Teaching is exhausting, challenging, and sometimes as draining as it is rewarding. How is it, after 18 years, you still love teaching?”
Your question gave me pause (and perfect for a Valentine’s Day post). My response came quickly, furiously, a catalog of reasons: the students, watching them learn, seeing them grow up and come back to say hello, having space to be creative, always being challenged, being surrounded by amazing colleagues, the opportunity to “re-start” again and again.
Then I got nervous. Whenever answers come quickly, I wonder if I should trust them or if they deserve to be unpacked and explored. I recently heard from Nancy Lockett who said it takes “five whys” to get to the real reason. I’m all for being vulnerable (in other words, I have no idea where this process is going to take me). So let’s see what happens when I take on the nesting doll approach to finding the real reason I #loveteaching.
First why. I love teaching because I love watching kids learn.
There’s this thing that happens when someone else learns. Sometimes it’s a quiet nod, other times it’s an exuberant epiphany. I love watching these moments, whether I see them “live” or whether I follow the trails they leave in the margins of pages or in the words they craft.
Propelling question: why do you love watching kids learn?
Second why. I love watching kids learn because it means there’s a change.
Some days I get to witness discovery and cheer them on. Other days, it’s disillusionment I watch and stand steady as they rearrange paradigms. Some days it’s a connection that spills into big smiles and wide eyes. Other days, it’s a breakthrough after a long struggle that ends in relief and exhaustion. Regardless of the progression, it’s movement I find myself enamored by.
Propelling question: why do you love the change in learning?
Third why. I love the change in learning because change is story.
In his book, The Natural, Bernard Malamud writes: “We have two lives. The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.” Whether it’s the story of learning or the story of living, I’m compelled each time there’s a transfer from unknowing to being aware. As a reader of these stories, I get to fall into them, urged on by uncertainty and delighted by the unfolding arc.
Propelling question: why do you love story?
Fourth why. I love story because it connects humans to each other.
There’s something about story that gives us the opportunity to transcend our differences and meet in this new space of mirrors and windows: to ourselves, to each other. It’s a transaction, a bridge, an opening, an opportunity. If all stories are about movement: going towards, running away, edging closer, jarring elsewhere, then learning is a story-journey we all share.
Propelling question: why do you love connection?
Fifth why. I love connection because it’s collection.
I suppose that’s exactly what sustains my love for teaching: I get to collect stories of learning. But the sustenance doesn’t come from the stories themselves, it comes from waiting for them, watching for them to emerge on their own terms. It’s an act of humility. Teaching. Because it’s not about us, unless it’s about us creating the opportunity and then getting out of the way. And while there is no doubt I #loveteaching, this exercise reminds me that sometimes even that word, love, isn’t big enough.
If you #loveteaching too, you may want to join the call for teachers everywhere to focus on what they love about the work, what sustains and compels them. Maybe you’ll want to write a blog post or tweet, maybe you’ll want to organize a way to get your colleagues involved, or maybe following the hashtag on Twitter and quietly being refilled sounds good to you. I’m excited to help my friends at #loveteaching, celebrate one year of spreading our appreciation for what’s best in this profession!