This month I found myself with a group of teachers I hadn’t met before. An easy icebreaker when meeting other teachers is to discuss the reasons why we became teachers. There were many, often centering around wanting to make a positive impact through children on the world.
In the middle of our discussion, someone asked a profound question. A question that somehow I’d never been asked. Why are you still a teacher? I really had to take a step back for a second to think.
We all know that there is currently a teacher shortage. There isn’t a teacher I’ve talked to that hasn’t at least had the thought of leaving a couple of times each year. Days or weeks where you just don’t feel like you are making the impact you dreamed of when entering the profession.
It’s a thought many have but never act on. It’s a thought too many do act on and for many reasons. For the first time last year, I came close to being in the second group. I even went as far as applying for a district position.
When some caught wind that I was seriously thinking about a change, I had several suggestions for additional jobs to apply for. There were great positions that I was qualified for from other districts, the state level, and even interest from educational technology companies.
So when I was asked the question of why I stay, it was a very real and personal question to me. A question that I had spent a lot of time recently thinking about. Oddly enough, it may have been Lady Gaga who provided me some clarity as I was driving home from a particularly hard day.
I had a million reasons to leave, to walk away, I just needed one good one to stay. I had thirty-four reasons, my students, even though in that moment I didn’t know if I was getting through to them.
I begin every school year reading the book, You Are Special. I end with it too. I attempt to make sure each and every one of them feels that way each and every day. It’s a big task, especially with how large class sizes are in Utah. I know that I’m not always successful in doing so every day, but it is truly my ultimate goal.
I tell my students during our last lesson that even though our school year is ending, I’ll always be there for them. I’ll always be their teacher. I mean it. So in reality, I don’t just have thirty-four reasons, after nine years of teaching I have almost three hundred reasons to stay.
I know that some of my students have believed me when I tell them that I’ll always be there. I get many visits from students the year or two after they leave me, but even after they leave the building I still have many come back. One student from my very first year still comes back a few times a year to chat.
Several others still use me as a resource, even emailing me in the summer about the site we used that gave great writing prompts because she wanted to write more during the break.
I literally have hundreds of stories and notes that help me through those tough days. Things that help remind me why I’m here, why this job is such an important one. Things that help me feel like maybe I am making that difference. Maybe I haven’t changed the world as much as I’d hoped, but I know I’m doing things that make a world of difference to one.
One of the most compelling reasons to stay came from a student I had early on in my career. She had moved on from my fourth-grade class and was now in fifth grade. During fourth-grade she had struggled a bit, although she was very bright. She didn’t always get everything done, mostly because she was busy at night helping her little brother with the homework he needed to do.
The weight that was on her shoulders and how she dealt with it was inspiring, although I may have been the only one that knew it. She never complained, she was self-motivated, and even though it often should have been her looking for help, she was always focused on helping those around her.
Her current teacher asked them to do a practice spelling test before Friday and wanted a parent signature to show that they had done it. My former student wanted to do what she was supposed to, but there were many weeks where doing so wasn’t a reality. During these weeks she’d come into my class early before school and ask if I’d give her the practice test and sign it for her.
It was a simple thing for me to do, but it meant the world to me that she knew I was someone she could rely on. I’m sure it meant a lot to her too. That there was someone in her life she could count on to always be there on those occasions when nobody else was.
As teachers, we may honestly be the only person that is there for some of these kids in our classes or even other classes. I actually had a student from another class come in during recess several times last year asking if I’d help them with their division.
When listing reasons to stay I couldn’t leave out my team! I’m blessed at my school to have a fourth-grade team that believes that not just the students in our own classes are our students, but they are all our students. We all have different talents and we make sure everyone in our grade gets to benefit from all of them.
We often have other teachers on our team tell one of our students the same thing we’ve told them ten times, but finally, it makes sense. I’m sure some parents can relate to this. We don’t care who it is, the important thing is that it clicks and our students feel successful.
I’m so lucky to be a teacher. I’m privileged to be in a profession that I love and believe in. There are so many amazing things happening in classrooms across the country every day. We are doing great things. We are making a difference, even if it’s just one small success at a time.
I’m not a perfect teacher. I’m not a perfect fit for every kid, but I do care and try my hardest to constantly learn and improve. This world needs good teachers and I’m going to always try my hardest to be that teacher. I stay because someone is going to need me this year. It might be one of my new students, it might be one from ten years ago, it might be one from another class.
So why do I stay? How could I honestly ever leave!