I’m not going to lie to you; I don’t have an inspirational line about why I decided to be a teacher. I can’t say that I “always knew I wanted to be an educator,” or “teaching is just in my blood.” I’ve never even become a parent, so you can cross “paternal instincts” off the list.
Actually, I had always intended to be a lawyer. My first major was political science. Truth be told, I’m not even sure I remember what tipped the scales in my decision-making process. For me, teaching was never inevitable.
I eventually discovered, however, that my original career choices somehow felt unsatisfying. I knew that my first path, beginning in kindergarten and ending the day I dropped my major – walked away from the university, and tried to understand who I was and who I could become – had felt rote, boring, prescribed and artificial. I felt as if I had been passed along like a bucket of water in fire brigade line, with water spilling to the ground at each transition. By the end of the last set of hands, I had no idea who I was or what purpose I might serve.
As I treaded water in the work force, I discovered something interesting. The farther away I got from my formal education, the more I rediscovered my intrinsic love of learning that had somehow gotten lost along the way. The more I learned on my own, the more I wanted to do it over again.
More importantly, I wanted to know how a system had so successfully convinced me that I wasn’t a learner just because I was not good at the playing the game. I wanted to know why so few had reached me through unusual persistence, creativity, and dedication. What made them special, inspiring me to earn top grades in some of the most challenging courses, while literally failing out of some of the most basic? How could I be so inspired and uninspired in the same day, at the same place? Ironically, this curiosity nudged me right back into the system. I was convinced there were more like me. I was filled with questions.
How did our system capture the joy of curiosity, discovery, and engagement and then rerelease it as compliance in so many? What responsibility does a school have to maintain or respark these qualities?
Shouldn’t an education system churn out armies of the curious, armed with the tools and savvy to find the answers and discover new questions? Could it be done?
This many years later, I still don’t have the answer to all of my questions. Only incomplete insights. However, I also know that although I can’t identify that initial call to service, I know precisely what has me here at this very moment, and that is probably all that matters.
I’m convinced that the profession is replete with good intentions and even better people. But, it is a mass production system, nonetheless. It is far from perfect, but I believe we can build upon what we do well, and aim for a reality that moves learning back to its natural state.
I envision a place where schools hold students accountable, but also value and prioritize the power of curiosity. Where learners perform not because of the fear of punitive outcomes, but because they are participants in a creative curriculum that inspires them to ask questions and find answers. My experience with children tells me this state is more natural to them than the ones we sometimes subject them to; they come to us wanting to learn. By 12th grade, many can’t wait to get out.
Why did I become a teacher? That’s probably an irrelevant question with an even more irrelevant answer. Many of us find the reasons we started to be based on a construct of our imagination without the insight of what we would challenged or inspired by. Why do I stay in the profession? That, I believe, I can answer.
Because I can’t imagine anything else.
There is someone like me who is convinced that learning is not for him. And, he will walk away from what he perceives to be tedium and structures of compliance. He’s lost that passion he came to us with; too much enthusiasm and curiosity has spilled over the edges of the bucket. He will drop out either literally or congnitively.
And, unlike me, he may not find his way back.
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