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.