The Long and Winding Road

by Mary Anne Duggan

When the first prompt of this season’s Write 6X6 challenge was announced, my brain buzzed with potential songs that represent my career in education. The first thing I did was to search for chart-toppers from my first year in teaching – 1986. A quick trip down musical memory lane promptly reminded me of why I don’t love 80’s music.

But another song from the past kept floating in my consciousness – The Long and Winding Road. So, I decided to take lyrics from this 1970 Beatles song for a spin around the record player to see if it spoke sang to me.

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here
Leads me to your door

I didn’t set out to become a teacher. Instead, I started out as a dance major in college. I struggled in the first two years of my dance program. The professors didn’t like how much time I was spending with my boyfriend. They didn’t like that I actually ate food. And on the first day of my junior year, I got sideways of my ballet teacher.

On that day, the teacher was disgusted by her students’ lack of preparation. At the end of class, she went around and demanded the names of some of us to report to the department chair. When she approached me, my face was flushed and heart racing. “What is your name?” she barked. The toes in my ballet slippers were tingling, and I packed up all that adrenaline and ran to the registrar’s office, where I proclaimed, “I want to change my major!”

You could do that back in 1984. Computers weren’t used for registration when I was in college, so you just told someone if you wanted out. “Well, what do you want to study?” asked the 25-year old registration manager.

I took a split second to think about the last time I was happy in a college class. “I love psychology because I’m totally into how people learn!” Enter the first bend of the winding road: I thought that meant I should be an elementary school teacher.

The winding road went from elementary school teacher to preschool owner back to elementary school teacher through a master’s degree in counselor education to staff developer to peer evaluator to a PhD in educational psychology to clinical assistant professor of education to research program director to assistant research professor in family/human development and – finally — to teacher of psychology. You know, that thing I told the registration manager I wanted 39 years ago.

But all along the road, there is one thread in my career of four decades: A fierce desire to honor the individuality of my students, to provide a visceral sense of safety for them, and to encourage a sense of belonging for all. To make my classroom a place students feel they have value and something to contribute. It should be no surprise that what I have been working on through the whole of my career is what I so desperately needed in that dance studio, on that fateful August day so very long ago.


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