I Teach to Love
Standardized tests, depleted budgets and federal intrusion are making teachers’ jobs harder. A young educator explains what still draws people like her to the classroom.
Teachers are a special kind of human. Ask one why they chose to teach and most will tell you that it wasn’t their choice—teaching chose them. That’s my story.
I’ve known since kindergarten that teaching was the path I was made for. It was the path that I needed—not just wanted—to follow.
Teachers don’t just teach, they also love. When we walk into our classroom every day, our mission isn’t to squeeze every drop of information into our student’s brains before we send them home for the day. Our mission is to show every student that someone loves them, cares about them and is there for them every single day—all while still squeezing in every drop of information we can.
It’s absolute insanity, but we love it.
You Don’t Learn to Be a Teacher; You’re Born to Do It
Since the days of playing teacher’s helper in kindergarten, I’ve known that teaching is so much more than just passing on information. Every year since eighth grade, I’ve been in an elementary classroom in one form or another, whether it be independent studies, internships or field experiences. To be honest, I’d never sat down before and reflected on my true intentions with teaching or questioned why I even wanted to teach in the first place. I think back now and go, “How in the hell was that never a train of thought?” The answer is quite simple: I have no clue. It was always just something that I knew I needed to do.
Last year, I started teaching fifth grade—terrifying. I’d only ever had kindergarteners and third graders before. Fifth just seemed like a whole different ball game.
It ended up changing my life.
I lucked out in terms of mentor teachers, schools and students. My very first day, I walked in and it was like walking into my home. Throughout the semester, I had to write about both my solo teaching lessons and on my experience as a whole, which led me to truly reflect on myself and why I was there. Before my semester in fifth grade, I might have said that I wanted to be a teacher because I really like kids, or because I think it’s super badass that I get to play a role in forming the next generation, or because I just really liked school.
Teaching Taught Me How to Love
These things are all still true, but now I have a different outlook. I want to be a teacher but it's not just because I am a teacher. It’s true, my job is to throw all of the necessary information that I can into the heads of every student that walks in my classroom, but I also get to be their friend, their counselor, their encouragement, their structure and their safe place.
Most importantly, I get to love them. There wasn’t a single day that I walked into that fifth-grade classroom where I wasn’t so excited to get to love all 30 of those kids. Fifth grade taught me that the word “teach” is synonymous with the word “love.”
I’m not a mom, but I can imagine what it feels like to look at a small human and just be filled to the brim with pride and emotion, because that’s what happened three days a week for a semester—walking in to see these 30 faces turn, look at me and smile. I was reassured every single day that teaching is exactly what I need to be doing.
(I should add that I’m generally not an emotional person, so I'm always a little taken aback when I have conversations with students and have to resist the urge to hug them and tell them how proud I am of them.)
Since that fifth grade class, I’ve only had one field experience (kindergarten again), and it was cut short by COVID. But I noticed a change in myself, walking into that new classroom with the insight gained from the last one. I knew that not only was I there to learn from the students and my new mentor teacher, but also to be another adult in the room that got to love them all day. Another adult that greeted them with a smile each morning, gave them a high five as they went to lunch and hugged them at the end of the day.
Teaching Is a Rough Gig; Good Thing It’s Not Our Only One
I often feel like teachers are overshadowed by all of the negative and controversial parts of education—the standardized testing, unfair pay, common core, budget cuts, student performance and whatever bullshit the Secretary of Education is pulling at that moment. Teachers can get so tangled up in all of the education talk that they don’t get recognized or appreciated for all the things they do, and all of the jobs that they have.
Teachers aren’t ever just your child’s teacher. Teachers are superheroes. And do you know why they put up with all of the negativity, the low wages and the constant kicks in the face that educational programs typically deploy? Because their love for their students outweighs all of it. I have never met a teacher—and I’ve met a lot—who wouldn’t give the shirt off their back to any one of their students if they needed it. Teachers are everything their students need them to be on any given day. Sometimes they know your child better than you do.
Teaching has forever changed me. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a sacrifice. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But teaching is, above all else, love.