I Choose to Teach

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“What if you chose to teach, because you could be anything.”

~ Talia Milgrom-Elcott, 100kin10 2018 Summit

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Remember when you wanted to be an ER surgeon who performed on Broadway during the weekends? No? Well, what about that summer you wanted to be a pink flamingo? Still no? Ok, well, do you remember that time when you chose to be a teacher?

Looking back, none of these career choices would have been easy (especially that flamingo gig); but teaching is hard — really hard. We may have chosen this job, but at this time of year, with all the challenges of the day, why do we continue to do this? Why do we continue to push students to become their best selves, towards what we believe they are capable of — shooting for the moon and beyond — even when they don’t understand why?

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Today I Heard: Ugh! Why Do We Have To Do This?

I once had a student tell me he hated everything about my class. He immediately followed up with, “But I understand now why you did it.” I sat there with my eyes wide open, mouth agape, and heart completely filled. Our students sometimes don’t understand the “whys” behind the things we do, but the majority remember the “hows.” They remember how we made them feel, they remember how they learned, and how they participated in our classes.

Why do we have to do this? As the teacher? We don’t.

We choose to be here because we choose to make a difference. So even if they don’t understand why we’re making them do something today, they may understand it someday, and value it forever.

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Today I Heard: I’m Not Moving, Make Me!

What a challenge from a student, eh? What students don’t realize is that this is our charge each and every day. A couple of months ago I received an email from a former student who, as a seventh grader, had done nothing in my class for months. We had meeting after meeting with this kiddo and nothing ever seemed to change. We could not “move” him in a way that allowed him to master seventh grade. He left our classrooms and we couldn’t help but wonder where this student was going to wind up.

The email I received invited me to see him in a theater production at the high school — it was a matinee of understudies and he was playing Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. I didn’t respond to his email, but I went to see the show. I sat front and center and I cried. In the email, he told me it was all my fault that he was in the play, because I “always said he was going to wind up on Broadway.” We have a choice when challenged: Do we push them out the door, or do we push them onto a path where they can be happy, accepted, and ultimately, stay in school and succeed? Don’t let a student be the one who almost made it. Move them to make it happen.

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Today I Heard: Mrs. Richard, I Can’t Tell You Why I Hit Him… Long Story.

Are you kidding me? Another fight? Surely, this kid is being dramatic. Every day… long story. My response? I’ve got time.

We’ve all heard it before. Students won’t remember what we say, but will remember the way we make them feel. It’s easy this time of year to cut the story short and to move on with mediocre classroom management and kids who are focused on the fact that it’s almost summer. It’s easy, but it’s not worth it.

Our students need us just as much on the last day of school as they do on the first. Are the relationships you spent a year making simply for academic gains, or are they for something more? Take the time to listen to the stories. They’re worth it, I promise.

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I used to sit in a cubicle and watch the leaves grow. I would stare out the window watching the little buds emerge, and every day I would mark their progress. One morning, I caught myself and thought there had to be more to life than the one I was living. I came to find out… I was right.

I could’ve been anything in this world, and I chose to be a teacher.

It’s a hard job, but I know that we make a difference. I know my students will accomplish greatness (whether they know it at the time or not). I know that they’re capable of more than they can dream, and that they will reach the moon and beyond if they choose.

We all have a different journey to our profession: maybe your story involves that teacher who gave you extra attention when you needed it (thank you, Mrs. Jensen). Maybe it was the teacher who saw something in you that you couldn’t (thank you, Mrs. Swearingin). Maybe it was the teacher who challenged you to become your most authentic self (thank you, Ms. Crump). Regardless of what got you here, you, like me, chose to teach and, in my humble opinion, it’s the best job in the world. I will choose it every day, because I could do anything… and so can they.

Meg Richard is a seventh grade science teacher at California Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kansas. She’s been teaching science since 2010 and is a graduate of Central Methodist University and the University of Central Missouri. She’s passionate about integrating authentic, hands-on, science experiences for her students, and sometimes can’t believe how lucky she is to get to do the best job in the world: teach! Meg is excited to be a part of Teaching Channel’s Tch Next Gen Science Squad and a Teaching Channel Laureate. Connect with Meg on Twitter: @frizzlerichard.

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