Discouraged teaching preschool, she was inspired to keep going by a young boy's email

Chalkbeat journalists ask the people we come across in our work to tell us about their education stories and how learning shaped who they are today. Learn more about this series, and read other installments, here.

Megan Bouckley’s tiny southern Indiana hometown of about 2,100 people is just slightly bigger than NBA great Larry Bird’s famously small hometown of French Lick, which is about a half-hour drive way. The idea of living in a huge city like Indianapolis once intimidated her. But now she works as a fourth-grade teacher at Riverside School in IPS. The intense focus on the performance of schools in IPS, she said, reminds her of growing up in a small town where everyone knows you and everyone is watching how you behave. We met her at the showcase for projects by Teach Plus fellows earlier this month.

Here’s her story:

I grew up in southern Indiana in a town called Orleans. I graduated with 57 people from a tiny high school. I was salutatorian in my class. I think I never and always wanted to be a teacher at the same time. I vividly remember being in classrooms and thinking, “If this was my room, I would…” and “If I were the teacher, I would…”

I had all these ideas about what I would do that would be better than what was happening. But I was a kid so you can’t say that to anyone.

I went to Indiana State University because I didn’t want to go to a big school. I was afraid of it. I decided interior design was what I wanted to do and they had a great program. After my first semester, I quit doing that. I thought I wanted to do early childhood education, but I wanted a job so I studied elementary education. But I thought I wanted to work with smaller kids.

My first job out of college I taught pre-K at a learning center. I enjoyed it for the most part but I just felt like I wasn’t using my skills. I found a job in Indianapolis at a township school that I thought I was going to love. But I hated it. I was driving an hour to work crying all the way there. I was working until 6 p.m., driving all the way home in tears and working until I went to bed trying to fix a problem that I didn’t feel like I could fix. So I quit.

I found another job in pre-K but I was done teaching. I interviewed for everything. I interviewed for hospital jobs, for sales jobs, for all these things that I knew I didn’t want to do. But I needed more money and I needed to not hate my job. I didn’t even get the first look. I kind of gave up for awhile. I loved my little pre-K kids, but I was making no money and bored out of my mind.

Then I got a phone call from a teacher at School 44 who I had taught with in pre-K at my first job who said, “We have an opening. What do you think?” I thought, “why not test it out?” They offered me the job. Now I’m in my second year. I feel like I am in a place where I have a voice, and I can be a leader. I feel like that’s what was lacking in my other jobs. I just felt like I was going through the motions. Now I feel like I have an impact on kids.

One reason I took the job was that after seven or eight months of being miserable when I was at my most down, a kid from my first job who had yelled and screamed at me and said “I hate you!” sent me an email that just said, “Hi! How are you?”

He remembered me. That’s when I said: “I have to keep doing this.” Some of these kids have no one but us. We’re all they’ve got. We have to be champions for them.