Why do you teach? And, why do you stay?

We all have our reasons for becoming teachers.
Some enter the teaching profession because of an amazing teacher, or several amazing teachers. Some feel teaching is simply what they were meant to do. Some become teachers to contribute to the common good. Others become teachers because of one, or many, bad experiences. Some want power, to always be right, to stand at the head of the class, in control of young, impressionable minds and destinies, armed with red ink, and the desire to “teach kids a lesson” when they attempt to submit late or poorly done assignments. Some want summers off, or to read the newspaper in the back of the room while students work quietly at their desks. It happens — so do many other things you see in movies, hoping it is fabrication and stereotyping, rather than truth. Teaching, like other professions, has good and bad.
Many good teachers leave our profession.
Many good teachers leave our profession to work at coffee shops, city jobs, open their own business, or go back to school. Many good teachers are made to feel that they are not professionals capable of making decisions, in spite of their qualifications, credentials, and degrees. Teachers can be made to feel as though they are replaceable numbers, required to ask permission to use supplemental material in their classrooms, implement curriculum they do not believe in, and harm students with test prep and standardization. Plenty of good teachers feel as though they do not have expertise. By expertise I do not mean authority, but rather knowledge, skill, even intuition. Many good teachers do not have the opportunity to become content experts. Unable to collaborate authentically and hone their skills, much of the required professional development they are asked to complete lacks meaning and purpose. Can you imagine if teachers were “allowed” to choose their own professional development, pursuing passions, modeling curiosity and life-long learning, while receiving “credit?” If teachers simply deliver a set curriculum designed for credits and grades rather than learning, accompanied with answer keys and scripts, then what is so special about what we do? Whether we mean to or not, we do to teachers what we do to students — make top down decisions, punish the good because of the bad, and give them very little choice. My goal is to provide students with meaningful and purposeful work.
The world is at our fingertips, just as it is for our students.
We can, through blogging, Twitter, and other social media resources, connect with teachers all over the world — many do this every day. Teachers are encouraged to take risks, not be afraid to try new things, be the linchpin, question the status quo, rebel, and use technology, only to find themselves sitting in meetings discussing outdated ideas, implementing policies without knowing why, being reprimanded for teaching a novel or chapter in November instead of in April like the rest of the department, and using curriculum they know is irrelevant and unengaging, but  is “approved,” and aligned with the last textbook adoption. Is this what we have to work with?
I know there are many who are losing faith in our profession.
Recently, I presented at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference and e-Learning Strategies Symposium to showcase some of the work we are doing at The Riverside Virtual School. Many colleagues hear and see what we are doing and say, ‘That’s great, but… we can’t do that.’ I recognize that I am lucky. Lucky to work with a leader who challenges me to challenge myself. Lucky to work with like-minded, tech savvy, go getter colleagues who want to pave the way and do difficult work. That’s why I teach here. Many colleagues find themselves envious of teachers who are able to spend their time creatively teaching, and trying new things. It is important for us to share our stories — good, bad, and ugly. It is through this collaboration that we try to ensure we do the right thing for our students even if it seems impossible — It is through this dialogue that we create good teachers, and encourage them to stay.
“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”
Noam Chomsky
Why do I stay?
Why do we continue to do what we do? How do we stay committed to doing important work in spite of opposition? Like many of you, I stay to create inquisitive scholars, and to assist students in developing a deeper awareness of who they are and how they fit into this crazy world. Like many of you, I considered leaving our profession to pursue other things. I couldn’t leave. I didn’t leave. Instead, I surround myself with smart people. I collaborate with other educators interested in innovation and questioning why we do what we do. I listen. I read. I interact. I seek out — online, face to face, globally, and locally — those who are doing amazing things, and I learn.
The role of the teacher has changed.
Some of us are willing to change, and others are not. Some say they are willing, but don’t. Many think they have, but haven’t. Students do not need us for answers. They need us to guide them on a journey of investigation, assist them in their unique development and understanding, ask difficult questions, and offer support as they draw sound conclusions. They deserve us at our best, positive and persistent, and although exhausted, present. For them. We know teaching is more than content, that teachers frequently are asked to take on the role of counselor and parent, and that for many of our students, life outside of school is unpleasant and unsafe. Good teachers know that nothing is more important than the well being of young people, and that until and unless they feel safe, they cannot grow. Good teachers know that their role is to find the balance between child, curriculum, and teacher, and be trusted to change the plan at any minute for their individual students.
How in the world do we do all of this?
We do this by knowing our students, creating purposeful and meaningful learning opportunities for them, asking ourselves difficult questions, and trusting — ourselves, colleagues, and students. To know what makes learning purposeful and meaningful, one must know what makes learning useless and boring. How do we define purposeful and meaningful? One place to start is with the classics, the education pioneers of the past, like John Dewey.
“Abandon the notion that subject-matter as something fixed and ready-made in itself, outside of the child’s experience; cease thinking of a child’s experience as also something hard and fast; see it as something fluent, embryonic, vital; and we realize that the child and the curriculum are simply two limits which define a single process.”
John Dewey — The Child and the Curriculum
SMART idea — Next time you have a meeting, set the agenda aside and start a conversation — Why do you teach,? And, why do you stay? 

Courtney Hanes

Mrs. Courtney Hanes is a Staff Development Specialist for grades 7 - 12 at the Riverside Virtual School in Riverside, Ca

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1 Comment

Sherry Hegstrom

Wow, your post really resignates with me. I watch great teachers leave yearly if they can make it that long. It is hard to keep the motivation when things are moving so quickly in technology and schools are not keeping up or making content relavent to students.
Me, I've been the champion of the cause, lets integrate, lets do animoto, try voicethread in social studies and I think I am in a category of teachers you have forgotten. Those who get pushed out. After 4 wonderful years of what I thought was great lessons, connected learning at its best and students I love if not at least like, I got "we are not renewing your contract" and because it's a year before you are to be tenured, we don't and won't tell you why. So I am a teacher that has been pulled from the one place where I thrive the most, the classroom. Yes, I teach online at the college level but 'classes get cancelled' due to lack of enrollment, so this teacher who loves to excite and explore is sitting at home. I tried to make a difference and in that I failed my own career. Do you know of any school district that would take a non renewed teacher, I don't. It's one of the first 4 questions on any teaching application. I wish I could say, I will keep trying, but I can't say that I can change. I love open curriculum and a buzzing collobarative classroom. Sometimes, (yes, I've been called amazing, best practices, great with students, yes all of my reviews were great). So in my case, it wasnt me who made the decision. It's funny two people in any town (administrators) can ruin your career and your want to be an educator. It's a tough road for someone like me, who would give nothing more than to be back in the classroom. Thanks, I think I vented.

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