Not born to be a teacher

The following post was written by Jo Bender (center in the photo above), SYF’s Assistant Director of Advancement and Community Engagement.

My mom always said, “You were born to be a teacher”. However, I was determined to prove her wrong, as all good daughters do. I avoided the teaching profession, not because I didn’t respect the profession and not because I wanted to make more money, but because it looked too hard.

My mother and step-father were both public school educators. Mom was a middle school special education teacher and Alan, my step-father, was a middle school counselor. For more than 30 years I watched them. I watched them identify the kids who needed extra support and instead of shuffling them off to someone else or a different program, they took them in. I remember when mom would come home in tears because she had been working on the same concept with a student for months and they just couldn’t get it. I remember Alan looking exhausted and exasperated because one of the students he had been working with had made a poor decision landing them in juvenile detention.

While I wasn’t destined to be a teacher, I always knew I loved working with people and I knew that I wanted to be able to make a difference. After all, I was raised by four saints. In addition to my mother and step-father, my dad was a police officer (who now teaches judo to kids for free), and my step-mother has literally served on every non-profit board in our hometown.

After graduating from college, I joined the AmeriCorps through an organization called City Year — an education non-profit. Okay, so I was getting close to the teachers but I still WAS NOT a teacher. City Year was a great experience that opened my eyes to educational inequities and the realities of what happens when a child is given opportunity versus when they are not. After a few years, I left City Year and started working for a health non-profit. I was going to lead an organization to find a cure for diseases—until I realized mom was right.

Mom gave me a letter a few years ago that said “You see, Stephanie Jo, we were right all along, one way or another, we knew your professional happiness would come through the lives of children.” As I have gotten older, I have realized, as many people do, that my mom is right about everything.

Well, almost everything.

Yes, the students who attend Simon Youth Academies and who receive our scholarships are the reason SYF exists and knowing I play a role in that is incredibly humbling and rewarding.

But that is not where my professional happiness comes from. For me, it comes from working to provide the space, resources and support that the educators who work at Simon Youth Academies all over the country need. My professional happiness comes through supporting, uplifting and celebrating teachers – just like my parents – who see the student who needs them the most and welcomes them with open arms. Teachers like these provide opportunity and stability to young people and allow them to see that their dreams can be a reality.

Teaching is hard. Too hard. It takes special people, like mom and Alan and like the teachers who educate at-risk students every day at Simon Youth Academies. Getting to play even the smallest role to support them; that makes me happy.

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