Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why Do I Teach?

I teach because of the students.  I teach because I love to create lessons that are relevant to students.  I teach because I love to see the light bulbs go on when a student finally grasps a difficult concept.  I teach because it is rewarding to know I am preparing my students for life, work, and success. Students are the future, they need to know what to do with it.

I was a Navy wife the first year of my teaching career.  My husband and I calculated that he was only earning 50 cents an hour, so it was obvious I didn’t go into the teaching profession because of the money.  After graduation, I was idealistic enough to think I was going to have a classroom full of students who would sit and listen to me and gladly do all my assignments.  My first classes were in a junior high school, in Norfolk, Virginia, at the height of desegregation. Having grown up in the southwest, my experience with prejudice and segregation was limited to Walter Cronkite’s reports on the nightly news. 

I quickly learned that I had to create lessons that would be relevant to my students.  These kids had bigger problems in their lives than conjugating verbs and memorizing mythical gods and goddesses: their brothers had just gotten out of jail; their mothers had just given birth and didn’t know where the father was; they had seven siblings they had to cook for.  So I taught the curriculum with the students’ needs in mind.  I had them use the word “jive” in a variety of ways to construct sentences.  I created a drama club so they could release some of their pent-up energy and anger.  So often today, administrators require that their teachers follow a prescribed curriculum and submit minute-by-minute lesson plans.  Do the principals do this in the best interest of the students, or to appease the school district in order to preserve their own positions?  Teachers should be able to use creativity and flexibility when teaching the curriculum thus making it relevant to students and their futures.

There is nothing more rewarding than to see the light bulb go on in a student’s eyes that says, “I understand now.”  The challenge in teaching is to take a difficult concept and present it in a variety of ways so the light bulbs will eventually shine all over the classroom.  Math is not my subject, but I have taught business math in my personal finance class.  Sometimes I teach like I learn myself, and when it comes to math, that may be a little unconventional.  I have found that if a student doesn’t get it, then I change the way I present it so they do get it.  Teachers can’t do that if they are restricted as to when and how something is to be taught.  A teacher is trained in methods and best practices, let them use the tools of the teaching trade, and let them teach.

In the song, Kodachrome by Paul Simon, he sings, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”  Are we presenting the curriculum in a way so the students can become critical thinkers?  Do the students know how high school is going to help them in their future?  I was lucky.  I got to teach a career class in business.  Every day I was able to tell the students why they were learning something and how they were going to use what they learned in their life and career.  The core academic subjects can be taught the same way.  Today, teachers are teaching so students can pass the standardized tests.  Once the test has been taken, the student forgets most of what they learned.  We should be preparing students to succeed in their personal lives as well as their future careers.

Teachers have a huge assignment.  They need to show students the relevance in their education.  They need to watch for the light bulbs of learning.  They need to allow students to think critically in order to be successful and prepare for life.  That’s why I teach, because students are our future.