Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why I Teach

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week...

I have often compared being a teacher to being an actress.  Very similar to, say, Julie Andrews or Liza Minelli , I spend the majority of my professional life in front of a (sometimes critical, usually rowdy, and often uninterested) audience "performing" (i.e. speaking loudly and doing whatever it takes to make topics like dangling modifiers sound exciting).  Then, I come home exhausted and drained, but required to "study" and "rehearse" to do it all again the next day.

The point is -- Although Teacher Appreciation Week is a very nice gesture (albeit slightly under-celebrated at the secondary-level), if it was fame and appreciation we were going for, we probably would have auditioned for Broadway, instead! I think it is fair to say that no teacher went into this job-field for the free donuts and handmade gifts for one week in May.  And, yes, while I can't deny that there may be a few who found their "calling" in the classroom at least in part because of summer break and snow days; I really don't believe even that would be enough to keep you at it if your motivation stopped there...

Here are a few other reasons that are NOT why I teach:
- My 5:30AM alarm Monday through Friday.
- My beautiful office (complete with florescent lights, cinder-block walls, a leaky roof, and the lingering scent of body-odor)
- My huge paycheck.
- My very late nights grading eight-thousand essays.
- An extreme passion for grammar, writing, and the literary canon (!!Shock!!)
- Teenage hormones.
- Dignity and respect (ha!).

So, why do I teach?  

This is a question I have spent a lot of time thinking about and even sometimes defending to others (and myself) in the last two years since I had Sam (at which point, you may remember, I took a small break from the classroom and worked as a full-time Testing Coordinator, but was quickly lured back by my "dream job" as a part-time English teacher at our county's speciality center).  I would be lying if I said that there aren't days that I want nothing more than to sleep-in, watch cartoons with Sam, and then join other moms for coffee and morning Bible studies.  (Lest anyone get huffy, I realize that isn't exactly the reality of life as a SAHM - it is an obvious case of the grass is always greener, that's all.)  There are plenty of times when I imagine having a job that "stays at the office" when I leave at five, or that doesn't involve acronyms like SOL, AP, NCLB, or IEP.  And, it is no secret that I could make more money in a different profession.  But, ultimately, it comes down to these three things:

1. I teach because I LOVE it.  

I love the energy that 25 sixteen year-olds bring to a room, even at 7AM.  I love that my job is NEVER the same -- what one class deems as "boring," might launch a thirty-minute debate with another group.  I love the "in between" moments when students share little bits of their lives with me, and I with them (like their phobia of Greek Yogurt, and my hatred for ketchup).  I love seeing the "cool kids" act like actual kids as they learn the steps to an Elizabethan dance while donning homemade masks.  I love the "game" of trying to knit together an entire curriculum into one related theme for the year, and the challenge of making The Grapes of Wrath interesting, Huckleberry Finn relevant, and Lord of the Flies fun. I love that I get to actually see students "get it," and watch as they become, not only stronger writers and readers, but stronger thinkers, feelers, and communicators too.

2. I teach because it is my ministry.

God made me a teacher.  He gave me gifts in teaching, in relationships, in speaking and writing.  He gave me a heart for young people, a mission field in the high school, and hundreds of students to love like Jesus does.  We may not have "religion in schools" today; but, God has given me the opportunity to show up in the lives of young people every.single.day.  I have the privilege of praying for them,  knowing them, and loving them (even when they are unlovable). Just like he made me a daughter and a mother and a wife - he put this desire to teach inside me and equipped me for that ministry.

Maybe one day God will call me down a different road; and, when he does, I pray that I would have ears to hear that.  BUT, for now, it is my honor to "live a life worthy of [this] calling" (Ephesians 4:1).

And, finally...

3. I teach because it makes me a better person.

Maybe this is true of all jobs, but I really do learn something new every day.  Admittedly, sometimes those lessons have more to do with who is going to prom with whom than a new vocabulary term or grammatical rule; but, I am a firm believer that the absolute best way to learn a subject is to teach it.  I am forever challenged and surprised by my students; and, while I am, of course, honored to get to play a small role in the direction of each of their lives, I am forever thankful for the role that they each play in mine.

Teaching makes me smarter, stronger, kinder, more patient, and - let's face it - younger.  My job keeps me from being stagnant; it keeps me "up with the times."  It keeps me active and laughing - always laughing.

And, perhaps most important to me right now, teaching allows me to show (not just tell) my own precious little boy, that we are best when we are doing what makes us come alive.  That we can be passionate about lots of things, and we can do anything; that hard work is worth it, and anything that is worth it will require work.  I hope, more than anything, that Sam will see in my life someone who finds value and joy and Jesus in giving my life away.  Yes, there are sacrifices; but, I truly believe that teaching makes me a better momma too.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

P.S. Don't forget to enter my Big Sponsor Give Away here.  (Contest closes Wednesday at 11:59PM.)


  1. Wonderful post.. I could relate to bascially every word. I get a knot in my stomach still about the fact that I'm NOT teaching (besides 1 day a week homeschool co-op stuff). It is the most wonderful profession in the world and I pray God calls me back into it when He's done using me at home!

  2. LOVE LOVE LOVE this! I am a full time 6th grade math teacher and mom and I teach because for the most part it is what makes me happy! I find it difficult to put into words exactly why I teach but this such an eloquent and heartfelt way to explain it.

    Happy Teacher appreciation day to all the teachers out there!

  3. Your post makes me wish I was a teacher... or that I at least loved what I do (I'm in boring old insurance!) as much as you love what you do :) Great post, even for a non-teacher, to read!

  4. Wonderful! Glad there are teachers like you!

  5. I have SO much respect for teachers; all through school I always wondered how they managed with some of the crazy kids we had in our classes! Keep it up, you're doing an amazing job :)

    Amy| The Little Koala Blog ♥

  6. I teach because there is nothing else I'd rather do. I just love my job, no matter how much it annoys and frustrates me at times. Here in Denmark we had a lot of discussion about teachers and their supposed laziness recently, and I really considered doing something else, but again and again I realise that there is just no better job for me.
    Love this piece!

  7. I love teachers. I just do! I have so many friends who are teachers, and who are passionate about it. I was an English Ed major in college, but then became a college drop out :( (If only you didn't have to take science & math classes to get an English Education degree!!!) Anyway, I just love my teacher-friends, I respect them so much. I know it's NOT an easy job, especially when many of them have to babysit more than they get to actually teach. But they do love it & are passionate about it!

    I will say the only times i got really jealous of my roomie before i got married (she was/is a math teacher) is on her long Christmas breaks & summer breaks when i was coming home on my LUNCH BREAK & she would still be SOUND ASLEEP! LOL!

    Hope you have a great week & get some good gifts! Haha! :)

  8. I have been working on a post like this for this week. Teaching usually weeds out the people that are doing it for the wrong reasons.

    My leadership class always makes gifts for the staff for this week. This year they made personalized travel coffee mugs for every staff member. And our secretaries each make spaghetti sauces for our spaghetti feed tomorrow at lunch.

  9. Oh Elizabeth, Let me wipe away the tears!! Honestly, I love this post so much! I wish I could say you got the writing gene from me, but not so much! Therefore, I will just stop, and say how proud I am of you for being the teacher that you are. High school kids are so lucky to have you in their lives every day. Believe me, they will always remember YOU!!!
    BTW.... Our Teacher Appreciation Week has been so wonderful!! We have been fed, flowered, candied, hugged, entertained all week, and it is just Tuesday!!! Love to you, honey!!

  10. This post is lovely. I am sure that if I had you as a teacher I would have loved being in your classroom. :]

    As a new teacher I feel like I can totally relate to the things that you talked about. I also LOVE it (though many teachers like to tell me that eventually it will fade) and I like to think that I never will lose that spark. I am so passionate about education and I also love being in those kids' lives and feeling like I am making a difference.

    Happy Teacher's Appreciation week! Maybe you kids will behave the rest of the week to show their appreciation...we can dream right? :]

  11. love it migre.me/edSVn

  12. Wonderful! Just as I'm hitting the frustrating part of my job search where no one wants a social studies teacher that can't coach football, you helped remind me of the good parts of my student teaching, and why I chose to do it in the first place. Thanks!

  13. Love it, girl. I'm in my third year of teaching and there are still many days that I walk down the hallway thinking, "Oh my gosh, I get to do this! I could do this forever!" Of course, there are days when that definitely is not the case, but the good days far outnumber the bad. Keep up the passion and the celebration of our often thankless career. :)

  14. I am preparing for a new school year and this was an "Eye of the Toger" moment. Thank you for providing it.


Your comments are what makes this thing fun! I LOVE to hear from you and do my best to respond to everyone! THANK YOU!

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