November is a notoriously tough time for educators. The honeymoon of the first quarter has faded. Holidays, late starts and homecoming interrupt our best laid plans and the hacks and sneezes of the masses make the classroom sound more like an infirmary.
By now, the first few rounds of big projects and essays have left their treadmarks on my backside, and I've survived the first few rounds of angry parent phone calls and meetings as six- and nine-week grade reports have gone home.
In those gray clouds and cold winds there has to be a silver lining. If there weren't why else would we be in this job?
A while back on the InterACT blog, Kelly Kovacic offered ninety seconds that summed up her reason for teaching, and it got me thinking about the reasons I teach as well.
I know that the right answer for why I teach does include something about making a difference in the lives of children or having the joy of watching the lightbulbs come on when they finally get it. It's also about the kind words and notes like the profound message Kelly writes about. For me, though, there's yet another dimension to why I teach. I work in a profession where every single day, I get to not only practice my favorite hobby but also help engage others in it as well.
Simply put, I get to think.
I've always loved thinking. I cannot imagine a world without it (though reality television might be a fair representation of such a world), and it boggles my mind that there are people who can ever just sit in silence and not think. I am always doing it. In the car, walking down the hallway, during staff meetings. The wheels are always turning, and my mind is always wrestling with something--sometimes profound, sometimes profoundly mundane.
To me, teaching is thinking. As I present that lesson, I'm watching their faces--are they getting it? How can I tell? As I circulate during work time, I'm eavesdropping on the group a few desks away--what are they saying when they suspect I'm not listening? What are they learning? How are they thinking?
Sure, I am proud when my students make progress because of something I did or shared. Sure, it is nice to hear through the grapevine nice things that older students tell their younger sibs about how much they learned from me. But those ego strokes aren't enough to keep me coming back. Every day my mind is exercised, stretched, and challenged. I guess that's also called learning, since that exercising, stretching and challenging is exactly what I strive to get my students' minds to do as well.
No, I don't teach because I'm trying to save the world. That's just a happy by-product. I teach because I can imagine no more challenging mental avocation (for my tastes, at least). I teach because every minute of every day it makes me think.
In the pit of November, we all ought to take a moment to remind ourselves why we teach. And it's okay if, like mine, your reasons are as much about you as they are about your students.