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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 belevice's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There are so many reasons for the question of why do you teach? I teach because like most other teachers, I want to touch the lifes of children like my teachers touched my life. I am a Kindergarten teacher at an elementary school in Willowick Ohio by the name of Royalview Elementary School. I have been teaching for four years and I absolutely love every minute of it! I started out in Kindergarten thinking that I would want to move to another grade, but it has grown on me! I think that I will stay teaching Kindergarten for a very long time. This is the time to shine with these little ones. They come to you as a clean slate and they leave like a wet sponge waiting to be squeezed out with information. They make me smile they make me laugh and they make me cry sometimes. I love them dearly. The saying 'kids say the darnest things' must have originated in Kindergarten, because by god they do say some memorable things! I teach to let them learn, to let them thrive and to let them have fun! Everyday is a new experience and I could not imagine my life without teaching in it!

Sabrina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I enjoy working with children and making a difference in their lives. Teaching isdefinitely a challenge and hard work, but that'swhat makes it all worthwhile. Children come from different backgrounds with different experiences
and I feel as a teacher I can help guide some of these students in the right direction. I changed professions to become a teacher and I have no regrets.
I love coming up with creative ideas to help teach the children and finding ways to help the struggling learners.

Mary Kate's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love this topic. I feel that educators often forget why they started teaching in the first place. It's understandable...we get work piled and piled and piled upon us. The joy of our job is often blurred by the expectations set by the state and NCLB. But the state is not the reason we teach. It's certainly not the reason I teach.
I began teaching because I wanted to make a difference in an urban area. I went to college in a low-income, urban area and was always seeing children who were poorly motivated and in danger of gang violence. I was given an opportunity to help some of these children and it got me hooked. Since then, I can't get enough of the feeling I get when I truly reach a child.

Erica Justus's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a third year kindergarten teacher. I enjoyed reading the comments on the blog pages about why people teach. I think that most of us are teaching for the same reasons. The biggest reason is that feeling we get when a student finally gets a concept or skill. There is not a better feeling in the world than the feeling I get inside when one of my students finally learn something that we have been working on for awhile. Their faces seem to light up and they have an enormous sense of pride. This is one of the reasons that I teach.

Stephanie Lipes's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I thoroughly enjoy reading the reasons people teach! With everything going on in education today we need to be reminded of the reasons we do what we do. It is obvious that all of the reasons given are heartfelt! No one says they want to go into teaching for the recognition or the money! We do it for the kids! I cannot imagine a more satisfying job. Sure there are times I have a hard time getting motivated in the morning, but the minute I see those bright faces I am filled with motivation and love for what I do. Teaching is not a job, it's a way of life!

Hope Manuel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel this is a question that pops into every educators mind from time to time. For me it's an easy answer. I teach because I love children and making a difference. I also love to learn, which I continually do each day along with my students. I love seeing their excitement on their faces when they answer a question correctly. I love seeing each child's personality come alive in my classroom. I teach because I love making a positive impact. I teach for the children, but also because I love how rewarding being an educator makes me feel.

Cheryl H.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I love being able to have a positive influence on children's lives. Knowing that I can put a smile on a child's face and make them feel better about themselves makes it all worthwhile. If I can get them to learn some Math as well, it is even better. Teaching is one of the most powerful jobs anyone could possibly have, and at this point of my life, I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Lisa Scangarello's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I love children and helping them reach their goals. When things get tough, I remind myself of this. It's not really because I had a wonderful school experience as a child, but maybe some of my childhood experiences motivate me to become a better teacher to my students. We really have a strong and powerful connection to our students, and with that comes the responsibility of being a positive role model and encouraging them to do their best. I try with each new school year to create a classroom where the children will feel respected, curious, and confident in their learning.

Claudia Bradford's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was called to be a music teacher when I was ten years old. It just took me forty years to answer!!!!! The world of the arts is a magical place for me and my students. I serve a diverse mix of low income students, south of Atlanta. As a New Yorker, I was exposed to great art, dance, theater and music and it is my passion to touch my students ans turn their light bulb on with the power and connection of music. It will never be cliche to say I want to touch lives, one at a time. When that becomes secondary, I need to do something else. As long as I have stars in the eyes for the next musical, the next community event where my chorus kids can sing, the next new guitar program to set up, the next whatever, it tells me I have more to give and open up a door for them to walk thru and get excited and motivated to be engaged in the learning process.

CarolAnn Eppens's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my first time here; I stopped by to check the site out based on advice from a friend. WOW!! Great topic. My reason for teaching is simple- I am paying it forward. I had a horrible childhood but it was not talked about back then but I know the teachers knew. So I became a teacher to thank them...for letting me stay after school to clean chalkboards, staple papers, holding my hand walking down the hall, having me over for supper, or a new outfit at Christmas. I can remember every single teachers name I had.. and I went to 9 schools K-8. And every single teacher was my hero for all the things they did for me, not just the material things but for the compliments, the hugs,& the attention they gave me. It is also a bonus that I enjoy what I do- helping them become the best they can be no matter what it is like at home.

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