Why Do Teachers Teach?
By Alyschia Conn
Why do teachers teach? It is a rather simple question, however the question, what is a teacher, must be addressed first. Merriam-Webster’s definition of a teacher is “one whose occupation is to instruct” (Merriam-Webster, 2008, para. 1). That is a rather one dimensional definition of a teacher, as teachers these days, offer so much more to the class than just the information. They offer themselves. A collective definition of a teacher, is someone who “yearns to help children learn, watch them grow, and make a meaningful difference in the world” (Teacher Support Network, 2007, para. 2). This definition must be the main reason as to why individuals pursue teaching as a career. Generally the pay is low to fair, but the overall rewards are much greater, for as a teacher one can touch the hearts of the young and open their minds in order to tap their thirst for knowledge.
The Long Road
Becoming a teacher is a lengthy process obtained by numerous routes, such as night school or attending a four year college. Regardless of the process it is important to obtain at least a Bachelors degree in the desired teaching area, as well as a teacher certification which should include clinical experience (Lewis, L., Parsad, B., Carey, N., Bartfai, N., Farris, E. & Smerdon, B., 1999, para. 3). The average starting salaries were about $31,704 in the year 2003-04, whereas the average teaching salary was about $46,597 for the year 2004-2005 (Pearson Education Inc, table). Compare this to the average cost of living in the United States today which is continually rising (Boskey, para. 3).
Teaching is not a pocket cushioning job, but one with long hours and a flat rate of pay. The income of course, depends on where the teacher is instructing. Private schools generally pay their teachers less for they do not need to have proper credentials, whereas schools located in urban areas pay more for those with proper credentials (Vedder, 2003, Public vs. Private, para. 1). Despite the lower pay for private school teachers, it is the students, the teacher’s indivdiual commitment to faith, and the freedom provided by not being governmentally run that attracts teachers (Vedder, 2003, Public vs. Private). Considering the figures above, it is clear that teaching is not a lucrative profession. It is the perogative of these individuals to choose a career in teaching, and often they have a strong motive behind their decision. Perhaps teachers teach for personal gain, or they have the desire to spread knowledge, or to watch children reach their full potential beneath their instruction. Regardless of the reason, the reward must be substantial to compensate for the lack of monetary reward.
There are multiple factors in deciding to become a teacher. For one, it is a healthy alternative to other professions as the TDA’s research has found that about twice as many teachers truly enjoy their work, as opposed to those who have careers in marketing, IT and accounting (TDA, In Summary, para. 1). Although work is not truly, work, if it is enjoyed. For example, Beth Ashfield, a math teacher, spoke of her job with passion “I love my subject, but I know it’s not socially acceptable to say that… in school, I can be as enthusiastic as I want to be. I’m able to convey that enthusiasm to the students, to allow them to become confident and creative in their approach to the subject” (TDA, Beth Ashfield, Maths teacher, para. 1). Becoming a teacher was important for her, due to her great love of a particular subject, and the desire to share it with others in hopes that they might discover the same for themselves. As a teacher one is always learning, whether it is of one’s content material, or something new from a pupil. Being a teacher requires an open mind, for the teacher is always the student. A teacher guides his or her charges on a path to self discovery where they learn about the world, and ultimately, themselves.
Beyond passion, another reason that teachers teach is simply for the love of teaching. As stated by (Liston & Garrison, 2003) Love is a “creative, critical, and disruptive force in teaching and learning.” A teacher who loves his or her job will be a better teacher and have a greater impact on the students he or she influences. Classroom efforts to manage, instruct, and direct groups of twenty to thirty students frequently requires a feelings for others and an intuition that connects teacher to student and to subject matter. (Liston & Garrison, 2003) For the new teacher that multiple tasks entailed in this activity can be overwhelming. (Liston & Garrison, 2003) For the experienced teacher they can seem almost unconscious. (Liston & Garrison, 2003) This connection between students and teachers can sometimes be a form of love and concern for the well being of other human beings. A teacher must have a strong desire to see the well being of young students is advanced and know that at the end of the day they have played a small part in the bettering of these students. Most teachers truly have passion for what they do, but they also have a love for it as well.
There are points when teaching becomes a challenge, but it is those that thrive on the challenge of reaching kids who are truly the most effective. Though they may seem under appreciated, the individuals who instruct in our country’s challenge-schools, or schools located in poor urban areas, are very important. Laura Hendrickson conducted a study that looked into high-challenge urban schools, and how good teachers affect the students education. It was obvious that with three years of quality teaching the students performed almost nearly as well as those who were not situated in a high challenge school. Often teachers leave such places due to their struggles with reaching the children in those areas however, those that stayed had the following reasons; “relationships with students, rewards, instructional focus, collegiality, feeling needed and a desire to help others, challenges and parents” (Morris, 2007, Abstract para. 4). The teachers took their responsibility to not merely be educators, but also to provide different avenues of understanding so that all students could “master basic learning objectives” (Cotton, 2001, para. 3). These objectives were acquired through the encouragement and support of the teachers who established the connection between the student’s effort and his or her outcome, as opposed to luck or good fortune. The effort of these teachers was remarkable as they faced the challenges of the student’s unstable and sometimes uneducated backgrounds and found ways to reach the children by being flexible with their teaching style and creative with rewards (Cotton, 2001, para. 5).
Creativity Is Key
Beth Anders, once a physical education teacher, now heads the coaching faculty of the field hockey team at Old Dominion University. Her view on teaching was similar to that of Beth Ashfield, for she loves to teach and develop people. “Life is learning and to be part of people developing and acquiring knowledge. Every person is unique and the challenge is to find fun ways to guide individuals to learn and understand what they are interested in learning” (B. Anders, personal communication, February 2, 2008). There are many ways to be creative in the classroom, whether it is using projects, videos, and presentations, but what if the creativity stemmed from the teacher?
Being creative is important in teaching, for the students are the audience. No one knows this better than entertainers, who are creative and use their ingenuity to bring to life rather dull aspects of education. This in and of itself is talent, and there are those who devote themselves to that. Paul Keogh, a Modern Languages teacher had always aspired to be an entertainer, however, he chose teaching as his profession instead. He does not regret this choice for, he’s always got someone to perform for. He equated teaching to entertainment, but more importantly he remarks, “I love to see them growing personally, socially and academically” (TDA, Paul Keogh, Modern Languages teacher, para. 3). This statement itself encompasses the point of education, for there cannot be growth without learning, and learning stems from observing from someone of an educated status higher than one’s-self.
The rewards received by being a teacher are different than those received by someone like a salesman for example. If a salesman is doing well, he makes his quota, and he then earns his monetary bonus. It is possible that he receives a plaque to hang behind his desk stating that he was the number one salesman for this period in time. Teacher’s rewards are not so tangible, but rather, “they are rewarded more by witnessing their students succeed and follow their dreams than by any plaque “ (Daily Egyptian, 2005, para. 7). A group of school teachers who had participated in a study that looked into why teachers taught in high challenge schools, jointly agreed that what their students achieve under their instruction was reward enough for all the time that they devote to their students. “Student achievement was another reward the teachers discussed as a reason for staying. When their students were successful, the teachers felt incredibly rewarded.” (Morris, 2007, pg 58). The reward teachers receive is a feeling, and feelings are more special and memorable than gold and silver plaques hung stoicly on a wall proclamming an individuals success. For teaching, it is not about what the teachers can achieve, but what they can get their students to aceive, and through their students, reflects a teacher’s greatest achievement.
Review Questions To address the opening question, why do teachers teach? The answer is simple, “they teach for the love of children and to contribute to the well-being of all of us” (Teachers are Important, 1998, para. 4). It is something inside them. It is a drive, a force, a passion, a talent that they wish to dispel upon his or her students in order to watch them succeed. Choosing to be at teacher is not for the money, as a teacher’s monetary compensation is hardly adequate given all that they give to their students. Becoming a teacher is almost like heading a calling. It is not for the light at heart, but rather, for those who love children and people, who have a passion for education, and who love to share in that passion. Teachers yearn to see the burning desire to learn, and love to see the excitement of discovery, and that, is why teachers teach.
1) How does the average salary of a teacher compare to that of a teacher who is just beginning?
C. much greater
D. much smaller
2) Beth Ashfield speaks animately about why she teaches. What emotion shows through when she speaks of her reasons?
3) Explain what the teachers of ‘high-challenge’ urban schools provide to the students that they teach?
A. compassion and advice
B. encouragement and direction
C. encouragement and support
D. safety and security
4) The classroom can become a platform for leanring and growing for students, and teachers can bring their own flair to the class. What flair did Paul Keogn bring to the class, and did the students respond well to it?
A. Singing; the students loved it
B. Singing; the students hated it
C. Entertaining; the students hated it
D. Entertainging; the students loved it
5) What feedback rewards teachers the most?
A. Support from the PTA
B. Teacher Appreciation Week
C. Plaques and signs of honor
D. Witnessing students succeed
-Anders, B. (2008, Feb, 2). “Why Do Teachers Teach? ” In By Alyschia Conn. Email.
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1) A 2) C 3) D 4) D 5) D