George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teacher Wellness

Why I Keep Teaching

A veteran educator explains why, despite the many challenges, she continues to try to change students’ lives, in turn enriching her own.

August 22, 2023
Neil Webb / Ikon Images

The teaching profession has rarely felt more bleak. Systemic problems that teachers face include a lack of support, insufficient compensation, and mounting pressure to deliver what sometimes feels like unrealistic results. The goalpost is always moving. When these are compounded with the broader challenges of society, teachers may sometimes feel overwhelmed.

I’ve been in the classroom for nearly two decades, and in recent years, I’ve seen countless talented teachers leave the profession for greener pastures. The skills and abilities we possess as teachers definitely lend themselves to success in other industries. Every time a colleague makes the move to a different profession, I find myself reflecting on why I choose to stay in education.

Teaching is challenging, and it isn’t getting any easier. Systemic issues aren’t going to be resolved quickly or effortlessly. The collective sense of burnout among educators makes perfect sense in light of current circumstances. I have come to believe, however, that there’s no other way I would choose to spend this one precious life I’ve been given. Why do I stay? Here are a few reasons from my long list.

Every time I show up for work, I might change a life for the better

If there’s one certainty we can stand on as educators, it’s this: Our work matters. We’re investing our lives in young people who can benefit tremendously from our guidance. Every small interaction with a student may have gravity for them in terms of their lifelong success. 

As educators, we’ve all endured challenges. We have a particular group of students who just don’t mesh well together; we struggle to meet the needs of a particular student who is facing struggles; we feel frustrated with a lack of engagement from a certain student or cadre of students. These challenges may be magnified by the fact that we don’t feel well compensated or we perceive a lack of support. 

Here’s the truth: No matter how difficult this work may seem, there’s a high likelihood that we are transforming lives for the better, often without even realizing it. This philosophy has resulted in countless positive transformations in my students, and I can think of nothing more rewarding.

Every time I show up for work, a student might change my life for the better

No matter how much I’ve invested in teacher education classes, no class can compare to the education I’ve received from my students. We work with human beings with all of their complexities, nuances, and idiosyncrasies—children and adolescents who are in the throes of the growing-up process. If we pay attention, we can learn so much from our students. Their words and actions are constantly communicating about what they need, prefer, and understand. When we pay careful attention to our students, we learn how to meet their needs, align our teaching to their preferences, and bolster their understanding.

Many of my students come from challenging situations and have endured hardships I could never imagine. I am constantly inspired by their resilience and learn from their strength. The more I can recognize and capitalize on their many strengths, the more effective I can be as a teacher. Learning from our students is a daily gift of this profession.

My work has invisible ripple effects

I have many former students who’ve reached full adulthood. Crossing paths with them, I often hear things like “Thank you for putting up with me... you helped me so much, and you didn’t even know it.” 

Our work has an impact, whether we see it or not. We may be planting seeds that don’t come to fruition until decades later. Showing up for students with love, empathy, kindness, and selflessness makes a tremendous impact, whether or not we know it. 

There’s no metric to determine the impact of a teacher’s work. No test score, spreadsheet, or rubric can reflect the small investments teachers make every day that can result in huge positive dividends for students. I’m grateful that my choice to stay in the classroom has invisible positive results for my students down the road. This sustains my daily investment in my teaching practice.

My head and my heart are engaged every day

As human beings, we all want to be comfortable, and it’s important to rest. This doesn’t mean that we retreat from challenges or prioritize our own needs over the needs of others. As a teacher, I’m grateful for the ways my students constantly challenge both my head and my heart. I’m constantly reflecting on better, more innovative ways to engage my students. I’m also exercising attributes such as patience, consistency, and kindness. 

Throughout history, young people have confounded older generations. I’m grateful for the chance to sharpen both my mind and my heart as I engage with students, even when things get challenging. Our work is never boring, rarely easy, and often deeply rewarding. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My work is an investment in a brighter future

Teaching is ultimately an act of hope. Every time I teach a lesson, I hope it will inspire learning. Every time I intervene with a struggling student, I hope it will change the trajectory of their path. Every time I communicate with a parent, I hope it will improve the situation for the student. The temptation to fall into cynicism is alive and well in education. However, hope is a choice I make every day. 

As a teacher, I believe that I can help students believe in their own capacity. I can’t give away what I don’t possess, however. This means that I must maintain the belief that my work matters, that I’m having a positive impact, and that student lives are better thanks to my investment. Holding to these truths with tenacity helps sustain me as a teacher every day.

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