Why I Teach
Talk to me. I am an educator. Ask me why I do this job. Ask me why I face down 118 high school students every day. Most importantly, ask me why I STILL do this job after 16 years. My answers will not change. I do this job because I can’t imagine doing anything else. I can’t imagine another job that would allow me to experience every emotion on a daily basis. My day ranges from the endorphin high of a great lesson, to the frustration of yet more forms to fill out, to the sadness and helplessness of knowing I can not help a student, try as I might. I can’t imagine trying to fix a widget when I could be trying to help a child. I can’t imagine entering data when I could be entering the struggle with my kids, although more and more data entry is what I’m asked to do.
Teaching is the most magnificent of struggles. And every day I am exhausted from the fight.
As teachers, we are expected to answer to many different groups. It starts with the student. But every student has a parent. Every parent has a computer and an email account and access now to online grades. Every parent can use that email account to reach out to my department head, or my principal. But there is also the board of education, and the general public in our town who want to protect their property taxes, and the media and the state and federal government. So, yes, I do feel that I answer to all of them. But the child sits at a desk in my class. The child is the one who needs to learn from me. The child is my focus.
When I asked my juniors today to think of a moment that was exciting for them in an educational setting, not a single one mentioned a moment from high school. While a part of me hoped they would say “Every moment with you, Ms. Genser,” I knew I had to be realistic. The things they remembered were playing a farmer during ‘Colonist Day’ or ‘Japan Day’ in second grade, or when a fourth grade teacher told one student that if she got three As on science tests, she would help her come up with a scheme to get a certain boy to notice her. These were their moments. They laugh a lot in my classroom. And they learn a lot in my classroom. But will they remember moments from my classroom? Probably not. The best I can hope for is that they remember me.
In this age of testing and retesting and testing some more, high school has become sad and weary. It is slumped shoulders, red eyes, and apathy. Every day, every period, I spend the first five minutes cajoling them away from self-defeating emotions. Every day I sell them on my class, on the activity, on me. Because if I don’t convince them that this class is what they want and need, that what I am teaching is not in the service of some test, then whatever I try to teach will be wasted. More and more, I spend meetings with colleagues in the same way. Because they walk into my room with slumped shoulders, red eyes, and apathy weighing them down as well. So, before we fill out yet another form, or figure out how to work yet another initiative into our next unit, or create yet another assessment to prove our kids are growing, we talk about our own kids, and our lives outside of this building. We watch something funny, and we laugh.
There is so much I wish I could change about how we teach our students, and how we treat our teachers. Maybe more than anything, as teachers we need to remember why we “bought in” to begin with. We need to remember that high school can be filled with joy, too, and even if we can’t get rid of the testing, perhaps we can allow our students to play roles, and experiment, and work together, because that is how they will work in the future. If we want them to be able to be leaders and team members, we need to teach them how. If we want them to problem solve, then we have to allow them to find solutions by themselves and together. We can not expect that there is one right answer, and we can not hold their hands. If we allow them to enter the struggle, then apathy will not weigh them down. They will have no choice but to work. From the struggle will come engagement, instead of apathy. From engagement will come learning. If I can bring this back to my classroom, I may yet make it another 16 years in this profession.