By Julie Rine, Minerva Local Education Association
I can’t remember a time when teaching hasn’t been part of my story, when I didn’t answer, “Be a teacher” to the ubiquitous question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Although I loved to read, it wasn’t until 7th grade, when I had Joyce Schiff for English, that I decided what I wanted to teach. Many other teachers also influenced me along the way. I considered becoming a music teacher after singing in Linda Boyd’s choir and I toyed with teaching history after taking Paul Tefft’s government class, but my true desire was to teach literature, the classic stories of the past and present.
It didn’t take me long to realize that my little fantasy about discussing great literature with kids all day was far from reality. Teaching English in today’s world is less about reading and discussing good stories than it is about preparing for different types of test questions and learning how to pace oneself when reading a nonfiction passage on a usually terribly outdated and irrelevant topic in a certain amount of time. A colleague recently bemoaned the fact that she feels torn between preparing her students for real life and preparing them for the standardized tests. Any good teacher knows that struggle.
In addition to teaching content and preparing kids for mandated tests, educators now have to crunch data, keep up with changing legislation, and generally be prepared on any given day to prove to politicians that we are not doing irreparable damage to the youth of America.
Many high-profile teachers have had enough. They have decided to serve kids in other ways. Their resignations have made national news and their eloquent explanations for their decision to leave the profession have gone viral. So why do those of us who stay in the classroom do it?
I do it because I want my students to know that they are more than a test score, more than a box on a spreadsheet. I teach because some of my students have home lives that are so foreign to my own experience that it still seems a miracle to me when they show up to school and put any effort into my class at all. I want them to know, there is an adult who cares about them, who believes in them, who celebrates their victories, and who hurts over their failures. I want them to know that while I can’t change the situation they go home to, I can help them forge a path out of their past and into a future where they will have more control over the kind of life they live.
I teach because I love a good challenge. I teach because overcoming the constant changes in education is empowering. I teach because there is no other high in this world like seeing a student who didn’t believe in himself, achieve a success beyond my highest expectations. I teach because I work with some of the hardest-working, most passionate people in the world. I teach for the sense of camaraderie that happens when good teachers problem-solve together.
I teach because this job is never boring. How many people, other than teachers, show up to work on a cold winter’s day and are greeted by a 6-foot tall, anatomically correct snow penis in front of their place of work?
I once read a poem written by a shy, quiet girl who wrote about dreaming of a boy’s “sweet genital kisses”. (She meant “gentle”). And then there’s the essay many years ago about what we should put in a time capsule in the year 2000 so people in the future will know what we did for fun. The answer? “Compacted dicks”. Fifteen years later, compact disks are becoming obsolete, but I will never forget that answer! I teach because when you spend your days with kids, there is always humor.
Teaching gives me something to laugh about, cry about, write about, and pray about. I teach because I can’t imagine working this hard for a job that isn’t going to have an impact on society.
The thanks I get from my students, in letters and emails and Facebook posts, is worth more than a fat paycheck for a job where I don’t make a difference. I teach because Joyce Schiff, Linda Boyd, and Paul Tefft each in their own way made me believe that I could do anything I wanted, and what I wanted was to be like them, to have both passion for content and compassion for kids.
I stay in education because it’s who I am, it’s an integral part of my story. I teach because when I walk into my classroom each day and see the empty desks, I know that those desks will soon be filled with kids whose stories are still unfolding. I teach because the stories of my students are worth knowing.
I can only speak for myself. We each have our own story, the narrative of who we are, what we believe, what we do, and why we do it.