The Early Years

I was lucky. My situation was unique – I started teaching at the same high school I had graduated. My former teachers were my mentors. I remember being the “newbie” teacher – first year teaching experience and the entire English department had already invested at least twenty years in the school district. My department chair, Ardy, took me under her wing immediately; they all did. Her son, Kevin, had also been my date for prom and that helped a little.

Honestly, I did not have any formal plans to be a teacher. I was supposed to go to law school and become a lawyer. That was the plan, and I had been set on it until I took the political science classes in college – constitutional law kicked my behind and I knew I was not mature. So – a dear friend, who was working on teacher education courses, heard my story and delivered this awesome speech about teaching “back home.” She said it was important to role model, care, give back, and understand the students who shared our backyards growing up. It worked; I entered the teacher program and had no idea what would happen.

Even with the support from my former teachers (they were surprised that I had returned to be an English teacher and loved it too), I struggled that first year. The biggest lesson I learned – after the crying, scrambling for ANY text book or resource, hunting for desks without graffiti, and broken down Xerox machines – was that teaching had to do with building relationships. The biggest challenge was getting to know 150 students all at once and not care about how much knowledge I could impart to them. It really had nothing to do with me – that is the hard part, getting past yourself; even today, I will struggle with that and those are the days my students and I face off.

Another lesson I remember well – Mr. Moore, my former English teacher, pulled me aside my second or third year of teaching when he heard me complaining about my kids and their behavior. He told me this story – “DeLyssa, I remember when you were in my composition class. You used to be so technical and precise in any of the essay formats we covered. You followed the rules, and then there was the creative writing piece. I told you all that you could write about anything – no rules. I still remember the essay you submitted – about riding horses on the dry, grassy plains at your grandma’s house; that it was during that time you had freedom; no brothers and sisters to watch, cook, or clean after; and even though you had never been to an ocean that was the closest you felt to it. That essay blew my mind and I knew that that was you, and that was pretty amazing. It’s the details that make the kids amazing. You are not going to know all their details, but catch the ones you can, and guess what? They respect you for it.”

So, my early years of teaching were free and I had support from teachers who cared about me. I was lucky – that’s all I can say, because I can’t imagine entering a school today with teachers who’ve taught that long and cared about you, the students, and the community. They are all retired now, and I miss them greatly, but I am fortunate they helped me along.


Delyssa Begay

DeLyssa Begay

Many Farms, Arizona

I belong to the Black Sheep People. My clan is my mother’s, and my father’s is One-Who-Walks-Around People. I am granddaughter to the Bitter Water and Red-Streak-into-Running Water Peoples. That’s mouthful, but it is my identity.

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