It’s November. The freshness of the school year has withered somewhat, and I’m tired. The quiet of darkness blankets the world as I drive to school in the morning, and the feeble light of dusk guides my journey home; it’s easy to lose steam at this time of year. Teaching takes so much out of you, because you put so much of yourself into it, emptying yourself out to light fires in a hundred young minds every day. But it is a work of passion and heart and dedication.
Someone asked me recently, with all that it takes out of you, with all the obstacles teachers face, why do you teach? My reply was instant: Because I can’t not teach. Education defines my life, consumes it, nourishes and drives it. I cannot imagine a circumstance in which I would choose to withdraw from the realms of education. I have experienced first hand the power of education to raise a person up, to grant freedom, to set one on a path of self-discovery and growth. And I have also witnessed the roadblocks in place, the gates kept locked. Teachers were fundamental to my becoming, because they had keys to gates I could not otherwise unlock. Now, as an educator myself, I can open gates for others as they were opened for me. I feel bound to pay it forward, to help others harness the power of education in a way that leads them to their own becoming.
While I spoke with this person about my truth, my #WhyITeach, I wondered at the question—why do others teach? What is our collective story? So, I took to social media and asked: why do you teach? The response I received was overwhelming, inspiring, and moving. While I wish I could include every single one, here are just a few of the many that stood out:
“I went in to education because I liked to help people, work with kids, and I loved my content. As I’ve been in the classroom and school environment, my reasoning for teaching and staying in the classroom has evolved. We live in a very divisive, and chaotic time and country. I want my students to know that there are adults in their lives that care about them, and also believe that they do matter and can fix the problems they see. Another huge reason for #WhyITeach is visibility. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community in West Virginia, I believe wholeheartedly that I am an example for so many struggling students that they too can become a member of society living exactly as who they are. For students who do not fall under this category, I believe it teaches them that there really are not as many differences in how each of us live and opens their eyes to the truly diverse community that West Virginia should and can be.” ~anonymous
“I teach because every student, no matter their ethnicity, language, socio-economic status, gender, or reading level, deserves an equitable opportunity to learn, grow, & evolve into whatever the universe has set forth them to be.” ~@levelupmindset
“I teach to be a father figure to those students who come from unstable homes or from broken homes. I teach to instill life lessons which were instilled in me at a young age enabling me to “pay it forward”. Hearing from kids whom I’ve taught years ago yearning to tell me their successes is the most rewarding feeling in the world!” ~Perry Estep
“Knowing those hours they spend with us could be the only ones where they’re heard, loved, and given the opportunity to learn. <3” ~@ms_mena7
“I teach because it’s the best way to make an impact on the future, for the moments when a student finally gets it, when you see students take initiative and pride in their learning and so many other reasons.” ~@mrsplesz
“I teach because they are all my kids though the good, the bad, & the ugly. Some of them have no other positive role models. I know I can’t save them all, but I try like hell to get them to mature & become good people who make a difference.” ~@llagxena
“I teach because I think that all people are important. I believe that all people can participate in society in a positive way. As an educator, I believe my role involves helping each student find a path of purpose. That will look very different for each student but purpose gives hope and hope changes their world.” ~Emilee Polk
“I teach because my students take me away from my petty, monotonous issues. Then those same kids deliver me back to myself at the end of the day, fulfilled, satisfied, and just plain better. I teach because I can’t NOT teach.” ~@beckykorinek
“I teach to pay it forward from the teachers who saved me.” ~@KFitzpatric
“When 8th grade boys stay after class to continue to debate fate vs free will in Romeo and Juliet. Or 11th grade girls read Joan Didion and consider the futility of being people pleasers. We change lives by giving them things to think about without yes or no answers.” ~@royalblue86
“I teach because in [West Virginia], there are thousands of kids who are searching for someone to be a constant. When their world is upside down and chaotic, I want to be their constant. I want to show that child that feels depressed, anxious, fear, sadness, anger, and loss and show them that despite their life up to that point, they have an opportunity to prove to themselves that they are worth more than what they have been led to believe. I take my job very seriously. I know that when I walk into school everyday and I put lessons together and I stand in front of that class… it’s not about just teaching them math, science, SS, and ELA… I’m teaching them to be listeners, communicators, thinkers, problem solvers, friends, warriors, tolerant, and accepting. I teach because making a difference matters. Children matter. Our future matters. And if I’m not passionate about my job and what I do, how can I expect my students to be passionate? How can I expect them to do something I’m not willing to do? I teach to encourage, to open their minds, to get them to believe in themselves. I teach because the future of our city, our state, and our country depends on it.” ~Amanda Inman
“I teach because, if I’ve done anything of value in this life, may it be that I’ve made a such difference in the life of a child that they, too, have become an inspiration to others.” ~@ThirstyBeesNY
“Not every student is dealt a fair hand in the game of life. Teachers can be the wild card, the game changer.” ~@ProfEgress
“I teach because reaching just one student and making a difference in their life is worth every single struggle. Everyone, kids especially, needs to know that someone is in their corner when no one else is <3” ~@MisizGood
“I teach to allow students a loving and safe place to discover and explore their passions.” ~@arasbeth27
“I teach to empower students who are systematically oppressed.” ~@BrieHutson
“I do not teach but I can tell you the names of the most influential teachers in my life. I am 54 and my first grade, sixth grade and 8th grade teachers are with me everyday.” ~@chgobrutha4523
I chose to end with that last one because it is true and it is powerful, and I do not think this is something we often consider: we are with our kids every single day, long after they walk out our classroom door for the very last time. Our impact is deep and lasting, but is often one we do not see. It is easy to lose steam this time of year, and teaching can often be a challenging and thankless job, but know that even on your hardest day, even when you have emptied yourself out to the point of exhaustion, you are making a difference. Never lose sight of your #WhyITeach; remind yourself every day. More importantly, share your #WhyITeach moments—tell your story, our collective story, and be a point of inspiration.