To the Head of the Class
Margaret Banks, '87 Teacher
After high school I took some college classes at Lansing Community College. I wasn't really very serious about anything except classes related to the performing arts degree I was pursuing. Even after my son was born (I was a single parent), I still saw "fame" as a possibility. Around the time my son was a toddler, my father insisted I take the civil service exam because a career in musical theater just wasn't going to support a child. I took the test, passed, and moved to Kalamazoo to work at the Kalamazoo Regional Psychiatric Hospital.
Eventually my son started school and I got married. I couldn't get a day shift at the hospital, so I quit and became a rather crummy secretary. After changing jobs several times, even trying a stint as a stay-at-home mom, the secretary at my son's elementary school said, "Why don't you just go back to school, Margaret? You're here at the school everyday anyway. You might as well get paid for it." I was a poor student and later realized I had several learning difficulties such as ADD and dysnomia. For this reason, I didn't have a lot of confidence in this idea. Nonetheless, I took a typing class through adult education in Kalamazoo. I figured if I increased my typing speed, maybe I could become a school secretary. I often say I started there and didn't know how to quit. I found out I could learn and succeed. Wow! I remember asking a friend at church about whether I should bother going further with my education. I said I would be 34 when I graduated and that was pretty old to start over. He just looked at me and said, "Well, you're going to be 34 anyway. What do you want to be doing when you get there?" That pretty much convinced me to try.
Terrified as I was, I started classes at KVCC. I was a Den Mother for Cub Scouts and enjoyed working with the kids. They seemed to respond well to me. And, as I said, I'd spent a lot of time in my son's classrooms helping out. So I thought I'd try for a teaching degree. Being a teacher was beyond anything I'd ever imagined I could be. I mean, they were smart, and talented, and all those other things I didn't see in myself. Anyway, I started at KVCC, hiding in the bathroom and giving myself a pep talk before my first class - an act I repeated several times over the years, usually just before a test. I remember my first lesson plan. I misunderstood the directions and put together an entire year's outline, all subjects included and integrated... It was so easy to make the lessons flow together, so natural. I enjoyed it so much. The teacher just stared at me when I turned it in. Finally she said, "Margaret, a lesson plan should be only a one hour lesson . . . You've kind of gone over that here." For the first time in my life, I thought I might have found something that I was actually good at. I went on to get my AA (with honors!) at KVCC, then my BA (Magma Cum Laude!) at Nazareth College. I even sang at Baccaulaureate - talk about coming full circle! My parents were so proud of me. They came up from New Mexico for graduation. My mother, who already had heart disease, had a heart attack here in Michigan a few days later. I know they were shocked that I'd finally graduated from college, but I told her that was a little dramatic!
I taught in Kalamazoo for a number of years. My first job was as a Remedial Reading teacher at South Middle School, now Maple Street Magnet. No curriculum, books, or guidelines; I wrote my own program. I left there and did a few years at Edison Elementary where I was very happy. My husband was working in Hartford at the time, so I got a job in Paw Paw and we moved to Mattawan. I ended up back in middle school, teaching 6th grade English and then 8th grade Earth Science. I worked on adding the Science endorsement while teaching English (in order to stay at the middle school). What a year that was! Teaching full time and taking classes four nights a week! Whew! I took as many classes as I could at KVCC - it was like going home so it was comfortable. Nazareth was gone by then, so my science minor came from WMU. Now, in another full circle irony, I am writing curriculum for a new program for At-Risk students, much like the old Remedial Reading class I originally taught. It will be implemented in September and I will be the teacher. I'm so very excited because this is a strength I have, working with those kids, who like me, are not "typical" students yet are not eligible for special education services. I have so many ideas and find myself reenergized about my career.