In my last post, I began asking the four usual questions one encounters when they announce they want to become a teacher. I started with the easiest response, at least for me. For some I think that we select our discipline before we actually decide to become teachers! Naturally, I love my chosen discipline (History) and so it is very simple to explain why I want to teach history.
What I have noticed though in the last two to three years is that I have continually asked myself just why I want to become a teacher in light of all the troubles that plague education and the classroom. Why would I want to trouble myself with continually changing policy, curriculum, and regulations, the continual struggles with school administrators, classroom discipline problems, etc?
So, if I haven’t said so already, my second question is, “Why do you want to become a teacher?”
The closer I get to actually becoming a teacher, the more concrete my reasons become. My initial desire was to teach the subject I love; to infuse in others my own love for history. But the closer I get to becoming a teacher the more I realize that you cannot become a teacher for just that reason. Let me just start by quoting from a textbook I’m using in a public policy class I’m taking:
“Today, schools are expected to do many things: resolve racial conflict and inspire respect for ‘diversity’; provide values, aspirations, and a sense of identity to disadvantaged children; offer various forms of recreation and mass entertainment (football games, bands, choruses, cheerleading, and the like); reduce conflict in society by teaching children to get along well with others and to adjust to group living; reduce the highway accident toll by teaching students to be good drivers; fight disease and poor health through physical education, health training, and even medical treatment; eliminate unemployment and poverty by teaching job skills; end malnutrition and hunger through school lunch and milk programs; fight drug abuse and educate children about sex; and act as custodians for teenagers who have no interest in education but whom we do not permit either to work or to roam the streets unsupervised. In other words, nearly all the nation’s problems are reflected in demands placed on the nation’s schools. And, of course, these demands are frequently conflicting” (Dye 2008).
To be a teacher you have to want to be around young people all day; you have to want to teach them skills and values that have nothing to do with history, but everything to do with education, learning, and life. You have to be willing to be a father, mother, teacher, friend, counselor, life coach, drill sergeant, priest, police officer, judge, and so much more. All of these roles are thrust upon a teacher regardless of fairness or legitimacy. As a male teacher, you unfortunately may often be the only positive (hopefully!) male role model they encounter during the day (particularly considering the latest announcement about birth figures and single mothers).
While being a role model is not my primary motivation for becoming a teacher (but understanding that it can be a by-product of the profession), I do seek to impact the next generation. Moreover, I seek to be around a generation who is often termed lazy, entitled, self-seeking, and narcissistic, among other labels. But I’ve seen and worked with and lived with young people (my children) who are not these things (admittedly, my children are sometimes lazy!). I have seen young people at debate and speech (NFL) tournaments, at JROTC competitions, at FBLA conferences and tournaments. When I see these kids, I see kids to whom I willingly entrust this country.
But when I really consider why I want to become a teacher, I am struck by the desire to show them how history is important to them; how the skills we use in studying history can be carried over to every other area of our lives – skills of reading, research, writing, investigation, analysis, evaluation. These skills are imperative to learn and practice in everyday life. I want students to see history as something they can enjoy and is a part of their daily lives. Consider my example from yesterday about the story of the donut. I mean who doesn’t like donuts? (If you don’t, please say nothing). Learning about where the donut came from and how it has changed is pretty cool to learn (not that I would teach that in a history class perhaps…or would I?!?). History can be fun to learn and fun to play around in. The analogy of history being a sandbox and you’re just there to dig around in it and build stuff is just great.
I desire to be a teacher for all these reasons and more. Teaching, as illustrated by Dye, is a challenge. It is a voyage of discovery. It is giving back to society what was given to you. It is constantly learning. It is a calling for which there is no cure except to simply do it.
Why did you want to become a teacher?
Tomorrow, I discuss those teachers who inspired me and are just as big a reason I decided to teach as any other reason.