Nerd Kid

Why I Became a Teacher

Leah Clark Education, Life in the Classroom, Uncategorized

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I’m a teacher.

Three little words that pack a punch when someone asks, “What do you do?” The recipient of those words usually replies with, “Oh, wow! What age group? I can’t imagine.” Along with these words, there is usually a face. You know the one. Shocked and sympathetic. When I add that I teach high school sophomores and juniors, their eyes widen even more. Their next question is usually, “Why do you want to teach kids?” I usually answer, “I’m really in it for the money, looking to get rich quick.”

While I play it off with a joke, their second yet complex question is the one I struggle to answer. How do I eloquently put into words about how I feel about my passion? When I think about why my teachers, fellow colleagues, and myself entered the profession, I think we have one thing in common. We love what we do and we love our kids. It’s actually simple to say but may be hard for someone outside our world to understand.

Let me explain. Last week, a former student entered my room after school. Sean is a senior and starting to figure out his “life plan.” We started talking and he said, “Remember last year when we interviewed people and wrote profiles about them?” I replied, “Yes, I loved that project.” He explained he liked the assignment and remembered that I mentioned a former college roommate worked for the FBI. He said, “Do you think I could write questions and email her? Do you think she would reply? I think I want to work for the FBI and I want to know more.”

This is a teacher’s dream moment. It’s the moment we savor, cherish, and pine for; this is the moment when a student uses something we taught them in our classroom and applies it in the real world. Without realizing it, Sean wanted to use his question writing skills and communicate with someone he had never met. These were skills we worked on just the semester before. This is risky for a 17 year old, yet his experience in school prepared him for the challenge.

As teachers, we love our content and curriculum, but often our students do not share in that love. They may wonder, “When am I actually going to use this? Why do I need to learn this?” And we often reply, “Because you need to know this stuff.” Sometimes it’s on a standardized test and we are happy we prepared our students for that test; however, life is not a standardized test. Real life is communicating and working with people to solve real problems. Real life is asking questions, collaborating, and thinking critically .

He came back the next day questions in hand. We reviewed them together and he sent his email that night. To his surprise, he received his reply the next day. He came back to show me the response beaming. It literally brought tears to my eyes. This is why we teach. This why we come in early, stay late, plan lessons, call parents, sponsor clubs, coach sports, attend professional developments, work for pennies. It’s not about how well our students score on the test, it’s about that moment when a student “gets it.” Their eyes light up and they sit up a little taller. It’s about that moment when a student takes our beloved content and applies their learning beyond the walls of our classrooms. This is why we teach; we love what we do and we love our kids. I am so proud to be Sean’s teacher and delighted he reminded me why I became a teacher.



Leah Clark

Phoenix, Arizona

I joined the teaching profession after spending several years in luxury retail. While the free clothes and handbags were definite job perks, I felt burned out and tired of long hours, weekends and holidays. So, I went back to school to become a teacher and have never looked back. I love my job!
My teaching philosophy is simple: Do what’s best for kids. While it’s not eloquent, this humble phrase directs every decision I make about teaching and students. As a Language Arts teacher at a central Phoenix high school, it’s my honor and passion to create opportunities for students to communicate, collaborate, create and connect with one another and the world around them.
When I am not grading a stack of essays, planning a new lesson, or chaperoning a school dance, I love riding my yellow Huffy bicycle around town, sampling a new restaurant, and traveling to Flagstaff with my husband.

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Comments 9

  1. Tim Gurske

    The look on a students face when the “light bulb” goes on is priceless, and validates why you chose to be an educator. You are making a difference every day!

  2. Mary Field

    Leah- So many of the moments you wrote about made me think of times when my energy and passion for the content was evidenced in my students actions. The vivid moments are times in my memory that I want to hold onto forever. It’s in those moments, we realize our patience and commitment to developing students as independent and critical thinkers, communicators, and leaders is paying off in dividends (whether stakeholders believe it or not). A vast different feeling than when reviewing numbers on a screen based on recent assessments. Your students are lucky to have you!

  3. Bryce Brothers

    “Along with these words, there is usually a face. You know the one. Shocked and sympathetic.” I love this. It is beautifully written and very true. This shock is incredibly funny to me. Does no one in this world expect anyone to teach? People outside of education simply cannot understand our motivation. It is as if we have chosen to do the thing no one should want to do. I like it. It makes us different. In a world where everyone is doing there best to fit into a societal mold, we stand out. We are weird, and that is good. We didn’t become teachers to seek the approval of the mass. We became teachers, however cliche it may sound, for the kids.

  4. Yolanda Wheelington

    Thank you for this article. It is nice to take a moment to remember what really maters for me as a teacher. Yes, all of the advocacy and speaking out is important. It is important because what we do is important. I

  5. Beth Maloney

    That shocked and sympathetic look is so familiar! I love being the bridge between my students and the content. You really nailed it! It’s not about the test scores, it is always about the kids. Great piece, Leah!

  6. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    Happy times! My beginner English Language Development students (7th and 8th graders) got up to dance to the childrens’ counting song yesterday. They sang the words out loud and danced. Then they made me play it again. Then they made me play it again today. I would have never guessed junior high students would do that. Learning really can be joyful. Hold on to these joyous moments. They are addictive, and get us all through the hard times.

  7. Sandy Merz

    Two former students (boyfriend and girlfriend) came to visit. The girl asked if she could email me for help because her math teacher isn’t very good and her boyfriend said I could probably explain things better. Then the boyfriend came and said his math teacher in hih school mostly just stayed at his desk, but that I was always out in the class helping them. Like your post suggests, not all compensation is monetary.

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