Why I Teach (Part 3)

Why do I teach? A quick search of the internet provides a variety of reasons, one of the most frequent being that teaching is a way to change the world for the better. At this point in my career I truly believe that to be the case.

What exactly does that mean, though, to change the world for the better? My previous post referred to the sickening feeling that I got when I realized that my whole school career centered on authority and control. My teachers (authority) had the answers (knowledge) and used grades to reinforce certain behaviors (control). I don’t believe that they had malicious intent, but that they were a product of a system that produces this behavior.

I don’t want to be a part of it. I think it is the reason that we have students who can pass Algebra II, Calculus, and other college level math classes, but can’t manage to create and maintain a personal budget. I think it explains the phenomena of the student who is on honor roll, but is below average on the ACT and other standardized tests. I think it is the reason that there are phrases like, “He’s good at book learning, but has no common sense.” As a society, we have created a system that rewards obedience and complacency. Many of our students just become cogs in the giant mechanism. Remove the mechanism and they fail.

So, why do I teach?

  1. I am here to break the machine. I want to create students who are free and independent thinkers. I want to create students who question authority with the power of knowledge. This doesn’t mean that our schools can’t have the three R’s; rules, regulations, and rubrics. Everything in the lives of our students should have a purpose, and they should know that purpose. Nothing, absolutely nothing that we do in school should happen because, “it’s a rule,” or “because I am the authority.”

It is a struggle to turn students into free thinkers, but the rewards of the struggle are immense. That moment you realize you are not beholden to anyone for knowledge, that you have control over knowledge, you become empowered. And there are no words that can describe what living an empowered life is like. Unfortunately far too many students, far too many people, will never experience the empowerment that comes with knowledge.

  1. The second reason that I am a teacher is to have math make sense to my students. I want my students to move from a position of duplication and memorization to a place where they can reason through a problem. It’s a laudable goal, but I cannot emphasize the gulf that exists between #1 and #2 enough. Also, I hope it was noticed that there was nothing in #1 that specifically mentions math.
  2. I hope that students who go through my class and plan on attending college will at least avoid remedial classes.

As much as I hope that all my students will be in #1, I know that most are in the second and third reason that I teach, with a few not even in any. I care about all my students, I really do. I would never wish anything less than success for any of them. But for the few that fall into my first reason for being a teacher, you are the reason that I keep getting out of bed. You are the reason I keep coming back each year. You are what has kept teaching from becoming a “job.” The fact that I know at least a few of you exist will keep me coming back.

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