Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why Teach?

I am the luckiest guy I know. Seriously. For one thing I absolutely love what I do for a living. I teach little kids. This is my 30th year teaching. Anyone who knows me has heard me say how much I love it. My students' parents read it in my newsletters every few weeks. My student teachers hear it all the time. (This will be my 24th student teacher this semester!) My students know I feel that way. My principal/lead teacher. My faculty. They all know.

Years ago I got my principal's liscense. I never used it. The closer I got to the possibility of BEING a principal, the less I knew I would like to do that for a living. I have great respect for effective principals. I know the world needs more of them. It just wasn't me.

A few years back my wife Heidi, a colleague of hers at USC (Loise Jennings) and I wrote a book called Looking Closely, Listening Carefully. In chapter 5 I wrote a letter to teachers. I don't think it was brilliant work, just sort of a personal look back on some of the great things about teaching, a little philosophy, things that have worked for me over the years. Here is a tiny chunk of that chapter. While it is written primarily for teachers and prospective teachers, there may be something in there for you

Why Teach?

If you are a teacher, you are not in this business for the money or the prestige. Contrary to public sentiment, you are not a teacher for the vacations. You didn’t choose to become a teacher for fame or glory (although there is certainly glory in knowing that you helped someone find their voice as a writer, or dried someone’s tears, or shed some light onto the reading process for parents trying to help their children to learn to read).

It takes a certain kind of person to become a good teacher. You are selfless. You are a learner. You do the single most important job there is. Yet, beyond your family, classroom and school, you are probably underappreciated.

People far removed from teaching and learning for their own personal, political or economic agendas make important decisions about instruction. You deal with that and you make the best out of situations that are far from perfect (or sometimes even remotely logical).

You deal with the personal problems and concerns of your students but also, in a very real way, the problems of our nation and the world. Who among us didn’t help a group of young people, other people’s children, try to deal with and make sense of the events of 9/11/01?

Because we teach children, we affect the future. Every life we touch in our classrooms touches the lives of countless others in an echo that runs into the future further than we could ever know.

Someone taught Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy how to read and write. You and I are teaching someone right now who might find the cure for AIDS or who might help negotiate a peaceful settlement in a war or who might grow up to be a volunteer in a homeless shelter or a nurturing parent. The world is indeed a better place because of what you do. Never lose sight of your contributions.

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