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.





Creating a Writing Identity

By Lynne R. Dorfman

Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.

                                         ~Henry Miller

     We all want our students to think deeply about their writing and reading, learn how to assimilate information, and in some way take the new learning and make it their own.  In writing workshop, the teacher becomes the facilitator of creative options and the students become innovators, applying knowledge in new ways.

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Ongoing Reflection

By Maryellen Kenney

There is never enough time in a teacher’s life.  We are highly functioning, incredibly dedicated professionals who, at some point, come to accept that there are only 24 hours in our day and we really need 25. Over time, we hone our craft to include only the most important, most valuable practices that best serve us. Reflection is one of those essential practices.

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"Writing Naked"

      The first time I wrote a piece for Voices in the Middle, I intended merely to document the nuts and bolts of the annual poetry slam I run at my school. It was fun. Here’s how you do it. But that’s more of the Instructor magazine type article. NCTE expects you to explain why such an endeavor is worthwhile. In attempting to clarify this for others, I discovered it myself. The poetry competition isn’t only fun; it fosters better writing as well. In what eventually resulted in Audience and Revision: Middle Schoolers Slam Poetry (Feb. 1997), I documented the results of interviews with students who said that they revised their poems far more because they knew they would be performing them in front of their peers.

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Moving Past the Required Reflection

By Monica DeMuro

        Reflection is something we’re all taught as educators going through college. For some of us, by the time we graduate, reflection becomes rote, something we have to check off at the end of the semester. It became that way for me.  At times, I felt as though I was reflecting upon reflecting upon reflecting. I couldn’t take it anymore! Like many methods learned in our education classes, the value of reflection only became realized in practice in the real life classroom.

         Through the tumultuous affair that was my first year teaching, reflection, which should have been a life preserver was pushed out of my mind as I tried to stay afloat that year. It wasn’t really until my fifth or sixth year teaching where I truly saw the value of reflection.  For a while, I had been reflecting on the effectiveness of my instruction or the management in my classroom in my head. A random sticky note here and there may have made it on to a lesson or unit plan. There was no follow through to the next year. Nothing that actually improved my way of educating. I had to start taking my reflection-like thoughts and move them into writing. I bought a brand new notebook and established my professional goal as keeping a reflection log to enhance and improve my instruction.

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Reflective Practice Makes a Difference

By Diane Esolen Dougherty

     It seemed like a great idea.  It worked in Up the Down Staircase!  What could possibly go wrong? My seniors seemed to have been engaged, enthusiastic even, in our study of Hamlet.  “Let’s put Hamlet on trial for the deaths of Claudius and Gertrude,” I said. I planned the project painstakingly, making certain that every class member had a role. I specified precisely what each role necessitated. I steered the required research. I indicated the minimum and maximum time limits for each presentation. I offered extra credit for providing props and I encouraged cooperative grouping. What I didn’t foresee was the abysmal flop that my exquisite planning failed to prevent.

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