Educators Share Their “Whys”: The Reasons They Teach

By: | 04/29/2021
Category: Instruction

A few weeks ago, my colleague Danielle Sullivan published “Remembering ‘Why’ You Teach: How to Rediscover Why You Do What You Do,” a post about rediscovering your teaching why. What is a teaching why? In a nutshell, it’s an educator’s reasons for doing what they do. Your teaching why is the thing that drives you to help students. It’s the force behind hours of lesson planning and the inspiration for the countless other activities you undertake every day in the name of passing knowledge from one mind to another.

Soon after the publication of “Remembering ‘Why’ You Teach,” we started hearing from educators who generously shared their whys with us. I’m sharing some of these with you in the hopes that their poignancy, humor, playfulness, and honesty inspire even more educators to reflect on what drives them.

Cliché for a Reason

As cliché as it sounds, it is extremely difficult to put my why into words. As fulfilling, humorous, joyful, challenging, and rewarding being a teacher was, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint just one why.That said, here’s my best attempt . . .

I woke up every morning to teach my scholars because I was determined to ensure their zip code didn’t decide whether they would graduate from high school. I taught as hard as I could each day because I wanted my scholars to enter, succeed in, and graduate from college. When it comes down to it, my why was very simple: I wanted my scholars to have the teacher they deserved.

Sari Laberis, Former Teacher, Current Social Communications Manager at Curriculum Associates

Seeing “the Spark”

My why is the faces of my students. The inner joy I get when I can see that they understand a concept. The spark of curiosity I can sense when I've shown them a new topic of study.

Shalini Jayawardana, M.Ed., NBCT, Third Grade Teacher, Holbrook Language Academy, Concord, CA

Pride for What You Do

I am proud to say that I am a teacher. Both of my parents were educators who met, fell in love, and got married while they worked at the same school!I always say that teaching is not what I do, but who I am.

Anne Barbour, Third Grade Teacher, Metcalf Elementary School, Exeter, RI

What is your “teaching why”? It’s the thing that drives you, the force behind hours of lesson planning, and the inspiration for countless other activities you undertake every day in the name of passing knowledge from one mind to another.

Inspired by Literature

Several years ago, I purchased a book to read with my daughter, which would change my view on teaching forever. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban is about Malala Yousafzai’s experience as a child living in Pakistan. Malala’s heart-wrenching story mesmerized my daughter and me as we read about her aspiration to be educated, despite Taliban oppression and violence. Her account motivated me to continue my own studies and realize my dream of becoming a teacher. When I was 41 years old, I became the first person in my immediate family to graduate college.

Malala’s story reminded me just how blessed we are to live in a country where everyone has a right to an education. It also inspired me to never take that right for granted. It is my hope to be able to pass on my reverence for education and the act of learning to my students and our community.

I encourage my students to reflect on the emotions and thoughts they experience as they navigate through new skills, content, and goals. I strive to foster a respect for learning and education in them and those they touch. Simply thinking about how we overcame a challenge provides the inspiration for the future.

Julie Dos Santos, Teacher, Glendale Elementary School, Vero Beach, FL

What Is My Why?

Why am I here doing what I do?
I love making a difference in the minds I pursue.
Why am I loving my teaching career?
It’s a part of my heart, and I enjoy teaching each year.
Why are my students so important to me?
I’m expanding their minds because success is the key.
Why do I wake with a smile on my face?
I look forward to my job and the little ones I embrace.
So, what is my why? It’s a strong dedication
To the many lives I touch each day. Through my love of Education.

Frinzetta Boman, Teacher, Leinkauf Elementary School, Mobile, AL

Math Is for Every Student

My why is the smile on a student's face when they realize they CAN do math!

I was always the student for whom math came easily. It just made sense to me. When I was a student, I spent a lot of my time helping classmates and finding ways to explain things differently from teachers. I consistently tell my students that they can say things like "Math is hard," "Math is a challenge for me," or "I don't know where to start," but I don't want to hear the dreaded "I can't do math" because everyone CAN!

I live for students saying, "Oh! Now I get it!" and "That makes so much sense!" It's how I know that I have done my job as their math teacher.

Sarah Zeller, Fifth Grade Math and Science Teacher, Strong Foundations Charter School, Pembroke, NH

Simple, Yet Comprehensive

My why . . .

For kids.

For families.

& For the future. 

Melinda Geer, Third Grade Teacher, Glenwood Elementary School, Kentwood, MI

Look to Leaders

A high school math teacher taught me exponential values have the potential to immensely impact a variable’s growth. I believe that educational leaders have that same power. In other words, educational leaders are the exponential value that empowers an educator's success. I am the product of extraordinary leadership, so my why is to be the kind of leader who once inspired me.

My why fuels my determination and passion to mentor, inspire, and empower educators. It drives me to promote research-based instructional practices and guide other educators toward practices that maximize the achievement of all students. My why helps me see a world where student success knows NO limits and learning is a shared experience.

Cristina Bedgood, Instructional Coach, Hollywood Park Elementary, Hollywood, FL

If this post struck a chord, you might be interested in reading Danielle Sullivan’s whitepaper on teacher self-care, well-being, and stress management, The Connection Cure: Why Educators Need Balance, Laughter, and Community More Than Ever.

Read about Teacher Self-Care and Well-Being
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