Why I Teach

By Meg Griffin

      This question has been asked of me many times over the years. When applying to a school or a district or even socially, people would ask, “Why do you teach?” Growing up I had no desire to be a teacher. In social situations, the question, “Why do you teach?” often seemed to contain an underlying question, “Why don’t you do more?” In the 1960’s teaching was a passé female profession. We were women and we were supposed to reach for the pinnacle as lawyers, CEOs, doctors, or accountants, but certainly not teachers or nurses. THOSE jobs were for the women who had been held back and had not been able to achieve more. I studied economics and Spanish in college and was sure I had a bright and powerful future in international finance. Fate, as it often does, intervened in the form of love, marriage, and children. I decided nursing would make an ideal mom profession. I could work nights, while my husband worked days. For many years this worked well for our family. I enjoyed nursing and learning new things (see foreshadowing.) I spent many years caring for people with Alzheimers and Traumatic Brain Injuries. Additionally, I taught nurse’s aide training at the local community college, I taught parents and patients about illnesses and disease processes, and I even taught schoolchildren about bike safety and head trauma. Yet, I still did not see myself as a teacher.

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Why I Love Teaching

By Jolene Borgese

      Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of teaching a ten day writing course to middle school students at the PAWLP Youth Writing Project. I had run the first Youth Writing Project on campus with about 50 writers and six teachers. We weren’t sure what we were doing back then but we knew we were on to something big! It was a success that bloomed into a huge project for 30 years.

      This summer, my 12 writers were a mixed bag of pre-adolescents who wanted to come to writing camp, and others whose parents had signed them up.  They all made the best of it. They caught my enthusiasm for writing, and, in their preteen coolness, actually showed they liked my activities. After we wrote our first piece, a small collection of memories based on the picture book Wilfred Gordon McDonaldPartridge by Mem Fox, I had the students engage in speed responding.  This technique is much like speed dating. The writers sat across from each other; one read their writing and the other listened and responded. Every three minutes I yelled time and the writers moved to the next responder.

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Why I Teach

By Marlene Kimble

           As a late bloomer in this profession – having stepped into a classroom for the first time at thirty five - I sat with a room full of bright- eyed 22 year olds fresh out of undergrad sitting at the district office eyes glazed over while the HR lady reviewed official documents and we signed on dotted lines.  If you asked any of us why we were there, it would probably be a familiar response: I want to make a difference in the lives of children.  It was true for me too.  I was a mother and wife; I had been home for a number of years; and there didn’t seem to be any job important enough for me to leave my kids so I went back to school to do the job of teaching.

           In those earlier years, I’m sure I made a difference in some of the lives of my kids, but I was surprised to find that there was a big difference between being a teacher and actually teaching. That fantasy of smiling in front of the room – cute dress, high heels, calling on kids with hands raised, encouraging them while they did their seat work, grading papers - wasn’t quite what education had in mind in 2005.

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Why I Teach

By Michael LoBiondo

      As teachers, we follow different paths to our vocation, and formal education is a rich and colorful calling as a result. I became a PAWLP fellow because I believe that the “teachers-teaching-teachers” method is part of that mission. I teach today for the same reason that I did when I started out as a high school English teacher many years ago: to share a love of learning with my community.

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Why I Teach

By Rita DiCarne

      The past few years have been tough on Catholic school teachers with the closing of schools and the reduction of teaching staff.  Many of my non-teaching friends encouraged me to leave the profession and “recreate” myself like all the popular magazines suggest.  One friend in particular asked me, “What else do you see yourself doing?”  My response was silence.  I just couldn’t come up with a single thing – not one.

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Why I Teach

By Diane Dougherty

               I retired from teaching more than ten years ago.  Yet, I still consider myself to be a teacher.  During the final days of my teaching career I remember talking to a student about my future.  “What will I be when I’m not a teacher anymore?” I wondered.

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Why I Teach

I retired from teaching more than ten years ago.  Yet, I still consider myself to be a teacher.  During the final days of my teaching career I remember talking to a student about my future.  “What will I be when I’m not a teacher anymore?” I wondered.

            “Mrs. Dougherty,” he replied, “you will always be a teacher, because that’s what you are at heart.” 

            That student was about to become a high school graduate in just a few short days, but he knew an important truth: those who choose teaching as a career without reservation will always be teachers.  We may have second lives as gardeners, painters, retail salespersons, or experimental biologists; however, we remain teachers “at heart.”

            I can never recall a time when I didn’t want to be a teacher.  When I was a little girl (and those who know me know this story because I’ve told it a thousand times), I loved to play “school.”  Of course, I always wanted to be the teacher, and my friends quickly soured on the game after having spent the entire day in school anyway.  When that happened, I would line up my dolls on the porch steps and I would teach my dolls.  Every Christmas I asked for more chalk for the portable blackboard that had been my gift long ago.  I dreamed of the day when I would have a classroom of my own, when I would be “teacher” for real.

            What does being a teacher “at heart” mean?  Being a teacher “at heart” means being a lifelong learner.  It means reading widely—not only in your area of expertise but in multiple areas from what is new in education to what is old in literature.  Being a teacher “at heart” means being open to and accepting of change, knowing that though change may be uncomfortable it may also lead to innovation. It means spending summers enrolling in courses to gain knowledge in your field so that you can be the best teacher you know how to be.  It means watching your students and learning about them, discovering how your students learn and seeking the best ways to aid that learning.  It means working with parents and community members to support our schools as the best means of achieving opportunity for all of our citizens.

            Why did I teach?  I taught because I was lucky enough to have had great teachers as my models and I wanted to be just like them.  I taught because I loved to read and write, and I couldn’t believe there was a job that would pay me to do what I loved and would have done for free.  I taught because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.  I hope that those of you who are still in the classroom have far more days of joy than days of drudgery.  When those who seek to malign our profession seem to have the upper hand, remember that we who are teachers “at heart” will always prevail.  Our students may forget our names, but they will never forget how we made them feel. 

            That’s why I taught and that’s why we teach!

Diane Esolen Dougherty is a retired high school English teacher and has coordinated courses for the PAWLP including both the Writing Institute and the Reading and Literature Institute.  She is one of the PAWLP co-directors; her book Grammar Matters, written with Lynne Dorfman, will be available in the fall.

Why I Teach

By Brian Kelley

      Asked to write to the prompt, “Why I Teach” brings up memories of the faces of young men lighting up when they heard my step-father’s name. So much of that, of course, is attributed to who he is as a person in addition to who he is as an educator.  He has talked so fondly about his students over the years. I’ll always remember family conversations held around the kitchen table and the great fondness in my step-father’s eyes when he talked about his students or players.

      I loved knowing that. I loved knowing he was like a great mountain of encouragement—the closer those kids got to him, the bigger he seemed—kids my age. And I often looked for that same eye twinkle in my teachers when they talked to us.

      I think about my relationships with teachers in my K-8 school: Mrs. Grasso driving an hour out of her way just to watch me play ice hockey; Sister St. Christopher thinking of me when the neighborhood apothecary wanted to hire a trustworthy delivery boy; and when the volunteer football coach took me into a corner bar after practice and told the rummies that I was going to be a hell-of-a player. All with a gleam in their faces.

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Why I Teach: to give power to words

By Brenda Krupp

      Several weeks ago I was asked to write a blog post on “Why I teach? “ I remember being asked that by a newer principal during a get-to-know-each-other-better faculty meeting. I sat and stared at the paper, stymied.  I struggled to articulate my thinking. During the obligatory share out the principal came and asked what I wrote. I showed him my blank page. “Don’t you teach because you love kids?” he asked.  When I shook my head he looked at me and walked away, as if something was wrong with me, like maybe I shouldn’t be a teacher. But I knew then, and now, there is more to teaching than just a love of kids.

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Grateful to Be Traitful: Reflections on a PAWLP Day

By Janice Ewing

On the first day of summer

with much on our plates

a group got together

to discuss the Six Traits

For PAWLPers a day

of immersion in writing

is our kind of fun

our kind of exciting

We started with ideas —

do they hold our attention?

Then organization —

a sense of direction

If you want to know a writer

you must listen for voice —

you’ll be pulled right in

with fresh word choice

Sentence fluency is a trait

that tends to be tricky

as rule-bending variety

is not for the nitpicky

The next one’s a double

conventions and presentation —

is the writing dressed up

and ready for publication?

As we talked and we laughed

wrote and reflected

our day was fulfilling

just as we expected.

      If this sounds like your kind of fun, consider joining us for Three Modes/Three Days/Six Traits: An Academy for Implementing the Common Core Standards. The course runs from July 22nd-24th and can be taken for two credits or Act 48 hours. See pawlp.org for details, or contact Sally at smalarney@wcupa.edu if you have any questions.

     Janice Ewing is an adjunct for Cabrini College and a co-director for the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. Janice co-facilitates PAWLP’s “Continuity Days” and this blog. She is an avid reader and writer, and especially enjoys writing poems.