Why Do Teachers Teach?

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By Cindy Schwartz, Co-Founder and Director of Secondary Education

This blog post is an adaptation of “Why I Became a Teacher,” an episode of the Attentive Teaching Podcast. Our podcast is available on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify, and other major podcast platforms.

What inspires a person to enter the teaching profession?

In 2014, Scholastic and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation helped organize a survey of 20,000 public school teachers and found that 85% of those polled became teachers so that they could make a difference in the lives of children. Only 4% entered the teaching profession for the earning potential. This isn’t the first or only time this has been said: in a blog for Teach.com, author Michelle Manno says teachers usually do not go into the teaching profession for the money or the summer vacations. A 2016 study by the Learning Institute confirms this as well by noting that beginning teachers make about 20% less than college grads in other fields. 

Clearly, teachers go into teaching for more existential reasons than economic ones.

So why are people still becoming teachers?

What are some of the joys teaching brings to us even in the most challenging of times?

In 2016, Carrie Lam addressed this very question in her article “11 Rewards of Being a Teacher,” published in Edutopia. Lam says that teaching enables us, as teachers, to:

  • Make an impact on lives
  • Ignite the “spark” of learning in students
  • Surround ourselves with love and laughter
  • Create our own work environment
  • Inspire others
  • Feed our own inner creativity
  • Teach what we love

So, why do we become teachers?

It seems that we become teachers because we have a  passion for our subject matter and a desire to impart that to others. We continually hope that through our efforts we will spark an intellectual curiosity in our students that enables them to become their better selves.

Here’s why I became a teacher:

My seventh grade Social Studies teacher inspired me to become a teacher.  He was a bolt of energy in the classroom, the likes of which I had never experienced in all of my years as a student in public school. Up and down the aisles, he would walk with a gait that was exhilarating, stopping to ask us what we thought and how we felt about the material we were discussing that day. 

“If you were President during the Civil War, how would you have handled it?” 

“If you were asked to vote to ratify the 18th amendment that banned alcohol throughout the country, would you have voted for it?”

Questions, questions, questions!

Socrates would have hailed this teacher of mine for insisting that we think, dig in, and evaluate. I had never had a teacher like this man and would never have one like him again, so I decided to become him.

I decided, then and there, in the seventh grade to be a Social Studies teacher and have never once regretted my decision.

But here was one other reason why I entered the field of education – my sister.

My sister was “that kid.” She was the “hypo-aroused” student. She was compliant and quiet but not really present. Teachers and fellow students so intimidated her; consequently, she was almost always silent. She appeared as if she was listening, but I suspect she was thinking more about a someday music career than math. She would follow me around and try to join my classes so she would feel connected to someone somewhere. When a teacher of hers embarrassed her in class about her lack of knowledge about the subject, I insisted on being her advocate and speaking with the principal. He heard me, and, although I’m not sure if anything really changed for her in the classroom, I knew then that I would be an advocate for others in the future.

My years as a teacher have been filled with glorious successes and difficult realities. Not every day is a parade. But every day is, at least for me, a revelation. What works? What hasn’t worked? How can I continue to craft my lessons so that my students are interested, engaged, and excited about learning? How can I make connections with my students so that they feel understood, validated and cared for?

Perhaps The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz offers the best daily words of wisdom that we should take into our classrooms each day:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Don’t take anything personally
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Always do your best

Why did you become a teacher? Share your path to teaching in the comments!

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