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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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Comments (147)

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Carol (not verified)

I Know Why I Teach

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Anie,
It brought tears to my eyes to read your posting. I am a certified teacher who took a job as an aide so I could get into the school system. I am also working on my master's degree in education so I can become more marketable. I am 50 years old and although I took time to raise my children, I have always had a desire to teach. I know I will obtain a position. There is such a misconception that teachers have so much time off. When they are "home" they are working on lesson plans and grading papers, etc. I know you are not alone in this profession. Please step aside and let someone who truly has a passion for teaching take your job. I promise something will come to you. You will not only be giving yourself a gift but every student that you are exposed to will benefit from your decision. Children are very perceptive. If you don't care, they KNOW it! Good luck to you.

Sean (not verified)

Why I Teach

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I teach because I truly feel it is how I can better the world. I know I can't do much, but I feel it's the most I can do on my own. There is no better feeling than to see one of your former students come back and thank you for the impact you have made on his or her life. They may bring up a memory, or tell you a life lesson they learned from you. It touches me when I see my former students grown up and becoming respectable members of the community. I truly believe I helped have a hand in that. I just try to better the world however I can, and that's why I believe teaching is my calling. It is also the reason I work for a mentoring program after school, and coach on weekends. I love impacting human beings!

Judy Daum (not verified)

Why I teach

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I teach because I love teaching. I love learning. I love playing. I love knowing I make a difference in someone's life. I still have a few parents who come up to me and say what a difference I made in their life. We are talking some of them are now 17 and I had them when they were 5. Last year a boy reminded me that I introduced him to frog soup and rubbed his feet. Did that help keep this boy who could have went way the wrong way from going there? I doubt it, but maybe. I love teaching, reaching and learning. Judy

Sean (not verified)

Light Bulb

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I too enjoy the "light bulb" moments, but I wouldn't say that's necessarily the reason I teach. I would have to agree with the article, and state that the reason I do teach is to better the world. I know I can't do much--I only have about twenty five fifth grade students a year--but I can still reach hundreds of humans before I retire. There is no more special feeling to me than when a former student visits me and tells me about the impact I had on his/her life. They bring up memories, or tell me a life lesson they learned from me. And when I see them all grown up and handling themselves in a mature manner, it touches me. I would hope that they can trust me as a consultant the rest of their lives. Yes, I do enjoy teaching children new knowledge and watching them grow, but I think this is my calling to better the world. That is why I am also involved at a mentor program at our school and coach on weekends. I love making a difference!

Jenni Waltman (not verified)

I Love To Teach

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I teach because I love to learn. I want to teach kids that knowledge is something that can never be taken away. I work in a fairly poor district, and many kids do not go on to college. I don't feel kids need college necessarily, but they need to be able to find something they love and be successful at doing it. I teach because I want to help them find this, and nurture it. Yes, I suppose I teach because in one small way I feel I'm changing the world.

Carol (not verified)

Teacher Development

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Anie,
It brought tears to my eyes to read your posting. I am a certified teacher who took a job as an aide so I could get into the school system. I am also working on my master's degree in education so I can become more marketable. I am 50 years old and although I took time to raise my children, I have always had a desire to teach. I know I will obtain a position. There is such a misconception that teachers have so much time off. When they are "home" they are working on lesson plans and grading papers, etc. I know you are not alone in this profession. Please step aside and let someone who truly has a passion for teaching take your job. I promise something will come to you. You will not only be giving yourself a gift but every student that you are exposed to will benefit from your decision. Children are very perceptive. If you don't care, they KNOW it! Good luck to you.

Margaret Ritter (not verified)

Why I Teach?

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I teach because I love what I do. I teach because I love to see the children's eyes when they finally get something. The amazing thing about is that you can't take it from them once they have learned it. It gives me great joy to know that I have the patience and love to do that. Everyone can't!

Margaret Ritter (not verified)

Teacher

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There is something magic and specialo when I see children at an early age finally get it. Their eyes light up and it is something that you can not take away from them. I teach because I like to see that special feeling on a child's face.

Carol (not verified)

Why Do I Teach?

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I teach because I believe that as I give I receive. The students that I have had have given me so much more than I could ever imagine. When I am open to learning from them it is a mutual giving and receiving. On a daily basis, I am not only teaching my students about reading or math but about life. It is very gratifying to me to witness those aha! moments in my student's lives. I support mentoring in my classroom and it is wonderful to see a student "get it" and share their knowledge with another student. I teach because it is challenging and rewarding. I teach because I can see that my students know that they can make a difference. I teach because my family has encouraged me to do what I love.

Tambera (not verified)

Make a Difference

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I teach because I want to make a difference in my students' lives. I want to challenge them and help make them life-long learners. I teach in an elementary school, and I think this is where the foundation is made. Every student has a gift, and it is my responsibility to take that gift and plant the seed for future growth. I think is important, as an educator, to continue professional growth in order to keep myself up to date on current issues. I love teaching! There is nothing that I would rather do.

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