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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

In my previous post, I discussed how important it is for me to connect with my students, and how one way I do so is by eliciting their stories.

I also need to make connections with other teachers. So I ask, why do you teach? Most teachers get a dreamy look on their faces when I ask them this question. Most haven't thought about it in a while.

Recalling the reasons why we teach -- keeping them fresh and foremost in our minds -- is, I believe, the key to sustaining ourselves during the long and challenging school year.

I teach because, for me, it's the most effective and most enjoyable way to change the world. That's the bottom line: We need to change this world, and this is the way I'm choosing to do it. Teaching allows me to work on hearts and minds, to guide people in becoming empowered, literate, engaged, creative, liberated human beings who want to join in this effort to change the world.

I've seen it happen. I always believed that my students could transform and find themselves, in addition to becoming literate people and graduating from high school, but now I'm witnessing it. I'm seeing students I taught in elementary school and middle school graduate from high school, discover their skills and passions, and go to college. I always knew they could do it, and now they're doing it. That's why I teach.

I also teach because some didn't make it. Some of the sweet, brilliant, gentle sixth graders I taught many years ago are now on the streets, in gangs, in jail, in trouble. Their names and faces come to mind fast. I vividly remember their inquisitive faces, probing questions, musical compositions, and acting skills when they were twelve years old. I knew them as little boys. They don't look like that anymore. My heart aches. I keep teaching because we're losing too many kids in Oakland.

I work in middle schools because that's where the battle gets most intense but also where we can still reverse problems. I love middle school kids. I love where they are intellectually and emotionally. I love being able to engage them in the kind of rigorous discussions they aren't ready for until around sixth grade, and then I love getting hugs once in a while (in contrast to elementary school kids, who want hugs eight times a day, every day). You can still turn their lives around in middle school. I know; I've seen it.

I remind myself of these reasons, and all the others, quite often. Teaching kids, and adults, is hard -- really, really hard. I need to regularly remind myself why I do this. I have dozens of visual cues on my walls: quotes, photos of old students, and student artwork and writing. I list the names of those who made it, and those who didn't. I have photos of my family, because I also do this work for my son, because of my mother and grandmother, and with the endless support of my husband. I need to have all my intellectual and emotional receptors regularly tuned in to the reasons I've chosen this profession, because it's really hard, and exhausting, and never ending, and overwhelming.

So, why do you teach? Why do you teach reading, or science, or art? Why do you teach kindergarten, or ninth grade, or college? Share your stories. Share them here, share them with colleagues as the year starts, and share them with your students.

And, most of all, remind yourself why you teach.

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Jackie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I love children. From the time I was in 3rd grade I knew that I wanted to teach. As I got older, I tried to think of another career that might pay more, but in the end, teachering was my passion and all I wanted to do. I hope that I still feel this way in 30 years.

sharon woods's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because the joy it brings when a struggling first grade reader successfully uses reading strategies that I have taught them and reads his/her first book by themselves. I am a reading teacher who works with first grade students who have been identified by their classroom teacher as being at risk for failure to read. I also continue to teach when I have another teacher come ask me for help with reading in their classrooms and have these teachers return to tell me that it worked. They are usually as excited as the first grader who read their first book successfully. Teaching fits my personality. I strive off of variety, helping others, solving problems and learning new things. In addition, I continue to teach because of when one of my former students come to visit me when they are in high school and tell me how they still love to read. One of my former students graduated from high school this year and invited me to her graduation ceremony. I know that when she was in first grade and struggling that without my extra tutoring and her caring classroom teacher, she might not of been graduating from high school and heading off to college. These are some of the reasons I continue to teach.

Karen Merriman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Teaching is the driving passion in my life. I have been at this work for 34 years. Our profession has gone through many changes, but there is one staple that remains and that is our love for the child. To be able to open a door for a child and to help them become a life long learner is why I teach. To teach is to become eternal, because you never know how far something you give will be carried. I teach to give, love and live.

Cheryl Chance's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I love children and I love learning. I enjoy being around the youth and teaching them as well as learning from them. I have been teaching high school English for eight years and it is getting better and better. It still has its challenges, but it still has its great rewards. One of the greatest rewards is seeing the children graduate and go on to college, military, or a job. I am honored to be a part of this process. I always tell my children, "You're not just going to learn literature in my classroom, but you're also going to learn life lessons."

Lisa Dyer, Atlanta, Georgia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because teaching is my passion. There is no other place in the world I would rather be. Teaching is not stagnant. Teaching is an adventure. There are new challenges each day. Teaching makes me a life-long learner. Teaching is my opportunity to make a small change in the world.

Farena's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I love children. I come from a family of teachers, and I've always wanted to teach. The joy one has when a child reaches a goal or has applied what you've taught them is a joy that can not be measured. My question is, what do you do, when someone steals your joy and trys their best to make your professional career miserable?

Julia Geiser's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because it is so challenging. After working in the private sector, I realized that I didn't feel challenged. I've always loved problem solving, and teaching is jam-packed with problem solving!
Speaking of problems, I'd like to ask for some help with one. Does anyone out there have or have created what they would consider a fantastic Guided Reading management frame/plan for fourth grade focusing on response to literature, fluency checks, vocabulary study, and questioning? I'm particulary interested in a frame that utilizes Fountas and Pinnel's "The First Twenty Days" (http://teachersnetwork.org/NTNY/nychelp/Literacy/20days.htm)

Julia Geiser's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I love problem solving. I love my kids as well, and it really is fun to help them pinpoint what they can improves as well as what they are naturally talented at.

Lori Bullard's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I love being a teacher! I teach Kindergarten. I love to watch a child's face and his/her eyes light up when they can sound out a word and know what that word is. That makes me feel so good in that I have taught that child something toward his/her learning.

I teach knowing that these little ones are the future and that I help educate them to be successful.

Juan Carlos Castillo Robledo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am and English as a Foreign Language Teacher. I teach EFL for many reasons and one is as personally important as the next. I teach because I love the language, I have loved the language all my life and because it came easy and natural to me. I teach because I like helping students learn about life and the world and being able to present the material in the easiest possible way, so that one day they can master it and excel at it. I teach because I like helping other people communicate and have a wider vision of life. I teach because I get paid for doing something I truly enjoy and there is no better reward than to love what one does and additionally get paid for it. I teach because it keeps my brain alert and open and forever young. I teach because I want to leave a mark on this world. I teach because above all I was taught one day and it is my way of giving back all the knowledge, the caring, and the love which I hold precious in my heart and my memory.

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