Why Do You Teach?

This afternoon’s email brought a solicitation from the AFT: Why do you teach and what do you and your colleagues need to do the best job for your students?  It is the why of something I have been so passionate about for more than 22 years that is difficult to put into words.

Why do I teach? At first I went into teaching because my grandmother, for whom I had been named, had been a teacher in the early 1900s. Having never known my grandmother, who died when my Dad was 9, I was of course fascinated albeit enamored by the thought of her. So, from the age of 8 — I remember it distinctly — I have wanted to be a teacher.

I, in fact, left teaching for a while to pursue other more lucrative jobs in business. One layoff too many, and I found myself rethinking my career choice again. This time with a lot more maturity, I bucked the trend of going from education into corporate jobs, studied and obtained my M.Ed.  I became an elementary school teacher.

I taught back then and I continue to teach now because in the end, it is a profession that challenges me each and every day. That’s the selfishness in me speaking — I thrive on the challenge of change. In 22 years, I don’t believe I’ve had any two years alike enough to recycle lesson plans with any regularity. Each year is a new invention.  Just as each student I’ve encountered over the span of my teaching career is different, so must the delivery of instruction be redesigned.  It is the pursuit of making a positive difference in the learning life of a child, the ability to turn a child on to loving reading — and mathematics — that moment when my students “get it”, that exhilarating high of seeing students grow and approach their own potential that cannot be replicated in any other profession. It doesn’t hurt that every once in a while a student calls me “mom” — most times I take that as a high compliment.

I truly believe that it is our societal responsibility to provide all students with an education — not just a select few, not those who pass an entrance exam.  This is why I choose to teach in urban public education.  It’s hard. It’s frustrating. It’s not often appreciated. And oftentimes what happens is unbelievable. I don’t always mean that in a good way.

If you’ve ever read any of Jonathan Kozol’s writing, you know and understand that we — that’s the gigantic and collective “we” — owe our most vulnerable citizens the best education possible.  We owe them the possibility of a better life.  I teach because I wish to be part of that solution, even if it’s for just one child.

Teaching is something of a religious experience for me. I believe that I am impacting — positively most of the time — my students’ lives. I am passionate about doing the best I possibly can. That means keeping up research, talking to other educators when I can’t figure out how to reach a student, reaching out to parents who may not want to reach back, covering my behind and filling out paperwork. But most of all, it means putting the possibilities of learning out there for students to see, to feel, to experience and to value for themselves.

It’s more than I ever imagined.

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