Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why teach?

Teaching in a relatively hard to teach school seems to be a place to test the mettle of young would-be teachers.  We get a fair amount, they are generally very good and we have to weed out a few.  The first difficult question I ask a wannabe teacher is "Why do you want to teach?"

It's a valid question and one that I still get asked weekly - both by students, friends and acquaintences.   You can predict the failure of a teaching practicum with a fair degree of accuracy with this question.

If the answer is I don't know, or it was all I could do, the motivation to overcome adversity will likely not be there and the student will struggle until they can answer it.

If the answer is I love students, they might make it through, but the "teacher as an entertainer" model better really suit them because teaching for love is a pretty stupid reason that hits a hurdle with the first class that doesn't like you.  You won't be doing what kids want to do most of the time (unless you have thrown the syllabus out the window from a math class) and in classes of 30 it is rare to achieve this.

If the answer is that I love learning or I think I could do a better job than my teachers, then there is hope.  It's not the answer that I'm looking for, but young teachers can get by with either.  One is based in the idea that I can learn to be better (reflective practice) and the second is based on a pre-conceived notion of what not to do.  Strangely enough either of these can work and lead to successful careers in teaching.  I feel for these teachers through, as the end product tends to be unhappiness, as learning is only one component in teaching and competing with a bad memory is hard to sustain.

The answer to my mind is I need to teach.  It is my vocation and my desire, it dominates my thinking and I get a real buzz out of seeing others achieve.  It gives you your connection to your students.  When you find the kid or mature age teaching student that understands that teaching is at its heart a vocation, mentor them, harden them up and find a way to get them through.  The concept is based in a selfless desire,  a fire in the belly that keeps many of us going even when we're battling to get students through and our own personal dilemmas.

Hand in hand with this idea, my grandmother taught me that the gift is in the giving, whenever I feel down, I look for a way to help others.  It's a key element to teaching and ties to teacher motivation.. She also taught me not to be a patsy and that goes together with it.

A more involved question is "why teach in a hard to staff school?"   The elephant in the room is that many will assume you're not good enough to teach elsewhere.  For some it is about ease of access to the rewards of seeing students fly (they've got further to go so it is easier to make happen), for others the ability to right a social wrong, for others the lack of teaching demands and for others it is returning to the community the time put into you.

They're a gutsy choice for young teachers, as they are far from the easy option.  With the right support though it is both rewarding and contributes to society in a way leafy green roles can't.  There is something special about watching a family escape poverty cycles through education.  Low SES schools are not for everyone but are the home for many of us that seek to make a difference.

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