Why We Teach

A teacher helping his students.

Savannah, a current Possip reporter and former educator, shares the responses of educators answering the question, “Why I Teach.”


It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day to-do lists, agendas, and details. As caretakers, educators, school leaders, and community members, we know how consuming some of these things can become. This is why it’s important to also take time to zoom out and spend time reflecting on our why. For some of us, this why is part of our greater life purpose. In addition, for others, it’s a single person or impactful moment. While the day-to-day is important, even just from an operational perspective, our why is what drives us. 

This month, we took time to ask educators about their why. Here are some of their stories, each motivated by their why:

 

I teach to build relationships.

“There are piles of paperwork, never enough hours in the day, and standardized testing that doesn’t make sense. However, there is also another aspect of teaching that continually beckons me to show up. It isn’t data sheets or the achievement of my students. It’s the deep relationships that are formed as my scholars begin to trust me enough to share their stories. 

 

When I think back to the beginning of each school year, there is always a period of natural relationship building that occurs. Through this time, the students’ connections to their learning deepen as well. As they trust me with their hopes, dreams, and fears, they also trust me with their growth. Many begin to fall in love with learning and pushing themselves just as I have. It’s a beautiful process to see. I am grateful to be a supportive adult for them as they walk through life. As well, I am grateful to be a passionate educator who helps them cultivate their unique interests and talents.” -Sarah, Nashville

 

I teach to empower students.

“After graduating from Gonzaga University in 2013, heart and mind rooted in the Jesuit tradition, I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). I was hoping to discover how my passions for service and mentoring youth might help me fulfill a greater need in the world. For two years, I had the privilege of teaching, tutoring, and mentoring students who lived in underserved communities at Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School in San Jose, California, and at Nativity Jesuit Academy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My experiences at both these schools have shaped me into a more socially-minded individual. They have entrenched me even more deeply in my desire to see all young people realize and embrace their full potential, regardless of their circumstances.

I wore all kinds of hats over the course of two years whether it was leading a poetry workshop, assisting with homework, or facilitating a dance committee meeting. In all capacities, I always strove to foster a space where students felt safe to be their most authentic selves and freely express their unique personality quirks, passions, and perspectives.  When this type of open and compassionate culture came to fruition, I was able to deeply connect with my students. This ultimately carried over into all areas of my engagement with them.

Since then, I have found so much meaning and joy in having the ability to create a classroom environment where students truly want to learn and intentionally participate in their education because they believe their presence and voices matter.  I can’t help but marvel at what an incredible privilege I have as an educator in cultivating life-affirming spaces where every student feels empowered to take full ownership of their learning, and in turn their future.”Hannah, Palo Alto

 

I teach because it’s fun.

“My perspective is unique because I started my career in marketing. While I was “successful”, I dreaded Mondays and hated the stare-at-a-computer grind. Now, I spend my days working on human puzzles and getting to know teenagers who give me hope for the future. So, I teach because I truly love the day-to-day job and look forward to my mornings. Education is a mess right now and there are a lot of reasons I see and respect people moving on, but I don’t see that happening for me. The grass isn’t greener for everyone!” –Jessica, Nashville

 

I teach because I enjoy helping students succeed.

“Oftentimes as we approach spring break, it is difficult to reflect on “wins” in the classroom as students and teachers are focused on the upcoming time off from school. Fortunately, this year, it is extremely easy for me as I had a huge win just before leaving on break. One of my students I have been teaching since he was a sophomore, is now a senior. Always a very respectful student who wants to succeed but has difficulty in the classroom. He has a wonderful support team and is striving to improve. 

 

Not knowing the after effects of online instruction from the previous school year, I was concerned about his engagement in my classroom. Teaching a class that is a graduation requirement for seniors elevated my concerns for him. At the beginning of the school year, we had a discussion about the outline of the class, strategies on how he will succeed, options for group or independent work, and the overall workload. He was excited about the class and ready to work. Throughout the year his work product was decent and he has been “average” on his assignments and assessments. 

 

Before the Unit Exam last week, he told me he felt really good about the Unit and asked what he could do to get a better grade on his exam. I informed him to complete the study guide and ask me any questions he may have before leaving. In all my years teaching this student he had never completed a study guide or showed interest in an exam. This time he submitted a study guide and achieved an 85 percent on his exam, a personal best for him! It has been difficult to watch him struggle academically for so many years. Witnessing this transition in his academic drive has been the high point of my year and affirms why I teach.”Roy, Nashville

 

I teach for the hope of a brighter tomorrow.

“When I think of my “why” the faces of the educators, mentors, students, and loved ones that have empowered me to do this heart-work. My “why” began before I recognized it, the women of color educators who believed in me, taught me, mentored me, were forming me into the educator I am today. Their “why” of empowering students slowly became my why through their shared loved, compassion, and holistic approach to teaching. I am who I am because of these women. I do what I do because of these women. 

 

My why is a guide to my work and I have these women to thank for that. Now in my eighth year as an educator, my “why” is what continues to ground me, particularly in this time of the great resignation. In addition, my “why” continues to be grounded in providing equitable educational opportunities for all students, especially students with minoritized identities. My why continues to be creating educational spaces that welcome, honor, and celebrate the richness of diversity. As well as, cultural wealth and lived experiences our students bring with them into our classrooms and school buildings. Also, my “why” is a hope for a brighter tomorrow for our students where their voices lead us to a re-imagining of what education ought to be. My “why” is healing, forward and backward, past and present, a teaching praxis rooted in love and hope.”Sofia, Seattle

 

Why Your Why Matters

As we can see in each of these teachers’ voices, their why is what motivates them to continue to do the work. Over the last few years, the role of “teacher” has far surpassed the job description. Teachers have worked harder than ever, which has made their why all the more important to their story. We want to express our gratitude to each of the teachers who shared their stories here today. We also want to thank our partners and all teachers for what they do. 

 

Lastly, we encourage you to spend some time reflecting on your own personal why. Think about what it is that truly motivates you, write it down, and share it!