As the state of education is quite depressing in Michigan and there seems to be more negative ideas about teaching than ever before, I think it is important to remind ourselves why we teach and what we are doing it for. As we enter the last leg of the school year when we return from spring break, here are my reasons why I do what I do.
I first thought about teaching in tenth grade. There were two main English teachers for tenth grade. One was the “easy one” and one was “the hard one.” Mrs. Hard One of course had a rough reputation among students and everyone hoped to be in Mrs. Easy One’s class. I had Mrs. Easy One for the first semester and well, I greatly disliked her class. I did not like what she chose to read (curriculum seemed to be rather free flowing when I was in school) and she was not a fan of my writing style (I am very protective over that). I was further infuriated with her class when I wrote an essay on the novel A Separate Peace after reading only four chapters and watching about 10 minutes of the movie and I received an A. Yes, this bothered me. I was not challenged. I learned how to play the game in her class but I was not proud of the work I had done. (Till this day I still have not read A Separate Peace tough one for my good friends swears I should. One day I will.)
The next semester I was in Mrs. Hard One’s class. And guess what…I loved it! She challenged us in ways I had not really been challenged before. I appreciated the assessments she had for Julius Caesar and I knew she could pick out a load of BS in writing from 10 paces. I did my work and I think I can safely say I read everything in the class. It was one of the first times I liked poetry. It was at this time it started to hit me why so many of my classmates did not like English: There were less teachers like Mrs. Hard One and more like Mrs. Easy One that seemed to ruin English for students. I thought I might want to be a teacher so that I could make English a little better for students.
Teaching became my focus after a year and a half with another English teacher in my school. The beauty of Mrs. Spear’s craft was that she was no taller than 5 feet, yet she struck a respectable fear in students’ hearts. She knew not every student would leave her class in love with English, but she made sure we had a respect for it. In Advanced Composition and AP English, she stretched me to my limits because she knew that is where I could go. She knew she could call me out when I did not give it my all (Odeipus paper I am looking at you) but she could also appreciate and point out where I grew and matured as a student. I knew I wanted to be a teacher so I could be like her.
In college, I discovered the type of student I wanted to be a teacher for. I met Sammy the summer before I left for college. He was a year younger than I was and part of the “Bad Boy” group I hung out with. I knew Sammy had dropped out of school before graduation but not much else about his academic career. We were talking one night through AIM (dating myself, I know) and I told him I would probably get going soon to read and go to bed. He asked what I was reading and I told him 1984 by George Orwell, assuming he would have no idea what I was talking about. Sammy replied, “I really like that book.” I admitted to him that I was surprised he had read it and we we got into quite the literary discussion about the book. Near the end of our conversation, Sammy told me the reason why he had dropped out of school: teachers always told him he wouldn’t amount to anything so he figured why should he bother. That comment still stays with me today and I refuse to let a student believe he or she cannot do anything or that he or she will just fail. I want to be a teacher for the Sammy’s of the world.
Each year I teach, I come across more reasons as to why I teach. A few years ago, our building was put on the “Persistently Failing Schools” list. I called my mom and cried because I refused to believe that was true. It hurt to be told that. I had been hearing all kinds of comments about my school and students since I got hired, many assumptions I will not publish here from people who have never set foot in my school. Those assumptions and definitions are not what I see in my classroom each day. When everyone started wondering if people would leave during these times and where there were other jobs, that never crossed my mind. If I did not stay and teach and fight for my students, who would? I am happy to say we are “off” the list though still monitored. I hope we continue to strive to achieve and accomplish more for and with our students.
My passion for reading is another reason I teach. I love sharing books with students. While not every single student becomes a huge book nerd like me after leaving my classroom, I know I have reached a number of students over the last few years. Students have told me they read more than every before after being in my class. One senior told me he was reading the first book he had read since fifth grade. Just this past week, a number of students checked out books to bring home over break, asking if they can have more than one. (Why yes, of course, I always reply.) I am blown away by the number of books I have checked out this year. I am even more excited when a student asks me to check out a book a classmate or friend was talking about. I teach to foster life long readers.
I am inspired and surprised by my students each day. Some days are much harder than others, but when I remember why I started this and why I am here, I know there is nothing else in the world I would rather do. I choose to focus on the positive and I am so happy when I get to talk with and meet other teachers who feel the same.