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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

(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.

Comments (147)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Al Smith's picture

Interesting that I've just been asking myself this vital question. Previous comments along with your post have said it all so eloquently I can see why you teach. I've asked myself this question many times. I've confonted a range of crisis' that provoke doubts but persevere because of my desire to connect withpeople. The service of teaching had increasingly become less respected and more confrontational. The virtues of public education are unfortunately obvious to a culture that focuses on material wealth. My political and social convictions help drive my service but it saddens me that I've been witness to the increased demands and reduced resources but mostly the loss if professional respect. Our culture doesn't know how important and difficult teaching children is. They espouse the dream of some mythical private school like they worship their new German built car. Sadly they miss the point that the amazing skilled workers who built it were largely educated publicly by devoted modestly paid educators.

Christina R's picture

A former student walked into my room today. As a 4th grader he was quiet and struggled with the work. His home life was difficult, to say the least, and any support he had came from the staff at school. We worked together as he and his siblings moved from grade to grade. As he left elementary school, we didn't know what would become of him. Today he handed me an invitation to his high school graduation. He is a composed and well spoken young man. He is moving on to study mathematics. I can't stop smiling! This is why I teach.

Traci's picture

I absolutely love, love, love my job teaching fourth grade students with learning disabilities. My job provides me with the opportunity to change children's lives by teaching them how to read, write, spell, and comprehend material. Even though the work is at times utterly exhausting, the benefits are incredibly rewarding.

I find it necessary to keep reminders of why I teach close to me at work. Similarly to Elena Aguilar, I keep photos of my family as well as my students' drawings near my teaching area. I currently have a large poster that says, "I love school!" hanging in my classroom. I take pride in that poster because many students with learning disabilities have had such negative experiences in school due to their disorders that they come to my classroom hating school. The little girl that created the "I love school" poster not onlky has learning disabilities but has Tourette Syndrome too, yet with a lot of effort both on her part and mine, she made tremendous progress throughout the year and made friends and didn't want the school year to end. It is experiences like this that inspire me to continue to be a better teacher so I can inspire my students to do enjoy learning.

brahim elouafi's picture
brahim elouafi
teacher of English at a high school Morocco

A teacher can change destiny.Such is the aphorism the motivated me to opt for honorable job of holding the torch of light,of change,of pemanent impact:teaching.when i teach,i know that i 'm addressing heats and minds as well as deaf earrs,i have to admit.But i know for sure that in one school year ,i always manage to impact up to eight students in a class of 36.so after 19 years of teaching,i can assume that i have proudly impacted 456 citizen,knowing that every school year i 'm assigned up to 4 classes.see the result?

kristin mayer's picture

Real teachers are born to be. They can't help it. They just are.
There's something within us that can't wait to show, guide, lead another to a better place, be it in reading, writing, algebra, or learning to tie one's shoe. We keep doing it because it's a part of the make up of our being. Sure we get tired, and depressed and frustrated at the the politics of it all. But it's the in the teaching, that keeps us coming back for more, year after year.
Those who are, teach, those who aren't, don't.

Dennis's picture
Dennis
Lower secondary English teacher from Indonesia

Teaching is profoundly satisfying. It can't be beaten for the molding of young minds and the sharing of the skills for critical thinking. It is the joy of teaching that makes a teacher a teacher. It is the spark the keeps the whole show running.

A smart school administration will gear all planning and management to sustain and feed that spark. An unwise administration would take that spark for granted and, in one way or another (and another and another...), abuse it until it is smothered.

While it may be true that teaching, besides being satisfying, is also difficult, making teaching more difficult than it has to be is an entirely different story.

Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educational Consultant/Author, Southern California

Why do I teach? I'd like to think I'm just so noble and inspired--that my choice just wasn't convenient due to the many opportunities for education and credentialing in my state, and the constant, clear need for teachers. Why do I teach? I'd like to think I have a unique, superior set of abilities and talents suited to the 21st century learner--not just that my family has generations of teachers from whom I inherited my educational bent. Why do I teach? I teach because I am a teacher, it is who I am.

Teacher Dan Deslaurier's picture
Teacher Dan Deslaurier
Lower School Art Teacher (K-4)

Many years ago, when I was at a "career crossroads," my father-in-law suggested some advice from his dad, when he was at a similar place. He said to me "Whatever you choose to devote yourself to as your life's work, be sure it helps to make the world a better place." I can honestly say that this is why I teach!

Bill Csellak's picture
Bill Csellak
retired English teacher from Thousand Oaks CA

In 1977 I wrote the following; it has not changed:
We are all in a life-long search for self. "Who am I? " "What is my purpose on this earth?" These are questions which constantly plague us. As a teacher of values, I find that my answers to these questions are provided through exposing my students to philosophies in literature which will aid them in finding their own answers to these questions. In short, I am so that they will be.

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