Being a teacher was never my life’s goal when I was younger. First, I wanted to be a police officer catching bad guys. Then, I wanted to be like my dad and become a respiratory therapist. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that my life’s calling came to me. I even questioned my decision back then. “Really, teaching. How’s the saying go, ‘Those who can’t do teach.’ Do I really want to be a teacher?” Then, I got to college and things changed. I knew I wanted to be a teacher after I volunteered at a special school for students who got kicked out of their local public schools. These students had no one that really seemed to care about them. They felt lost and confused. They were angry, and rightfully so. Their past teachers never took a chance on them, never connected with them, which is why they were in this special school. On one of my bi-weekly visits, a student got so angry because he couldn’t pronounce a word in a book he was reading aloud to me that he started lashing out. He ended up picking up his chair-desk combo and throwing it against the wall. He wasn’t aiming for me, but he was mad and didn’t know how to channel his anger. Through the whole situation, I remained calm. Yes I was scared. Heck, I almost peed my pants, but I tried not to show it.
It was then that I knew what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing: Helping students realize that they matter. I want all the students I work with to feel cared for and supported. I will do whatever it takes to help each and every student with whom I work. I want to be the one person in the lives of those students who don’t seem to have anyone else, to show them love and care. I want them to feel heard and respected. All students and people can succeed, not just all in the same way or at the same time. I teach because I want to help all students feel success in some way. I want to challenge students to push themselves beyond their limitations. I want students to see the potential within themselves that I see on a daily basis. I teach because I care and want to make a difference. I teach because I can and I want to do it well. I wake up each and every day with one main goal in mind, to be a better teacher than I was yesterday. That’s why I’m a teacher. What about you? Why did you become a teacher?
Today in Humanities class, the students worked at revising a poem they began during the first week of school. They crafted a “Where I’m From” poem to help us create a class “Where We’re From” poem during our Academic Orientation time. Our goal was to help the students get to know their classmates so that we could begin to build a strong community within the class. Our class poem came out very well. I was impressed. I had collected their individual poems and told them, “We’ll be getting back to these later in the term.” Well, today was that day.
I began class with an overview of the process we would use to finish, revise, and complete a final draft of their “Where I’m From” poem. I provided each of the students with a handout that listed the requirements for their final draft. I had the steps they would use to produce a final poem listed on the interactive whiteboard. As a class, we discussed what makes a great poem so that they would be thinking poetically as they worked to create their revised poem. I wanted to help them get into the right frame of mind to complete this activity. I finished our discussion by reading one of my favorite poems aloud to the class: Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. Before they got to work, I reviewed the process they would use, answered questions the students still wondered about, and then passed back their sloppy copy to them. They got right to work. At one point, it was so quiet because the students were hyper focused on the task at hand that I tested out the age-old saying “It was so quiet that I could hear a pin drop.” So, I dropped a pin on the floor and sure enough, I heard it. My co-teacher thought I was crazy as I hastily searched the floor for the pin I dropped. I couldn’t find it and I certainly didn’t want my students stepping on it. Luckily, with her help, I located the pin and prevented horrible tragedies from occurring within my classroom this morning.
It was an awesome and productive work period. The boys crafted brilliant poems, showcasing their growth as writers in a mere five weeks. They revised and edited their own work, tried new things, took risks, looked up synonyms for boring words, and tried to create their best possible work. My co-teacher and I were blown away. While today’s class was not too different than any other class in the sixth grade, something truly magical happened at the end of the first chunk of class before the students went to Morning Break.
A student, who struggled a bit, academically, at the start of the year, came to me with a look of disgust on his face. Luckily, I knew he was about to say something sarcastic and funny or else I might have been scared. He said, “Mr. Holt, how could you?” I took the bait and responded, “What do you mean? How could I what?” Then it happened. Angels began to sing from above. This one student then said, with a smile on his face, “How could you make me like poetry? I used to hate it but now I’m liking it. Ughhh!” My day was complete right there. The sun could have set at that very moment and I would have been okay with it. I wouldn’t have questioned anything. I helped one student learn to like one of the most hated forms of writing. The thing is though, I didn’t do anything. He did the work. In fact, I hadn’t even conferenced with this student during the first half of class. He was working all on his own. He made himself learn to like poetry. I just happened to be in the room. Now, I’ll take the compliment and run with it, but I can’t take full credit for it. He put in the effort to make the transformation all on his own. I remember when this student crafted the first draft of his poem back in early September. It was a struggle. After 30 minutes, he had written only one line. He seemed unable to write anything. While he did write a few more lines later during that activity, he was unable to finish the task. As I’ve seen this student make so much progress over the past five weeks, I was excited to read his final poem. Oh man, it was amazing. It flowed like a river. In fact, I don’t even think he included anything from his first poem in this new one. It was phenomenal because he put in the effort to grow, be open to new ideas, and take risks in the classroom. He made himself learn to like poetry. I didn’t do that.
I love days like today when I’m reminded why I teach. I mean, I don’t need reminders because I love it for so many reasons, but when students say and do things like this one particular student did and said today, I’m filled with a renewed sense of vigor. I teach to help students realize things about themselves that they just haven’t realized yet. I know what they’re capable of, but they tend to be blind to the magic that lives within them. I teach to help my students extract that magic from within so that they can see what I’ve known all along. Yes, it’s hard and yes, it’s challenging, but the rewards are so great because of it. So again, I ask you to ponder this question for yourself. Why do you teach? What are your goals in life?