, hanging out in the bathroom before class, trying to decide how to confront the student who kept cheating or the girl who wrote an essay on how stupid the Puritans were.

Yet despite the panic, fear and the intimidating size and presence of some of the older students, there were many mornings when I woke up during my first year and thought to myself, "Am I really so lucky that I get paid to teach poetry?"

There were afternoons when I was given handmade cards by students and evenings when parents contacted me, thanking me for working with their son who had learning disabilities.

I knew that the only way I would make it as a teacher would be to focus on these moments and dedicate my year to the students who needed my help the most.

Martin Surridge, who was a Walla Walla University student, now lives in Georgia.

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