Good question! I CANNOT count how many times I have been asked this question or someone has made this "statement" wanting me to hear their opinion in the form of a question that they really did not want my heartfelt explanation to. The other night I was talking with a couple friends (6 feet away) and one of them, we will call her Nancy, shared with me how hard it is on my kids that I am so busy with my job. OUCH! She didn’t stop there. She talked about how much of a better mom I would be if I was “able to be with them more since they are the most important thing!” I know there is a little truth to that, but wow! Of course, she was making a statement not asking the question, “Why are you an educator?” That is probably the most frustrating part. You see, I am a Speech & Debate Coach at a 6A high school and have been for 13 amazing years. For me that means we travel every month, sometimes more than once. The students I travel with vary from homeless and struggling to the top 5% of their class. I can talk for days about how amazing speech & debate is for students, how amazing my students are, how important the work is that we do together, but I will save that rant for another time. This is about my why. In honor of every educator's heartfelt why, I would like to share the answers to the questions she did not want to hear.
- WHY do I love being an educator?
I believe in the power a good teacher holds. Educators are the molders of our future! Think about the world around you…your everyday life. You are surrounded by all kinds of people. The one thing all people have in common is they most likely had a K-12 education. Educators are the tie that binds and holds the most impactful opportunity in molding the future! What does our future need? That’s a question I ask and get to form my work goals around. How cool is it that? My goal as an educator is not just an academic achievement check, but to create a student who has the power to be self-motivated, disciplined, engaged, confident, flexible and thoughtful about what kind of imprint they are leaving in the world around them. As an educator I get to fight for things like “the bigger picture.” A unit on confidence and thoughtfulness followed by a test on self-motivation is not standard in classrooms, but maybe it should be. According to the Department of Defense, 75% of American youth do not qualify for armed forces due to three reasons: lack of high school diploma, obesity or a criminal record. As a teacher, I get to fight to reach our youth in those areas. I love being on the front lines of molding minds and hearts. I know in my heart, I am making an important difference in the world.
- Why is it SO important that the world has educators who love what they do?
The idea of "those who can - do, and those who can't - teach" is a common thought. Every teacher has heard a variation of this phrase that poet, Taylor Mali made famous. I have personally heard it so many times and explained my “why” so many times I could scream. Being an educator is HARD WORK! Fighting this stereotype or judgement should not be part of our job description, and honestly after COVID-19, we may never have to fight that stigma again (fingers crossed). The challenges of education must be overcome with educators who love what they do, because this crap is hard! Not only are we going to have to juggle like crazy trying to do life and work, as we try to reach little Johnny in a new inventive way because he is struggling, as we deal with more paperwork than we have time in a day for, but we are also going to fight every negative Nancy of the world. My challenges as a teacher have come in many forms - a homeless student, a gang member, a timid girl, etc… I will always hold close to my heart the rest of their stories - that homeless student overcoming every obstacle and winning nationals, that gang member graduating high school and changing his path, that timid girl deciding to take a stand for herself. “Try and fail, but don’t fail to try.” I love this John Quincy Adams quote so much because it reminds me and my students (since it hangs on my wall) that failure may happen but taking the chance and trying is a risk worth taking. Being an educator is a risky business, you must love it to keep fighting and trying.
- Why are my real kids okay?
For the record, my kids are my most important thing! Let me be honest, I have missed things, I have cried tears, and I have felt like an awful mom (all by myself but thank you Nancy). I have also felt like I was needed so deeply in the world of education, in those moments that I was torn, that I moved forward with my students for a greater good. Isn’t that what our military have to do? Isn’t that what our nurses and doctors have to do? What about a mom trying to put food on the table? We all have our own battles and must make tough decisions because we can’t do it all. The idea that good teachers are very important is something we must all adopt. Teachers aren’t in it for the summers (do not ever get me started). Years ago I had a conversation about missing my first grader’s basketball game because I was at a speech & debate tournament, a dear teacher friend told me, “I’ve been there, and on that special day I knew my daughter would have her dad and her grandmother there to support her. I also knew that my student had no one.” Tough choices do not mean you love your own kids less. This is exactly my heart thoughts on the situation I have been in the middle of as a mom. I have worried that I was a bad mom because of the little things I missed. However, I have learned that I am just a normal working mom! My daughter watches her mom balance it all, which I hope says you can follow your heart and be a mom too! My kids have been exposed to other amazing individuals because of my job. My kids have learned to help at home! My kids are proud of me! I am a better mom because I am listening to my heart! Power to every parent who can stay at home! You are brave and strong. Even though I am not that brave and strong, even though I love hundreds of kids who are not biologically mine, even though Nancy may be a little right…my real kids are okay.
- WHY am I offended by your idea that I am not a good mom, because I am a teacher mom?
Hello!! Would you say that to our neighbor who is a doctor?! No!! Do you know what her hours look like? Is it because she makes more money than me? Is it because you can physically see the lives she saves after spending time repairing someone's heart? Why on Earth is the mentality that a parent who is a teacher or coach cannot be a worthy parent or should be just a parent for “that kind of pay”? I totally agree that every educator deserves a raise. The reality is you may never see all of the lives teachers save after repairing those hearts, but the count is high and the importance of a good teacher possibly matters more today than it has ever mattered before. Did you know, 1 in 5 teens have a diagnosable mental health disorder? The most common amongst teens today are: addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and suicide. I have seen them all. According to americanspcc.org, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth (ages 10 -24). Statistics published on cdc.gov concluded: in children ages 3-17 years - 7.1% (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety and 3.2% (approximately 1.9 million) have diagnosed depression. Furthermore, the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics compared the increase of mental illness among children ages 6–17 years “ever having been diagnosed with anxiety or depression” increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8% in 2007 and to 8.4% in 2011–2012. What do you think those numbers for young students are today? This mental health crisis we are in is on the rise! These numbers are staggering! This is a battle and our teachers are working the front lines!
- WHY will I keep working in the world of education?
Because your daughter may someday be that statistic and you might be the mom who didn’t see it coming. I might be the teacher who saved her or taught her to be strong or gave her confidence when her friends weren’t kind or showed her how talented she is when she was too stubborn to listen to you. It takes a village.
My challenge to you is to encourage your village. We need each other. I am an educator because molding the hearts and minds of the future is just as important as literal heart surgery even if I don’t get paid a heart surgeon’s wages. So WHY am I an educator? Thank you Nancy, I am so glad you asked.