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.
“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.