Medium.com posed the question, “Why do you teach?” The prompt seemed like a good opportunity for me to take a step back and reflect on my own reasons.
Why Does Anyone Teach?
Oh sure, teaching is a noble profession. Teachers expand the minds of young people and expose them to the wonders of the world. Teachers light the way for the next generation; the future explorers and researchers, the future biodiversity specialists and truth-tellers. Yes. We do that. But that’s hardly all we do. We also spend a gazillion hours lesson planning and grading papers, calling parents and attending trainings. We deal with outbursts and tragedies, anger and heartbreak. We are on the front lines, but we’re not in combat. Our job is not only to educate our charges, but to protect them.
When I began teaching a million years ago, I thought it was all about education. I thought that if my students could distinguish between obtuse angles and acute angles I would have made some impact on the future. How wrong I was. Yes, my fourth graders can tell you all about angles, surely way more about them than I could have when I was in fourth grade, but that isn’t how I measure my success as a teacher.
Many districts have gone to complex rating scales that depend largely on test scores to rate their teachers. There are rows upon rows of check boxes that administrators must wade through in order to share their observations and opinions of a teacher’s worth, then test scores are factored in, and voilá! a rating appears. Fabulous. We’re trying to do the same thing with children, but children refuse to be forced into those check boxes.
I don’t teach so that all of my kids can read aloud at a rate of at least 115 words per minute. I don’t teach so that my kids can surpass the standard deviation for the expected growth of students with their normed scores (you’re shocked, right?). Like all the good teachers I know, I teach for the kids.
I teach so that A. can take home a happy note to her stressed out single dad, and get that hug that she desperately needs. I teach so that J. can be challenged because he’s surpassed the elementary school curriculum and he’s bored. I teach so that V. can finally write (with lots of help) the story of his cousin’s visit from Mexico. I teach so that Z. can know the joy of far surpassing a goal after putting in a lot of hard work. I teach so that M. has a trustworthy adult to talk to while her family tries to put itself back together. I teach so that I can hear G.’s funny yet sad story about the short life of his birthday hamster.
You still wonder why I teach? I teach because teaching is my small way of trying to make the world better for kids. I teach because I want kids to know that they have a voice. I teach because I want kids to have tools to help them become competent, successful adults. I teach because I don’t know how NOT to.
I don’t measure my success by the myriad test scores that my students produce. I measure my success by how my students feel about coming to school each day and being in my class. Do those scores play into it? A little. My students take pride in their achievement, and I take pride in their effort. We support each other, we grow together, and, in spite of some pretty sad stories, we generally come out all right on the other side.
If you really want to know why I teach, come walk across the high school campus with me. On any given day I’m likely to get a big smile and a hug from a former student who turns to a friend, and brags, “She was my fourth grade teacher.”