In the Classroom: Why I Teach

School ended last week. Now I’m what tends to be termed a “veteran” classroom teacher. That is, I’ve been in the classroom since the mid 1970s. Many years. Decades in fact. Happily, unlike many of my generation, I’m not the slightest bit burnt out. I still love teaching. I love classroom teaching. I love spending a year with a group of children, helping them grow and learn, inspiring them and having them inspire me.

This is no doubt partly because I teach at a private school not under the yoke of government mandates. A place where I can be creative and not be oppressed by tests, standards, and other outside demands. Ironically, I had every intention of teaching in public schools at the start of my career, having attended them myself, but there were no jobs available. (Instead there was that iconic New York Post headline, “Ford to City: Drop Dead“)  And so I grabbed a position at a failing private school, moved to a better one for a few years, and eventually landed at where I’ve been for almost thirty years now. I have to wonder where I’d be if I’d been in public schools — perhaps not in the classroom any more, maybe doing something else, maybe thinking retirement. Kudos to those who do continue the good fight after decades in public schools — from what I know I’m not sure I could do it.

This school year was a challenging one for me for non-school reasons and so I wondered if I’d been as successful with my class as I’d liked. Happily, the comments and notes  that I received last week reassured me that I had nothing to worry about.

But the best thing that happened was at graduation. We are a K-12 private school and so faculty from all levels are encouraged to attend. Some years families and graduates are touched to see me and other years they seem to have forgotten me. I mean, 4th grade is a long way from 12th after all. This year it was the former. So many families and kids reminiscing about their time with me. One in particular. This was a young person who had been a major presence that year and thereafter for others as well.  Eccentric and intense, I’d adored him.  And as he made his way through the school I would see him occasionally and hear about him through others. Last week he was in the front row in graduation facing me and I wondered what he was thinking. Afterwards I wandered about trying to find my old students and their families. I’d given up on finding this student and was about to leave when suddenly there he was, right in front of me. “I have been looking everywhere for you!” he declared. And with that we hugged and talked about his time in my classroom so many years ago. We talked about things he’d love then, still loved, and was going ahead to learn more about in college. It was wonderful. Clearly I’d had something to do with his learning; I was remembered as a significant teacher; I had done well with him. This, I thought, is why I teach.

7 Comments

Filed under In the Classroom

7 responses to “In the Classroom: Why I Teach

  1. As I trudge off to the last teacher workday of the year, thanks for this reminder of why I teach. I’ve taught in numerous schools over the last 18 years, both abroad and locally, and the school where I teach now has a very high mobility rate, so I rarely get to see my former students. Nevertheless, I appreciate this reminder that we make a difference in the lives of our students.

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  2. Yes! This is why I love to teach as well, to make a difference in individual lives. When I left teaching in a public school to stay home with my daughter I thought I was done for good. Those four years in a school where almost every single one of my students had an IEP and I was there until 7 or later every night just doing paper work nearly did me in. But there was so much about it that I missed, what you have talked about here. I am so happy to have found an outlet for that passion and a place to inspire students in our homeschool community. Of course I get to make that sort of difference with my own kids every day, but it is nice to have a group of kids that aren’t mine again that I can teach.

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  3. Susan Milligan

    As the mother of one of your students from your first decade of teaching, let me say how thankful I am that you chose teaching as your career. Your passion and joy of learning inspired my son. You introduced him to the books he devoured and to the college he eventually chose to attend as an English major. You opened up a whole world to him. You had everything to do with his learning and his career as a writer and how he has handed down this joy of learning to his own children. I honestly believe that his life would not have been the rich one it is were it not for you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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  4. That’s beautiful. I often think teachers do more than even they know to impact students lives. Most of my schooling in the Pittsburgh public school system was miserable, because of large classes and lack of individual attention. I spent one blissful year at a Catholic school. A few remarkable teachers sought me out, and changed my life forever. I’ll never forget them
    That was in fifth grade!
    Great work out there.

    Love,
    Jewell

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