A Teacher’s Journey

1. The Status Quo (The ordinary world)

Adrian Neibauer
10 min readApr 18, 2020

This is part of a personal narrative series detailing my work as an educator.


I knew from an early age that I loved working with children. Although becoming a teacher didn’t dawn on me until college, I knew that I had an affinity with kids. Growing up, my mother ran an unlicensed daycare center out of our home. I only mention my mother’s indiscretion in order to explain that I grew up with a lot of kids in my house. We had cribs in every room (some rooms had multiple cribs). If I overslept my alarm, I was promptly awoken by the sound of crying babies being dropped off by working mothers, or being poked by a toddler who wanted to play. At the time (late Elementary School through High School), my world consisted of cutting up bananas in the morning before school, tripping over sippy cups on my way out the door, coming home to the smell of dirty diapers and warm milk, and playing with kids before starting my homework. I don’t remember ever feeling irritated by all of this chaos, except for the random Saturdays when I couldn’t sleep in because my mother agreed to babysit. I learned to change diapers before I learned to drive and I learned very quickly that I had a way with kids.

I loved making babies and toddlers laugh. When they were upset, screaming as they were being pulled away from their mother’s arms, I learned that they often calmed down faster if took them in my arms and distracted them from their mother’s leaving. If a particular baby was having difficulty taking a nap, I could often get them to sleep easier. I hated how my mother would let them “cry it out”, but it makes sense now looking back; she had just so many kids to look after, she couldn’t spend individual time rocking a baby to sleep.

Five to six days a week, this was my world. My mother worked from home and my father traveled a lot. As a chemical engineer, he always seemed to be working late at the office or on a business trip. My younger two brothers didn’t seem at all interested in participating in the daycare, so I spent a lot of time with my mom. By the time I was old enough to drive and get a job, the natural fit was to work with kids. I became a summer camp counselor/lifeguard at an athletic club and worked with kids ages 5–10 throughout the summers. We went on field trips around the city, built obstacle courses outside, and colored pictures on rainy days. It was a great way to spend my summers and earn some spending money.

At some point, I began managing the summer program and took on more leadership responsibilities. At home, my summer job never really was a topic of conversation; it was just a summer job. However, at some point in High School, my father began questioning my future.

So often, I think, we as adults pressure teenagers to begin identifying some sort of career path. As young kids, we ask What are you going to be when you grow up? Parents and teachers seem appeased with answers like, firefighter, scientist, engineer, mechanic. There is also a warm sense of compassion for those few students (usually girls) who tell their teachers that they want to be a teacher. In my household, being a professional camp counselor was not a career trajectory my father wanted for me. I needed to begin thinking about my future. My father was not unlike James Court in Say Anything. And, especially by the time I was a senior in High School, my answer was not unlike Lloyd’s.


Yeah Lloyd. What are your plans for the future?


Spend as much time as possible with Diane before she leaves.


Seriously, Lloyd.


I’m totally and completely serious.


No, really.


You mean like a career? Uh, I don’t know. I’ve, I’ve thought

about this quite a bit sir, and I’d have to say considering

what’s waiting out there for me, I don’t want to sell anything,

buy anything or process anything as a career. I don’t want to

sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or

processed, or… process anything sold, bought or processed, or

repair anything sold, bought or processed, you know, as a career

I don’t want to do that. So, uh, my father’s in the army, he

wants me to join, but I can’t work for that corporation, so what

I’ve been doing lately is kickboxing, which is really a, uh, new

sport, but I think it’s got a good future. As far as career

longevity goes, I don’t really know, because, you know, you can’t

really tell. Your training sticks (?) as a fighter, you know,

but it’s no good, you know, you have to be great, but I can’t

really tell if I’m great until I’ve had a couple of pro fights.

But I haven’t been knocked out yet. I don’t know, I can’t figure

it all out tonight sir, I’m going to hang with your daughter.

Instead of kickboxing, I was making kids laugh. As much as my father wanted me to figure out my future before leaving for college, I only wanted to keep managing the summer camp and hang out with my girlfriend. I knew that I needed to apply to colleges. This is another sneaky way parents try to pigeonhole their kids. What colleges are you applying to? is code for What are you going to major in?, which is also code for What are your plans for the future? In a rebellious attempt to simultaneously please my father and rage against the machine of the “real world”, I applied to two colleges: one state college and clown college.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College was founded in 1968 and located in Sarasota, Florida. A typical day consisted of makeup, improv, acrobatics, and clowning. Here, I would learn the different types of clowns and the history of clowning. My professors would be legends such as Dick Monday and Tim Holst. Upon graduating, I would become a member of Clown Alley, move into their 52-car train, and travel around the world spending 11 months a year (2–3 days each week) covering about 13,000 miles and visiting as many as 45 cities each year. The best part? Clown College instituted a “tuition-free policy in order to remove any potential financial obstacles that might prevent clown hopefuls from realizing their dreams” (Irvin Feld, Founder). The only thing I had to do was audition in order to receive an invitation to apply. So, after frantically writing down the address from the TV commercial, I immediately began working on my routine.

I was so nervous when I drove my brown and tan 1986 Ford Bronco downtown to the auditions. I told no one; not even my girlfriend. This was before Google Maps so I printed out my MapQuest directions and said a silent prayer that this was going to work. When I arrived, I parked in an empty parking lot. It was hot that day and the heat floated just above the surface of the empty concrete spaces. I didn’t see any other cars (I probably parked in the wrong lot) in the huge parking lot usually reserved for the rodeo and professional basketball games. I swore that I saw a tumbleweed roll behind my truck as I wandered around and made my way inside.

Once inside, I made my way to center stage made up of a circle of chairs around a dirt floor. I looked around and saw hundreds of empty seats. The spotlights were aimed directly at this circle of folding chairs and I took my seat. I wish I could remember who else auditioned. I remember the huge box of props, the guy in charge who gave us directions, and smell of dirt and peanut shells. Most important, I remember the single chair in the center. One by one, we were asked to approach the chair and be funny. There were no other directions; no guidance on how to be funny or what they wanted us to do. We each had ten minutes and a box of props. One lady grabbed a dusty red bowler hat and pretended that she couldn’t get it off of her head. She tried and tried, but the hat kept sticking to her hands. One guy tried stuffing all of the clothing items (shirts, pants, belts, shoes) into his own pants. It was hilarious because we had no context as to why he was stuffing everything into his clothing. Was he packing for a trip and forgot his suitcase? Lots of people showed off their balancing and acrobatic/tumbling skills. People balanced broom handles, huge PVC pipes, even the lone folding chair in the center ring. A few girls did cartwheels and handstands. Each time someone took their ten minutes, I shook. My hands were sweaty. I felt like I was going to barf every time the facilitator announced, Who’s next? I don’t remember exactly how many people auditioned before I volunteered. I’d like to think I was the last one because I was so damn nervous and because I was saving the best for last. Either way, at some point I stood up and took my place in the center ring. I chose the short wicker broom and started cleaning up. Everyone had made such a mess and I wanted to tidy up a bit. I then noticed the broom; I mean really noticed it and realized that it was a baseball bat and I was a famous baseball player. I walked up the the imaginary plate, used the broom/bat to knock off some dirt from my cleats, and began taking a few warm up swings. I eyed the facilitator and gave him my best evil-eye glare. I waited for the right pitch and swung. Strike One! I was so nervous that I never spoke. In fact, it wasn’t until strike two did I notice that it was eerily quiet because I had been the only person who didn’t speak. I did everything silently. Obviously, I hit a base hit past second base and made it to third. Sliding into the pile of clothes I had piled onto the floor didn’t hurt as much as I’m sure it looked.

In hindsight, I didn’t have a lot of skills. I couldn’t juggle. I couldn’t really balance much. I wasn’t very graceful or athletic. I just tried to be myself and be funny with nothing. I just played.

Once we were all seated, the facilitator said a few words about how clowns are not actors or about portraying roles. Good clowns let their inner child come out to play for everyone to see and even invites the audience to play along. The facilitator then passed out course catalogs to those they wanted to apply to clown college. I think I peed myself while I was waiting to see if I would get the little white booklet with the red clown shoes on the cover.

Driving home, I felt high. I really didn’t know what had just happened, but I kept glancing over at the passenger seat of my Ford Bronco and seeing those yellow letters and red shoes gleam in the afternoon sunlight. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College CATALOG. What was I going to tell my parents?

It took me three days before I gathered enough courage to tell my mother. I held the catalog in my hands and cornered her in the kitchen. Our house was always kept at a frosty 62 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually, I felt like I was living in a morgue, but today, I was burning up. I held out the booklet and showed her what I was going to do with my life. I’m joining the circus! I think deep down, I knew my mother would be supportive. She laughed and gave me a hug and told me that she thought this would be a great idea. I don’t think she realized what being on the road would entail, but she seemed happy. When she told me that I needed to tell my father, I shit my pants.

Telling my chemical engineer father would be far more difficult than just handing him a booklet and saying See! I needed a strategy. My first thought was to appeal to his finances and play up the free tuition. I just needed gas money to get to Florida. Then I thought I would try and sell the history of clowning starting with a nine-year-old Egyptian pharaoh who heralded the first recorded appearance of a clown around the year 2270 B.C. and then ending with the legendary Emmett Kelly and Lou Jacobs. That wasn’t going to work. He was logical. An engineer. I decided on the free tuition argument and went into his office later that evening. I was hoping that if I waited until after he had had a few Scotch and sodas, he would be more amenable.


He wanted me to be a chemical engineer. Or a scientist at the very least. He would even settle for a mathematician if I wanted. I just needed to pick a career in the hard Sciences. No flimsy Liberal Arts degrees, and especially not clown college.

I was too numb to feel disappointed. I know I was crushed, but everything about this process had been surreal. This argument with my father was no exception. Basically, I told him what I wanted to hear and then began planning my escape.

For the rest of that month, I planned that I would pretend to apply to other colleges and then just run away. I would jump onto the proverbial clown train and get out of suburbia. I didn’t expect a phone call from the secretary at Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College informing me that due to increasing facilitation costs, faculty attrition, and low enrollment, Clown College would be closing its doors after graduation of the 1997 class.



Adrian Neibauer

I am a learning experience designer. I’m an intellectual thinker. I push the boundaries of what’s possible. I have lots stories to tell and change to make.