In her blog last week, New Terrain, Jessica Shyu posed the question, "Why do teachers stay?" I think a lot about why teachers quit. But Jessica’s question demands optimism, something that is easy to lose in this profession.
I teach because I want children to reap the benefits of problem solving, the enjoyment of reading and the pride of finishing a well-written paper. I want to help each child develop a positive self-image in order to appreciate the beauty of life, and the critical thinking skills needed to determine the injustices of the world. I teach because I love to learn and I want to pass that love on to others. But this doesn’t answer the question, “Why do teachers stay?” The truth is, though I love to teach, I’ve never stayed with one job longer than three years.
Today I attended Camp Graduation. It was very emotional, as it is every camp, every year. I gave a short speech. It seems a bit cheesy now, but it came from my heart and I could barely get it out past the lump in my throat. In my speech I said:
“Learning is a journey that lasts your whole life. There is always something new to learn. Never quit wanting to learn. Never quit trying to overcome obstacles. Never give up.”
Tears broke past the lump in my throat when one mother gave a moving speech. She said, before breaking down herself, how thankful she was that her son had a place like El Valor to come to in the summer; a place where he could learn in a positive environment; a place where the people really cared. When she started crying, I started crying. It’s something about this place, this atmosphere, it’s almost magical.
Another mother spoke about her daughter finally answering the age-old question, what did you learn today? She said:
“When she comes home from school I ask her, what did you learn today? She says, ‘nothing’ or ‘not much.' When she comes home from camp and I ask her, what did you learn today? She talks my ear off about monarch butterflies and pollination. About recycling and building Web sites. I love the way this place excites our children about learning.”
And it’s true. This place is inspiring, and not just for the children. If I could teach here all year, I’d stay. If I had worked with these parents in some of my old jobs, I might have stayed. If I felt supported and appreciated the way I feel at El Valor, I’d stay in that job, too. Unfortunately, many teachers often feel fatigued by the constant battles and guilty for acting like wardens in their over-crowded classrooms. Teacher retention is a crisis among many plaguing our public school system. Until major overhauls are made, many good teachers won’t stay. It’s unfortunate but true.