Becoming a Teacher is Becoming More

Over 20 years ago one of my high school teachers said something to me that still rings in my ears. How do we respond to those who tell us they are considering becoming teachers? What messages do we send?

“But you could do so much more!”

I still remember standing there in my high school physics teacher’s classroom, momentarily frozen as those words echoed around the room.

His words weren’t a critique of my latest lab report, or the research paper I’d turned in. He wasn’t even criticizing the chaotic condition of my locker.

He was reacting to my declaration: “I’m going to college to major in secondary English education. I want to be a high school English teacher.”

“But you could do so much more,” he replied.

For a moment I found myself doubting my decision. Here was one of the heroes, the scientist-turned-teacher who had made physics–PHYSICS, of all things–something I enjoyed learning! I wanted to inspire future generations just as he had inspired me, only using Shakespeare and Hemingway, not the equation for velocity.

We all know it’s a challenge in education to attract bright, intelligent, motivated, passionate people to the field. I’ve heard students–even my middle schoolers—comment, “My parents say they’ll support just about any job I want to do, except teaching.” What’s worse: some of those statements have been made by teachers’ kids.

Yes, we work in a field where over 30% of new teachers leave within the first three years. We work in a field with high demands. The hours are long. The work can be frustrating and arduous.

But it is an amazing field, too. It is so wonderful to watch a struggling student suddenly experience the “light bulb” moment, when confusing new skills or concepts suddenly become clear. When I found a poem slipped under my door, written by a student who moved on from my classroom to high school, I smiled and proudly tacked that poem up by my desk. I tucked a letter written to me by one of my students in my briefcase. Writing in the third person, she penned: “She taught us how to think.”

Every day, as I greet those faces coming into my door, some arriving with smiles, some looking serious, some with dark circles caused by allergies or asthma or poor sleep or worries, I remember that for the next class period, all of those faces are counting on me to help them become better writers, readers, speakers, listeners, and thinkers. It is a huge responsibility.

And that is exactly why we need passionate, compassionate, energetic, thoughtful, brave young people to enter the field, even if others feel they “could do more.”

I was fortunate to have several high school teachers I deeply respected, including my supportive English teacher, band director, and choir director. I marched off to college that fall for one of the biggest adventures of my life. I fell in love with the middle grades through my field experiences, watching the way my cooperating teachers balanced the social and emotional needs of preadolescents with academics and magically forged bonds that fostered learning. Twenty-three years later, I am still just as passionate–or maybe even more so–about teaching.

But those words have stuck with me. “You could do so much more.”

So I have. I have mentored new teachers. I became one of the first teachers in my school district to earn National Board certification, and I’ve helped support colleagues in their pursuit of certification. I’ve attended professional development sessions and taken the best ideas and put them into practice to benefit my students, and I’ve shared with my colleagues at local, state, and national conferences.

My teacher was right. I do so much more, because I can.

So when someone says to you, “I’ve been thinking about becoming a teacher,” pause for a moment. What is the “so much more” that you do? What is the “so much more” that this person can bring to teaching? What response can we give to support and encourage others in doing so much more for our students?

 

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