Why We Teach
We have all seen the teacher bashing in the media not just this year, but every year. We have heard the old refrain: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” And I’m sure you have heard as I have, the people who feel teachers make too much money for too little work and get paid for not working over the summer. It’s annoying. It’s offensive. It’s just plain wrong. This article might be more appropriate for Teacher Appreciation Week, but I think with a new school year coming up it works now, too. Think of this as a pep rally for the coming year. It’s also a thank you to a teacher who made a huge impact on me as an educator and as a person. And she is one of the reasons why I teach.
What the critics don’t see, and we know, is that teachers spend long hours not only dealing with students, but preparing lessons that will help students learn. We are often meeting’d to death. Paperwork can seem as though we are buying a house rather than dealing with a discipline issue or bringing a student with special needs to the attention of the right person. We deal with indifferent students, parents, administrators, and members of the community. We get sick and still show up. We have to continue our education, which sometimes requires financial sacrifice not to mention time from being with our families. We deal with students trying to navigate their way through adolescence, which means sometimes there’s a hurricane blowing. If we broke down our salaries to an hourly wage…well don’t because it’s depressing. So why do we do it? Are we masochists? Martyrs? Saints? Probably not.
What about those moments when light bulbs are going off all over your classroom? What about the kid who has been struggling finally gets it and feels good about himself or herself? What about the student going through a rough time who feels comfortable unburdening those problems because you are kind, patient, understanding, and caring? What about the child whose only moments of stability happen with the walls of the school? Those are all good reasons why we teach. Those are all reason why we put up with the naysayers, the negative press, the lousy conditions, the bureaucracy, and the long hours. Simply put, we like working with these young people. We like broadening their minds, making kids think, and giving them skills so they have a shot at a good life. We have something to give and are not selfish with it.
Most teachers have that model teacher in their heads. This was the person that may have encouraged them to become a teacher. Maybe it was the teacher who pushed them to do more, to “work to their potential”. Maybe it was a teacher who was just a wonderful, special person who made them feel special. Maybe it was that teacher who lit a fire inside them to learn more about the subject area or taught them to love learning. There are myriad of reasons why that teacher stands out from all the other teachers. I think those reasons are as individual as our handwriting. But most teachers—and many ‘civilians’, too, remember that special teacher.
Mine was Dr. Diane Iglesias. She was my professor in college and she was and still is my idol. She was demanding, challenging, warm, kind, vivacious, funny, elegant, and so brilliant. I lapped up her lessons like kittens lap milk. She pushed me to my limits, and I got there although it was very grudgingly at first. She was a role-model, mentor, and friend. I had the most beautiful opportunity to teach her daughter Spanish. I have to say that I have never been as nervous about a parent-teacher conference as I was meeting with her (her daughter was an excellent student, so that wasn’t why). She told me to relax, I was in charge now; she’s the parent not the professor. And I did. Through all my years as a teacher and as an editor of Spanish text books I asked myself, “How would la Doctora handle this?” Sometimes I would ask her if I was really stuck. She always had a wonderful solution. She called me her academic daughter and I am proud to have had such a title. She passed the torch to me and I have since passed it on to a few of my students, one of whom was a dear friend of Doctora Iglesias. So the line continues even though Dr. Iglesias couldn’t defeat cancer. Her legacy lives on through me to the generation of teachers who were once my students. Her academic grandchildren.
And this may happen to you, too. You may be carrying the legacy of that wonderful teacher you had. You may be passing that torch to a future teacher who will look to you as inspiration, as the hallmark. That’s a pretty wonderful thing that not too many professionals can claim to do. That’s another reason why teaching is a wonderful profession. That may be another reason why we teach.
Tell us about the teacher who meant the most to you. We want to hear your stories. Tell us about why you chose to teach. And if you haven’t done so already, and you still can, tell that teacher thank you. Those are some of the most wonderful words a teacher can hear.