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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.

Comments (147)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Amy Risch's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Annie,

I agree that teachers are not paid enough in today's society, and that a teacher's schedule is fantastic. I am just curious about what you teach and what grade you teach. How long have you been a teacher? I find it sad that you do not like your career, but I hope for your student's sake, you have thier best interests at heart.


Amy C. Risch's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love being a teacher, and I have always known I have wanted to be a teacher. It is a very rewarding career choice, and I enjoy it! It can be stressful and time consuming, but the smiles of students, nice notes from parents, or teaching a movtivating lesson helps me to remember why I chose this career.

I enjoy knowing that my legacy will be leaving the world my students that I educated to be successful members of society.

Angie Gosett's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I want to touch lives. It is a great feeling to know that you have taught someone something they didn't know. As for the lady that teaches for the time off and the benefits, I feel so sorry for you. I worked in the corporate world for many years before moving to the classroom. There is no better satisfaction than knowing that you have an affect on these students, their lives and who they become as adults.

Gloria's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

No one goes into teaching because of the wonderful pay packet. If it were all about money, then no one would be a teacher.
If you don't like what you do, then don't do it. what's the point of making yourself unhappy for 9 months just so you can have 3 months off? find something you are passionate about and do it. you may end up not wanting the 3 months off after all!

Meilssa, Atlanta, Georgia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I cannot watch the world go by and do nothing. I teach also because I feel like God called me to do this job: I am tired and weary at times, but know that my life is making a difference. I know that children who want to change, can change as long as they have a safe place in which to inact this change. I hope I provide that in my classroom. I also teach because I believe that only two things change our lives: the people we meet and the books we read (or other form of artwork with which we authentically engage).

Chris, New Jersey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach now because after 30 years in the profession I cannot leave until I have enough in the state pension fund for retirement. i do love the kids and find teaching satisfying but I truly cannot retire for a minimum of 5 years due to retirement monetary concerns. Sad, isn't it?

Leeann R's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Teaching is like entertaining. You always need to be on and ready to trouble shoot. I student taught in elementary and ended up in high school and I LOVE it. The high schoolers keep me young at heart and the level of conversation is never ending. They can still be influenced socially, academically and personally.

Vickie Halfacre's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I want to make a difference. I love to see a child's eyes light up when the information "clicked". I love to see a child who didn't have any self-confidence in reading become one of my top readers. I enjoy the pride that I instill in my students. Whether the education is valued at home or not, I feel as though I do make a difference in the children's attitudes toward learning.

Jenny Cheung's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach as a way to give back to my community and to my country. Teaching for me is also the most effective and enjoyable way for me to change the world and lives.

Teaching allows me to the opportunity to mold students to be a better person/student than I ever was. I teach to give them the key that can open locked doors, I teach so that they can become independent and valuable citizens in this world. Teaching is the only profession that I know that allows a part of me to never grow old and act my age (I teach 1st grade).

Ruth Albright's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I became a teacher because I wanted students to enjoy school and get the affirmation and support I saw was lacking in many of our classrooms. Children are so vulnerable and building their self-esteem is so important. I know it is hard with a large class and when discipline issues arise, but overall, I want my students to enjoy school and receive a love for learning from me.

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