At the beginning of the school year, many of us bloggers were asked to explain why we stay in the teaching profession. I posed this same question to many of my colleagues. Carrie Deahl is a National Board Certified high school teacher who has been teaching for 15 years. She is also the author of a blog called The “Real” Deahl in which she writes about her experiences in the classroom. The passion and dedication for this profession is evident in her speech and her writing. She has graciously shared the 6 things that keep her in this field.
Six Things You Should Know About Why I Stay
by Carrie Deahl
In 1994 when I began my undergrad program at Grand Canyon University as a first-generation college student, I set a goal of giving 12 years back to public education (one for every year I spent in the public school system). The journey since then has been one of heartaches and celebrations, failures and success, tears and laughter. Here are six reasons why I simply cannot walk away…
- Advocating for the underdog.
The neighborhood I teach in has the youngest average age of any neighborhood in the city and the lowest voter turnout in federal elections over any other legislative district in the country. The majority of my students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and for many, English is their second language. But my students are incredibly creative, resilient, smart, and hard working. When I challenge them to read ten books in a school year, share a personal piece of writing with the entire class, or ask questions of their peers most adults feel uncomfortable discussing, they rise to the occasion. I have had many colorful conversations with colleagues and administrators about what is really best for kids. My students who are bullied, who are the outcasts, and who are going through hard times remind me so much of my younger self, and I would step up to the plate for any one of them.
- Sharing my love for reading every day.
In the United States, 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year. This frightens me. My love for reading is one of the very reasons I became a teacher. Each week, I give a few book talks on high-interest young adult novels. I read excerpts from favorites of former students and ones I have enjoyed. Our free reading time allows me to ask students what they are interested in so I can steer them into books they will stick with. Twenty minutes of complete silence with 34 freshmen in the room is the ultimate state of Zen!
Over the years, many students have confessed, “I never finished a chapter book until your class, Miss.” If I can persuade them to develop a habit of reading every day, they will see themselves in the characters they read about. They will develop empathy for others. And, in turn, I hope they will develop a lifelong love of reading.
- Honing my craft so they can hone theirs.
While I have enjoyed writing for most of my life, much of what I wrote before I began teaching writing is quite embarrassing. In my classroom, we analyze the work of real writers by studying the “moves” they make, why they make them, and then follow their lead in our own pieces. Our writer “workshop” days are among my favorites throughout the year. I model the writing process sharing what I have written as well as my thought processes. I ask for student feedback, both critical and complimentary, making changes as needed. Sharing my vulnerabilities allows my students to see that risk taking is encouraged and our room is a safe place to polish their writing skills. When they volunteer to write in front of their peers, or share an incredibly personal piece of writing, it is magical. There is a beautiful sense of community and respect. On days like this, we may shed a few tears, but writing is healing and our words are powerful!
- Learning for a lifetime.
After reading Kelly Gallagher’s In the Best Interest of Students this summer, I implemented The Reading Minute at the beginning of class each day to build student interest, curiosity, and prove reading CAN be fun! For homework one evening, I spent a few hours compiling websites and texts I could read to my students. Over the last few weeks I have read texts ranging from survival tips and Hurricane Katrina to an info-graphic about how women outnumber men in the U.S. and hydrogen made cell phone batteries that can hold a charge for a week. My students will take over after fall break, and I cannot wait to see what they share!
- Opening doors beyond four walls.
One of the perks of teaching in a large urban district are the partnerships that exist between local colleges, universities, nonprofits and businesses. These connections help me network with other teachers throughout my state and the world. Attending conferences allows me to learn from and with some of the most talented teachers in the country as well as some of the top education researchers in the world. On those Mondays after I have returned from a conference, I am amped to implement a new strategy with my students. By reflecting upon my practice in my teaching journal or on my blog, I document my successes and failures. These very connections have opened up opportunities for me to present professional development in and beyond my district.
For my students, this means connecting them with our local ACE Program, encouraging them to apply for ASU’s Upward Bound Program and/or Spot 127 (our local npr station’s youth media program). Two of my former students won a national award for a story they wrote and produced at Spot 127. I have welcomed Myrlin Hepworth, a local teaching poet to work with my students. For the second year in a row, I will host a state legislator for Take Your Legislator to School day. These are unique opportunities that remind me I must work beyond the four walls of my classroom.
- Relationships that last beyond nine months.
Few careers show the influence one has had in the lives of others even years later. Teaching is unique in that regard. Through social media, I keep in touch with many former students who have become soldiers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, social workers, aspiring writers, and incredible parents. I am proud of their choices and contributions to our world. Their continued communication, visits to my classroom, and dinners (on them) are some of the most rewarding aspects of my profession. Our sustained relationships have proven that my sphere of influence is beyond what I thought possible.
The novelty of trying new literacy strategies, creating engaging curriculum, or understanding the quirks of individual and collective students never wears out. Trust me, there are days when I want to throw the towel in because many circumstances and decisions are beyond my control. The aforementioned reasons have pulled me back into my classroom each day for the last 16 years. I love learning with and from my students, even on the hardest days. They inspire me to be the best teacher I can, and I will not let them down.