Tuesday, June 6, 2017

An Open Letter to Teachers: I still love teaching.

I was just sitting on my couch, staring at my 18 month old son as he wriggled in his sleep, and began thinking about how much I genuinely love teaching.  Don’t get me wrong; I am victim to those negativity spells and definitely engage in my fair share of complaining.  However, I truly do love my profession.  

This reflection prompted the curiosity of whether or not anyone else still feels this way.  In 2017, when our education system is a mess, and there aren’t enough qualified teachers and administrators to lead our schools--does anyone else thoroughly enjoy this career anymore?  I’ve seen tons of “Why I Quit Teaching” articles shared on social media, as I’m sure you have.  So I did what any 30-something person would do today and popped “why I still love teaching” into the search bar on my phone.  No results returned with that title.  Tons of “Love/Hate Relationship” articles surfaced, but most descriptions were overwhelmingly negative and ended with the authors leaving the profession or worse -- remaining in it as Debbie Downers.  

Think about that.  I mean, seriously.  Think about it.  Teachers who love to teach are leaving.  Many who hate it, stay.  Imagine the students’ perspectives here.  They’re devastated when people leave.  It’s awful.  I’ve had it done to me, and I’ve done it to my own students by switching schools.  It’s a terrible feeling for all involved.

But the angry, bitter, jaded teachers who stay?  Maybe you find yourself in that situation right now and happen to be reading these words.

WHY? Why are you staying?  The money is terrible, and the hours are long.  Why on earth are you subjecting hundreds of students to your Debbie Downer attitude every single day?  By not feeling passionately about teaching and not approaching it in a positive light, you are ruining the educational environment for the students within your space.  Whether you realize it or not, your energy is being projected onto those kids.  Even if you keep your opinions and feelings to yourself, they feel “it”.  

You know they do.

That makes it even worse.

You have a responsibility to our children.  You chose that responsibility by pursuing this profession in the first place.  The decision and the consequences of it fall on YOU.  

If you find yourself in a funk or questioning your existence within this field, I encourage you to think about what convinced you to become a teacher in the first place.  What kept you going on those insanely challenging days?  What motivated you through the terrible moments?  What still gives you the “warm fuzzies”?

For me, it’s that look on a kid’s face when he or she finally “gets it”.  You know what I’m talking about -- that moment when you see the lights turning in the student’s eyes.  You’re beyond proud, and the student is as well.  That genuine, honest smile creeps up on his or her face, and you have that moment of excited pride.  

It’s teaching a kid who has been failing but is able to turn his grade around.

It’s seeing kids go on to pursue college or join the military.

It’s going through a drive-through window and seeing a former student, who had EVERY obstacle stacked against her, managing the restaurant.

It’s knowing that for many of your students, the positive experiences they have at school are going to be the ONLY positive experiences they have all day.  

It’s knowing that for many of your students, you are going to be the most influential adult they will encounter each day because they see you more than they do their actual parents.  

It’s hearing, “Have a nice day,” from the painfully shy student you’ve had in Homeroom for two years who has always refused to speak.  THAT….  THAT is worth it.  

There are thousands of other reasons I can give.  I can honestly say “thousands” because I have taught over a thousand students in the past 10 years; and every single kid has given me a hundred reasons to keep doing what I’m doing.

My first principal used to print copies of the following Haim G. Ginott quote and distribute those copies to all of his teachers.  I still have mine on my wall, 10 years and 4 schools later.

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

I wholeheartedly believe this, and I encourage you to realize the power you have within the confines of that small classroom.  

Whether you are just starting out or have been in the education world for years, please take time to reflect upon why you’re doing what you’re doing.  I know the system is messy right now, but there are some awesome kids out there who didn’t ask to be a part of this craziness.  They’re just kids who need you to be a positive influence.  

I’m certainly not the best teacher in the world, but I do love teaching.  If that changes, I hope I change careers.  Our kids deserve nothing less than a teacher who is passionate about helping them learn and grow.  


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