Choosing To Teach--By Danny Schiff

Functions and fractions on the floating dock 

Functions and fractions on the floating dock 

Danny Schiff's Bio: There are several things I feel very blessed for in life, one being that I have somehow turned my passions--travel, outdoors, and community service--into a vocation. During a recent Skype conversation between Switzerland and North Carolina, my dear friend Arrington asked me to submit a piece of writing about how I became me: Nepal-trip-leading/ Swiss-boarding-school-living/ beach-boy Ironman. An ongoing project of mine since college has been writing a semi-fictitious life story. Over the course of the last nine years I've been mute about the project, only opening up to family and a few friends in recent weeks when I felt I had arrived at an ending for my decade-long opus. The following was taken from the first section of the story, marking the first time I have shared any part of this project with anyone. 

Chapter 3: Summer, 2003. St. Augustine Beach, Florida by Danny Schiff

At the time of his high school graduation, Danny believed that well-educated Jewish kids from the suburbs like himself were supposed to become professionals: doctors, lawyers, or businessmen. Having been successful in his high school mathematics courses, Danny declared accounting as his college major, knowing that he would always have a dependable job and would be able to provide for a theoretical family someday in the way his parents--who both worked in medicine--had provided for him and his sister. After two years of studying accounting however, Danny wasn’t stimulated by the idea of filing taxes from a cubicle as his life's work. He had always been interested in education, but he worried about the idea of supporting a family on a teacher's salary. 

Everything changed on a Wednesday during summer 2003 at St. Augustine Beach, Danny’s favorite surf break located just ninety minutes from his college campus. He was camping out for a few nights hoping to catch a perfect summer swell. On the final morning of his surf trip before driving home to spend time with family in Tampa, Danny unzipped his sandy tent and peered out at the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. There were already four foot high, glassy waves breaking around the pier. He couldn't get into the water soon enough. After grabbing a drink of water and a bite of a week old bagel with peanut butter, he made his way down to the ocean. 

All morning, Danny and a tanned, muscular, bearded surfer, who appeared to be in his early thirties, surfed the wide-open waves. There was not a single other person in the ocean. It was a weekday, and most local surfers didn’t have the freedom to be away from work, or if they had the freedom, they were likely far too hungover to take advantage of an early morning swell. So with the ocean to themselves, these two kindred spirits, separated by a decade, hooted and hollered like kids, as they rode waves into shore and then turned around to paddle past the breakers once again. As they sat on their boards waiting for a new set, Danny's surf companion remarked, “Dream place to call home. Am I right?” Danny agreed, sharing that he was a college student in Gainesville, happily spending vacation time camping out, riding waves, and writing in his journal. The man told Danny in exchange that he taught English at the local public high school.

When Danny asked how he liked teaching, the man replied, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that education is not a real profession. It’s the job that matters most in the world. I love my students, and on top of it, I have the highest quality of life I could imagine. I woke up at dawn and peddled my cruiser with my board strapped to the side a mile down the road. I’ll surf to my heart’s content all summer whenever the waves are good, and then bike home to eat brunch with my fiancé afterwards. I literally couldn’t be happier with how I live my life or the influence I have on my students.” As Danny listened, he knew he wanted to have this man’s sense of purpose, and he felt sure that a future as a CPA was no longer the right path for him. 

As Danny drove to Tampa that afternoon, he called his parents to tell them he was going to change his major the next day. Danny would never know the name of his surf companion, but he would always wish that he could thank him for having a conversation with a young, curly-haired college student in the ocean that morning at St. Augustine. If Danny could go back to that moment, which forever changed the course of his life, he would have expressed profound gratitude to this man for opening his eyes to the importance of work/life balance and the legitimacy of education as a vocation. As twenty year old Danny redirected his priorities, he dreamed of a future filled with palm trees and salt water. He could not yet conceive of the doors which education would open for him, or of the times when he would get to pay forward the advice from a surfing English teacher about the value of education and the places it might lead.


This story is part of the Human Becomings Story Series. Please consider sharing your own story of becoming with the wider world. Submissions to this series will be posted on the first of every month. Visit "Your Storyfor instructions and details.