Why I Choose Teaching
I've never had a special request for a blog post before but anything I can do to help convert someone to the dark side is considered a privilege.
I've always wanted to be a teacher. For my entire life. I played school by myself and with my sisters. I would write fake papers just so I could grade them and write the grade in my fake grade book. I even had a miniature chalkboard. When I was in third grade I told my mom that I wanted to be a teacher so "I could show them how to do it right". I used to stare in envy at my teachers who had their shiny metal chalk holder contraption and dream about the day it would be mine. Which is ironic considering I've never used a chalkboard in my teaching career to date.
As I got to high school and started thinking about college, it dawned on me that I had to actually pick a subject to teach. I wouldn't just get a classroom to decorate and hang out in. But how to pick what I would do for the rest of my life?
By far, my best subject is English and reading. I've been an avid reader since birth and I've always scored highest in that area. I love to read and write. I love to analyze and edit. But I just couldn't fathom how to help teach students to read or how to improve their writing or how to learn to spell words correctly. Grammar bored me to tears. I realized that even though English was my best subject, it wasn't something I could teach.
I really enjoyed art class but I only took it as a senior for an elective. I was actually decent but in no way talented enough or prepared enough in any way to teach that.
Science and social studies have always been boring to me- I attribute a lot of that to the experiences I had- a lot of worksheets, writing definitions, and memorizing facts.
But math...now math was a puzzle. I actually had straight A's in all my classes but math didn't come quite as naturally to me. It was something to figure out, to look at from a different perspective, to draw it out, to look for patterns, to calculate, predict, and find satisfaction in a correct answer. Math was actually doing something.
I think I felt like most classes were a lot of busy work and pretty passive for my brain- I could read faster than anyone in my class and my comprehension was high too. I didn't really have to think to write a paper or understand a story. Memorizing was a breeze. Math was the class where my brain felt involved, active, useful. I had to work, I had to try.
Plus I really really did not want to grade essays and research papers or listen to poor readers stumble over reading out loud. I think that everybody has enormous patience in a certain area of their lives. For me, it's math. When a student is struggling on a math problem, it's like I feel supernatural patience come over me and I can wait all day for the student to find and fix their mistakes, just anticipating that moment of satisfaction after hard work. That's where my patience lies.
After becoming a teacher, I can look back and see that talents and abilities I had in my life were really preparation for my teaching career.
I love to decorate and design things. That has come in handy with lesson plans and activities as well as powerpoints, programs, posters, t-shirt designs, etc. I never realized that could be a part of teaching.
I'm very analytical and people used to think I was so judgmental and harsh because I pointed out people's flaws or where they went wrong. Hopefully I've toned that harshness down but it's very helpful as a teacher to articulate where a student has made a mistake or has a weakness in order to remedy that.
I love to be organized and color coordinate things. And I think it must be really hard to be a teacher and not be organized. We all have our different methods of organization but to be constantly misplacing or losing things just cannot be good.
I think that my true talent is being able to explain things. I really pride myself on that and that the #1 reason I became a teacher, period. When I was in third grade math, there was a concept I didn't understand. The teacher told me I better get on the train because it was pulling out of the station. I literally imagined myself being abandoned at a train station (all that reading makes the imagination a bit overactive) with my whole class on a train pulling away from me. I had this panicky feeling where I got butterflies and wanted to cry at the same time. I was thinking, "But I don't understand!!!" And I realized that I never wanted anyone to have that feeling. Ever. Again. In life. That talent also has a bad side to it- I'm not very good at the big picture. I'm great at breaking things down into small chunks but I can't always put it back together. Sometimes I get lost.
I'm glad that I chose math but here's what I don't like. Math is a beast. I truly think it is the hardest subject to teach. It obviously has a negative stigma from the get go but it is such a spiraling subject that prior knowledge is a must. For students who miss any amount of school or class or whatever, they get behind and sometimes stay behind with a quickness. I think it's very hard to close any gaps. From my experiences with remediation and RtI there are just no good resources out there for math like there is for English and reading. They have tons of computer programs but when it comes to math, no computer program yet is helpful. I get stuck with a remediation class where I am supposed to know each student's every math weakness, create lessons/activities for each weakness, monitor progress, differentiate, etc etc etc. It just can't be done by one person.
Teaching math is often like an uphill battle. So many students think it is boring, useless, hard, and disjointed. It's like if you have one crappy class, the students are just glaring at you thinking "See, I knew math was stupid/boring/pointless/complicated." I feel like we really have to think out of the box with every lesson, more often than others.
My teacher bestie is an English teacher and sometimes I do feel like her job is easier than mine. In some ways she connects with the students on a deeper level because she gets to have discussions and read their papers and kind of get inside their minds. I think that's just harder to do in the context of a normal math classroom. She gets to connect with them emotionally and just do a lot of creative things that apply to real life. That is something really hard to do for me. I can't tell you when in your life you will need to know the difference between vertex form and intercept form of a parabola.
I hate the beast of standardized testing in math. Especially the ACT. Trying to prepare students for a norm-referenced test where they throw out the questions that everyone gets right and where the topics change from year to year is a heartbreaker. I hate that math has started to become about that.
I love teaching math though. I like that it is a puzzle. I love patterns. I love figuring things out. I love a challenge. I love that people can do different things and arrive at the same solution. I love that deciding the best way to teach math is as much of a puzzle as the math itself. I love that each day is a new start. I love that I can constantly reinvent myself, my classroom, my teaching style, my lessons. I love finding new ideas. I love love love getting feedback from the students and trying to incorporate what they say. I love being able to go through hard work with my students and see them come out on the other side with a smile on their face.
Most of all, I love my students. I love getting to be part of their lives and wondering what they will do next. In the next minute as well as the next decade. I love our conversations and I love seeing their growth and maturity (as little as it may be) over the years that I have them. I love that I can feel I had some part of that.
I love that teaching someone something they didn't know before is even possible and I love that I get to do it.
That's why I choose teaching.