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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

Tiffany Farkas's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach elementary school for multiple reasons. I teach school because I love being in the school envirnoment and communicating with a lot of different people everyday. I am teacher because I enjoy seeing students learn a new concept and getting excited about it. I wake up everyday and feel blessed to have a job that is my passion and I love. I teach school because I like forming solid, meaningful relationships with students, staff, and parents. I am happy that I am helping the world become a better and brighter place. I enjoy that everyday is different and you never know what kind of day it will be. I am teacher because it makes my heart happy and I enjoy making students happy about themselves!

Tiffany Farkas's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach for many different reasons. I teach school because I enjoy being around people and forming solid, meaningul relationships. I am teacher because I love being in a school enviroment and helping children become successful citizens. I wake up everyday and feel blessed that I have a job I love and that is my passion. I love seeing students learn a new concept and getting so excited. I teach becasue I want to make a world a better and brighter place. Teaching makes my heart happy and I enjoy making students happy about themselves!

Shannon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I can't imagine a more rewarding thing to do with my time. I teach students with severe cognitive impairments as well as physical or health impairments. I teach because I can actually see that all students can learn. I had an IEP recently where the parent was becoming discouraged because he thought his daughter wasn't able to do so many things. I pulled out an IEP from a couple years before and showed him all the things his daughter couldn't do a couple years ago that she is doing now. It changed the whole tone in the room. Suddenly, there was an excitement in the air as we all started talking about how much more this student could accomplish in the next year. I teach for moments like these.

Tracy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I find it fulfilling to touch student's lives and be a positive role-model for them. It means a lot to me to give them life-skills, as well as academic learning. Every student who passes through my door affects me in some way. I carry them with me.
Ironically, the title of my last master's paper was entitled, Why do Teacher's Teach? I guess I was destined to write in this blog. So, why do I teach? I teach because former students still come to visit or keep in touch via email. They come to my door for a hug, a smile,or a word of encouragement and I am all to happy to provide it. I care because they care.

Missy Engquist's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Teaching is an opportunity to help others find success. I work with special needs children, and nothing compares to the look on my student's face when they finally understand a concept, or receive a passing score on a test they never thought they could pass. The rewards of our profession, while they do not occur everyday, make up for the struggles we face. The memories of how I have impacted the lives of my students keeps me going even when I have a bad day.

Mary in Iowa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach mentally disabled friends, and I love it. There is never a day that is the same in learning, behavior or what is said or what they did. It is fun. I love what I do, and I could have gone into general education this school year, and I waited it out, and my job came to me within the same school district. I know that it takes a special person to teach special education. I must be that one. I will have to say that I use up all my patience on my friends in my classroom and have nothing left for my own children, and that makes me sad. I also know that I expect a lot out of my own children, because I know what they can do with a little more effort, when my friends at school can't do it like a general education friend.

Nancy Gruber-Meier's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mary,
I know what you mean about not having energy or patience left over for your own children at the end of the day. After being with kids all day I often just want to be alone with no one wanting anything from me. However, I know that is not what's best for my kids, so I dig deep and try to connect with my kids. I would hate to do a better job for someone else's kids than my own.

Nancy Gruber-Meier's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sharon,
It sounds like you and I may have similar jobs. I am a Reading Recovery literacy specialist, and like you, I truly love my job. When a student begins to use the skills and strategies that I have been teaching it is just thrilling! When they can read a book by themself and then look up at you with that look of pride and pleasure, there is just nothing better. I can't imagine a more fulfilling way to spend each day.

Nancy Gruber-Meier's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Chris,
I'm sorry that teaching has become so un-fun for you. Five more years is a long time to be doing something that you don't want to be doing. I agree that the pension is one of the reasons that I stay at this job, but really I love what I'm doing. I recently changed from classroom teacher to literacy specialist and this change really re-energized me. Is there any way you could make a change so that you'd feel re-energized? I'd hate to see your multi-year career end with such negative feelings.

Kendall Ford's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach because I love working with children. I live for that moment when a child has their "ahh ha" experience and all of a sudden gets it. You are not only a teacher but a parent, a role model, a nurse, a authoratative figure, and a friend. You are everything to those children and that is a great feeling. I could not imagine doing anything else.

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