Why I Became a Teacher

John Spencer Education

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I didn't begin my education degree with the goal of becoming a teacher. I wanted to know why people learned and why they didn't, how they were motivated and why certain things "stuck" when others were forgotten. I wanted to figure out the mind. Unlike so many of my classmates, I found theory exciting and wasn't particularly interested in the practical details. 

At the time, I was working for a faith-based, urban non-profit. I met with a small group of students, organized a team of mentors and wrote a holistic curriculum.  I knew, on some level, that I was a teacher and a learner. I just didn't particularly enjoy school. It had felt too constricting to that goofy artist-writer-dreamer in me.   

As I continued to run the mentoring program, I noticed a trend. Although mentors were powerful in kids' lives, so were teachers. In many cases, kids spent more hours in their classrooms than they did in their homes. I saw that the institution of school that had felt so constricting to me as a kid often felt like a refuge to the kids I was working with.

Schools were a place of hope and teachers were making a difference. It didn't fit the education reform narrative that I often heard about lazy urban teachers and the "union thugs" advocating for low standards. 

Still, I held back, because I knew that I would feel out of place in the system of school. (I still am.) Throughout my first three semesters of internships, I told people that I wasn't interested in being a teacher. 

A week into student teaching, I fell in love with this job. I saw the power of students to think deeply about life. I realized that I could help guide them in critical thinking and creativity. I realized that teaching could be deeply relational and I was humbled by the reality that I could be a part of that process. 

Even then, it took me awhile to warm up to the idea. I knew that I was an introvert and I would have to carve out one-on-one conferences and small group time in order to avoid burnout. I knew, too, that I would never agree with the standardized system of testing. I would never be able to see a child as a data point. 

However, I also knew that there wasn't anything more I wanted to be than a teacher. I knew that I could do something that mattered. 

I know that some people dream of being teachers from a young age. Others have a deeply emotional experience. But for me, it was much more gradual. It wasn't a "calling" in the way I hear other teachers describe it. It was a decision; a hard decision, but a decision that I have not regretted.



John Spencer

Phoenix, Arizona

In my sophomore year of college, I began tutoring a fifth-grader in a Title One, inner city Phoenix school. What began as a weekly endeavor of teaching fractions and editing essays grew into an awareness of the power of education to transform lives. My involvement in a non-profit propelled a passion for learning as an act of empowerment.

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