One of my students came up to me the other day and asked me why I became a teacher. I tried to explain it to him by sharing the wonderful feeling that follows teaching someone a new skill. I tried to describe the fantastic moment when a difficult task finally clicks after a hundred trials. I tried to express how it feels to empower another person with knowledge. He shrugged at me, sighed and said, “Why would anyone want to go to school forever?”
The truth is I became a teacher because I don’t know what else I could ever do.
I have helped children who can't talk, talk.
I have helped them learn to use a spoon, to put on a coat, to stand in line, to ride a bus, to follow directions, to enjoy the people and things that surround them.
I have helped them to read, add and subtract. I have taught them facts and figures and I have nurtured them. These things -- these incredible successes – not only make me feel wonderful, they make me feel powerful, obligated, responsible.
You see, teachers do not always bear good news. It's not all about straight As, gold stars and praise. Sometimes, you sit across from a mother – tear’s filling her eyes rapidly – and tell her that her daughter is not performing at grade level because of a significant (and as yet undiagnosed) disability.
Sometimes, you sit and wait as a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a behaviorist tell a family that their son has a degenerative form of schizophrenia.
Sometimes, you wait, painstakingly, for a Spanish language translator to tell an already shaken parent what an intellectual disability actually is.
These are the moments of being a teacher that no one prepares you for. These are the moments that I first encountered as a student teacher and continue to deal with as a teacher today.
Most importantly, these have been the moments when I feel the most like a teacher. I find working with families to be the most challenging of my responsibilities. We have to remember that our students are people first, with families who have a whole set of hopes and dreams for their child. This is a responsibility that we must carry. We have to maintain composure and professionalism when faced with these moments of pure emotion. This is being a teacher. It is constant and it is real.
There are other kinds of moments, too, when children do something silly or funny or downright wonderful that gives you the energy to approach the heavier stuff.
Sometimes, they pick you a dead dandelion from the playground.
Sometimes, they do their homework on the back of a cereal box because they ran out of paper at home.
Sometimes, they finally remember how to carry a number when adding after you’ve shown them 100 times over. Being a teacher means cheering these amazing moments and steeling yourself for the crucial ones.
I couldn’t explain all of this to my student when he asked me why I became a teacher. You almost have to live it to really know these feelings, to wholly embrace the responsibility that comes with this profession. So I guess I will tell him now that I became a teacher for all of these reasons and feel lucky that new reasons arise every day.