Why do I continue to teach?

Posted: June 28, 2012 in Writing

I have been contemplating a post on the why’s of teaching for some time, but I realized that what I may have as reasons won’t be the same for everyone. As I come to the end of my first week of Summer Vacation (during which I was back in a classroom three days for professional development) I feel there are those who might enjoy looking into the soul searching that I do from time to time.

Why do I continue to teach? This is an interesting question, if you take time to think about it. It isn’t the noble “Why do I teach?” that I usually get asked. It is something a bit more dark and sinister. It has a wholly different answer and really gets to the core of what I do. When I started teaching I had all these great reasons for why I taught. I wanted to pass on what I know to the future (then I ended up doing an Earth Science lab.). I believed that I was going to make a change in the world. Now, I am not saying that those two ideals did not happen, and they are certainly worthwhile reasons for entering the profession. The only problem is that they speak too much to the self in me. I was acting as if the students needed a guiding light, and only I was capable of supplying the luminescence. How egocentric was I 12 years ago? If I could go back in time I would defenestrate myself.

There was a time that I thought that this whole teaching thing wasn’t for me. I was getting very good annual reviews, so it wasn’t a job performance issue. It was how I was looking at everything. I didn’t feel like I had made any real difference. I started thinking about other jobs. I am a more than capable scientist in my own right, and I could easily work as a technician or even get my PhD. That would be pretty easy and I could maybe work towards some great answer to one of life’s great questions. This kind of thinking scared me and I shuddered.

A few years ago I had to figure out what made me resist finding a new career. I had switched careers before, so I knew it wasn’t fear. It also had nothing to do with lacking the required skills. I have done a lot of things in my short life (I’m 40 in August, and the earth is nearing 4.6 billion years). Then it dawned on me. I needed my students. More than they needed me. When I get a new group of students I get rejuvenated every year. They come in so ready to learn. They see me and they are excited to have a good year. They are like a drug, only there is nothing legal about being excited to go to work. I love hearing from former students, whether they are in college, still in the high school where I work, or just in jobs around town. I get a high out of the fact that one student, David, loves his job as a window washer for a local company. People might find this funny, but I don’t. He was a pretty good student, and even attended college for a while, but he loves working outdoors and listening to music on his headphones, and this job allows him to do that and coach for our football team. How can I be disappointed in that?

I continue to teach for the feeling that I get each day. There is a sense of hope each day, and even when things don’t go perfectly they tend to go alright. There is a moment each day where a student makes me smile, or cry (not directly in front of them), or even angry. I love feeling all of those emotions. What’s more, I love sharing them with the students around me.

This summer vacation will be spent relaxing, but like the fool that I am I will be preparing for the next year. Let’s face it, I need them as much as they need me.

Let me know how you feel.

#teaching #education

  1. Frank Hartley says:

    It’s not every day that you meet a teacher that actually makes you think. At least not for me. I had the blessing of being able to walk into a classroom sit down and take the tests and float on through school without a single thought. A lot of the time i found myself cooped up inside my own head, spending the time instead distracting my fellow classmates with witty humour and puns. My way of exerting my superior intellect?

    I find that some of the smartest people are funny. Is that just an outlet because we feel that others could not compete with us on a different level?

    But then i walked into your classroom. And for a moment i was humbled by your knowledge and how in the instant i walked into the classroom you knew my game. You’ve played my game. But instead of shutting me down like other teachers would, you corralled me with other students and made me teach them the material. The material that i didn’t even have try to understand. I just did. And what you didn’t know is in that moment you made me a teacher.

    And slowly i started to understand that being smart wasn’t enough. Having someone else succeed because i helped them understand a concept, that was me succeeding. That all the pain and frustration of saying the same thing 4 times differently (which seemed superfluous to me) drove them to the epiphany that made light up like Tycho’s Supernova. (or 2005ap if you’ve been following recent SNe) And after all that work you found that their success of the material was more rewarding than being smarter than them. Or maybe not even smarter but just more inclined to understanding that material. That is a wonderful thing.

    But then you did another wonderful thing. You challenged me consistently to do better. I still think of you every time i take a test. Why? Because you used to 1. walk up to me every regents exam and write what you would think i would get on the test with your finger. (usually within 4 points) and 2. you taught me to ALWAYS go with my gut. Because i was the first person done and would go back through my test and change answers and get a 99% instead of 100%. I mean you taught by threaten to rip up my next test if i changed answers, but what is teaching anyway?

    And god did i have ideas. Did you know i went out and bought 15 mirrors one day after talking to you about building a box that could hold light? needless to say i got a lot of lacerations and not so much light but i learned a lot about physics. But you encouraging me to just DO it and see what happens follows me still to this day. It’s one of the reasons i had the courage to study theatre in college. To think i almost became a science teacher. jokes.

    But you were what i needed in high school. I didn’t need the material. That i mostly already knew. I needed the push to understand who i was and where i fit. If it weren’t for you, and Mr.B and the other few people who pushed me i don’t know where i’de be. But now i’m a successful theatre educator, performer, and overall person. I am successful because i learned what success was early on. Success is following your gut, helping others, and doing what you love. I just hope that i can have such an impact with the students that i teach.


    Frank Hartley

    Ps. Have fun playing with your light sabers. You big loser pants.

    • jmcmurray says:

      Your post is exactly my point. I am glad that what I do matters and it is being around students like you, the challenging ones, that makes me come back year after year.

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