Why Do You Teach?: What Sustains Us in Our Work | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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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Andrea Austin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I love children and want to make a difference in todays' society. However my favorite moments as a teacher are what many call the light bulb moments. I am a special education teacher, so when I can see my students grasping the information I have taught them, it is a great feeling. I try every day to incorporate different teaching strategies and methods into my instruction. When I can see my students learn from these methods, it makes me know my research of these methods is working. My students struggle on a daily basis and I know that my students might not comprehend the material taught that day. However when you see a student say I get it or I understand... its a wonderful feeling and it can't be described.

Stacey Evans's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I love working with children and I want to make an impact like so many of my wonderful teachers did. Currently, I teach third grade in Colorado and I absolutely love it! I cannot imagine having any other career. I love working with students who are struggling and excelling. Teaching is a challenge, but every day I can leave work and feel like I have made some sort of a difference.

I loved going to school and learning because I had amazing teachers that truly cared. I knew they were not there for the paycheck, but instead to help me become an autonomous adult. I enjoyed school and working hard every year. I still love learning and teaching is a profession where one must continue to learn. I learn from my students, my co-workers, professional development, and now I am working on my master's degree.

Heather's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Why do I teach? what a GREAT question! I teach because I love to make an impact on the lives of young adults and children. Yes, I agree that it is exhaustive work, and without the support of an understanding spouse, it is a very dificult profession.

You give your time, talents, heart and soul to those students hoping that they "get it" and can make it through to be what they dream of being.

I, too, am a middle school teacher. I have taught in public and private schools, in settings where the students have much and in settings where the students have nothing, not even a bed or their parents. One thing is certain; middle school children all just want to be liked, noticed and accepted.

I do believe that the middle school years are so pivotal, so crucial. I teach because I love to connect with these students and let them know that someone cares and that someone notices and smiles at them and actually talks to them about the things that are important to them, meeting them at their level. I teach for them.

I am currently taking courses toward my Master of Science in Education: Integrating Technology in the Classroom through Walden University (online. This was a topic of interest in one of our recent discussions forums. There is no other profession like it, is there?!

Evette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I love seeing that light bulb go off in my student's heads. I teach middle school math and understand that this is a difficult subject for many students. Many students have had a bad experience with Math and I teach to help each one of my students become successful.

Farena's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I must say you are brave and I commend you for posting how you truly feel. On the other hand, I really do think that you are hurting your students more than helping them. Your students and their progress are a reflection of what you do every day. If all you do is give them the bare minimum, then what expectations are you setting, are they reaching their goals? How are their test scores? Your evaluations? If you would just rather work with a student one-on-one, then maybe you need to think about becoming a tutor. I pray that you find it in your heart if you truly care about the well-being of your students and their future; please ask for help. Who was your favorite teacher? Who inspired you? What memories do you have of school? Maybe these are questions you should ask yourself to see if you have positive answers to them.

Lisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Why do I teach? I often get funny looks when I say this, but I just love middle schoolers! I love their attitudes, opinions, and even their silliness sometimes. It's such a great age! I desire to have a positive impact on my students and to teach them more than just curriculum. I want them to learn how to be successful adults and to make a positive impact om those they come in contact with. Knowing that I can touch a life and in some way, give back to those teachers who invested their time and energy into me, gives me the incentive I need to go to work each day.

Rachel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I definitely agree with you on the "light bulb" moments. That makes teaching so rewarding. Knowing you are strengthening a child's brain is so exciting! It is even more rewarding to think that one day, that child will think back and say, "Oh yeah! I learned that because of Mrs. ___________!" As a 5th grade teacher in a Title I school in South Carolina with many struggling children, the light bulb moments reaffirm my reasons for being in a tough situation each day. In my teaching career, I hope to see light bulbs go off everyday!

Rachel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As someone else has already stated, I also teach for the reward of the "light bulb" moments. Seeing a student "get it" for the first time and knowing they learned because of you is such an honor to have! Sadly, the 5th graders I teach don't all come from homes where I know they're learning from someone besides me. The feeling that I am contributing to their future success is such a wonderful responsibility.

Diana's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Heather, I am also currently enrolled in Walden University's Masters Program in Education: Integrating Technology in the Classroom. What a coincidence to read a blog from a colleague. Like you, I teach because I genuinely want to make a positive impact on a child's life. Recently I feel like I have "adopted a son." I have an English Language learner who understands very little English and is placed in a general education science, music and math class. Luckily, he is placed in an ESL and Sheltered History class. He is fortunate enough to have me as a math teacher who can communicate with him in his native language. I have noticed him struggling and I have been working with him to help him adjust to his new environment. I feel sorry for this student because his mom and grandma just returned to their country, thus leaving him in the care of his uncle who he doesn't know very well. I can imagine that being in a new country, new school system, new family environment, and knowing very little English can make someone feel scared. Thus, I have tried to make a connection with this student. I want my student to know, feel and understand that I am there for him. Considering what I've done for my student, my colleague (his ESL teacher) has told me that I've gone beyond the call of duty. Thus, that's why I feel like I've "adopted a son." I worry about his success in school. I was explaining this story to a friend of mine and he said that my student will probably remember me for the rest of his life. Hearing that made me feel like I am doing something right despite the numerous hours I've invested into my student. I will be all worth it.

I am a middle school math teacher and I try not to repeat my lessons from previous years. I try to reflect and obtain student feedback on what lessons they enjoyed and what strategies worked well. Reflection is important and I have to admit that I don't do enough of it.

Lori Molkenthin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! Talk about digging deep. I can easily rattle off a few answers...like I enjoy it or it's fun or I want to help kids. But if I really dig down deep and give it some thought...I teach because I want to inspire, motivate and create successful kids. Kids who are not only capable, but confident and strong. I want to help kids discover their hidden talents and value their differences that make them stand apart from everybody else. I want to build their confidence level and develop their "I can do it" attitude. I do this so that they can conquer the world. I want kids to have fun in school and create a thirst for knowledge. I want kids to know that they deserve the best. I guess I can sum it up by saying, I teach to change lives.

I'm a fourth grade math and science teacher. I love math, always have and always will. I love the challenge of taking apart a problem, disecting its little pieces, and then putting it all back together again so that it makes sense. I know that not everyone enjoys math. I see this every day. But I am usually able to help turn that dislike to like and teach kids that math is a huge part of their everyday lives. They also realize that effective problem solving and strategizing will bring them great power and success.

I teach to change lives. I teach to see my kids smile. I teach my kids to care.

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