Why do I teach? (Part 1)

The last few days I have really been thinking about purpose, as in, “Why am I here?” Now I don’t mean in the big meaning of life philosophical sense, but why am I a teacher, what is my purpose? Usually I don’t think about this question all that much, but maybe I have been because the last few days I really have felt like my goals do not align with the way I perceive the goals of society. And, as I take time to reflect upon my past experience, I have realized that my purpose as a teacher has changed drastically from when I started.

Way back in my high school days, the late 1990s, I followed the mantra used by our counselors and the society in general. There were essentially two parts to this advice: 1. Find something you’re good at (aptitude), and 2. Find something you like to do (interest). Out of all the ideas bouncing around in my head, I kept coming back to teaching. It was nowhere near the top of my career interest survey our counselors had us fill out, which I would venture to guess, is because most teachers I know are extroverts. According to the survey I would be good at engineering, water-well technician, or a dude ranch operator, among other occupations, but teaching wasn’t the top.

So how did I end up teaching? Well, I was the rare male student that would admit that I liked school. I liked class, I like the extracurricular activities, I like the social interaction, even though for me it was limited. I decided that if I liked school so much, I shouldn’t want to leave. I also decided that I was “good” at school. I found that achievement in the classroom came relatively easy for me and that some of my classmates would turn to me for assistance with homework or class projects. They seemed to genuinely appreciate my explanations.

I was good at school and I liked it, so therefore I should be a teacher, it fit perfectly into the messages I had been receiving from society. It also shaped my personal goals for my classroom and teaching style. In hindsight, I had laid out these reasons for my purpose as a teacher.

  1. I wanted students to enjoy school, even if math wasn’t their passion.
  2. I wanted students to be able to get good grades and test scores in math.

That’s how I taught for my first several years of teaching. I wanted students to at least not be repulsed by the thought of coming to my class and I wanted them to get decent test scores. It was during my fifth year in the profession that I had some transformative events that would begin to forever change the purpose behind my teaching. But I really think those rants need to be saved for some separate posts.

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