On Tuesday a student asked me why I want to be a teacher. I’d just introduced myself to a class of sixth-graders, and they’d decided to interrogate me. I knew that the question was a legitimate one because the students weren’t asking things like my favorite color or how many pets I have. In fact, I’d just been asked how I’m able to pay for college. These people were dead serious.
Why do I want to be a teacher? I’ve written more essays on this topic than I care to remember. I’ve looked tenured professors and school principles in the eye and given my answer. So what was it about hearing this question from an eleven-year-old that made me sweat bullets?
At the end of the day, it’s the eleven-year-olds that I answer to.
I’m accountable to every last one of my students. Squirrelly, ornery, frustrating beings that they sometimes are, they are not simply my clients, but my supervisors as well. My student Tuesday morning politely asked why I want to be a teacher, but I heard the real question loud and clear: What business do you have here?
“I want to teach,” I told her, “because I believe that people your age are capable of far more than anyone else thinks you are, and far more than you’ve imagined, and I want to do whatever I can to give you the tools and experiences to achieve those things.”
The students applauded.
That’s a pretty broad answer, and there is a lot more to it, but I think that in that one under-the-gun, run-on sentence I truly summed up my reason for teaching. This is one of the greatest lessons I have learned as an educator: to teach is to adopt a career of servitude.
I always hear a bunch of mush about how teachers shape the future, and it’s beginning to sound like a broken record, I know. But it still blows my mind every time I think that these people will be running the show when I am once again wearing diapers and drooling on myself. They will be the ones in charge of the world my grandchildren are born into.
There are twenty-six people sitting in desks in front of me right now with their heads bowed over ISTEP prep essays. All they can think about is if they will get an early release this afternoon because of the snow. But I want every last one of them to have the world.