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Why Do You Teach?: What Sustains Us in Our Work

| Elena Aguilar
Image credit: iStock

(Updated: 11/2013)

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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Angela Sanders (not verified)

Why I teach

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I teach because I love kids! I have a passion for music and want to develop that same passion in my students. I feel that every student deserves to have a well-rounded education and be exposed to the arts and especially to music. I love developing relationships with my students. As a middle school band director, I love to be a part of the process of taking them from putting their instruments together, making their "lovely" first notes and sounds, playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Twinkle Twinkle", playing in their first concert, and then by 8th grade grade, playing some pretty difficult music and feeling confident that I have prepared them for high school band. I feel proud to know that I have helped create in them positive self-esteem, responsibility, teamwork, social skills, work ethic, and much more. I teach because I want to help students develop their talents and potential. I love to see their personalities come alive with a building of confidence. I strive to be a good role model. I know that whether or not they continue in music in high school or college, they have learned important life skills, made new friends and memories, and learned how to read and appreciate music while playing an instrument. Going to work for me is not just a job or a career. I know I am making a difference. I know that I was born to teach and wouldn't want to be doing anything else.

Leigh B. (not verified)

Why do I teach?

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Early on, I knew I wanted to teach. I looked up to each of my teachers every year and thought, "I want to be just like them!" I envisioned my teachers to have everything in their lives together and wrapped in a nice neat bow. They were what I wanted to be...someone a child can look up to with admiration and respect.
Now, I know teachers are truly great people who have a deep commitment to make a difference in the lives of children. I strive daily to make a difference in each of my students' lives. I want to be that strong role model that they can look up to and admire. I want to be their cheerleader that encourages them to reach a little higher than they thought ever possible. I want them to learn to trust in themselves and their talents. I want them to realize their potential and how exceptional each one is.
I also teach because I love seeing the light come on when a new skill or concept is mastered that we have worked so hard to accomplish. I teach for the pleasure of having students come up and say they love to come to school because they know I have something fun and exciting for them to learn about that day. The ultimate compliment I must say that makes all the hard work of teaching so worthwhile is when they say, "I love you" and "You are the best teacher ever!" I have students that are now in high school that still remember the activities that we did in kindergarten. I have made a lasting positive impression and just for that reason alone...that's why I teach!

Nakia W (not verified)

Why I Teach

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I teach because I want to make a difference in the lives of my students. I teach because I want to change the world and I know that it all begins with the youth. I teach because I want my students to know that their futures are limitless and that they possess the potential to go far beyond their dreams. I teach because I recognize the power & freedom that education brings and I want to share my knowledge with my students. Finally, I teach because I simply can not see myself doing anything else, I belong in front of a classroom of students.

Richard Sarpong (not verified)

Why I teach?

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So I could be a mentor to young people.There is anything so fulfiling to me when my students seek my advice on their personal issues that affect the commitment to school work.I feel useful when I am able to help them.

Bobbi (not verified)

Annie, You say you are not

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Annie,

You say you are not passionate about teaching. What are you passionate about? Have you ever thought of switching grade levels? Try to find what you love to do and then find a way to make money doing it. That's the American dream. I can't believe you stay in teaching for the time off. Teaching is a life-long commitment, not a school year commitment. I hope you find your passion and leave this profession before it's too late for you and your students.

I wake up in the morning excited about going to work. I cannot imagine feeling the way you do about teaching. I feel sad for your students to have a teacher who believes them to be unbearable.

Bobbi (not verified)

For the a-ha moments

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I teach for the a-ha moments that happen everyday. I am a 2nd year kindergarten teacher. (I was a kindergarten para-professional for 3 years.) There is nothing better in this world than teaching a child to love learning. Every day is a new opportunity for me to discover more ways to have fun while teaching an academically rigorous kindergarten class. My students work hard and play hard. We celebrate every success regardless of how big or small it is. Having fun while learning to read and write is the best way I know to ensure my students love to learn!

Lori (not verified)

I also remember all of my

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I also remember all of my teachers names. I think it was great to have such positive through school when you needed it most.

Lori (not verified)

Why I teach?

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What a great topic to talk about. I teach because I love children. I want to help in their path to success. My dad is a teacher so wanting to do this came naturally to me. I had a negative experience in Kindergaten and I suppose that is why I teach this grade. I want to be my students first positive experience to school. I want to set the tone in a way that my students won't be scared to share answers with their peers. I try to make my classroom non-threatening and inviting. When I hear the words out of my students mouths "I Like coming to school" I feel I have started their career in school positively.

Jessica (not verified)

Why I Teach

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There are 2 main reasons that I teach. The first is that I love music and I feel that it is my responsibility to expose students to as many different styles of music as possible. The second reason is simple-I enjoy working with children. I don't think that I could see myself doing anything else.

Jaymie (not verified)

Why teach?

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I teach mostly because I too want to make a change in the world. Where better to start than with the children whom I hope will someday grow up to be respectful, responsible, caring citizens. I have a genuine caring and love for children as do most teachers, and I feel that many kids are in need of grownups who believe in them and help them to make good choices. I find that parents are sometimes so busy making ends meet at home that education and even the social skills that children need are sometimes overlooked. I teach so I can work as a partner with parents and caregivers. Being around young children everyday is amazing, they are so innocent, happy, and eager to learn new things. I find great joy in helping a child learn something for the first time.

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