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Does knowing why you are a teacher matter?

I recently read a post on X (Twitter) that was speaking to how teachers needed to go back to their ‘why’ during this current climate of instability and attacks from the public. I had an instant, emotional reaction. (I may be willfully misremembering the original post as it led me into a spiral of reflection and questioning, but I know that it felt wrong.) I was upset because it wasn’t respecting the hard work that goes into what I do, every single day. I was upset because it felt manipulative and condescending; it disrespected the professionalism of my colleagues and me.

So, let’s start at the beginning. Why do teachers become teachers?

I know why I became a teacher. I truly believe I’m hardwired, in my DNA, for this occupation. Some would explain it as my “calling”. And it’s true; I really struggle to see what else I could be doing or what skills I have, that mesh so beautifully in a classroom, as transferable to any other field.

I knew from a young age, I was going to be a teacher. When I was in university, and it was challenging to get hired in Ontario as a teacher, I couldn’t come up with a plan B if I wasn’t accepted to a Faculty of Education program. I didn’t know after my B.Ed what I would do if I didn’t get hired because I am a teacher.

I was one of the lucky ones who was hired right out of Teacher’s College so I never had to find something else.

I do have a natural aptitude for teaching BUT it isn’t enough. My innate instincts, skills, and talents aren’t enough to make and keep me as a good teacher.

I didn’t get into teaching in my early 20s with the lofty goals of ‘making a difference’ or ‘changing lives’ or ‘setting up the world to be a better place by working with the next generation of leaders” or whatever else is being advertised to get people to be teachers. I became a teacher because it came naturally to me, it was a good job for an independent female, and it allowed me to continue to be a learner for life. If I couldn’t afford to keep paying for courses, then I’d have a job that would support and pay for me to learn.

Now, this might separate me from my colleagues. You read of the teachers who “love kids”. I don’t hate kids but I don’t “love” kids. I love my husband, I love my dog, but I don’t “love kids”. I like being in relationship with students. However, at the end of each workday, these kids belong to someone else who hopefully loves them. 

I love humanity and so I treat everyone with kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness. If a student has a need, I will do everything in my power to meet that need just as I would for members of my community. But, with almost 90 students each semester, these are “transient” relationships. These students will move on and I will have been in relationship with them for 75 minutes each day for 20 weeks (plus the time that they take up after hours with marking and planning and me worrying about meeting their needs tomorrow). I don’t love them. I laugh with, listen to, and care about kids. But loving kids, that isn’t my “why”.

You’ll hear the public pointing to the ease of the job and all of the great holidays. Not a chance does anyone stay teaching because of a summer off! This profession is way too challenging to make 8 weeks of rest worth it. And it’s true, only someone else who has been in the classroom understands fully the difficulties that educators face.

So, do I need to know my ‘why’ to keep going? No. At this point, I know I have to work. Would knowing my ‘why’ make it easier to go to school each day? Not for me. Because I’m good at it isn’t enough of a reason for me to get up before the sun and return home in the dark each day. I go to work, like everyone else in my

neighbourhood, because it pays the bills, allows me the ability to retire, and gives me purpose.

Would it be harder to go to work if I was a struggling educator? Absolutely!

So instead of focusing on the decisions I made before my 25th birthday, let’s focus on what makes me valuable in the education sector. Let’s focus on what it is about me being at my school, with my students, in my classroom that is worthwhile for everyone I come into contact with and for me.

Instead of asking why I’m a teacher, let’s focus on why I’m a good teacher. Isn’t that really the important point each day?

Shouldn’t we all be focused on doing everything we can to improve the success of each of our colleagues in our schools? Shouldn’t the parents of my students be invested in my improvement and successful implementation of the expectations and responsibilities of my role? Shouldn’t my students want a teacher who is good at their job? Shouldn’t my administration and board be invested in my growth and development so that I don’t stagnate and so that I get better each day, each class, each semester, each school year?

It doesn’t matter if “I love kids” or “it’s my calling” or “I’m in it for the pension plan”, it matters what I do to be good at my job.

The fact of the matter is, however each of us get here, whatever reasons led us here, we are teachers. What we do, we do as teachers. Let’s reflect on our practice, not our path, that led us to our classroom.

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