Why Teach?

Kids are intriguing people. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I became a teacher. In the early years, they taught me as much as I taught them, imparting life lessons they had earned the hard way on rough streets as I set about sparking an interest in history. And we all gained from it.

Looking beyond tough and gruff exteriors, I discovered vulnerabilities that students had carefully hidden, fearing that revealing a softer side might elicit ridicule or, worse, bullying. Countering that required me to find ways to uncover those softer skills and present them as just that: skills. In so doing, gifts and talents were often revealed as well, allowing students who may not have shone in class ever before to take a bow. Watching them blossom under the admiration and applause of their peers was priceless. That’s another reason I became a teacher.

Then there were the “smart” kids. Students who had always been lauded for their intelligence, they often defined themselves by it, becoming disproportionately overwrought by wrong answers even when their grades still reflected an A. For them, a 92 was so far below 100 that the fact that both were considered A’s didn’t matter; a 92 was not perfection and that was all that mattered to them. Helping them learn to value excellence over perfection, competing only against their own previous grades and not the grades of others, was a challenge. But sometimes I succeeded. Those times also bolstered my belief that I had chosen the right profession.

Ultimately, it may well have been the rapport between myself and my students that I most enjoyed and valued. More than any other element, it was this that kept me a teacher for nearly a quarter century. Being deemed a trusted person, even a confidante, one whose counsel students solicited and respected, was both a high honor and a great responsibility. My efforts to care and nurture while also encouraging their self-reflection and their own sense of responsibility forged bonds that have withstood the test of time. I treasure these beyond measure.

There are so many reasons for why we teach. For me, my students were the commonality for all my reasons. And while your reasons may not match mine, it’s important to know what they are. At the end of the day, I hope they are about your students as well. Those reasons will ground you and sustain you on difficult days when you question whether this is really what you should be doing. In fact, your reasons for teaching will spur you on when you might otherwise walk away.

So, at this midpoint of the school year, when the weather is dreary and you sometimes feel the same way, be encouraged. If you find joy in the journey, if your heart sometimes soars over occurrences in your classroom, and your students are “your kids,” you’re in the right profession. What’s more, you make a difference — one that some students will remember and value always. That’s why you teach.

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