From a very young age, I had an immense interest in history. I grew up watching a lot of history-related films like Gladiator, Braveheart, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, and the Last Samurai to name a few. However, it wasn’t until I was 16 years old sitting in my grade 10 history class when I became infatuated with a new topic in history: World War II. The war in which Europe was brought to its knees and millions of people suffered its consequences. The ultimate struggle between humanity and inhumanity, right and wrong, good and evil. I became so interested in the subject that I began to do my own research at home and I understood the significance of this brutal chapter within our dark human history. While I still had other classes to attend, such as working out in body shop, working on cars in auto body, and working on my horrible number skills in math, none interested me as much as history class did.
I became such a history enthusiast that one day, I clearly remember telling my mother that I wanted to become a history teacher. She was happily all on board for this idea, as her younger sister was already a teacher in India. However, I felt pressure from other members of my family to pursue a career path in law. I fell into the typical old-school stereotype that all good students must eventually become lawyers, engineers, or doctors. Apparently, these professions generate much more prestige and wealth, which is absolutely vital in determining your future! *eye roll* While some students may like this certain type of guidance from their families, many don’t know any better at that age.
Being in high school can be extremely confusing for many students in the sense that they don’t truly know what they want to do after graduation. Reflecting on myself at that age, I had times where I wanted to become a police officer to help my community, a politician after I had won an election for grade 12 representative on the student activity council, and even a chef after I took a hands-on cooking class. In other words, I was simply all over the place in terms of my goals and ambitions. When I finally thought I had a clear path and I would settle on becoming a teacher, I ended up placing my desire aside. I agreed with my family and my relatives that I would eventually pursue a career in law to make them proud. While I did have some interest in law, my decision was mostly made from the fear of disappointing them if I had decided to stick with teaching.
My confusion didn’t just end there in high school because it carried over to university. I attended the University of Toronto and I flip-flopped across multiple majors because I simply had too many interests. I went from studying political science in my first year, to criminology in my second year, history in my third year, and sociology in my fourth year. By the time I finished my studies, I ended up with a major in criminology and socio-legal studies with a double minor in history and sociology. To this day, when people ask my parents what their son studied, they still have trouble remembering all of that!
Aside from the formal learning and attaining knowledge, there is one thing I can truly accredit university for. University helped expand my mind in a completely different way and developed me into an intellectual who questions everything and doesn’t simply view things as they are anymore. Therefore, as I neared the end of my 4th year at university, I often questioned my initial decision of pursuing law. Humorously, my “sociology of law and lawyers” course didn’t help me much, as the professor would often critique the profession while citing its gruelling work hours and high suicide rates (she would actually show graphs about this stuff).
In my mind, whether I chose to become a lawyer or not, my philosophy had always been wanting to help people, no matter how big or small. While many lawyers have the opportunity to help adults with their adult problems, teachers also have the opportunity to help adolescents with their own problems and develop them into good human beings. Yes, I know that many people would still say that “lawyers make wayyyyy more money!” While I understood that from day one, I also understood that it was important for me to pursue my own interests while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. In the system we live in, we need to work and earn a living to support ourselves and our families. But we often forget that we are also human beings who need down time for our mental health and well-being. Some lawyers may have this but I know many who don’t, and it is something that I wanted to ensure I had no matter what I ended up doing. Also to anyone reading this, I’m not downplaying any lawyers or students wishing to become lawyers because I wish more power and strength to you. This is simply my story and how I felt at the time.
I graduated from the University of Toronto in April of 2016. At that point, I must’ve written about a million essays, both in person until my hand fell off and on my laptop until my keyboard was destroyed. But I had accomplished something that had never been done in my family before: attain a university degree. Many people who graduate don’t take in the moment of what they have just achieved and disregard their accomplishment because they haven’t found a job right away yet. Education is something that is timeless and priceless, something that millions of people throughout history never had the opportunity to attain. So as a sign of assurance to whoever possesses that piece of paper after graduating, please view it with the respect and significance it deserves. When I received mine after attending convocation with my parents, I took a big sigh of relief. I finally came out of the end of a 4-year tunnel with minimal scratches. I felt more educated, I hadn’t failed any courses, my writing had vastly improved, and I had matured from my teenage years to adulthood.
After graduating from university, I was still contemplating law school but I decided to study and write the LSAT in a few months. I registered in an online course to help me prepare for this test and I essentially became a mouse in my basement. I was holed up away from everyone else and I was focused on learning as many techniques and strategies as I could. After spending a lot of time and dollars on preparing for this test, I finally wrote it and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. The questions themselves were manageable but the time limit was incredibly minuscule and agitating. Just looking at the clock on the wall created pressure because it signalled how fast time was moving and how much of it I was losing.
I finished the test and went home knowing I did the best I could, and that’s all that mattered to me. I ended up doing average and along with my university GPA, I thought I would end up in the bottom tier of students who would get accepted. On a side note, the idea of “acceptance” into law school had always baffled me. Over 2,000 hopeful students apply to achieve a greater purpose in life only for the top schools to accept just 200. The acceptance to rejection ratio is staggering and I sense a lot of people have been disappointed by this over the years, especially the ones who genuinely wanted to study law but they just couldn’t make the 10% acceptance cut. Anyways, after painstakingly making sure each detail was as accurate as possible on my law school application, I finally submitted it and I waited. Would I get at least one acceptance from a school or would I be rejected by all of them? Well, out of the 9 schools in Ontario I applied to, I only got into 1.
I was granted admission to the dual JD program at the University of Windsor, where I would simultaneously study Canadian law in Windsor and American law across the border in Detroit. I felt as if I had made it over a massive hurdle and I told the great news to everyone in my family, but I still felt a little empty inside. It was a huge commitment and it didn’t help that the tuition fees were ridiculous, as you are required to pay for two separate law schools at the same time. I was looking at an easy $130,000+ investment over the span of 3 years, which I knew I’d have to spend a good chunk of my life repaying this debt. Many people asked me why I didn’t just go overseas to England or Australia, or even outside of Ontario. I knew that in England and Australia, law school was only 2 years instead of 3 and you didn’t have to take the LSAT for admission, but my answer was always the same. I wanted to try and establish myself here first before anywhere else in the world, in the province of Ontario where I was born and raised. I made my executive decision and I rejected the offer to study law at Windsor and Detroit.
Just kidding, the story still goes on. When I applied to law school on November 1, 2016, I also applied to teachers college a month later on December 1. The online system was the same as the one for law school, so a lot of my information was easily transferred over. I made this decision on the basis that if I happened to be rejected from law school, I would just go with my heart’s desire and attend a teacher education program. I was granted admission to the program at UOIT, as well as York University. At this point, it was time for me to decide where I wanted to spend the next few years of my life and what I wanted to do. After a lot of thinking, contemplating, and stressing, I weighed my options out and gathered opinions from my family. I thought back to many years ago, when I was sitting in that grade 10 history classroom. My grade 10 self would’ve told me do whatever genuinely makes me happy and feel fulfilled in life. I listened to him, accepted my offer for the York teaching program, and never looked back since.
2 years later, here I am about to finish the program in April and officially become a certified teacher in Ontario. I feel a sense of belonging and purpose that I haven’t felt in a long time. It seems that I have found my calling but as you can clearly see, my path was not smooth at all and I wandered off the trail many times. I remember there were days I would lay in my bed after graduating from university and just stare off into the void, looking for an answer of what I really wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. Sometimes, things don’t just fall into our laps right away and we must endure a lot of confusion and anxiety before we finally figure out the next step.
I am about to become a teacher and if there is one thing that motivates me more than anything else, it is to demonstrate empathy and build meaningful connections with my students. Empathy is the ability to understand and share feelings with one another, and this is something that every teacher should strive to uphold. I have always believed that practising empathy and supporting empathy development in a classroom is crucial towards helping students achieve academic success, as well as improving their overall mental health. Teachers must always remember that the individuals in their classrooms are human beings first, and students second. There are many teachers out there who are too self-absorbed or egotistical to share empathy with their own students. They forget that their students are human beings with emotions and not just empty vessels in which they can pump knowledge into.
Think back to when you were in elementary, middle, or high school. How many teachers truly impacted you on an emotional level in some way? Maybe taught you a valuable life lesson that you still remember to this day? Inspired you or motivated you to chase your dreams and passions? I bet you couldn’t count more than the five fingers on your hand. I listen to a lot of hip-hop music and I’ve heard countless rappers recall memories in their lyrics that express how the school system failed them. Their teachers put them down and told them they wouldn’t be successful in life, which unfortunately many students experience all around the world.
I want to break this destructive cycle and ensure that each and every student finds success in their own unique way. If there is one person who can truly make a difference in a student’s life aside from their family or friends, it is a teacher. A teacher’s words can inspire students beyond belief and make them feel valued, or continuously break them down and make them feel worthless. Whether students will learn a single thing from my lessons or not, I will be a happy man if they walk out of my classroom as stronger, confident, and better human beings. There is a lot of hate and despair in the world that we live in, and if I can foster an environment where students not just come to learn, but to develop themselves as positive and caring people, I will have done my job.
The days are long gone where teachers would stand at the front of the class as an authoritative figure, lecture all day long, and distribute worksheets to demonstrate student learning. The teachers of today should strive to uphold a welcoming environment, understand their students’ mental health and well-being, create engaging lessons, and utilize innovative technology to enhance student learning. In other words, change the way learning takes place within the classroom, one student at time. This is what I aim to achieve as a teacher living in the 21st century.
Before my grandmother passed away a year and a half ago, her last words to me were to stay happy and find a job that I like. She was a teacher herself in India and I hope that she’s looking down me now as I continue her legacy and make her proud. To anyone who may be in a lost place right now, you will come out of it eventually and figure everything out one step at a time. The lowest of lows are always followed by the highest of highs. Believe in yourself, always try your best, stick with your gut feelings, and make sure whatever you end up doing with your life, it genuinely makes you happy.
I’ll see you or your future kids in the classroom!