TeachIng: It's not just a job

sharing our voices and telling our stories

Why Do You Teach?

This page currently includes essays from the website "Why I Teach" written by teachers around the United States. Check out their website; it's awesome! The selections we have chosen provide teachers' experiences that range from elementary through high school, and more. But we consider this just a beginning. We would love to collect the experiences and perspectives of our own CEA teachers. If you would like to share your voice on our website, please contact our Communications Director.

Kristin Appiah has been teaching for 17 years in the Chicago public school system.

Why do I teach? The profession chose me.

During my 17-year career, I have only worked at only two schools — and would probably still be at my first school if it had not closed down. I was a part of a (now extinct) program called Teachers for Chicago; today, of course, there are other alternative programs (Teach for America, Teaching Corps, and Chicago Teaching Fellows). During the 1990s teacher shortage, there was a mass recruitment effort to bring more educators into the field, and frankly, I needed a job. I was in the job market and teachers were in demand — and so, I began teaching at the same time I was earning a masters in education.

While I was getting a masters, I was also teaching every day at the time; I had no formal training in being a teacher during those first years. I just learned on the ground, day to day. My principal that year was also new — and she was a real task master. She gave us all a speech about how tough the job was and how difficult teaching urban children would be. Her speech made me even more determined to succeed.

My first assignment was 4th grade. I embraced my class with high hopes and grand ideas. I have always been creative, and teaching is definitely the place for a creative mind. I wrote many small grants and put on lots of plays with my students and extended invitations to the entire school. I started a tap dancing class, which was incorporated into a school production. Students would come early and stay late to practice because they enjoyed the extracurricular activities. I discovered that the local park district had a storeroom full of tap shoes, which I got donated to my class.

From the beginning, the lesson for me was clear: go the extra mile.

I worked at the park district part time so they gave me free dance supplies. I teamed up with two other teachers and we wrote many grants and we even won the Oppenheimer Award! These two ladies ended up being my best buddies. One was a seasoned professional — we sometimes refer to her as the “Michael Jordan of Special Education” — and the other was somewhat of a rebel, always doing her own thing.

Over time, I learned that I could connect with every child on some level — and there is something to be said about being someone’s everything. That is exactly the feeling I get when I walk into the classroom. I am greeted every day by my students as if I have been away on a long trip and am just returning home to my family. The reward of teaching is priceless. Every year I think that the new class will not be as wonderful as my previous class, but I am never disappointed. In fact, the end of every year now brings more sadness, because I’m leaving a new group.

I teach because I enjoy life, laughing, discovery and a good story. I don’t even consider teaching to be ‘working’ because it’s such a large and significant part of my life. If I had it to do all over again I wouldn’t change a thing.


Julie Pickhaver, Providence Public Schools

I am a fourth year teacher in the Providence Public School System. I teach ELA and reading intervention. I earned my masters degree in Urban Education from Providence College.

My third year of teaching is over, and, while most teachers are relaxing and excited for the long awaited summer break, I am preparing to go back in a week for summer school. What the hell am I thinking? This is a question I often ask myself and perhaps more frequently am asked by others. “ Miss, why are you a teacher? It must be miserable… Middle School? Oh wow you must be a saint…You’re at what school?? Good Luck!” Unless you are speaking to another teacher, it is almost impossible to explain to someone why we do what we do. We usually laugh it off with the casual; “Oh I do it for the summers off.” How can I possibly explain why I get to work every morning before most people wake up. Why I spend countless hours after school working when I am only paid until three. Why I deal with fistfights, food fights, tears, throw up, and everything else I might encounter on an average school day.

Over the course of this year, I began reflecting on why I, as my friends so lovingly say, “put myself through this everyday.” First of all, the thought of sitting in a cubicle every day typing at a computer or sending emails bores me to death. Like most teachers, I love learning and improving my practice. Teaching is the only profession I can think of where I have the chance to be better every single day. It’s the only job I can think of where I can learn from funny, intelligent yet sometimes brutally honest middle school students everyday. (No one in an office setting would tell me, “Hey miss, I hate your face with glasses.” Lesson Learned. I don’t look good with glasses.) Their curiosity and honesty make my job both challenging and refreshing.

Secondly, working with a support system of people who know exactly what you are going through is worthwhile. My colleagues make those days where I don’t think I can go on bearable. As a young teacher, I learn from and admire all the veteran teachers at my school. Their dedication to our students and years of wisdom inspire me to go to work everyday. They have dealt with more than most faculties yet come to work everyday dedicated to improving the lives of our students. It’s hard to articulate how powerful it is to be in a building where adults are working tirelessly to ensure a successful future for students.

Lastly, I teach because I firmly believe that every child deserves access to a high quality education. This belief has been strengthened through relationships with my colleagues and the success of my students. I teach because I learn about hard work and resilience from my students every day. I teach because of the “aha” look that children have when they finally get it–in truth, that by itself is enough to keep me in this rewarding profession.


Dave Reid, Willow Glen High School

Dave Reid is a first year, second-career teacher passionate about teaching all students. He attended the US Military Academy at West Point, George Mason University (BSEE), Santa Clara University (MBA), and Stanford University (MAEd). He currently teaches Algebra 1 and AP Calculus AB at Willow Glen High School in the San Jose Unified School District in San Jose, CA.

After almost three decades in high-tech (wireless and GPS mostly), I have embarked on a second career to which I feel a calling: teaching.

Something called to me for many, many years but I was never tuned in enough to figure out what. Now, I know. It’s teaching high school students how to make the most of themselves in life as capable, competent citizens, full of self-esteem and self-confidence tempered by some humility and empathy for those who have less, and eager to serve their nation and this world in their life — whatever career path they choose

I also seek to teach those who wake up everyday wondering if they matter, whether they need to care, or even try to fulfill societal expectations that seem so out of reach. I know that it is so disheartening to have tried before only to walk away empty-handed so often. All of these souls — my students — are important to me. I hope to show them through teaching that they matter, are important, are capable, and with effort, can do much more than what they may have allowed themselves to believe.

That is why I teach.

While the subject I teach is mathematics, my focus is on imparting knowledge, the ability to think independently and in groups, the confidence to make mistakes and fail while pulling oneself up so as to never give up entirely, the wisdom to seek help, and the desire to do your best.

My experiences in life saw me struggling with math, overcoming it, successfully applying it in various technical and business fields, and now, as a teacher, looking at it as an art. That is why I wanted to teach math: I failed at it as a student, but I ultimately was able to apply it successfully as a professional. If I could underscore that for my students, they will learn not to give up — and that as life evolves, different elements of your academic career may come into sharper focus.

My experiences with math as a science (viewed as a set of tools for use in solving problems) provide me with a range of knowledge, applications and techniques to help the most challenged in math to the most gifted. I am passionate about delivering an equitable and accessible math curriculum and instruction — taking into account other pedagogical, special needs and English language learner considerations — so I can be a math teacher for all students: rich or poor, self-confident or self-conscious, struggling or excelling, excited or bored, math hater or -lover, English conversant or not.


Joseph Murphy, Vanderbilt University

Joseph Murphy is the Frank W. Mayborn Chair of Education and Associate Dean at Peabody College of Education of Vanderbilt University. He has also been a faculty member at the University of Illinois and The Ohio State University, served as a public school administrator at the school, district, and state levels, and is a past Vice President and a Fellow of AERA. His work is in the area of school improvement, with special emphasis on leadership and policy. He has authored or co-authored 22 books in this area and edited another 12.

The Gift Giver

To unsettle and alloy that bewilderment with joy

To allow flight and provide an unseen scaffolding

of support

To hold tightly while letting go

To correct with precision and warmth

To reveal mysteries and provide ladders for

climbing to understanding

To challenge, to exhort, to demand

To push, to pull, to carry

To build, to empower

To respect and acknowledge, to ennoble

To place one’s own heart on the altar and one’s

own hands in the fire

To remember the forgotten

To feel, to share

To dance in celebration

To pass into the shadows

To teach