Why Do You Teach vs. What Do You Teach

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As educators, we’ve all been there. We go through our teaching programs and get credentialed with aspirations of making a difference in a child’s life through means of education. In these programs, we learn about the strategies we can use to engage student learning but similar to what someone might describe as being pregnant, there really is no preparing anyone for what they’re about to endure. Teaching isn’t about reciting poetry or mapping out math problems. There isn’t one single teaching method that can prepare you for what really happens in the classroom and get you to think about why you are there in the first place.

No one tells you about the fact that sometimes, your lessons are meaningless when your students haven’t had a meal for 24 hours. No one tells you that your miraculous algebraic model solving equation has no substance compared to a student dealing with child abuse at home. This is what separates the “why do you teach” educators from the “what do you teach” ones. So ask yourself this – Why are you teaching?

Teaching is a taxing, but rewarding profession. That is, depending on your idea of rewarding. If your idea of reward comes from having paid summers off, then you are definitely the what versus the why.

The What’s

The what refers to those who crank lessons out of a textbook for every unit. These types of teachers typically create lesson plans derived from standardized tests or self-generated test banks found online. Similar to living from paycheck to paycheck, if the what is the drive behind the lesson planning, then these individuals are teaching lesson plan to lesson plan, awaiting their next vacation.

This type of thinking also creates a huge disconnect between teacher and students. Handing out worksheets to kill the time leaves no room for creativity or critical thinking for a student. Rushing kids out of your door at the last bell is by no means a way to build relationships and community. The sad concept about this is that there really are teachers out there that exhibit these exact qualities. What’s worse is that the ones who suffer the most are the kids.

The Why’s

Now, what about the why? Constantly, we ask our students to think about author prose and purpose, equation reasoning and scientific inductions. Essentially, we ask them to discover why they are learning and how to make sense of things. Educators should be held to the same standard. Understanding their personal why for teaching is at the core of their work. Using their why as a way to identify a catalyst for their lesson planning changes everything about engagement for not only them but also their students.

How does it impact students, exactly? It’s no question that the younger generations have become inundated with a lot of mainstream stimulants – social media, technology, etc. This overabundance of information and material at their fingertips naturally just saturates their resources and makes it difficult to see any meaning behind anything. Soon, everything is just the same and there’s a lack of variety and engagement.

Take smartphones, for instance. There are a ton of options available and almost all products, regardless of brand, can essentially do the same thing. But then why are kids mostly buying – or having their parents buy them, rather – Apple products? It’s because Apple sets itself apart from the competition. They make great products just like anyone else, but they choose to market themselves differently. They choose to inspire their communities by challenging the status quo. They reflect on their practices as they receive feedback from their consumers. They shifted their thinking to why they make great products rather than simply just making great products.

A why teacher has grit. She thinks about not only why she initially started teaching, but more about what keeps her coming back, wanting to perfect her craft. Each day, she assesses what worked well and what needs improvement. She analyzes her class data to drive her decision-making and instruction. She takes time to get to know her students to build that relational trust. Why does she do this? Because she cares. She does it because she knows that her students deserve more than the hands they were dealt with. She does it because she knows that the betterment of their success is impacted by her presence and delivery.

And so, she inspires her students. She may not be the expert in her subject. She may also not always get it right. But, she tries because she cares. Her students can feel her work ethic and compassion for being in the classroom. Because of this, they feel more connected and motivated.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-year teacher or have been in the classroom for decades. What matters is your purpose for doing what you’re doing. Some may say that they began teaching because they loved playing school with their siblings when they were younger. Or, they might say that they love the idea of being able to engage with today’s youth. Whatever the reason may be, it’s important that you understand your why for teaching.

As educators, you have the direct capacity and impact to be able to influence and inspire students through your why. Society cares so much about measuring people for their talents and abilities. This then drives people to be competitive and lack a sense of compassion for one another. They often fail to look for the underlying and most important attribute – Inspiration. Being able to inspire students with your why transforms them from having dreams to possibilities. When you think about your why, you remember how you felt when you realized you were meant to be a teacher. It validates your present purpose and drives your will to help students each and every day.

Students need high-quality and inspiring leaders in their classrooms. They need strong leaders who will help cultivate safe and thriving communities for them to learn in. The best way to do this is to equip classrooms with teachers who understand why they teach. With this, teachers are able to motivate and empower students to become their best and optimal selves. They have the power to evoke creative thought and rigorous thinking. So, ask yourself, “Why do you teach?”

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