My Origin Story…Or At Least Some of It


Over the next three weeks I am going to be talking about inspiration–where we find it in our personal and professional lives.  Not only will you be hearing from me and a couple of my stories, but I will also be including thoughts from other teachers out there.

This week I am going to be discussing some of what (really who) inspired me to become a teacher and sharing what some others said about the same.  This is a really common question in teaching interviews, but one I don’t think we share often enough with the rest of the world and even with those that inspired us.  As I sit here and write this, it occurs to me that the man that I most often reference when I am asked why I became a teacher has no idea that he is one of the biggest reasons I chose the profession I did.
With this in mind, let me tell you a little bit about the man who twenty years ago helped set the course of my life.
I first met Mr. Zajicek when I joined Model UN as a freshman in high school, but I really did’t get to know him until two years later when I took AP US History.  A tall, thin bachelor with a quirky sense of humor and an 80s mustache and jeans, Mr. Zajicek thought you microwaved a hot dog and a potato for the same amount of time and was regularly flummoxed by the overhead projector–seriously, I have never met anyone else who could melt overhead transparencies while using them.
That being said, he was one of the most amazing teachers I have ever had the pleasure to learn from.  Mr. Zajicek’s passion was military history, and he shared that passion regularly with his class.  When he talked about the wars the USA had fought in, he would often bring in authentic examples and replicas of gear and weaponry so we could understand better why grape shot was so devastating during the Civil War or just how big a bazooka is (I mean, come on, did your US History teacher ever bring a bazooka to class?!).
Mr. Zajicek put endless hours into preparing for class.  In the lead up to the AP exam, he came in for Saturday review sessions.  then, two days before our AP exam,  our school was shut down for several days because of a mass shooting threat.  (To date myself, that was the year of the Columbine shootings and everyone was on edge.)  Suddenly, we had to use the alternate test day with a new DBQ time frame that was different from the one that we had been working toward all year.  Mr. Zajicek didn’t let us panic, put us through several intense review sessions on evenings and weekends (which he must have stayed up nights during the already busy end of the school year preparing for), and got us all through the test.
By far though, Mr. Zajicek’s most memorable lessons in my mind were the ones on the battles of the Civil War.  He pulled out three colors of white board marker–blue (for the Union), red (for the Confederacy), and green (for land formations)–and over three days drew battle plans on the board completely from memory as he told the narrative of the American Civil War.  He interwove individual soldiers’ stories and stories of the Wisconsin regiments (where we lived) with the overarching through line of the war.  It was all fascinating and helped me understand a war better than just about any other one I have ever studied.  I still have the maps I drew and notes I took way back then, and I reference them when I teach the Civil War.
Incredibly, he never glorified or glamorized warfare.  Despite the fact that it was really cool to see a real-life gatling gun or hold a cannon ball or hear stories of Old Abe, the eagle that traveled with one of the Wisconsin regiments, Mr. Zajicek never let us forget the price of war–the heartache and sorrow, the destruction and death.  Mr. Zajicek is the one who introduced me to All Quiet on the Western Front, he taught us about the horrors of military hospitals before modern medicine, and he helped us understand the concept of total war and it’s effect on a civilian population.  He was a military veteran whose unit was not expected to survive if the Cold War had turned hot.  All of this–from the theoretical and historical to the intensely personal stories he shared gave  his students an understanding of war that we would not have had without him.
During the year I was taking AP US History, I was finalizing my decision about which college I wanted to attend and what I wanted to study.  While I had always been interested in the possibility of being a teacher, I left Mr. Zajicek’s class knowing that if I could be a teacher with even half of the passion and dedication and excitement that Mr. Zajicek brought to the classroom, I would be a great educator.
Whether he knows it or not, Mr. Zajicek is and always will be one of my professional inspirations.  I strive to live up to his example (as an educator, not a chef), and I hope that I inspire a few of my own students in the same way he has inspired me.
Below are a few responses from other teachers about who or what inspires them. I encourage you to take the time to read their thoughts and visit their sites.
Teach On!
I’d love for you to add who or what inspired you in the comments section below!
“I have many family members who are teachers, so have grown up with teaching all around me.  But it wasn’t until I decided to change my major going into my 4th year of university that I began to see what a joy teaching could be.”  ~Amanda
“I was inspired to become a teacher by watching many of my teachers growing up.  I always looked up to my teachers and thought they had the most fun job in the world.  They got to work with kids, plan fun projects and inspire future generations.”  ~Growing Mathematical Minds
“My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Yvonne Watkins, was full of life and love.  Her kindness touched me (I was super shy!), and she just always seemed so passionate about the things she taught.”  ~Story Trekker
“My sister!  She and I worked our first two years as educators at the same school.”  ~Civics Corner
“My whole life I have wanted to be a teacher.  I have always been in love with the profession.  I was blessed to have many amazing teachers, many of whom I still remember specific things about.  A lesson, a classroom activity, or just a style of teaching that spoke to me.”  ~Colleen of Historical Thinking Classroom
“I wanted to become a teacher because I loved math but never had a teacher that seemed to!”  ~Brittany @ Challenges from a Teacher Mom
“I think I always wanted to be a teacher, but my high school biology teacher made me realize how much I loved science.  I have since gone back to observe her classroom and still love it!”  ~Becca from Science Rocks
“I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember.  I was that kid who had their dolls lined up in front of a chalkboard in the garage.  It was never a question in my mind.  Teaching is not just a job…it is a passion!”  ~Kristy from Teach with all your Heart
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This Week’s Journal Questions
For the teacher:  Who has been an inspiration for you in your professional life?  Have you ever told this person?  Why or why not?  What are ways that you can pass what you learned from this person to others?
For the student:  Who is someone you know that makes a difference in the world?  How does this person do it?  Why do you admire what he or she does?  How can you be more like this person?
A Recipe from My Kitchen:
Carrot-Walnut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
carrot cake
I made this in honor of my son’s first birthday.  My daughter insisted we add the sprinkles!
  • Cake:
    • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
    • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 3 cups shredded carrots, tightly packed (about 1 pound)
    • 1 1/2 cups toasted, chopped walnuts
    • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
    • 4 large eggs, room temperature
    • 1 1/2 cups canola oil
  • Frosting
    • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
    • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
    • 5 teaspoons sour cream
    • 1-1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1 3/4 cup powdered sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350º.  Baking rack should be in the middle position.
  2. Grease and flour a 9×13 inch pan.
  3. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt together in a large bowl.
  4. Shred carrots.
  5. Add carrots and walnuts to the flour mixture and mix.
  6. In a food processor or stand mixer, combine sugar, brown sugar, and eggs until well-combined and frothy.
  7. Add oil in a steady stream while mixer or processor is running.
  8. Pour sugar/oil mixture into flour mixture and stir until it is completely incorporated and there are no streaks of flour.
  9. Pour batter into prepared pan, smooth top, and bake for about 40-45 minutes.  Cake is done when it begins to pull away from the sides of the dish and a toothpick inserted into eh center comes out clean.
  10. Remove from the oven.  Cool in pan on a wire rack.
  11. Once cake is completely cool, about 2 hours, you are ready to frost it.
  12. To make the frosting:  Cream butter, cheese, sour cream, vanilla, and salt in food processor or stand mixer until smooth.  Scrape down the sides.  Add sugar and six until smooth.
  13. Frosted cake should be refrigerated with a cover.
carrot cake piece
So delicious and the carrot shreds add beautiful color!


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