Ah teaching… a profession with such strong memories attached to it for so many of us, always being highly debated about, and loved or hated on, or both at the same time. Teaching can be seen as a thankless, lonely, stressful and low-paying job, so the question I usually get is why? Why would you subject yourself to such misery, right? If you notice, I used the word CAN, teaching can be all those terrible things or it CAN be the most rewarding, entertaining, beautiful and enjoyable career, it all depends on what you create. For some, teaching is a second career choice, a stepping stone on the way to something seen as more prestigious, or something that just pays the bills. For me, it’s always been my passion. It’s what makes my eyes grow larger and my voice louder when asked for opinions about it. I get overly excited by the back-to-school aisles in July, notebooks, multi-colored pens and lunchboxes. I wouldn’t trade all of the challenges teaching brings, for they lead to the countless unpredictable glimmers of love, hope and success I have been lucky enough to be a part of in so many of my student’s stories.
So why do I teach? I teach for…
The Light Bulb Moments
As an educator of students with neurological and learning differences I have the opportunity to work with a population of students that many others before me have given up on. Many of them reach me defeated with low self-esteem academically. Being a part of their “light bulb” moments is like no other experience. When I have explained a concept frontwards, backwards, up and down and presented it visually, verbally and kinesthetically and the student has that one moment when it all makes sense; there is truly no greater joy and all of the work put in was worth it. These moments can be challenging to arrive to, and take a lot of relationship and trust building. I always try to look for the good in my students, (this is easier to do for some students then others I may add), but when I look for the best in them, I am amazed at how much talent, ingenuity, empathy and good I find in the students others have labeled as a lost cause. They rise above my expectations and become young scholars eager to learn.
The Happiness, Humor and Laughs
Being a teacher not only means having a crowd forced to find humor in my cheesy jokes, but also provides endless entertainment with what students come up with. While teaching a small group math lesson to a group of 7th grade students the period before lunch, one of my students with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome stated “Ms. Younkers I am so hungry, my stomach hurts me worse than Justin Bieber’s new single.” Not only was this a hilarious moment for me, but I was ecstatic to explain to this student who was quite literal and very serious he had just told a great joke! The things kids come up with is endlessly entertaining, when I focus on the happiness and humor that is what I get in the classroom. I realize I am a true teacher of 14 and 15 year old boys often at adult gatherings when someone is talking and uses a common word like balls, I often loose it in laughter and have to compose myself.
The Moments of Frustration That Lead to Moments of Success
I teach for the moments of frustration with students because most often after those moments is a point of turn around and times of success follow shortly. That sounds crazy to want to be a teacher during the frustrating times the ones that make you feel like you might break. However, I am grateful for the challenges because they make the celebrations of success that much sweeter. I have seen this often with my high school students, who I suggest should just listen to recordings of my voice reminding them to write down their homework, study for tests, make notecards, advocate for themselves, etc. I had a student who after getting through the year, painfully listening to my constant reminders, brought me his college acceptance letter from Albright University with a huge smile on his face, it was his top choice. All of the moments of frustration with him, the retaking tests and the notecards made, the failed classes lead us to this moment of success. It is lots of little moments and things every day that add up to a bigger picture.
Being a teacher allows for endless creative opportunities; last year in an attempt to bring a real world connection into my transitions classroom, I had students work on resumes and then participate in a day of mock interviews utilizing members of our school’s board. The students and adults all loved it. I can literally have any idea and then make it happen in my classroom, there are no limits. I get to be creative while challenging and shaping minds with new opportunities and experiences.
The Lifelong Learning
My students have taught me more in the past few years than I may have ever been able to teach myself or them, receiving is the natural result of giving I believe. The students I have worked with display the highest level of resilience; despite all they have faced within their young lives, they have taught me to not lose the fight in pushing myself to be and do better. There is constant reflection, teachable moments, and knowledgeable co-workers in the field of education that allow for endless learning. I have this amazing power and responsibility to add value to student’s lives and help them be better humans, as they navigate growing-up, in return they do the same for me.
The Extended Family
When working with other like-minded individuals work often becomes an extension of home and co-teachers, administration, students and parents become extended family. Working with special education students affords the opportunity for close relationships to build with families. I love teaching because those I see every day become my tribe.
….These are the reasons I teach. As in anything in life there is good and bad in it all, I just choose to see the good and hold on and build that up rather than to focus on all that is terrible. It really isn’t about the profession of teaching that is why I do what I do, it is for the inspiring souls I meet along the way. Plus the school supply aisle will always be my favorite place to visit!