An Essential Question: Why Do I Teach?

JANE ATTAH, GRADE 2 TEACHER: Essential questions are meant to be thought provoking and should lead to other questions – questions that stimulate our minds to continuously ask how and what teaching children should be all about.

I know with certainty that all teachers have been asked why they choose to teach. The response is guaranteed to be different and personal for each educator. While some of us like to teach younger, and elementary age children, and others prefer middle school, high school, or college, all of us are fortunate and blessed to step into the classroom, with the goal of working towards fulfilling this essential question.

The more time and years I spend in the classroom, the more I make self-reflection a part of my teaching journey. In Gloria Durka’s book The Teacher’s Calling, she elaborates on teaching as a vocation and how those who teach can tap into their hearts and discover their true purpose for teaching. After fifteen years in the classroom, I can state with absolute conviction that I have found my vocation. Here is how I continue to find unending joy in teaching.

Learning Together

I enjoy school and everything related to learning. I see myself as a lifelong learner and I find fulfillment learning alongside my students. Each day in the classroom is an experience of wonder. It’s important that my students know I am excited to be in their presence. My second graders think it’s hilarious when I tell them I am teaching them so that they can be smarter than me.

That’s the way it should be, because our students should be taught to know more, be inquisitive, and become more than the previous generation. I assume the role of facilitator and this allows me to see each student’s capabilities elevated. I want to plant the seed so that my students come into the classroom knowing that my main task is to give guidance and help them navigate their personal journey towards learning. This is truly humbling.

Being Authentic

Children are always watching and listening. It’s important to practice what I preach, and I do not hold back from teaching with high expectations. My students know I put 100% effort towards daily-differentiated instructions and character development. I expect them to be equally committed and responsible learners.

When students observe a diligent work ethic, showing grit, and having a positive growth mindset, they model this. As a mother, I encourage my own children to apply themselves to every task they undertake. Part of my teaching pedagogy is having zero tolerance for laziness and this mentality is evident in the classroom. The dividends of hard work pay off in the long run.

A Responsive Classroom Environment

Creating a classroom where each student feels respected, safe, seen, and heard is paramount. This does not happen without making time for students to gather and share their feelings, ideas, hopes and dreams. The classroom becomes an extension of home where everyone is supported and we become a community of learners.

At the beginning of each school year, I vow to build stamina in my students and create a culture of belonging. We reflect on our diverse backgrounds and celebrate our shared and unique differences. One of my goals is to instill in my students that all they need to be successful is to come to school with their minds.

Nurturing a responsive classroom atmosphere is being a champion for my students and cheering their efforts. Cultivating empathy is also at the core of responsive teaching. A responsive classroom calls upon students to apply themselves and to be engaged learners.

I feel so rewarded when my students comfortably and confidently answer “yes” to the question, “If I try today, do I have a chance of being successful?” This question is a gentle push and encouragement for them to persevere. The question also implies that mistakes are okay.

Enduring Relationships

Building trust with students and parents is a key component to successful teaching practices. There is a saying by George Washington Carver that, “all learning is understanding relationships,” and I am a firm believer. Finding unique attributes and qualities in my students allows me to connect with them on a personal level.

At times, it can be exhausting to hear endless stories of pets, weekend soccer games, visits to grandparents, cousins, sleepovers, birthday parties, upcoming road trips, dance lessons, etc. But, making time to listen to these stories lays the foundation for enduring relationships.

Students quickly learn that you care about them, and the things that matter to them, and that you are a good listener. In a nutshell, I envision teaching to be just like parenting. This dedication to parenting empowers me to embrace educating and nurturing my students whole-heartedly.

I have learned over the years that every parent’s wish is to know how his or her child is engaged in the classroom – interacting with peers, embracing academics, and demonstrating character. To build rapport with parents, I establish open lines of communication, and parents eagerly anticipate any news I can provide. I want to build trust that I am part of a team, working with parents towards the shared goal of creating an optimal environment for their child’s success.

Collegiality and Co-Teaching

It is a wonderful feeling to come to school and work with colleagues who are like-minded and share an enthusiasm for teaching. I have been fortunate to work with amazing associate teachers who share my passion and vision for teaching and learning.

I have also enjoyed the mentorship of teachers. I experienced a co-teacher position as I pursued a Master’s degree and I take pride in being able to work with young men and women who are considering teaching as a profession.

It’s essential for me to have a good working relationship with my co-teacher and include them in all aspects of classroom practices. I do not entertain any feelings of superiority or allow “control” to permeate the working relationship.

My co-teacher should feel he/she is a partner in the classroom. I purposefully choose my pronouns carefully when I communicate to students, saying, “we,” or “us.” A positive co-teaching relationship makes coming to school even more enjoyable.

Why Do I Teach?

There are endless reasons why I teach. Like all essential question the answer will continue to evolve through self-reflection and mindful-attention, as I continue to teach from the heart and find joy in the experience.

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