Why I Teach
By Mary Buckelew
I think back to my childhood. I grew up in a teaching family. Our lives were governed by the rhythm of the school year. The rhythm is still comforting and familiar – the beginnings and endings. My father taught high school math and coached a variety of sports during his 40 year career as an educator. My dad left for work happy and came home exhausted but full of funny and loving stories about his students. When I was old enough to ask questions like “What do you like about your job?” My father was quick to tell me, “The students — I keep the kids at the center of what I do – then I can ignore all the rest, the administration, the school board, the well-meaning parents, the mandates that don’t make sense.”
More than five hundred people attended my father’s wake this past summer, and I think most of them were former students and the athletes he had coached. Whether coaching or teaching, my father saw the best in people and worked hard to help them discover their potential in the classroom, on the football field, on the baseball diamond, and on the wrestling mat. Coach Bellucci was beloved because he saw what was important – the heart of the matter and the heart of a person.
My father’s enthusiasm for teaching certainly influenced my choice of careers, but it was also my mother’s love of language and reading that influenced me. My mother passed on her passion and love for words via her original poems, letters, editorials, nightly notes. Singing – sometimes serious and sometimes silly – my mother was the first person to teach me that writing could be both powerful and playful and could change lives. She shared her love for reading — first, by reading aloud to me as a child, and then providing me with every Nancy Drew book ever published and finally by sharing her own favorite authors such as Willa Cather, Elizabeth Goudge, and Phyliss McGinley.
When I was old enough I was allowed to walk to the library. I remember the long walk and dallying on the shores of Lake Mahopac, but mostly I remember reading, reading, and reading. I immersed myself in the lives of characters like Antonia, Bigger Thomas, and Emma. I was transported to England by Agatha Christie to Italy by Luigi Pirandello. It was, quite simply, a relief to know that there was a wider universe filled with an array of people, places, and ideas that seemed so much more exciting than my small purview from Watermelon Hill and the shores of Lake Mahopac.
Thinking of my two great teachers as I prepare my syllabi, my mother and father, I meditate upon what they gave me and how I can share those experiences with my students.
Why do I Teach?
My parents shared their zest for life and their mentor texts, but they left spaces of time for me to ponder and play in the small universe of my childhood. On the shores of a small town lake and in the small town public library, I was given the opportunity and time to read and the time to imagine possibilities.
As I revise my syllabi, for what I hope is the final time, I will leave space and time for students to discover their own passions in reading, writing, and life, and time to explore the universe — the same opportunities my two best teachers, my father and mother, afforded me. There will be a rhythm – a comforting rhythm of knowing what to expect in writing workshop – but there will also be the time and space to play, ponder, and grow, to experience the surprises and ahas of life along the way.
Dr. Mary Bellucci Buckelew is the Director of the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project and Professor of English at West Chester University. She is co-author of Reaching and Teaching Diverse Populations: Strategies for Moving Beyond Stereotypes. When she’s not facilitating workshops, leadership gatherings, and institute meetings; visiting youth sites for Young Readers & Writers; or teaching undergraduate and graduate courses – you may find Mary composing a poem about life in New Mexico, taking long walks with her husband Paul, visiting with family and friends, or reading a good book!