Lately there’s been a heightened online interest among educators to reclaim our profession at a time when many feel beaten down and maligned. I’ve seen posts and videos responding to the prompt, Why We Teach, and each time I’ve seen this query rear its snake-like head, I’ve ignored it. Today, while my students were taking their state sponsored standardized tests, I decided I would give it some thought.
I teach because it’s one of the best ways to be positively engaged in the world. This lumpy, flawed world is stuffed with disappointment and heartbreak. There are times when I cannot absorb another story detailing exploitation, degradation, and humiliation enacted on people by other people. Times that I’m ashamed to say that I turn away from learning about groups clawing their way through another day of subsistence on this planet of haves and have-nots. Hopelessness and sorrow threaten to overwhelm me and I don’t see how anything will ever get better. Until I realize that I am not completely powerless, because in my classroom, I have the ability to inform the future, one blessed, maddening kiddo at a time.
There’s a lot of power in the belief that your work matters and that your actions make a difference. Even if this belief is false, illogical, or it reveals some sort of twisted hubris on my part, I take my work very seriously and I strive to be the kind of concerned adult I needed when I was a child. I want children to understand that they have the power to create their own lives and that I care about them. And during those moments when I don’t have the energy to care as much as they might need me to, they always pull me out of myself and help me find the strength to be the teacher they deserve.
I teach because it’s the kind of work where you can never be at the top of your game. There will always be areas in need of improvement and revision, and with my robust inferiority complex this “never good enough” feeling is perversely motivating. Luckily, every September there’s a new start, a clean slate filled only with a ridiculous, almost giddy hopefulness. Really, is there anything more beautiful than a stack of freshly sharpened pencils and a new school year about to begin? It’s the career equivalent of annual child birth, complete with nightly assessing, reflecting and lesson planning taking the place of feeding and diapering.
I teach because there are some pretty cool perks to this job. If I want to be any sort of decent teacher, I have to read lots of children’s literature, and children’s literature is pretty amazing these days. And how many professions can boast lunch breaks which include the option of using playground equipment? I find a session on the swing set can help me reframe nearly anything. During summer break, I am afforded the luxury of time on professional development projects and courses that stretch my ideas about learning and teaching.
Because I teach, a tiny piece of me is infused in every student who passes through my class, just as every one of them has left their unique and indelible mark on my life. Little bits of our time together will stretch out into the universe farther than the mind’s eye can ever see. I can never know what this might mean. But I can imagine, hope and dream.
Why do you teach?