Our Passion for Teaching

I was so moved by your responses to my last post about the importance of bringing joy to classrooms! The images of college students being read to, classes dancing at “boogie breaks,” and teachers letting students help decide what to do at centers brought me my own measure of joy. Your feedback also made me think about how equally vital it is for each of us to reconnect with our passion for teaching—and to hold on to that in the face of stress and obstacles.

Like many people, I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference in the world. As it turns out, that is a pretty easy goal to lose sight of amid the pressures of teaching! I found I had to consciously keep track of moments that made me feel I was making that difference. I wrote them down and returned to them when I felt myself losing my way.

One favorite is an interaction I had with a kindergarten student. I had just read the class one of my favorite books—Superdog: The Heart of a Hero. Afterwards, Bryan, a very articulate student for whom English happened to be a second language, came up to me and asked ever-so-seriously, “Where does a person find books like that?”

I loaned him the book, explaining that a librarian could help him find lots more books as good as that one. As a result, he and his mom visited the local library and each obtained a library card. When Bryan returned the book, he told me that although the library didn’t actually have any books quite as good as Superdog, it still had some “pretty good ones.”

It was a small moment, and like many of the students at that school, Bryan moved away soon afterwards. I lost touch with him, but I like to think that maybe our exchange made a difference and to picture his older self reading at whatever library is close to his new home. Revisiting my list of this and similar events helps me realize that despite my flaws and mistakes as a teacher, I do sometimes make a difference.

Why did you become a teacher? Maybe, like me, you thought of teaching as a place where your work would matter. Or maybe you had an amazing teacher and wanted to be like that person. Or perhaps you struggled in some way in school and wanted to help students overcome similar obstacles. I daresay that very few of us went into teaching because we wanted to prepare students for tests, write lesson plans, or do paperwork, no matter how important those tasks may be! But if we don’t stay in touch with our original motivations, those tasks can fill up our days.

So, how can you reconnect with the reasons you became a teacher? First, take a moment to reflect on your own, or talk with someone about what inspired you to do this work. Then, with those passions in mind, choose some concrete ways to keep yourself in touch with those motivations. Here are a few ideas:

  • Keep a list or journal about moments you want to remember. Take a minute at the end of the day to capture a moment  when you lived out your original ideals about teaching.
  • Work your passions into your lesson plans. If reading great books to children makes you feel you are making a difference, make sure to include a read-aloud in your plans for the week and savor that time with your students. If you went into teaching to help struggling readers, carve out more time to spend with students who have not yet reached their potential in that area. If a special teacher drew you into teaching, try to emulate him/her in some small way each day.
  • Make a pact to touch base regularly with a colleague or trusted administrator. Take a quick walk or have coffee once a week and talk about things that helped you feel connected to your original passion for teaching.
  • Read an inspirational teaching book or watch a movie about a great teacher. One of my personal favorites is a children’s book by Richard Peck—The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Acts.
  • Make a special file where you keep some particularly moving “love notes” or pictures from parents or students. To this day, I’ve kept some particularly sweet, moving, and funny notes I received, and they still help me stay focused on what is important in the world of teaching. (One of my favorites is from a child who wrote that when I died, he wanted me to be buried in his backyard. I took that as the compliment he intended, however creepy!)

Thanks for the inspiration all of you provide. I’d love to hear what got you into teaching and how you stay excited about it.

Margaret Berry Wilson is the author of several books, including: The Language of Learning, Doing Science in Morning Meeting (co-authored with Lara Webb), Interactive Modeling, and Teasing, Tattling, Defiance & More.

Tags: Joyful Classrooms, Professional Community