Why I Teach

I write a lot about the difficulties teachers come across in education, most often how education policy places unrealistic pressures upon its educators and/or hinders actual education from taking place with its high stakes testing and corresponding teacher evaluations. If you've read any of those particular posts you may have questioned why I even teach or at least why I continue to teach. I don't blame you.

Sometimes I too wonder why I continue teaching. To me it's natural for spring, or fourth quarter, to be the time of year when doubt fills my mind. It is the time of year when most teachers and administrators decide what the following school year will look like with contracts or letters of intent. For me, it is the time of year when I most question my abilities; test scores loom overhead, students' final grades are to be determined, and next years curricula is to be mapped out...it can be daunting. Over the last few years, I've definitely questioned if I have another year in me. I question if I have the energy to do it all again with the same amount of passion and content knowledge and consistency necessary to be a good teacher.

And so...why do I teach? I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately and this is what keeps milling around. I continue to teach because I genuinely believe in the benefits and promise found only in education. I believe in the potential held by our young generations; potential that can be ignited by knowledge. I believe that when education is lacking and ignorance in general is accepted, we as individuals are essentially allowing others to dictate our fates, we are letting others drive our goals, and what I find most frightening; we are letting others push lifestyles and societal expectations upon us without question or even a hint of obstinance. I truly believe when an individual blindly accepts what is going on around them, societal "norms" develop accordingly based on whatever some believe to be most important. I don't want that for myself and I especially don't want that for my students.

When asked what I'd like of my students, I will most often respond with some expectation of effort to do their best combined with a desire to learn. I tell them how my goal is to help mold them into becoming productive members of our society. I even used to stress this concept to my freshmen. Today in our professional development training we were asked what aspect of our subject/content areas we consider to be most important. Without any hesitation, I determined communication to be most important. A student, and eventual member of our adult society, must be able to express themselves both verbally and through writing. Many jobs, arguably most, require an employee to be able to present information, and details, and job requirements on a regular basis using some form of communication.

To make my intent clear, I'm not in anyway dismissing a need to understand what we read nor am I excluding the importance of basic math skills necessary to function in our society...I'm simply stating a requirement of basic human interaction.

When I teach, my constant hope is that I instill within my students a belief that they can't just make opinion statements without some sort of support. We spend a considerable amount of time on this using various elements of literature and real life experiences, and I have never, in nine years of teaching simply given a multiple choice/fill in the blank type of assessment. Every element of my lesson planning includes some form of verbal or written expression. I ask students how they feel about a topic, what they would do if placed in a character's shoes, how might they change a sequence of events if given the opportunity; and then I require them to discuss these ideas with their classmates.

I ask these types of questions because I care what they think and because I wholeheartedly believe this type of practice is a key element to their education. It is the link between their simply receiving information, their making sense of the information, and their eventual questioning of the information.

This is why I teach.

I see my students as untapped natural resources, basically unlimited in terms of quantity available to our developing society. Imagine looking at every student's ability or skill that comes natural to them, and then upon allowing them to find their strengths, we actually develop those abilities and strengthen those skills. I teach because I see the potential and I feel like if I keep trying, some of my students will see their potential too.

I don't believe there is a single individual that can squeeze perfectly into the molds that our education policy makers have created. I think many students can tweak, twist, and maneuver themselves into the molds without too much change, and we teachers can continue to shove the rest in, mashing and crushing them just enough "to make them fit", but ultimately...ultimately I question that route.

I probably shouldn't say this, but I could care less if they remember the difference between a monologue and a soliloquy ten years from now, nor do I feel like every single book noted as classic literature is a must read. I don't believe that a students' inability to diagram a sentence is going to alter their futures in any significant way. I'll continue to teach these concepts, and I'll definitely do so with a goal of their retaining the information, but as I've said before, I want more for them.

I teach because I want students to see what is available to them. I teach because I know that education, no matter the type nor the focus, is what opens possibilities. I teach because I want my students to be interested in their surroundings AND in their world.

If I can assist them in choosing their direction or simply introduce them to new ideas through the literature we read and the discussions we have, then I can feel like I'm doing my job. Others might not agree, but to those who don't... I would ask them to explain to me the benefits of creating and introducing hundreds of thousands of the same cut-out into our society, a society that is built upon a multitude of networks that intermix and diverge. I would ask naysayers to explain how they would help build up our future adults so that they can be most successful. I would ask them what is most important...teaching students what to think or teaching them how to think.

I believe teaching students how to think is most important...and this is why I teach.


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