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The Big Why?

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

The object of teaching a child is to enable him [or her] to get along without his [or her] teacher. ― Elbert Hubbard

June, July, and August .... that was the answer!

Decades ago, I asked my Uncle why he was a teacher, and this was his answer: June, July, & August!! It was said with a smile on his face and sparkle in his eye, and although this was probably not really true, he did indeed enjoy his three months of summer vacation!

Not too long ago, I discovered Simon Sinek’s book “Find Your Why.” I was reminded of this little exchange with my Uncle, and it got me thinking - why AM I a teacher?

Oddly, until then, I had never really thought about WHY I became a teacher and/or WHY I am still teaching!

Let me make things clear. I’m not talking about the overall philosophical ponderings of teaching as a profession and what makes us drawn to it. The desire to make a difference, to change the world, to shape, enlighten, and stimulate the minds of young people, to give children a better chance for a better future, and so on… these are all very profound ideas and certainly part of drives us towards teaching.

But that’s not what I’m getting at. I’m talking about the real reason behind choosing to take that first position as a teacher or choosing to study education.

I’m talking about YOU and me!! Why are WE teachers??

Why is it that WE want to make a difference, to change the world, to shape, enlighten, and stimulate the minds of young people, to give children a better chance for a better future, and so on.

So, when I asked myself the question, “Why are you a teacher?” my first thoughts were the NOT-reasons!

For the money – NOT!

For the fame – NOT!

For the 9-5 working hours – NOT!

For the vacation time – NOT!

For the societal recognition – NOT!

For the implementation of educational policies and reforms – NOT!

… just to name a few. I’m sure that every teacher out there could add at least one or two NOTs to that list!

So, WHY did I get into teaching? And even more interesting … WHY am I still in teaching?

You could say that it had always been my dream since I was a little girl. I used to “play” school and teach all of my dolls and stuffed animals the exciting subject of “worksheets”. I would get leftover worksheets from my teachers (printed on a Ditto machine, still with that familiar ink smell on them!). I would pass them out to my “students”, explain things on my little chalkboard, and discipline those unruly students in my class. Mr. Monkey seemed to be in a permanent time-out in the corner!

However, my childhood play was NOT an early career path. I had aspirations of being a hairdresser or a nuclear physicist, until I spent a year abroad in Denmark. After that, my career path became not a profession, but a destination. Whatever educational program I could get accepted into in Denmark became my mission. That led to a Bachelor’s degree in business languages (English, French, and Danish) and then a Master’s degree in English and Intercultural studies.

And even then, my dream career was to become an international businesswoman traveling the world helping international companies and corporations navigate the complexities of intercultural communication.

So, what happened? why teaching??

Simple. When I graduated from college, I needed a job. And nobody was looking for an intercultural expert. However, somebody was looking for a temporary part-time English teacher at the technical high school near me. So, I applied, got the job and 25+ years later, I am still at the same school, still teaching English, and still loving my job!

So, yes - my path-to-teaching story is a bit unique. Not every teacher ends up on the other side of the world working in an educational system that is different from what they grew up in.

However, WHY I remain teaching is not necessarily unique.

The reasons that I continue teaching have very little to do with why I started.

Yes, I still need a job, but there have been a lot of jobs out there throughout the years that I never felt compelled to pursue. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have experienced several bouts of disenchantment along the way. I have perused the want ads, I have doubted my impact, I have wondered what’s out there, I have been sick-and-tired of the ins and outs of the teaching profession, but I stayed and became a better teacher along the way.

And even though I never articulated or contemplated the reasoning for not really pursuing other opportunities, it all really boils down to the reasons WHY I remain a teacher.

At the risk of disappointing my Uncle - June, July, and August are NOT my reasons for staying in the teaching profession for 25 years!

The overall (BIG philosophical) reason why I teach is to enlighten my students so that they will feel empowered to achieve their goals in life. (…and to help them make as few grammatical errors as possible, write powerful essays, and give remarkable presentations on a wide variety of topics.)

But the real reasons I continue to teach are …

I truly love seeing the proverbial light bulb go off when a student “gets it”.

I truly enjoy the company of my students and the collectivity of their uniqueness.

I truly appreciate being able to work with some of the smartest people I know.

I truly feel proud when a student starts by saying “I’ve never read a whole book.” and then comes and asks if he can borrow the next one in the series.

I truly miss students who have graduated and sometimes for a long time.

I truly feel blessed to be as much the learner as the teacher as I find new ways, topics, approaches, etc. to enlighten my students!

When I experience a disenchanting moment in the daily ups and downs of teaching, I take some time to remind myself WHY I started and WHY I’m still teaching. This always revitalizes my feelings of purpose, excitement, and enchantment!

So, why are YOU a teacher???

Here’s a free worksheet to help you reflect on your big teaching why.

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