My First Taste of Teaching

I love it when teachers find creative ways to challenge their students. Having been on the receiving end of that during my school days, I did my best to be creative and challenging as I planned how to present curriculum in my classroom every year. One of my most memorable experiences as a student came during my senior year of high school.

I was in my fourth year of math and was at the top of the class. Yes, I was one of those girls who kept believing that she was smart enough to learn anything she wanted, even when society told her, “No. That’s just for boys.” I guess having a mechanic for a father , one who loved to challenge me with thinking/problem-solving puzzles during my childhood, had something to do with that attitude.

Our teacher let a handful of us, who caught onto ideas quickly, work ahead of the others in the class. We completed the curriculum by the spring of that school year. Now, he had to figure out what to do with us for the next month or two. So, he made us peer teachers/teacher’s aides. We were given the opportunity to prepare and present math lessons to the class, always under his watchful eye and occasional intervention. We became classroom aides, helping our peers one-on-one to understand concepts they found difficult. We helped with grading papers, and more. I found that by  teaching, my knowledge and understanding grew. An unexpected outcome of a new and novel experience.

Applying to college earlier that year was another interesting experience. I decided to start at a nearby junior college. When it came time to fill out the application, there was a list of majors one could choose. I didn’t know at the time what I wanted to study, but I felt I had to choose something. So, I started down the alphabetical list. Many were definitely out, but there were some maybes, as well. When I got to the “M” section of the list, mathematics stared me in the face, and I couldn’t help but stare right back. I was good at math. I enjoyed the challenge and the problem solving. I had transcribed pages and pages of math problems from my 6th-grade math book to do over the summer, since I was moving away with my parents to Northern California and knew I would have lots of free time. Yes, I could major in math. I wasn’t sure what I would do with a math degree, but that wasn’t too important to me at that point. Check! I majored in mathematics and minored in English, both subjects I enjoyed then and still do today. An uncommon pairing, for sure, but one which served me well over the years.

Skipping ahead to forty years later…

I came across an old fill-in-the-blanks sort of book, Senior Memories, while trying to find some high school pictures and memorabilia to share with some of my students. One of the last pages was about goals, short-term and long-term. Next to the word “Career” I had written these words: “Mathematics teacher in a high school.”  Next to the words “Where You Will Be Living”, I wrote, “Somewhere in a rural town.” I was amazed to read those thoughts after boxing them away so long ago. Even more amazing, those long-term goals, written down at the age of 17, were realized. I spent the last 10-12 years of my career teaching high school mathematics in a rural Northern California community. I even served as Math Department Chair most of that time.

Maybe the elementary school PTA and my high school math teacher knew something I didn’t know. Maybe I knew it all along, deep inside, but was too young to know it consciously for myself. Becoming a teacher was certainly my destiny, for whatever reason.

What about you? Do you have a story about how you chose your career path? I bet your kids and grandkids would love to hear about it. Share Your Tale!!




Journey to Certification: Part 4

We returned from the reunion road trip about mid-July. I had been through some life-changing experiences over the past eighteen-plus months. Now, I found myself somewhat at a loss as to what my life as a retiree would look like. I still had the responsibility of being the woman of the house (wife, cook, housekeeper, etc.) and caregiver to my mother-in-law, but I needed more. I needed a new purpose, a new direction for my life, a mental challenge. And I knew genealogy needed to be at the heart of whatever I path I chose to follow.

In August, I took to the internet and began searching for information on “becoming a professional genealogist.” I found several great sites and learned about all of the wonderful educational opportunities available, both online and off. Recommendations for training and preparation for certification included, among other things: attending national conferences sponsored by the National Genealogical Society (NGS) and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS); enrolling in tuition courses through NGS, Boston University, BYU, University of Toronto, University of Washington, and a few others;  attending week-long institutes such as Genealogical Research Institute–Pittsburgh (GRIP), Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR), Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), and National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR, now called Gen-Fed); readingand studying professional journals, such as the NGS Quarterly, APG Quarterly, The NYGB Record,and The American Genealogist; expanding research experience to include archives, courthouses, etc.;  and taking advantage of free webinars offered through Family Search, Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), and the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). I took a leap of faith, made a plan for achieving certification as a genealogical researcher, and began my first class–American Genealogical Studies: The Basics, through NGS.

The idea of taking online classes was foreign to me and caused some anxiety. However, attending a program away from home was not an option. I knew I had to let go of my insecurities and trust that I would find my way through the process. I had no idea how much I would learn along the way–many new and valuable research techniques, the importance of thorough citations, and how to write reports. A wonderful, unexpected side effect to taking online classes has been improved computer skills. Who knew?

Now, when people ask me if I am retired, my reply is a joyful and resounding, “No, I am redirected, and I am loving every minute of it!”


Turning Point

Journey to Certification, Part 3:

Defining moments come to everyone, probably more often than we realize. One of those defining moments came for me during our visit to Minnesota for the Olson Family Reunion in July, 2014. The journey with my sister B. and Aunt L. was so much fun! Seeing my aunts reunited was heartwarming. Reconnecting with cousins we haven’t seen for years (some for over 50 years) was a true blessing. But it was one cemetery visit, with memories of burying our other sister still fresh in my mind and heart, that brought it all home for me. I understood at that moment what I was to do with the rest of my life.

I had been dragging my sister B. around for a week, taking her to every cemetery I knew of where ancestors were buried. She helped me walk up and down rows and rows of markers trying to find the names on my lists. Our travels took us from Albert Lea, MN, to Sioux Falls, SD,  and then south to Sibley, IA. Of course, there was an agreement made my sister that, if she was going to go with me to cemeteries, then I was going to take her to Falls Park while visiting Sioux Falls. Not a problem. Aunt L. accompanied us on that excursion, too. It was a fun day for all.

One of our last cemetery visits took us to Sibley, IA. Before leaving on our road trip, I found the cemetery where our grandfather, Peter Brinkman (1890-1914), was buried. We never knew him. He died two months before our father was born. According to Google Maps, the cemetery was south of Sibley, out in the middle of a corn field. I wasn’t even sure whether it still existed. It was called the Hope German Presbyterian Cemetery.

Our first stop in Sibley was at the Chamber of Commerce. When asked about this cemetery, the woman in the office said she had never heard of it. She sent us to the public library, just a block away. We had no idea what we would find there.

The main librarian hadn’t heard of the cemetery, either. However, they just happened to have a binder of a compiled list of all the cemeteries in Osceola County, recently donated to the library. The man who compiled the work listed the name of every person found, dates on the inscription, the cemetery in which they were interred, and the town where that cemetery was located. (There may have been other pieces of information, too, which I don’t recall now.) She brought out the binder and let us look for our grandfather’s name.

“There! There it is! Oh, my gosh!! I can’t believe it! Hope Cemetery! We found him, B.! We found him! The cemetery does exist!” I was so excited, I think my heart took a leap or two!

There was another young woman helping at the counter. When I showed her the entry for our grandfather, she said, “I think I have been to that cemetery with my grandmother.” She went straight to the computer and printed out directions. Almost there, I thought, an anxious lump growing in my throat.

Well, the drive to find the cemetery was interesting, to say the least. The directions wanted us to turn off of a nice paved road onto a dirt field road. I started to turn, determined to get to our destination. Being a country girl married to a rice farmer, driving on field roads didn’t intimidate me. However, we didn’t make it more than 50 feet, or so, and there was a huge mud puddle. A thunderstorm had come through and dropped a bunch of rain for two days. Next to the puddle was a sign to the effect, “Enter at your own risk.” We decided, since we were not in a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, it would be best to heed the warning. There had to be another way to get to the cemetery. Thank goodness for GPS!

After backing up, we were back on pavement, at least for a while. Eventually, we found ourselves on a public dirt/gravel road, obviously maintained by some road crew. While I drove, my sister concentrated on the Google Map and the car’s GPS map. Finally, she says, “We are very close.” We passed a cornfield, a long row of trees, and a white farmhouse with a sign that read “Olson.” All of a sudden she said, “We missed it. We have gone too far.” Slowly, I backed up from the corner, past the farmhouse, past the row of trees, slower and slower. Then, I stopped.

There, between the cornfield and the trees, was a road, covered with grass/weeds, green from the fresh rain. Our eyes barely caught sight of something at the end of the road–a cyclone fence. Could that be it? I backed up just a bit more, and there it was. Beyond the fence we saw headstones! Heart racing, I drove slowly to the edge of the fence. We got out and looked around.

The cemetery was not very big, maybe 30 or 40 headstones at most. Many of them had the surname of Frey, another ancestral name on our father’s side. We walked around for a short time, then my sister proclaimed, “Oh my gosh! We found it! He’s here! I don’t believe it.” We stood in front of our grandfather’s headstone, the closest we had ever been to him in our lives, held each other, and cried. They were tears of joy in the discovery, but also tears of sadness. We were sad that we never knew him, but even more, we were sad that he never knew his son. How much our father needed him as a child! We just stood there for a while, thinking out loud, relishing the experience, and took lots of pictures.

That was my defining moment. That was the moment I knew that I had to pursue genealogy with a purpose.  I needed to find out about my ancestors more deeply. Who they were. How they lived. Where they came from. I wanted to learn more about genealogical research. I decided then and there that, once back to California, I would turn this dream into a reality. I didn’t know how, but I knew this would be my new path in life–a life-long passion turned into a new career, possibly.


An Early Omen

It is interesting how we end up in a career. Some people know from an early age what it is they want to be when they grow up–doctor, Olympic athlete, lawyer, president of the United States, dentist, computer wiz, fashion designer, and on and on. Some lucky people get a dream for their future and set goals that will make that dream a reality. Some people find out that their career choice wasn’t all they thought it would be, and they end up doing something else, maybe even something they love even more. How about you? How did you get started on your career path?

My career spanned 37 years as a teacher in California public schools. I have always loved school and learning, but when I started college, becoming a teacher was not on my list of things to do with my life. It wasn’t until my junior year of college, after dropping out for a few months and becoming a nanny, that I realized the path I should take. The funny thing was that the parents of my sixth-grade class knew I would be a teacher fourteen years before I did!

I went to school at Garden Grove Elementary (K-6) in Reseda, California. I had wonderful teachers. I loved school. I loved learning for learning’s sake. Today I would probably be labeled “nerdy,” or “a geek,” in fact. I still remember  my teachers at that school. Each one gave me the gift of knowledge and inspired me to become the best I could be. Special memories surround my relationship with each teacher. I wanted to be like them when I was little. I even idolized a few of them, as some small children are wont to do.

Back in the day the parents of sixth-graders at Garden Grove Elementary would host what was called a “Culmination.” It was a celebration of promotion–moving on from elementary school to junior high school. The day’s festivities ended in a luncheon. At every student’s place there was a small scroll. The scroll contained a fortune, a fun prediction for our possible futures. Each one was written with that particular student in mind. Mine went something like this… You will be the mother of 27 children. Oh, pardon me. You will be a teacher at Garden Gulch School.

I know these little fortunes were not meant to be anything more than a fun little memento, but I can’t help wondering how many of them actually came true. As for me, I guess I was fated to become a teacher. My career was unusual, compared to most, I think. And even though I didn’t actually teach at Garden Gulch School, I did spend most of my career teaching in a rural community.