I am a little late to the party, but after spending this week at #EngageOK and reconnecting with an old college friend of mine, Mindy Dennison, author of the blog theteachersings, I feel compelled to contribute to her blog challenge: “Why Teach?”
Today more than ever, it seems, this question is worth exploring. With the negative press education receives, the distrust from state and federal legislators, increasing student gaps in student achievement; I haven’t even got to the part about low pay and lack of any tangible incentive to be a great teacher. So, why teach?
Other than the fact we get nights, weekends, holidays, and summers off, it is difficult to explain to anyone outside of the education world why anyone would enter the profession and why some of those who are crazy enough to enter it actually stick with it.
Not everyone is willing to enter a career where they fulfill mandates created by people with no experience in the field.
Not everyone is willing to enter a career where they are tasked with “creating an acceptable end product,” but often receive components with missing parts.
Not everyone is willing to enter a career where they are asked to create products according to specific and constantly increasing demands, yet not given the tools to do so.
Not everyone is willing to enter a career where being great at your job earns you the same amount of money as someone who performs poorly.
But, not everyone gets to enter a career it’s possible to make over a hundred teenagers per day feel like they are part of something special – like one of my old teachers Mrs. Bear who use to have us raise our right hand and repeat after her to swear we wouldn’t plagiarize when we wrote our papers on Orwell’s 1984. Or ,like my Jr. High speech teacher, who included a question on her semester test about a speech I did on how to head a soccer ball – Thank you Mrs. Thurman. Or even Mrs. Bower, my math teacher who often squirted me with the water bottle she used to clean her overhead when I got too distracted.
Not everyone gets to have a career where you can offer validation, pride, and even hope in a word, or even a look, like my senior English teacher Mrs. Dishman who looked at my sternly with one eyebrow raised when I handed in my topic for my senior paper: Soccer. “This better be good” – she said. After many weeks of hard work, I turned in a fifteen page paper on the evolution of the popularity of soccer in America and earned an “A-“; I may still be more proud of that paper than some of the work I did in grad. school.
Not everyone gets to have a career where your passions and enthusiasm can be contagious – in a good way. Like one of my professors/mentors, Claudia Swisher, reminded me of the power of reflection, rekindled my love of reading, and infected me with a passion to become the best teacher I could be – not for her, but for my students.
Not everyone can be a teacher.
So, why teach? I think it’s a paradoxical combination of narcissism and humility. I teach because I want to have the chance to be remembered by those who I taught as someone who did make a difference, just as I remember many of my teachers. Yet, I teach with the understanding that I will often fall short and the challenge of improving my craft is… well, as Mindy put it in her blog – never boring.