As our ECP pedagogy classes begin again this spring for another group of new teachers working towards teacher certification, we are again reminded why we love working with new teachers. Every year, our pedagogy instruction begins by asking our program participants to think deeply about why they want to become a teacher.
We are often moved and amazed at the depth of commitment for making a difference and the desire to change lives that our teachers show. This year was no different.
Read below as one of our interns shares her thoughts in response to the question, “Why teach?”.
An inherent part of teaching is becoming a pupil. Each day I learn something that makes me better at my job: I learn from my mentors, I learn from my students, and I learn from my mistakes. As English teachers are wont to do, I often turn to words for guidance, and I learn from them, too. I bask in quotes that fortify me and ground me in my quest to better myself, so that I might model virtues and instill wisdom. That’s why I became a teacher in the first place—to dare my students to become better versions of themselves. Smarter. Stronger. Kinder.
“Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.” Albert Einstein
It is hard thing for educators to admit, but content knowledge is fleeting, especially within the crammed, hormone-driven mind of a teenager. The battle to engage these minds can be won by way of a teacher’s charisma and investment.
I have both an undergraduate and a graduate degree in Communication Studies. Because of my academic experiences, I am skilled in persuasive technique, interpersonal cues, and presentation style. When crafting my lesson plans, I hope to hold these skills dear. I want to always be on the lookout for opening hooks to captivate my students’ attention—relevant warm-ups, stories, and videos; I want to continually survey my audience and alter my message based on their reactions; I want to encourage participation, brainstorming, and group activities; and I want to put on an excited, passionate façade even on my lowest days. I strive for these things because I know that perception impacts performance. If my students view me as a polished, well-spoken, and credible source, they will be more apt to listen, engage, and remember.
Just as students perform better for teachers they perceive as more credible, they also perform better for teachers who fully invest in them. I want to do my best to get to know each of my students on an individual level and aim to talk to each one of them on a daily basis. I want to show up to their extracurricular events and games and remember details of their personal lives. I want to be flexible with their schedules and respectful of their boundaries. When I make promises to them, I want to keep them. Their plights will become my plights. Their successes, my successes. Because of this investment, my students will trust me more and, in turn, they will invest more in my class and take more credence in my words.
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
My first few weeks of teaching were laden with worry. I spent hours each evening combing through all the things I had said and done “wrong” during the course of the day. I beat myself up until I had no other choice but to surrender to the realities of this profession. Things will go wrong, and I will make mistakes, but every class period of every day is an opportunity to start afresh and try a new approach. In order to survive as a teacher, I have to remain grounded and positive.
I have extremely high expectations of myself and, consequently, of my students, and I’ve had to find a way to keep my expectations high enough to push them towards success but low enough to be realistic. I am certainly not a perfect person—I fall short of my expectations every single day—so it would be hypocritical of me to expect perfection from anyone else. Being more relaxed and having a more grounded outlook will enable me to not be disappointed when my high expectations aren’t met, either by myself or by my students; rather, I will celebrate the small victories. (ie: “I might not have explained Modernism perfectly, but I did a great job talking about the authors of the Lost Generation. I’ll revisit Modernism tomorrow.” Or, “My students may not have written perfect essays over Romeo and Juliet, but their writing has definitely improved this semester. I should probably revisit embedding quotes and transitional phrases tomorrow before we move on.”) Learning to remain grounded will give me an incredible sense of inner peace and confidence that will affect my students as well.
To me, remaining positive entails not letting anything deter me from my goal of being the best teacher I can be. When I am constantly bombarded by negativity—by angry parents, by bitter co-workers, by dour, unmotivated, defiant, or bullied students, by unsympathetic administrators, by my own pitfalls—I want to constantly remind myself of my purpose. Of the good. I want to forever fight to keep a positive outlook amidst the seeming mire, because without this anchor, without hope, I will be lost.
“The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. / Give the best that you have and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.” Mother Teresa
One of the reasons I became a teacher is that I have a genuine interest in the well-being of others. I am equally hopeful as I am daunted by the future of society, and it is my goal to make sure the proverbial good ultimately outweighs the bad…even if it’s only in a handful of people. Not only do I want to care about my students, but I want to put that care to action and be an initiator.
I want to be committed to every aspect of my students’ lives. I want to be a confidant. I want to be a cheerleader. When I speak to them I want to see the children that they still are and the adults they will become. I want to always treat them with the respect they deserve. I want to fight to preserve my classroom as a safe place. A haven from the hallways. I won’t tolerate unkind words or actions, and I will strive to choose order over chaos, serene over caustic. My students will know that I adore them, and they will know that I’ll be there for them and listen to their stories. I will be told painful secrets, and I will be told silly anecdotes. I’ll be shown scars and prom dresses. I’ll skip lunch, I’ll arrive early, and I’ll stay late. I’ll do anything to show them that I’m different—that I really care.
The more I learn about the internal structure and daily grind of the teaching profession, the more empowered I will feel to turn my listening ears into agents of change. As an initiator, my primary concern will be to advocate for the voiceless and the weak. When my students can’t or won’t fight for themselves, I have to be ready to pick up their burden and carry it as far as I can go. I want them to receive the best education that they can and to get as many opportunities as our district can afford, and I am committed to seeing that vision through. I’d rather have a boots-on-the-ground approach than the standard full-of-hot-air one. I hope to achieve this by marrying my passive tendencies—the caring sounding board—with my active side—the revved up hammer of social justice…The Initiator.
As a first-semester teacher, I am on a journey. I have already learned so many things about myself since January that I feel like a different person, and I know that this revolution has just begun. My most important goal is to never lose sight of myself. I became a teacher not to change the world—I’m not that naïve—but to holistically enrich lives. My hope is that because of my strengths, because of what I bring to the educational banquet, my students will become better people. I don’t expect them to become future Einsteins, Emersons, or Mother Teresas. I just want them to put forth more effort, to believe in themselves, and to make better choices.
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