Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

The Heart of the Matter: Why I Teach

December 25, 2014 Updated July 1, 2015

Friends and family have been asking you for weeks, "What are you going to do with your time off this summer?"

What am I going to do, you think to yourself . . . I'm going to sleep, people. I'm going to take a break from the fast-paced world of being a daily classroom teacher. I'm going to sit and listen to others talk and take a break from hearing my own voice. 

You might also be thinking . . .  I'm going to appreciate this time I have and re-fuel for the next school year. I've got some great ideas for some engaging projects and experiential, hands-on learning. So, I'm going to take a break, enjoy family and friends, and then spend some time planning out those ideas.

For our new teachers out there, particularly those who just completed their first year, there are some additional thoughts happening. Some may be really truly catching their breath for the first time since last fall, while some may even be questioning their choice to become a teacher. (If you're a new teacher and experiencing any of this, consider taking a few minutes to read Elena Aguilar's "What I Wish I'd Known as a New Teacher.")

Our Resilient Students

What we do have in common, as new and as experienced teachers, are all the ways students have touched our hearts. Teachers longer in the classroom have more stories. Newer teachers have less. But we all have them.

Here are a few students and their stories that have stayed with me, ones that helped keep me in the job as a high school teacher:

Gerardo came from a poor farming community in Mexico. His grandmother had raised him and had worked hard to pay for his schooling there. He arrived in this country at 14 years old, learned English in a year and by the time he was in eleventh grade, knew he wanted to be a doctor. Last I heard he was in medical school.

Melody was an honors student. She had a baby the summer before her junior year. She worked two jobs that school year. She was an incredible writer.

Miguel told me at the start of the year that he didn't like to read. I suggested book after book (which he would read a few pages, then reject). Just before winter break, he chose to take and read, Tuesdays with Morrie. He walked into class that Monday following break and said, "That book changed my life. I read it twice."

Diana was heavily involved in gang life and drugs from age 12 to 14. Then, when she began high school, she quit both. Her senior year she received a community service award from the city for her exemplary community service.

Jessica and her two small sisters and mom lived in their car. They had been without a home for nearly two years. She came to school everyday.

Many of my students' lives were filled with challenges, with pain. Yet they so often seemed to muster resilience and also humor. And when I couldn't find these things in myself, theirs would keep me going.

Teacher as Learner

Burned in my mind is a time when in my first year of teaching, I reached for my car door handle one morning and almost didn't open it. "I can't do this," I thought. "I don't know what I'm doing!" Then, I imagined my students, those who would get to school everyday even though they were faced with enormous challenges I will likely never experience. If they can do this, I can do this.

Each year teaching I grew; I got better. I accepted the truth that this work as teacher means one must fully embrace a learner identity as well. Just as we ask our students to be vulnerable, to share, to reflect, to grow, we as teachers must do the same.

A Whole Child Approach

My resiliency has also grown during the nearly 20 years I've been in this profession. That resiliency comes in part to holding steadfast to my philosophy on teaching and learning -- regardless of new (and sometimes questionable) initiatives or the ongoing political and media attacks on teachers.

That philosophy includes the following: 1) hearts and minds are connected so always tend to both; 2) all learners deserve rationale for what and why they are learning something; 3) we learn with each other and not in isolation; 4) reflection helps us grow, and is a necessary part of learning; and, 5) we need to see our own lives and interests in what we are learning.

I teach because there is an excitement and joy and suspense in the journey. I get to be forever a learner, one who must strive to keep her heart and mind wide open at all times. I teach because this journey as teacher, it requires all the best parts of my humanity.

What are the reasons you teach? Who are the students who inspire you? What led you to teaching and what has made you stay? Please share with us in the comments section below.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Professional Learning

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.