Image credit: Michael Krigsman
My mom is a nurse and my dad is an engineer. I grew up thinking of “work” as something tangible. Mom told us stories of exciting, life-or-death situations. My favorites were the ones when she would know more than the new residents. My father took us on long car trips all over the state and pointed out roads that he had bid on and that his company had built. He could tell us, even many years later, how many tons of fill or asphalt went into making half the highways in Utah.
It is probably no surprise that all my siblings and I entered careers that were not only math and science based, but also service-oriented. We were all raised to see work as a thing that had palpable results. A life saved. A road built. There are four of us—an environmental engineer, a science teacher, a pediatric nurse and a cardiologist.
When I began college many years ago and surveyed the sky’s-the-limit options in front of me, time and again I found myself drawn to careers that were easily described. When you say “teacher” or “nurse” there is a clear picture in somebody’s head about what you might be doing. I didn’t just want a career or job that would pay the bills and bring personal satisfaction (though these things are important), I wanted to feel like what I was doing made the world a better place. Like my father pounding out ribbons of asphalt across the desert, I wanted to leave my mark in some real way.
And so I chose teaching. I’ve taught enough years now and in enough different places, that the faces of so many precious and difficult children begin to blur together, but there are some who stand out. One of these was a girl I met during my student teaching. She was an upperclassman in a sophomore biology class. She had lovely dark hair that hung down her back. Her clothes were snug; she had that secret smile of a girl who has just begun to understand the power that her curves could have over men. Her interest in science was nominal, but she did her best and was attentive and kind.
One day after class she asked if she could talk to me for a few minutes. We sat in the back of the room, and she asked me if wearing her tight pants would hurt the baby she was carrying.
I swallowed and took a deep breath; I was still years away from my own babies and my knowledge of pregnancy was only from a textbook. I plunged ahead anyway.
I told her that during pregnancy her body would continue to expand and that she couldn’t do anything to stop that process. I told her that while her tight pants wouldn’t hurt they baby, at some point she would be too uncomfortable in them, and want to wear maternity clothes. There was a long pause after I told her this and in the look on her face I read something else: if she couldn’t wear her regular clothes then others would know.
I said gently, “Does the father know?”
She shook her head.
“Does your mother know?”
Again, with the head shaking.
“Does anybody know?”
And my heart broke. I recognized the courage it must have taken for her to come and see me, and the fear she must have felt about this unknown thing happening to her 17-year-old self.
We moved beyond pants then. I talked to her about nutrition and the need to see a doctor. I talked to her about getting her family and the father involved. We spoke about going to see her school counselor to get some support and help. Her mixture of fear and excitement disarmed me and it was hard to tell what she really wanted; maybe she wouldn’t have been able to say herself.
I have no idea what happened next. I finished my student teaching with a week or two of our conversation. Two months later I was teaching in another city and haven’t been back to that high school since. It was 15 years ago this fall. That baby would be a freshman in high school right now–the same age as most of the students I currently teach.
Since then I have seen both terrible and wonderful things. My interactions with children have changed and deepened my nature, making me, ironically, both more hardened and softer at the same time. For some reason, though, this first time that a student came to me, and no one else, with a problem that was unsolvable, sticks with me.
I realized then that far more than teaching science, I was helping children. I saw a higher purpose for what I was doing. It isn’t just about making sure they have the graduation credits they need. It is about helping them gain the skills they will need to be successful in their whole lives. It is about listening when they need someone to be empathetic. It is about holding them accountable for their choices.
My chosen profession isn’t for everyone, for a lot of reasons. But my hope is that as my LDS sisters begin to enter the work force in greater and greater numbers, they will take with them a powerful sense of purpose and a desire to leave the world better than they find it. My hope is that when they juggle work on top of all their other demands and priorities it will be more than just a paycheck for them. God has blessed us with so much; He is counting on us to help save this troubled world from itself. I believe that the work we do both inside and outside our homes can be the leavening in the bread spoken of in the scriptures. We are few in number, but our best efforts and our sense of purpose can make all the difference.