"Why did you become a teacher?"
I get asked this quite a bit in tones ranging from sincere inquiry to rhetorical distaste. And now that I have my Ph.D the question and flavor have morphed into "What are you going to do now that you have a doctorate?" The expectation is that I should move up, as if teaching is a stepping stone toward something greater or more important.
I've never viewed it that way.
I became a teacher for two reasons. First, I love school. Our educational system is deeply flawed but if you can tune out incompetent administrators and misguided politicians there is a heart. That heart rests in connection.
Connection leads to my second reason.
I became a teacher to be a steady presence in a child's life, to be someone who will listen. Adults have so much power to alter every aspect of a child's day. How we react to things can deeply influence a child. This can manifest in how we respond, quite literally, to spilled milk or engage a child who is confused about a concept.
It is my responsibility to nurture that child so he or she feels safe to express confusion. I am continually aware of my responsibility to be a loving, positive influence. I do not always succeed. There are days I am tired or not feeling well and on those days I am not always the teacher I want to be. But I get through those moments and try to forgive myself for being less than my students deserve.
So, this year on my birthday I was touched to receive a birthday card from a student I taught in kindergarten and first grade. She is currently in fourth grade and now her little sister is in my first grade class. Her card contained a semantic web describing how she sees me.
Her little sister's card had just four words; funny, good, cool, and crazy.
I'll take it!
...They also gave me a copy of Curious George in Yiddish!