Why Do You Teach?: What Sustains Us in Our Work | Edutopia
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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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Nathan Rozek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There are many reason why i teach. One is so I can change kids ideas and lives forever. Sometimes their is a kid who seems to of given up all hope and decide he could just go to class with out learning a thing, what good is that going to do. I want to make them kind of people interested in what we are learning and make them active. So not only will they be learning, they will have fun while doing it. We can leave a big impact with the kids we are with for the small time we get out of the day so that is why i try my hardest, and teach the way that i would wanted to be taught so that these kids can do the best thing that they want to in the future.

Gloria's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I used to work in a bank, but after 4 years, I knew it was time to change careers and do something that would fulfil me. Teaching fulfils me. I have been teaching for three years and I have never regretted it. I enjoy the way my students are eager to learn something new. I enjoy answering their questions. I love the enquring look on their faces and I am very happy when they come to me during their break periods to ask for clarifications on something they didn't understand. I can't imagine doing anything else besides teaching. I teach because I help my students become better and they help me become a better person.

Andrew Pass's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I like making people feel good. When people discover that they have skills that they didn't know they had they feel good and more important. When people discover that they are special simply because they are they develop a feeling that will hopefully never leave them. It's an awesome job to be working with God's creations. But somebody's got to do it and I'm glad that I'm one of those somebodies.

liz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


You were quite brave to make a post like this. It's obviously a call out for "help". Otherwise you're looking to upset people. If it's a call for help, then use your next summer vacation to take a long trip alone and figure out what you want to do. If you are miserable you are wasting your life and possibly bringing your students and other teachers around you down as well. Read a few books, find a career advisor, find something you're passionate about and do it. You will be happier and so will the people around you. Good luck.

Liz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I've always loved science and my goal is to have students who never say "i hate science". I understand it may never be their favorite subject, but at least they leave having had some fun experiences. I hope I teach them a life skill or fact that sticks in their head and they pass that knowledge on to someone else. It's like touching generations of learners. I don't know any other profession that has such a grand impact. Also, what other profession gives you feedback immediately, both positive and negative. The kid's faces tell you right then are you doing a good job or not. It's exciting, challenging, ever-changing and fun.

Lisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I want to give children love, charisma, compassion, and the learning they deserve. As a student I can recall not being important sitting in classrooms. I was an average student who had to work for everything I got. I can't remember teachers having personal conversations with me or praising my work. I want children to feel valued and feel that they can change the world.

Pamela Walker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach for a lot of reasons. One is that I too want to make a difference. I love the hours, It's the perfect "moms job", I can be at the school with my child. I enjoy taking a child who literally knows only letters and they come out of my class reading in the spring! For all of these reasons, I love teaching. I absolutely love the people that I work with. I like my principals also. I work at a wonderful school. I do extra work at home, not because I have to but I like to. I really enjoy what I do!

Karen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I enjoy changing lives. My biggest heros are people who do not let their negative childhoods pull them down. I have seem some wonderful people come from really hard situations to be some of the most productive and kind citizens.

I like to know that I can share what I know with someone. I don't like holding all my knowledge in. We learn by sharing what we know. Not saying I know it all, but if I can help a young person learn to make good of themselves then I am ready and able. I love making people happy and giving people a reason to smile. My favorite sound is the sound of childrens' laughter.

I teach because everyday I learn something new about life from my kids.

Brian Galzerano's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this article is great and so accurate. I am going to give a copy to my principal. I teach for many of the same reasons mentioned by Ms. Aguilar. Being an educator for 12 years, I see the change I have made to my previous students. One of the greatest feelings for an educator is to have a former student come back and just say, "thank you." It makes all those late nights and planning worth it. It makes you want to do job even harder knowing you did something the world can see.
I am also a middle school teacher and I like to see the light bulbs go off with my students. We have many productive discussions because of their interest. They can be much more engaging in class than high school students.
I teach because I love my subject. History has always been a passion of mine. I demonstrate it during my lessons. I dress as historical people and teach it with enthusiasm. The more you can entertain them in class, the more the class becomes enjoyable for them.

Angie Gossett's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I know that there are many teachers like you and I do feel sorry for you. I worked in the corporate world for several years before I got into teaching. I have not regretted my career change one minute since I left. I was shocked at the amount of work, effort, loving and caring I did as a teacher. I enjoy every minute of it! My advice to you is to move on...your students deserve someone "who cares"!

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