The Feminist Tale Behind the Pet Mice
I work in a traditionally female field. When I was a senior in high school, I told my sixth grade teacher that I had decided to study elementary education in college. She fought back tears: “You know you can be anything, don’t you?” She hadn’t known that, perhaps. I know that she had wanted to be something else, something that let her travel around that well-worn classroom globe.
But I went into teaching knowing I could be anything, and choosing it because I loved it. Because it fit me.
I knew this because of my father.
Dad was not verbose. He was scientist who was more at home in the lab with fruit flies than at a ward function. But he created an academic and egalitarian infrastructure in our home that left me certain about my ability to choose my path. For example . . .
When I expressed an interest in geology at the ripe age of nine, my dad did what he knew: he took me to the geology department at Caltech and formally introduced me to faculty members. He also brought home two college textbooks and plunked them on my bed and then let me play hooky from school to accompany his college students on their annual “geology field trip.” When my geology phase ended – by about sixth grade – he wasn’t too disappointed. He waited to see what would capture my imagination next.
African ethnography? Not a problem! I came home to a stack of Richard Leakey books and a pictography of the Maasai.
Journalism? He read every article I wrote for the school paper, read the Sunday papers with me, and sent me to a journalism camp at the University of Indiana.
Elementary education? He began to stockpile the storage room with materials that could be used to teach science to children – including two glass aquariums for class pets. He thought class pets were essentially to raising a new generation of zoologists.
After college, I spent a dozen years blissfully teaching middle and upper school English. But this year I teach fifth grade humanities. And, due to the persistence of these precocious 10-year-olds, I just purchased my very first animals for the classroom. Two mice. Coco and Chanel. “It’s like science in the classroom!” one girl exclaimed. Somewhere, dad is smiling.
Because I’m interested . . .
To what extent did your upbringing influence your educational and vocational choices?