Why I am a Teacher

I was recently asked to shed some light on the process of becoming a teacher by a casual acquaintance who is considering pursuing a career in English or art education.  I’m not sure that the following is what he expected to hear.  But for whatever reason, this is the bulk of what I told him:

There are typically two kinds of teachers who do well in the profession:  those who love their subject, and those who love kids.  The challenge is to accentuate whichever one you are NOT, at first, as proficient at, until you become both.

I was always a science nut, and was inspired to become a teacher by two science teachers I had in high school.  When I started teaching, I spent my first year being abjectly, disgustedly disappointed at how NOT fascinating most of my students found the subject.  The next year or two after that, I moved from a position of “what’s wrong with me,” to one where I learned to NEVER take anything a student says or does personally.

I also quickly learned that the success or failure of about 80% of my students had NOTHING to do with me — most of them were following ingrained patterns they had been wired to their entire life.  I take no credit for the kid who is now an engineer at NASA, nor do I feel that I am to blame for one particular student who dropped out of school last year after failing my biology class three years in a row.

The most important part of the job is to increase the stability of these kids’ lives.  To be a source of order in their worlds, many of which are more chaotic and horrific at 15 or 16 then I will ever know, or could ever imagine.  To challenge them to reach above and beyond themselves and their own expectations, without becoming just one more source of stress.

There are days I hate my job.  Thankfully, there are many more where I could not imagine doing anything else, and I marvel that I actually get paid to do something I love so much.

Lastly, and this treads much more into the realm of theology than you may care for (if so, feel free to take it with a grain of salt.)  I feel that I am called by God to be doing what I’m doing, at the time and place where I currently find myself.  Without the constant reminder that HE is my real boss, and I am just a tool in his belt, there would be no way I could do this.  I feel that I have made more impact and touched more lives NOT from the (rare) moments of pedagogical brilliance, but from the sacred moments where I find myself setting down my bag of papers to grade, my lunchbox, my laptop, and my coat so I can give my full attention to the student who has unexpectedly popped his or her head into my room to ask, “Mr. King, can I talk to you about…?”

Those are divine appointments.  And that’s really why I do what I do.

So there ya go. Just have Dustin Hoffman send me a signed picture of himself accepting the Oscar for the title role in “The Johnseeking Story” or whatever they decide to call it. I’ll be content with that, I guess.


6 Responses to “Why I am a Teacher”

  1. September 29, 2008 at 10:03 am

    The stability concept is so true. I really enjoyed reading that narrative of yours. We homeschool and it is for many of the same reasons that push you to teaching. There is room at the education table for all. It is very nice to know that you are out there educating our young adults.

  2. 2 bekabeka
    September 29, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Wow. I didn’t know you were so deep. Who is your inspiration?


    Ralph Nader, mostly. And I guess you too, since I don’t really know Ralph Nader.

  3. 3 Christi
    September 29, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Amen to that! Perfectly said.

  4. October 1, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Great Story– you do something that helps people, and you love the job, too. Perfect situation. Your blog is a refreshing change from the blame-contest.

  5. 5 Moosie
    October 18, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    You amaze and inspire me…when I grow up, I want to be just like you! Be Blessed!

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The random musings of a 30-something, West Texas high-school science teacher. Hoo-RAY.
September 2008
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