My youthful ambition was very lofty. In my mind, I was destined to become the lead play-by-play man on the New York Mets radio broadcasts. There was no one else who could do the job like I could, no one more deserving. It was going to happen. Take me out to the ballgame.
Unfortunately, as my understanding of the world developed and my math skills sharpened, I realized that such positions are usually filled by virtue of nepotism or name recognition and with only so many spots and so many people sharing similar dreams, it probably wasn’t going to happen. Strike out to end the game.
In college, though, at the University of Maryland, I became an active participant in the campus radio station. I started off as a talk show host (basically my friend and I talking to each other for an hour each week with microphones on – we never received one call). From there I started producing baseball games (sitting in a musty radio booth by myself on Friday and Saturday nights, hoping I could find a break to bolt to the bathroom, trying not to zone out while I listened to what at times could only be described as brutal baseball). One evening, one of the baseball broadcasters called me in my dorm, with minimal confidence in his voice, to ask if I, a freshman at the time, could make the trip with the baseball team to North Carolina and call the games – by myself. Although my dad and I had tickets for the Orioles game that weekend – he was coming down to see Camden Yards for the first time – I said I could do it. My sister and her boyfriend wound up with the tickets and I wound up with my first experience calling baseball games. (Side note: they wound up married. Probably because of my tickets.)
From there, I moved up the radio station ranks, leading crews of broadcasters and technicians for men’s soccer, football, women’s and men’s basketball, and baseball. As a senior, I became the sports director at WMUC, and it seemed that maybe, just maybe, I could make a career out of broadcasting after all.
Life on the air of the campus radio station was stellar. My senior year, we grew our staff from about 30 in August to about 80 in May and really increased our presence on campus. We were interviewed for an hour by the Voice of the Maryland Terrapins, Johnny Holliday, on his statewide weekly show, and featured in the campus newspaper (one of the top student newspapers in the nation) with a front page story. In the article, during a break in a football broadcast, I was quoted as saying,
“You’ve got to enjoy this. You’re covering Division I sports at the University of Maryland. It’s an awesome thrill getting up here and doing it.”
And it was – a total adrenaline rush that at it’s best had me walking on a cloud because of an awesome broadcast or game, but at it’s worst, had me asking, “What am I doing with my life?”
Because while calling games for my beloved Maryland was an almost indescribable thrill – and a privilege – there was only one person benefiting from my joy: me. I could not make a living off being selfish, no matter how many people told me that everyone who listened was getting joy out of hearing the games. I wanted to be able to see the impact I had. Coupled with the fact that I had three internships in radio and television that I absolutely despised because of how cutthroat and fake so many people were, I knew I couldn’t pursue a career in broadcast journalism.
So I turned to another passion of mine, crystallized by many years of working in summer day camps, and that was working with children. I reflected on the impacts I made in their lives in only two months, the way some bawled uncontrollably at the end of the summer (okay, I can only take some credit for that), the ways I was able to sit with them and help them work through the issues they had with themselves and with others, and I thought to myself, “I think teaching may be the ticket.”
My parents expressed their support in, shall we say, “unique” ways. My mom, a principal winding down her career in the school system after 30 years, seemed tepid but saw where I was coming from. My dad, slightly less diplomatic said, “Oh, Matthew, you don’t want to be a teacher!” From an early age, both of them wanted me to use my writing abilities. In fact, my dad once said he could see me writing song lyrics. My mom thought I could write a book.
As a teacher, I’ve already written the song lyrics to help my kids learn or to help them enrich the school, and if things go in the direction I’d like them to, I could be on the way to writing a book, in some way about education, as well.
It is now more than five years since I called my last baseball game for the University of Maryland, nearly 10 since I called my first. I look back on those times and remember them for what they were – awesome learning experiences, fun times that have great stories attached, and something I will never be able to do again. Do I regret that? Not even for a minute.
I made the choice to go into teaching because I wanted to impact lives. It’s a cliche thing to say, but it’s the truth. In my three years of teaching, I have been heartbroken to see students as young as seven who already had it in their mind that they were worthless and incapable – but I’ve seen them shed those beliefs in favor of more positive ones. I’ve had students come to me, castigated by their previous teachers as “low-functioning,” only to have them speed past their classmates in what were considered their weakest areas. All it takes is believing in these kids and letting them know I believe in them.
Their growth is my reward. I truly believe I am a steward of their futures, that I can make a difference in their lives. That’s why, no matter what goes on around me at school or in the media or with our politicians, my resolve is strengthened by recalling that my job is for my students. I firmly believe that, and it motivates me to inspire them toward greatness.
Now, could I have ever gotten any of this from sitting in a radio booth on a Friday or Saturday night?