How I became a teacher

Today I’m teaching at the Florida Youth Writers Conference, held in conjunction with the Florida Writers Association conference.

I used to think I couldn’t teach. In my early twenties, I had a negative experience in the workplace that convinced me I couldn’t.

The phone company in Tallahassee—I assume this happened in other university towns as well—used to have a huge rush at the start of the school year, as new students arrived. Well, I’ve just dated myself, haven’t I. Yes, this was the late 1980s, before everyone had a cellphone and landlines became useless for anything except recording robocalls from your least favorite political candidates.

To handle this crush of business, we employed a roomful of temp workers to do the necessary data entry. Probably two or three dozen people, though at the time it seemed like more. Because I was the low girl on the totem pole, I got to train these gals, some of them older than me, how to do the job. Then I had to sit at the back of the room, doing data entry of my own, and supervise them all day for two weeks. Or maybe it was a month. It seemed an eon.

Illustration by senryo. Fotolia.com

Illustration by senryo, Fotolia.com

I had to keep repeating myself. I had to keep saying the same thing in different ways, trying to explain, and still stuff got done wrong and had to be corrected. Clearly, I was hopeless as an instructor. In my naivety, it did not occur to me that no one had trained me in how to be a trainer, so how could I have expected to know how to train? It also didn’t occur to me that these girls were just struggling under a learning curve, and that the project’s timeline would never encompass enough time for them to reach high proficiency.

So I persisted in my delusion that I was a rotten teacher for many years. Then one day, a pastor who knew me better than I know myself said I ought to teach. I said he was crazy.

He was right.

What he saw, but I didn’t understand, was my fondness for knowledge and learning. He knew that collecting knowledge doesn’t do the world any good; only giving it away does. So he stopped my knowledge hoarding and got me to share.

Since then, I’ve taken I don’t know how many spiritual gifts surveys, and every time I score highest in “knowledge” and “teaching.” Now I teach every chance I can get, because I realize this is part of my calling. My purpose.

Here’s a link to the best spiritual gifts survey I know of: “Discover Your Spiritual Gifts” by Gene Wilkes, at LifeWay Christian Resources

One of the sub-themes in Alara’s Call is the idea that one must pursue one’s call even in the face of opposition. Perhaps I should say especially in the face of opposition. It took me a lot of years to discern my call, and I consider myself blessed not to have run into much opposition.

The first step on that discernment journey was someone saying to me “you would be good at this.” We often don’t see our own gifts and talents because we’re too close to them, or because we continue to live in our past. How often have you praised someone for something and they say “Oh, it was nothing.”

It only seems like nothing to them because that’s their area of giftedness. Don’t stop telling people what they’re good at. That helps them discover their calling.

And don’t stop listening when people tell you what you’re good at. Accept their words as a gift.

gifts talents

Hey, that’s good. I should put it in a meme.



About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

2 comments on “How I became a teacher

  1. It’s amazing how many people discover their gifts by accident!

    Grandpa was one of them. He and a buddy thought it would be fun to take the teacher license exams and see how they measured up. The exams were held just after a bad snowstorm swept through Nebraska and buried the roads. No one was able to drive anywhere, but that didn’t stop them! They walked the railroad tracks to York, Nebraska and slept in the lobby of the only hotel in town, and walked back after the exams were done: twenty miles each way.

    Anyway, they did it for a lark, and Grandpa passed. And then the fun began, because great-Grandpa didn’t see any reason for a good job opportunity to go to waste!

    Grandpa was smaller than many of his male students, and they wouldn’t respect him until he took them out behind the school house and wrestled them into submission! He was stronger and quicker than they were, even if he was shorter. Once he stood them all on their heads, they quickly realized they had to obey!

    Grandpa discovered he was very good at teaching. He was very popular with his students, who loved to put on end of the year programs for their parents. They asked him later why he ever gave it up. He said he had to quit because he wanted to start a family, and couldn’t afford to support them on a teacher’s salary.

    I don’t think he ever stopped teaching or sharing knowledge with others, though. The year he taught my Sunday School class when I was itty-bitty was one of the best years in Sunday School I ever had. 🙂

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